Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Bharatanatyam – Spotlight and Artiste Feature

This Spotlight showcases Bharatanatyam - one of the oldest classical dance forms prevailing in India and celebrates the artiste who has brought home (yes – to the USA) this verdant art from, inspiring and tutoring her many students in this branch of classical dance – Sridevi Jagannath. 

Sridevi and her artistic brain child - Laasya School of Dance and Music. Photo Credits: Sripriya Murthy Photography - Facebook

Bharatanatyam is said to derive its name from Bharata Muni, the author of Natya Shastra (treatise on dance) written between 2nd century B.C and 2nd century A.D. This dance form was originally performed in temples by the "devadasis" (servants of god) and it is to them that we owe the preservation of this art form. This art form received great patronage during the golden rule of the Maratha and Chola rulers. The dance was then called "Sadir". Sadir in turn, is derived from ancient dance forms that includes some acrobatic karanas. Bharatnatyam is usually accompanied by Carnatic music and jointly embodies a winsome union of the mind, body and the soul.

Bharatanatyam dancers adorn themselves with traditional kanjeevaram dance ensembles, temple jewelry and festive "alta" on their hands and feet . Photo Credits: Sripriya Murthy Photography - Facebook
With the advent of the Mughals started the decline of temple dancing. The Mughal rulers brought dancers from Persian states. The devadasis stopped receiving patronage and many of them started learning Persian dance and took to court dancing. The British rule did away with provincial monarchies. In a desperate move to earn livelihood many dancers who now stopped receiving any kind of patronage took to becoming escorts and royal consorts. Thus Bharatanatyam, as a dance form, fell into disrepute. Girls from honorable families stopped learning this dance. Dancing came to be considered as a ignominious profession in the latter half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century.

A Laasya student strikes a sculpteresque pose on traditional rangoli. Photo Credits: Sripriya Murthy Photography - Facebook

Modern sensibilities have outweighed the shadow of dishonor once attributed to this dance form. Bharatanatyam is now a reworked dance-form known for its grace, purity, tenderness, and sculpturesque poses which extol the virtues of Indian culture and mythology. Today, Bharatanatyam is one of the most popular and widely performed dance styles and is practiced by male and female dancers all over the world.

Sridevi Jagannath is consecrating this classical dance form through Laasya – The School of Dance and Music (Find Laasya Nritya on Facebook). Sridevi founded Laasya a decade ago to train and mentor students in Bharatanatyam and Classical Music. Laasya is the proud alma mater to many prodigies from all over the world (my girls will go there too!) who have embraced the beauty and finesse of this form of Indian classical dance. Sridevi is a true Bangalore girl and boasts of a proud lineage of connoisseurs of music and dance. She is a wonderful friend, a great mom and a ray of sunshine in the lives of her family and friends. 

Sridevi and her Laasya students. Photo Credits: Sripriya Murthy Photography - Facebook

A teacher and a performer par excellence, Sridevi is one of the first few students of her Guru Smt. Padmini Ravi at the Pradhan Dance Center in Bangalore, India, a widely acclaimed school in the Vazhavoor style of Bharatanatyam. She began her career as a dancer at the tender age of five. Ever since, she has enthralled the hearts of many dance lovers far and beyond. Her mother Karnataka Kalashree Smt. Ranganayaki Rajan, who is an internationally acclaimed artist herself, introduced her to the world of music. She also had the privilege of getting trained under some world famous dance personalities like K.J. Sarasa, Padmabhushan Kalanidhi Narayan, and Smt. Banumathi. Before leaving India, she was an artiste for the Indian television’s prime time channel Doordarshan and performed in small screen lead roles on several occasions. 
Sridevi in her many performances. Photo Credits : Anil Mallya
Sridevi has performed for organizations such as the Florida chapter of SPICMACAY, Stevens Point, WI, Balaji Temple, Chicago, IL, the SAARC Summit, Hindu Society of North Carolina, ICMDS, NC and International Dance Alliance, Chennai, India. She has also conducted several lecture demonstrations at Lees McRae Performing Arts School, Boone, NC. 

Her recent innovative experiment "ANANYA" performed under the HUMSUB (Find HumSub Cary on Facebook) banner was very well received by the art-lovers of the Triangle area. This was an experiment where the technique of Bharatanatyam remained untouched, but the concepts portrayed were unique. She was recently invited to perform at the Oregon State University for India festival, the biggest ever in the entire northwestern region of the United States. Sridevi is also a member of Srishti - The Creation, a group of dance artists that are individually well trained in the art and have been performing at many prestigious platforms in the USA for over a decade.

Sristhi group ensemble. Photo Credits : Anil Mallya
Sridevi is known for her Tala-Gnana and precision in Nattuvangam. She has been training students for the past ten years in the Triangle area and has performed several Arangetrams of her senior students. Sridevi is a formidable force in her Bharatanatyam classes. I have been a moot observer on many occasions and I have seen this bubbly and enthusiastic friend and confidante turn into a strict and feared teacher, inspiring, nudging and shaping her students to imbibe the style and symmetry of the dance form as their own. Her many students have formed lifelong friendships with her, a bond forged out of a common love for classical dance, enriched by its rigors and fuelled by passion for creating a thing of beauty!

"Great dancers aren't great because of their technique; they are great because of their passion." 

"Guru" or Teacher pondering over the many Bharatanatyam prodigies whose futures and passions she fuelled. Photo Credits: Sripriya Murthy Photography - Facebook 

Aalayam was fortunate to be a guest at Sridevi’s family home in North Carolina. The classical contemporary design sensibilities of her colorful home, which she also uses as a workshop for teaching dance, prompted us to ask her not only an interview but also a Home Tour! And she said Yes!! So dear readers, look out for the next post in this two-post series – Sridevi’s home tour! And a rendezvous with Sridevi herself! So, I leave you dear readers with these beautiful images of joyful inspiration...and a promise for more next week!




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