Crossing Borders in Bharatanatyam (Dance Review)

“Crossing Borders in Bharatanatyam” held consecutively for 3 days at Panggung Sari Istana Budaya Kuala Lumpur recently featured 7 non-Indian graduates from the Malaysian National Arts Academy (ASWARA) Dance Faculty.

The graduates, Mohd Yunus Bin Ismail, Muhammad Khairi Bin Mokhtar, Imran Syafiq Bin Mohd Affandi, Ng Xinying, Kimberly Yap Choy Hoong, Norbaizura Binti Abd Ghani and Christine Chew Sie Theng swam at ease in the timeless ocean of Bharatanatyam.

They had come together in this show under the guidance and choreography of Shankar Kandasamy from the Temple of Fine Arts Kuala Lumpur, who also serves as the Lecturer for ASWARA’s Degree Programme.

The programme commenced with a Pushpanjali, an offering of flowers as salutations to the stage and mother Earth.

Maharaja Shri Swati Tirunal’s celebrated composition, “Bhavayaami Raghuraamam” was then presented as the central piece of the repertoire in Varnam format recounting the crucial chapters of the Ramayana epic.

As the composition encapsulates verses corresponding to Valmiki’s Ramayanam, the dancers highlighted pivotal episodes of the epic respectively: the vanquishing of Maricha and Subahu; the marriage of Rama and Sita; Rama’s banishment to the forest; Rama’s contact with Shurpanaka; Sita’s abduction; Rama’s meeting with Hanuman, Sugreeva, and Vaali; Hanuman’s search for Sita in Lanka; Rama and Raavana’s final battle in Lanka and finally Rama’s return to Ayodhya and His coronation as the King of Ayodhya.

The rhythmic sequences were swiftly executed with perfect synchronisation of dance moves, neat hand gestures and nimble footwork.

The dancers’ skill in maintaining fluidity going through constant sequences of dynamic steps including challenging jathis drew the audience’s applause. It was proof of the dancers well honed Nritta skills.

The dramatic components could not be fully exhibited as in other Varnams as this meticulous varnam in Raagamalika covers an entire epic, demanding the dancers to juggle various characters within the stipulated discipline.

Therefore, abhinaya or storytelling skills of the dancers has been used adequately to enact the narrative in a quick and effective manner.

I pretty much enjoyed the illustration of Rama and Lakshmana’s encounter with Surpanakha,  Rama’s stage exit in pursue of the golden deer for Sita.

And the Kishkindha chapter – dispute between Vaali and Sugreeva, devoted Hanuman and the cute expressions of the dancers in portraying the trouble taken by Rama’s little Vanara army to build a bridge (Rama Setu) to Lanka.

The divine image of Lord Vishnu reclining at his celestial abode, Vaikundham with his consort, Mahalakshmi that was formed by the dancers in the beginning and the end of the varnam was most impressive.

Parallel to the rhythmic sequences in Pushpanjali and Varnam, the dancers formed movements of symmetrical coordination using crisp footwork in the Hindolam Thillana, in praise of goddess Kamakshi, in concluding their performance.

Despite hailing from non-Indian backgrounds, the great amount of effort and hard work the dancers put in together with their choreographer to explore the complex layers of Bharatanatyam – did indeed manifest as a beautiful visual treat throughout the performance – hence proving that fine arts goes beyond the cliché of race and religion.


Review By Chetraa Subramaniam.

Photograph courtesy of ASWARA

Sittam Param

Writer, poet, dramatist and former journalist. I have passion for art in all its forms hence my involvement in this portal.

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