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Arangetram: Anjali Kannan

Anitha Rajagopalan

This past July, Anjali Kannan performed her Bharatanatyam arangetram, at the Grafton High School in Grafton, MA. As one entered the venue, the elegant and tasteful decorations, all meticulously curated and coordinated just for the occasion – including a stunning display made of peacock feathers surrounding a resplendent Lord Murugan – set the stage for a stellar performance that did not disappoint.

Anjali has been a student of the Natyamani School of Dance and Guru Sridevi Thirumalai for the past 11 years. Guru Sridevi is well known across the region not only for her own virtuosity and ability to impart this ancient art to students, but also for her ability to bring out the best in her students by tailoring their performances to accentuate their innate strengths and talent, while also demanding the highest standards of classicism from them.

The performance was wonderfully enhanced by an orchestra of renowned musicians from India and the Boston area who commenced the event with a beautiful invocation of Lord Ganesha through the composition Vande Ni Shamanam in ragam Hamsadwani.

Anjali began her arangetram with a Pushpanjali in Bahudari ragam, where she sought the blessings of Lord Nataraja - the patron deity of dance, her Guru, the musicians, and the audience. This was followed by a Ganesha stuti, Bhaja Manasa Vigneswaram Anisham, also in Bahudari. The fast paced Pushpanjali gave way to an evocative rendering of the Ganesha Stuti by the contemporary composer Tulaseevanam. Anjali was the picture of grace as she depicted the elephant-faced God who delights in blessing his devotees.

As the next step in the margam or sequence of dance items, Anjali performed a Jatiswaram but with a creative twist woven into it. Guru Sridevi had expertly choreographed the verses of a keertanam intertwined with the Jatiswaram, both in ragam Saraswati. Thus you had Anjali moving effortlessly between the nritta-laden Jatiswaram and the lilting and graceful keertanam, Saraswati Namostute, in praise of the Goddess of learning and the arts.

The next piece in Anjali’s repertoire was the classic kriti Devadi Deva, a composition of Saint Thyagaraja in the ragam Sindhu-Ramakriya. The kriti describes the glory and form of Lord Shiva with many glowing attributes. As Anjali portrayed the story of the devas and asuras churning the ocean of milk in search of amritam or nectar, one could visualize their agony and relief when Lord Shiva rescued them by drinking the deadly poison that emanated.

The most complex and elaborate piece in an arangetram is the varnam -  it showcases the dancer’s mastery of technique and rhythm along with her command of abhinaya to convey the essence of the song. Anjali performed the varnam Swamiyai Vara Solladi in the ragam Poorvi Kalyani. The rich emotions of the sancharis and intricate footwork of the jathis were mesmerizing as they told the story of a nayika who was pining for her beloved Lord Muruga and imploring him to return. Anjali also skillfully depicted the story of Murugan’s  divine spear that he received from Goddess Parvati to defeat the demon Soorapadman.

After a brief intermission, the second half began with the energetic and electric Maha Kali Maha Shakti in ragam Gowla composed by Shri Madurai Muralidharan. It was an amazing testament to Guru Sridevi’s abilities as a teacher and Anjali’s versatility as a dancer; the same dancer who minutes ago was despondent and pining for her beloved in the varnam had transformed into the all-powerful and formidable Shakti, the Goddess who personifies strength and protects the entire universe. Sudarshan Thirumalai’s embellishments on the rhythm pad were essential to creating the right mood and tempo for this weighty piece.

A playful song followed next, Madhava Maya, in ragam Hamsanandi, by the renowned Tamil composer Papanasam Sivan. Anjali displayed the mischief and charm of Krishna, the shining star of the Yadavas. She portrayed a couple of stories that illustrated Krishna’s grand illusions or Maya, as he holds his mother Yashoda and the Gopis of Brindavan spellbound with his antics.

If Madhava Maya was playful, the next song exuded pure joy. It was the story of Sita’s swayamvar and wedding to Rama, as told in Shri Sudhir Phadke’s Geet Ramayan in ragam Mishra Mand. One could feel the excitement and splendor of the swayamvar – brought out beautifully by the orchestra and by Anjali’s joyous moves and storytelling. You could feel Sita’s glee at seeing Rama successfully string the bow. The choreography was delightful and the joyfulness in the piece was foot-tappingly contagious.

Anjali concluded her performance with a scintillating Thillana set to ragam Hindolam in Adi talam. As the pace of the song picked up, so too did the intricacy of the choreographed movements. This thillana was in praise of Lord Nataraja of Chidambaram.

There is no dance without music. Such a performance was only possible with an orchestra who supported and steered the fledgling dancer to this remarkable milestone. Their talent and brilliance is unmistakable, yet their sole aim through the whole concert was to support, enhance and enrich the dancer’s presentation. Guru Sridevi, with her nattuvangam expertly guided Anjali to synchronize with the talam. Vidwan Srinidhi Mathur’s vocals were versatile and brilliant, portraying just the right emotions and mood that each song called for. Vidushi Tara Anand provided the soulful and splendid violin accompaniment that complemented his singing, as did Vidwan Narasimha Murthy Ramamishra’s evocative flute. Vidwan Srihari Rangaswamy on the mridangam brightened every dance while Sudarshan Ajai Thiruamalai on the rhythm pad introduced flourishes at appropriate moments.

As Anjali thanked the Divine, her Gurus, musicians, family and friends with the Mangalam, the audience rose to their feet to appreciate and marvel at her entertaining, lively and graceful performance. As Guru Sridevi often remarks at arangetrams, this is only the beginning. We hope Anjali continues to learn and grow as a dancer, and we wish her all the best in her senior year at Lexington High School.

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