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Stirring Bharatanatyam Performances By Soumya Rajaram And
Sheejith Krishna Bind The Audience In A Spell

Shuchita Rao

Stirring Bharatanatyam Performances Bind the Audience in a Spell

Smt. Soumya Rajaram and Shri Sheejith Krishna treated music and dance lovers to two powerful Bharatanatyam solo performances at Lexington Christian Academy on the evening of Saturday, August 17th, 2019. Smt. Soumya Rajaram presented the first three items and Shri Sheejith Krishna presented the next four items over the course of a 3 hour long concert.

Shri Sheejith Krishna first studied and then, taught at Kalakshetra foundation, the world-renowned institution at Chennai, India for 21 years. He has learned Bharatanatyam, percussion and vocal music from stalwart performers and teachers such as Sarada Hoffman, Vikku Vinayakaram and S Rajaram. He has choreographed and directed several plays for Kalakshetra and has won awards from prestigious institutions such as Sangeet Natak Academi and Shri Krishna Gaana Sabha. He is the founder and artistic director of non-profit Sahradaya based in Chennai, India and actively trains students in Bharatanatyam and choreographs unique dance productions. I have vivid memories of his production “Don Quixote” that was presented at Regis College, Weston a few years back.

A finalist for Mass. Cultural Council’s Arts fellowship, Lexington, Mass based Bharatanatyam exponent and teacher Smt. Soumya Rajaram initially trained at Kalakshetra and is presently learning from Shri Sheejith Krishna. She arranged a three day dance workshop by her teacher, Shri Sheejith Krishna for the benefit of local dance Bharatanatyam dance students prior to the Aug 17th concert in Lexington, Mass.

The stage decorations for the August 17th program were minimal. A beautiful bronze statue of Lord Nataraja with lighted lamps adorned the left corner of the stage. The program began with a soulful vocal invocation to Lord Ganesha. Dressed in an elegant gold and green Bharatanatyam costume, the graceful and poised Soumya Rajaram impressed the audience with her deliberate and controlled movements when she danced to Adi Shankaracharya’s Panchakshari Stotram. A melodious composition set in ragas Kalyani and Shivaranjani, the stotram described the human soul’s journey to transcendence. The different aspects of Lord Shiva’s form and attributes were communicated via each of the five sacred syllables Na-mah-shi-vaaya.

Nagendra Haraaya Trilochanaaya
Basmaanga ragaaya Maheshwaraaya
Nithyaya shudhaaya Digambaraaya
Tasmai Na Kaaraya Namahshivaaya

In the second item titled “Yathi,  a composition depicting Lord Shiva’s Ananda Tandava in the midst of devotees, Soumya’s agility, brisk movements and facial expressions delighted viewers. Yathi is the ninth element of taladasaprana, the ten life breaths of tala or rhythm. Yathi showcased five different rhythmic and geometric patterns: Sama yathi, Mridanga yathi, Damaru Yathi, Gopucha Yathi and Srothavaha Yathi.

In her third and final offering, “Surya”, Soumya danced to Mahakavi Subramanya Bharati’s verses in Tamil language that invoked classical philosophy with an understanding of contemporary physics. In accordance with the age-old Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang, which shows both the negative and positive aspects, the Sun’s ability to awaken life but also its ability to destroy was explained through dance.  The stage was bathed in maroon-red lighting. A rich variety of sound textures created from the rhythmic recitation of verses and jatis to the accompaniment of resonant percussion drums created a haunting atmosphere. At the end of her performance, Soumya joined as a member of the audience to watch the next half of the show, which was a solo recital by her Guru, Shri. Sheejith Krishna.

With long black tresses framing his face, Shri Sheejith Krishna, dressed in a pleasing blue Bharatanatyam outfit with a heavy brocaded gold belt around his waist, a chunky gold necklace around his neck and an amulet on his left arm began with an item in praise of Lord Shiva titled “Kalabhairava”.

“I choreographed this item at the request of the renowned Bharatanatyam dancer Vidushi Leela Samson who wanted me to present it in the city of Benaras (Kaashi) which is home to the Kalabhairava temple. Lord Shiva is the protector of Benaras, a controller of fate and time and also the destroyer of the world (samasaara). The Sanskrit mantras used by priests at the Kalabhairava temple even in the current day were set to a brisk twelve beat cycle composition in Raga Hansadhwani by the renowned vocalist Bombay Jayashree. Shri Sheejith Krishna’s expert balancing of contrasting dance sequences, some packed with energy and others reflecting quiet composure were impactful.    

In “Ganga”, Shree Krishna conveyed through the medium of Bharatanatyam, the story of the descent of great river Ganga from Lord Shiva’s matted hair locks in response to King Bhageeratha’s request for a boon to Lord Brahma and Shiva for Ganga to provide relief to his drought-stricken subjects. Classical poetry by poets such as Adishankara, Valmiki, Tulsidas, Ananda Teertha and Kalki Purana came to life through Shri Krishna’s magnificient dancing. “I felt that my task was to stay true to the poetry that describes river Ganga’s beauty in images that are rich and deep and make us understand the importance or rivers. Rivers must flow unpolluted, in full strength and majesty.” said Shri Sheejith Krishna. Excellent music background composed by the dancer’s wife, Jyotishmathi Krishna, a music graduate from Kalakshetra with attractive solfege patterns intertwined with poetry set in raga Mohanam added tremendously to the presentation. The high quality recorded music by expert musicians was a great asset to the performances.

The next item, a collaboration with the brilliant composer-singer Vidwaan O.S. Arun was a chapter from Ramayana by poet Tulsidas which told the story of Lord Rama returning from his attempt to capture a golden deer for his wife, Queen Sita only to find her missing. A grief-stricken Lord Rama implores vines and creepers, trees and nature to reveal what happened to his beloved Sita. From dramatic, rapid eye movements to neck, hand, wrist and torso movements, Shri Sheejith Krishna’s masterful abhinaya succeeded in effectively conveying the sadness of “Viraha” or separation from the beloved. The music, especially, the vocal rendition was packed with “bhava” or emotion and the choreography as well as abhinaya by Shri Sheejith Krishna were outstanding. My eyes grew moist from watching Shri Sheejith Krishna emote the grief-stricken Lord Rama.

The final offering of the evening was a bhajan singing the glorious praise of Lord Krishna. Slow, controlled dance movements were sharply contrasted with brisk movements that made great use of the space on the large stage. The appealing choreography displayed command on nritta and nritya in equal measure. The catchy compositions set in ragas Kalyani and Sindhu-Bhairavi created a strong impression.

Krishna Krishna Mukunda Janardana
Krishna Govinda Narayana Hari
Achyutananda Govinda Madhava
Satchitananda Narayana Hari

A visibly pleased concert attendee Sumana Rao said “With the multitude of repetitions of Krishna’s name, Shri Sheejith Krishna transported us to bliss. The dancing was rooted in classical Kalakshetra tradition – it was so pure! I also really liked his energy and intrepretations. The connection he made between the ancient Ganges river and the importance of preserving rivers in the present age was very relevant.”

The confluence of nritta, nritya and abhinaya in the choreography and dancing of maestro Shri. Sheejith Krishna and his disciple Soumya Rajaram was a great treat for Boston based dance lovers. The outstanding music and the stage lighting added to the presentation. Kudos to the organizers, volunteers and performers for putting together a memorable performance.

(Photo credits: Nirmala Garimella and Shuchita Rao Inbox x )

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