Auckland, February 22, 2020
Reviewing a Bharata Natyam Arangetram is always a challenging and interesting exercise.
Does one praise the debutante as a measure of encouragement or provide a critical review which may disillusion the artiste and enrage his or her guru, parents and supporters?
However, teenager Akshaya Pushparajah won the hearts of the audience with an almost perfect performance at her Bharata Natyam Arangetram held on Saturday, February 15, 2020 at Raye Freedman Arts Centre of Epsom Girls Grammar School in Auckland.
Her debut was indubitably the result of years of training imparted by her tough and talented Guru Kalaichchelvi Uthayakumaran (Director of the Auckland based Narthana Aalayam School of Indian Dance), along with discipline and commitment.
‘Selvi,’ as she is addressed, had prepared her student to bring out the bhavas in every number that she had selected for the Concert.
Obeisance to Lord Ganesha
Akshaya set the tone for her Arangetram with ‘Pushpanjali,’ a simple invocative number, set in Gambeera Nattai Ragam and Adi Talam. By the time she completed the second number- ‘Aanai Mugathone,’ a composition of prayers to Lord Ganesha, the Remover of All Obstacles, she had raised the expectations of those watching her performance. Presented in a style that was distinct for its expressions, this number also brought out the best of the Nattai Ragam (Adi).
Her engagement with the innovative spirit of her Guru was manifest in ‘Jatheeswaram,’ one of the purest dance numbers that form an inevitable part of any Bharata Natyam Arangetram.
“Jatheeswaram is a pure Nritta piece, composed of a series of short sequences (Jathis) of rhythmic movements of the feet and body. This number often tests the dancer variations and speeds of movement,” Selvi said.
Extolling Lord Shiva
She always includes in the Arangetram of her students a ‘Kauthuvam’ (also spelt Kavuthuvam or ‘Kawthuvam,’ which enhances the repertoire of the performer testing his or her ability to showcase piety which is the essence of such numbers.
Akshaya had the opportunity to describe the origins of ‘Thirukoneshwaram’ (a Temple of 1000 Pillars in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka) and extol the main Deity Lord Shiva and the efforts of Ravana (stated to the greatest devotee of the Lord) to move Mount Kailash to his Kingdom.
The ‘Thirukoneshwaram Kawthuvam,’ set to Rasaali Ragam and Eka Talam proved Selvi’s mastery of choreography and her student’s ability to display its nuances.
Thiruppugazh for Lord Murugan
‘Eru Mayil Eri Vilayadumugum Onru,’ is a famous Thiruppugazh, a 15th Century anthology of songs composed by Saint Arunagirinathar in praise of Lord Murugan, the God of Tamils. The version chosen for Akshaya’s rendition was in Bhageshreei Ragam set to Thalamalika Talam to bring out the core of the composition in dance format: that chanting the name in praise of Lord Murugan would lead the aspirant to the path of devotion, enlightenment and bliss. This number enabled the artiste to explore the true meaning of ‘Shanmugan’ (the one with six faces) as Murugan is known and why He has six Abodes or Houses.
‘Varnam’ is the most challenging item in a Bharata Natyam dance, testing the endurance of the performer and the ability to express the highlights of the number.
Akshaya presented ‘Vadi Veelane,’ in the Padha Varnam with greater emphasis on the lyrics and therefore their expressions. Beginning with the reason for the Birth of Lord Murugan, the song explains how He vanquished Surapadman, who becomes a peacock, his ‘Vahana’ or vehicle.
The second half of the programme comprised ‘Saraswathi Slokam’ (in Revati Ragam in praise of the Goddess of Knowledge), ‘Vishamakara Kannan,’ the Mischievous (Lord) Krishna (Senjuruthi Ragam, Adi Talam), ‘Shiva Keerthanam’ (Kapalini), a string of Keertanas from the Puranas and ‘Patham- Kaatrinile Varum Geetham’ composed by Kalki Krishnamurthi (set to Sindhubhairavi Ragam and Chathusra Ekam Talam).
Thillana, the masterpiece
Thillana, the masterpiece of Bharatha Natyam concerts is a pure rhythmic and sculptural dance, traditionally performed as the last item. It is a presentation style, with a host of dancers performing together, exploring the extent of strong kinetics. However, it is always a solo item in debuts.
This style requires exemplary skills in terms of rhythm, timing and synchronisation in order to radiate the unique performance charm associated with it.
Akshaya presented Thillana as a tribute to Lord Krishna.
Selvi described Akshaya as a ‘joyful and enthusiastic student’ (she is due to commence her graduate course in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Auckland shortly), “who has acquired graceful body movement, perfect sense of rhythm and expression.
“She has a Teacher’s Grade Diploma from the Academy of Fine Arts, studied Carnatic Violin (Grade 5) and Grade 8 at the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. Her other activities include Barbershop Chorus and Fencing.”