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Arangetram: Nealaksi Maniraja

Kalpana Balachundhar

Nealaksi Maniraja, Needham High School sophomore, had her first formal stage appearance after having gained proficiency through years of dedicated learning and giving full justice to the meticulous training by her Aacharya (teacher) Smt. Soumya Rajaram on October 2nd, 2016 at the Maxwell Auditorium, National Heritage Museum, Lexington, MA. The energy and talent of the dancer combined with lively eloquent choreography and artistic orchestra resulted in a delightful performance that evening. Commitment is an essential element of successful learning and teaching. Nealaksi’s passion for this art form and the tireless hours spent on practicing became apparent on watching execution of the repertoire.
Audience were dazed by Nealaksi’s radiant entry into the stage with sweet effulgent smile for her Pushpanjali in Ragam Nagaswaravali followed by Alarippu with no break, set the tone for the evening. Aacharya Soumya deserves a special mention for the clean and crisp rendering of the Misrachaapu Alarippu. Nealaksi demonstrated excellent foot work, consistent aramandi and admirable drishti bedhas. She continued to show case her angashudhi in her next nritta (pure dance) piece, Jathiswaram in Ragam Saveri, doing full justice to the training from her teacher. She then performed Shabdam on Lord Krishna gradually bringing her skills in abinaya to the audience.

The program made it very special with musical interlude by Nealaksi’s younger brother Srimath Maniraja, student of Sri. Mali Santhanakrishnan on Mridangam and by the Orchestra team.

The highlight of the arangetram was Nealaksi’s presentation of Varnam in Ragam Shankarabaranam dedicated to Lord Brihadeeswara of Tanjore. Varnam is the piece de resistance. In this piece, the dancer being the heroine, is depicting her love and desire to be with lord Shiva and questioning him why he was turning away from her and not listening to her loving prayers. Nealaksi exhibited complete command over rhythm and expressions while maintaining her stamina with ease. From the start, her glowing smile, energetic leaps and strong footwork were on display which lasted for over 35 minutes.

Right after the intermission, Nealaksi continued her dream day with the popular keerthanam “Devi Neeye Thunai” in Ragam Keeravani portraying dual role of goddess Meenakshi and lord Shiva. She exemplified the beauty, elegance and valorousness of the goddess and then her strength as a warrior. Nealaksi gracefully depicted lord Shiva taking the hand of the goddess in their marriage in Madurai.

Abhinaya being the most important aspect of Bharatanatyam, it serves as the channel between the audience and the role that the dancer plays. Nealaksi’s abhinayas in all her dance pieces were certain to bring that connection. Her next piece was “Vilayada idhu nerama” a keerthanam on Lord Muruga in Ragam Shamukapriya. She then went onto the exuberant joy of Thillana, a piece that celebrates the energy of dance with a playful intermingling of slow restrained movements, sculpturesque poses and complex rhythmic sequences. Thillana in Ragam Paras was the most fun piece Nealaksi presented with elegance and vigor. Nealaksi has always been a dedicated and passionate dancer, however, her glorious, beaming smile as she leaped into her final Thillana pose made it clear that she had moved on to a new level of confidence through this experience, and it was a privilege to witness this transformation during her debut!

The evening concluded with Mangalam, Nealaksi maintained her poise as a dancer for every second on stage, from each deliberate entrance, to the sharp turns, graceful expressions and confidence as she walked off after each demanding piece. She paid her respect to god, then to her guru and the musicians who brought meaning to her foot work and expressions, and finally to the audience who provided their support for her and celebrated her dance journey.

Nealaksi received musical and moral support from an exceptionally talented Orchestra made up of renowned musicians from various parts of the US and India. Guru Smt. Soumya Rajaram’s sound and clean Naatuvangam jathis accompanied by finely controlled and deeply emotive vocalist Sri. Prasanna Venkatesh was a treat for both the ears and the heart.  Sri. Mali Santhanakrishnan on Mridangam provided the wonderful percussion backbone for the rhythm-heavy repertoire. Sri. KVS Vinay’s versatile violin along with Smt. Hema Balasubramanian’s melodious flute rounded out the excellent music. The Orchestra made up of senior performers and gurus in their own professions was simply phenomenal. Our children are truly blessed to share the stage with such senior gurus who always provide great support, and inspiration.
The sophistication of the presentation was reinforced by a number of other influencers including the Emcee Ms. Revathy Masilamani who provided crisp introductions to the various dance pieces; audio and lighting professionals, and the exceptional stage and auditorium décor.
Nealaksi’s Arangetram was a visual treat for the audience and showcased the dancer’s expertise over rhythm, stamina, musicality and command of the vocabulary of Bharatanatyam. Nealaksi’s performance helped her reach new heights. With god’s grace and her guru’s guidance, she will undoubtedly travel to the next phase of her dance journey!

Smt. Kalpana Balachunder is the director of Chandra School of Dance, Lexington, MA

Arangetram photo credit: KT Kannan Photography

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