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Arangetram: Joshika Selvaraj

Suryaa Ramaswamy

June might still be early arangetram season in New England, but Joshika Selvaraj’s Bharatanatyam debut recital on June 18th will definitely go down as one of my top 'picks' of this season. In the intimate space of the Grafton high school auditorium, Joshika, disciple of Guru Sapna Krishnan took the audience to a state of pure bliss and joy, as she made everyone forget time, space and showcased her craft, nonstop, for almost 4 long hours. There was never a dull moment, as the young and brilliant 17-year-old excelled her way, dancing to her Guru’s resplendent choreography for 10 unique dance pieces, on different literary characters, many of which were new and previously unheard or unseen in the New England Bharatanatyam dance arena. 

The evening commenced with a speech by the chief guest for the evening, an acclaimed composer and a doyen of Bharatanatyam in recent times, Guru Shri. R Madurai Muralidharan, who graciously joined the event virtually from India. The speech was followed by a divine invocation on Lord Ganesha by eminent Bharatanatyam vocalist, Shri Sudev Warrier, who was accompanied beautifully by the co-artistes for the evening, Shri Nagarajan Shanmugalingam on mridangam, Shri VK Shivakumar on flute and Shri Ananda Nadayogi on violin. These musicians truly made Joshika’s arangetram memorable by giving her the indispensable support she needed, as she cruised through some complex dance pieces involving intricate swarams, jathis and rhythmic korvais. Ramya Srinivasan, played the role of a ‘master of ceremony’ to perfection and introduced the dance pieces with short narratives, switching seamlessly between English and Tamil, much to the delight of the multilingual audience. 

Joshika commenced the evening with a Pushpanjali in Ragam Saraswathi and Ganesha Stuti in Ragam Kanakangi, both composed by Shri Madurai R Muralidharan. These two initial pieces set the tempo and rhythm for what was going to be an extraordinary evening.The subsequent Anjaneya kavuthuvam, in Ragam Pantuvarali, an incredibly fast paced number with its brilliant choreography by Guru Sapna Krishnan glorified the attributes of Lord Hanuman. Joshika proved her prowess over nritta elements of dance and her agility in movement, by swiftly changing to different poses for each chant of “Jayame Jayame”. The next item, one of my personal favourites from Joshika’s arangetram, was a Nachiyar pasuram, the very famous ‘Varanam Aayiram’ where Joshika’s characterization of Andal, longing and dreaming for Lord Ranganatha was outstanding. As we stood mesmerised at the portrayal of the Lord and Andal’s wedding ceremony, the audience was treated to a rose petal shower from somewhere atop the auditorium. Made me wonder if it was a sly effort to transport the audience to Srirangam without flights! 

It is often said that the touchstone for a dancer’s true abilities is a Varnam. As the spotlight focused on the beautifully handcrafted lotus flower on stage, out emerged Joshika, like she had stepped out from a temple frieze. She shone through the ever popular Dharu Varnam ‘Maathe Malayadwaja’ composed by Harikesanallur Mutthiah Bhagavathar in Ragam Khamas. As the intricate jathis and chittaswarams came at her, Joshika matched each of them with such aplomb, skill and perfection. The abhinaya segments for this varnam, as she switched between Goddess Parvathi being a caring mother to her two sons and Goddess Chamundeshwari slaying Mahishashura with roudram oozing through every inch of her body will remain etched in the memory of audience for a long long time. When the crowd gave Joshika a thunderous applause at the conclusion of varnam, I must say that it rivalled the loudest thunders ever heard in New England auditoriums. After the musicians enthralled the audience to an evergreen Raghuvamsasudha, the second half of the arangetram resumed with Joshika, wearing an elegant black and red costume, dancing to ‘Aadikondaar’, a popular Muthuthaandavar Kriti describing Lord Shiva’s dance in Chidambaram. Joshika’s dance was as rhythmic as the dance described in the Kriti itself and we couldn’t help marvel at all her jumps, leaps, sways and turns. The next song of the evening was a Garuda Keerthanam, a custom song, exclusively composed for Joshika’s arangetram by Shri Madurai R Muralidharan. This dance described the story of Garuda, who braved all challenges and hurdles thrown at him, while trying to obtain the nectar of immortality to save his mother from a curse. Set in Misra Chapu thalam and a rare ragam, Gaangeyabhooshani, it was noticeable how Joshika never lost her symmetry and balance as she switched to Garudasana multiple times. Some lightness was brought into the recital with Gummana Kareyadire, where Joshika enacted the naughty prankster Lord Krishna requesting his mother to not call the monster, Gumma. Joshika’s flair for abhinaya and versatility was brought out beautifully through this Kannada language Devaranama. A folk song, Valli Kanavan in Senjurutti followed, where Joshika portrayed the story of a girl speaking to her pet bird about her yearning for Lord Muruga. Despite dancing for almost 4 hours, there was no noticeable drop in Joshika’s energy levels. With all of her high energy movements to this peppy dance number, it felt like she had enough stamina to go on for a couple more hours! Speaks volumes about her training and rigorous practice sustained over several years. T

he recital concluded with a Thillana set to Ragam Kadanakuthukalam and a Mangalam, where Joshika thanked the audience for coming and blessing her on a momentous occasion of her life. As the audience gave her a standing ovation, I couldn’t help notice Joshika’s Guru, standing on the stage sidelines, beaming with pride, for she deserves all the credit for carefully sculpting and chiselling Joshika into the artist that she has become today. 

With magnificent décor on and off the stage, rose water and jasmine flowers welcoming the guests, attractive costumes, jewellery and make up, excellent lighting, sound, props, flower petal showers, video invitations, teaser videos, handcrafted fancy brochures, live streaming, delicious snacks, dinner and customised return gifts, it was evident that Joshika’s family had left no stone unturned to make this event outstandingly grand for their daughter. But beyond the glitz and glamour, what stood out to me was the humility of the girl, who danced tirelessly and flawlessly for 4 long hours and still came out to thank all her guests individually at their dinner tables with a pleasant smile on her face. Well done, Joshika! 

As I revelled in the beauty of what I had witnessed and was entering the car to get back home, I heard my mother remark ‘filigreed perfection’. I smiled because I could not have agreed more!

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