As a fellow student of the Auckland based Narthana Aalayam School of Indian Classical Dance, I looked forward to Riti Sharma’s Arangetram, held on Saturday, September 13, 2014 at Dorothy Winstone Centre (Auckland Girls Grammar School) in Auckland.
Our Guru Kalaichchelvi Uthayakumaran (Nattuvangam), Arun Gopinath (Vocal), Nagarajan Shanmugalingam (Mridangam), Ramesh Baswa Nagarayan (Flute) and Shankar Venkatraman (Violin) were the accompanying artistes.
Each dance item represented various ragams, talams, and composers.
Riti’s training for her Arangetram began about a year before the event.
Her training quickly moved from being at Narthana Aalayam a few days a week to about eight hours per day in the preceding few months. Her University studies were put on hold so that she could attain the perfection needed to present such a significant event.
Sometimes, while waiting for my own classes to start, I had the opportunity to watch bits of Riti’s training. I noticed that, among other things, she had developed a perfect ‘Aramandi’ (sitting posture where the heels are together, feet turned outward forming a 180° line, and knees bent such that the legs form a diamond shape).
‘Aramandi’ was intact at her Arangetram, along with a beautiful ‘Natyarambhe’ position (arms stretched out to either side, elbows slightly bent, palms facing down). As I had only a ‘semi-front row seat’ during these training sessions over the past year, I only got to see the fully integrated, exquisite grace of her dancing during the event itself.
Then the unthinkable happened.
Six days before her Arangetram (when the daily training with the live orchestra is at its most critical stage), she sustained a serious injury to her foot. A tendon became inflamed and there was internal bleeding. She was not able to walk for three days, and after taking X-rays, the doctor said that she could tear the tendon if she danced and advised her to postpone the Arangetram.
Sitting in the audience that evening, I had no idea that Riti had sustained such a serious injury. At most, I had only noticed that her ‘Swastikam’ foot position (one leg crossed behind the other while on the ball of the foot with heel lifted) was not as sharp and crisp as I had seen earlier.
After learning of the true nature of the injury, I was stunned that she had been able to deliver an entire Arangetram! I asked her, “How on earth were you able to achieve this?”
She said, “Nothing was going to stop me. I had trained too hard and too long to just give up.”
She said that her Guru and the musicians were supportive and that modifications were made during rehearsals.
Given the nature of the injury, she pulled off something that was nothing short of heroic.
Tenacity is the main quality that a dancer needs, and it is one of the most important qualities needed for a successful life.
Riti said that the process of training for her Arangetram had prepared her for anything in life.
“It tests you in every way possible and motivates me to overcome. I feel I can do anything,” she said.
Suzett Perry is a student at Narthana Aalayam School of Indian Classical Dance. She works as Regulatory Affairs Team Leader at a pharmaceutical company based in Auckland.