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Bharatanatyam Lecture Demonstration At The Museum Of Fine Arts, Boston

A. Rasika

Sunanda Narayanan and her students of the Thillai Fine Arts Academy in Newton performed two engaging Bharathanatyam lecture-demonstrations at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston on March 15th and 18th, 2015. The programs, which ran a full 3 hours, led the viewer through an exposition of classical Bharatanatyam, which followed the traditional margam. The well-selected program showcased the versatility and depth of the dance style and kept the audience captivated throughout.

The afternoon began with the students performing the customary namaskaram and salutation to Nataraja with the sloka “Angikam Bhuvanam Yasya …” meaning “Whose body is the universe, speech is the language of the universe, ornaments are the moon and stars, to him we bow in worship”.  Sunanda explained every aspect of the dance: its history and context, the incremental training through adavus, the usage of hand and body gestures, and the spiritual aspect of the art.  Her students demonstrated adavus before embarking on presenting segments from a variety of dance pieces including an invocation to Ganesha, Alaripu, Kauthuvams, Jatiswaram, Varnams, several abhinaya (emotive) pieces, and tillanas.

Sunanda performed two non-traditional pieces: Maram, which describes the value of a tree, and her own interpretation of a Japanese Haiku, in which she brought out the depth and interpretive capacity of Bharatanatyam. She explained and demonstrated how this is an art form with a versatile technique that can be used to portray contemporary ideas as well. The pieces that were presented also related to the fabulous art on display in the South Asian gallery at the museum.

A short live demonstration of Carnatic music was performed by a young singer, Hari Narayanan with mridangam accompaniment by Inesh Vytheswaran. Hari performed two songs - Vathapi Ganapathim and Narayanathe  in a clear melodic voice that brought out the intricacies of the music and made an impression on the audience.

The dancers included Sunanda Narayanan her students: Amritha Mangalat, Ashwini Vytheswaran, Kriti Tupil, Anika Sridhar, Amrita Sridhar, Aditi Sundaram and Kausalya Mahadevan.  The dancers were dressed in colorful dance costumes and traditional jewelry. The students ranged from school age to college age, and were all clearly passionate about dance, enjoying the demonstration as much as the audience.

The performance, in the lobby area of the MFA, was open to the museum’s visitors and drew a constant stream of spectators over the course of the presentations, with a gathering of about 50 at all times. Though visitors came and left as they pleased, most became engaged and stayed 30-60 minutes. Over the course of the events, the performance was seen by almost 600 people at the MFA. It was a pleasure to see the interest in understanding a traditional Indian art form evinced by a primarily non-Indian audience.

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