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Arangetram: Nitya Yelamanchili

Srinivas Bala

It was a beautiful summer afternoon not too hot or humid but pleasant when hundreds of guests thronged to the Nashua High School auditorium for the "Kuchipudi Ranga Pravesham" of Nitya Yelamanchili. Kuchipudi is an ancient cultural dance form unique to Andhra Pradesh, India formalized by Siddhendra Yogi many centuries ago. "Ranga" means stage and "Pravesham" means entry. So it was Nitya's stage debut of this great classical dance form on July 25th.
From the beginning, it was evident that Nitya's perseverance and hard work in preparing for this important milestone are coming to fruition, and the audience was to be enthralled for more than 3 hours of enchanting and mesmerizing performance. Nitya started off the afternoon's performance with "Vaataapi Ganapathim bhaje" - a traditional prayer to Lord Ganesha set in Hamsadhwani raagam and aadi taalam. In this warm-up number, Nitya slowly but steadily paid her obeisance to Lord Ganapati with utmost humility to help her through her lofty goal she has set for herself - The Ranga Pravesham.
Nitya then transitioned to the next number which was Kamakshi Stuti in Kamala Manohari Ragam set to adi talam. Having gained the confidence and the strength after the initial Ganesha prayer, Nitya eased into this dance which was a glorification of Goddess Kamakshi quite effortlessly. Nitya's expressions both as a devotee and as Goddess Kamakshi left the audience with a "bhakti bhava" who I am sure were visualizing the Supreme Goddess with all her radiance. To watch the deference and devotion she expressed as a devotee and the kindness and benevolence depicted as Goddess Kamakshi was a true pleasure.
The third number that was presented by Nitya was Tarangam which was composed by Narayana Teertha set to adi talam and in raagamaalika. It was indeed a delight to watch Nitya dance to this composition which depicts “Krishna Leela Tarangini”, or the "Exploits of Bala Krishna" - the various events of Lord Krishna's childhood. Nitya's abhinaya as "Bala Krishna" and her graceful dance movements depicting his divine pranks immersed the whole audience in ecstasy which I have not witnessed any time in the past several years. The child-like innocence that I always notice in Nitya seemed to have completely come alive in that role of Bala Krishna. The speed with which she switched the roles of Krishna and Mother Yashoda was fascinating. If eyes and expressions could speak, I can say Nitya’s eyes spoke volumes in this number. She proved that one does not need to know the story of Lord Krishna or know the language in which the Tarangam was written if they simply followed her swift expressions. She easily demonstrated fleeting emotions and feelings of two separate characters, be it the tenderness and affection in the eyes as Yashoda, or the naughty bewitching smiles as Lord Krishna; the angry and exasperated actions of Yadhoda or the appeasing and pleading faces of Krishna; the stunned and perplexed Yashoda, or the all-seeing, omnipotent Lord Krishna, the ultimate joy and elation in Yashoda or the cute and adorable Krishna, evoking the same feelings in the audience. I can go on and on about this item, and would probably not do justice. The tempo also picked up significantly compared to the previous numbers. Her fluid movements and lithe foot work to this fast-beat number were in-tune with her guru's rhythmic nattuvangam. Another unique feature about this particular number was Nitya's feat on the brass plate. It is unique to Kuchipudi art form and involves extremely complicated foot work on the brass plate which is not only difficult but also painful to the feet. All this didn’t seem to deter Nitya a bit and she successfully demonstrated high caliber dancing on the brass plate.
The quicksilver rhythm continued through the next number which was set to raagamalika and adi talam. In this number, Nitya rendered the Ananda Tandavam - the joyful dance of the Nataraja, the supreme lord of dance. It was a stark contrast to the earlier Kamakshi Stuti where Nitya depicted the Shakti, where as in this number she presented the Supreme Shiva. She performed the dance of Shiva with equal poise, brisk and scintillating movements, and captivated the audience’s attention completely.
The tempo slowed down a little with the next number "Bhavayami Raghuramam" again a raagamalika set to rupaka talam. This is an evergreen composition by Swati Tirunal where the complete Ramayana is illustrated. Nitya danced through each episode of Ramayana with dexterity, once again demonstrating the devotion and reverence to Sri Rama in her facial expressions. Her face was a true ‘Abinaya Darpana’ in this ageless classic, as she perfectly reflected the desire of a devotee to merge with God.
The final and the most elaborate presentation of the evening was Bhama Kalapam which was Satya Bhama's transition from that of a possessive natured consort of Lord Krishna to that in which Satya Bhama realizes that she can only win over the lord by complete surrender with devotion and love. Here, we got to see Nitya nimbly transitioning from the role of a vibrant and possessive form of Satyabhama to a submissive and obsequious form of Satyabhama who surrenders to Lord Krishna. As she progressed through presenting the four stages of this item namely Daruvu, Lekha, Shakunamulu and finally the Mangalam - one could clearly see the inner philosophical essence of this whole piece: when one sheds the individual ego and surrenders to the Supreme, it culminates in the union of the Jeevaatma and Paramaatma, i.e., the merger with the Supreme. Whether it is portraying a proud Satyabhama who exudes supreme confidence in her beauty or a slightly dejected Satyabhama who tries to plead with the Lord thru' her letter or a completely blissful Satyabhama who revels only in her Lord every moment and as such is eager to surrender to Him, Nitya swiftly progressed through these diverse expressions and emotions with absolute elegance and grace. If Nitya did undeniable justice to “Vakyartha abhinaya” by portraying the underlying meaning of every line in the poetic verse earlier, during the second stage of Lekha where she writes a letter to Lord Krishna, she also brought to life “Vachika abhinaya” (the use of words/dialogues) by demonstrating her Telugu speaking skill which was impeccable, effortless and simply sweet.
A lot of this afternoon's successful performance by Nitya can be attributed to her guru, Smt. Sailaja Chaudary, who is a disciple of Padmashree Dr. Sobha Naidu. She is the director of Sri Kuchipudi Natyalaya. Having a master's degree in dance and having received many awards and titles, Smt. Sailaja has been very active in the community, leveraging the art form for many charitable activities.
As with any Indian classical dance program, Nitya's ranga pravesham was actively supported by a team of extremely talented musicians. While guru Smt. Sailaja provided the nattuvaangam, Smt.K.R.Sudha Rani provided melodious vocal support. Sri.Mahadasu Neeladri Rao played the violin exquisitely while Vulli Bhima Sankara Murali played the flute mellifluously. All of these musicians were aptly supported on percussion by Sri B.V.Ganesh Rao who played the mridangam and tabla. The whole team supported each other and Nitya in harmony.
Ravi Yelamanchili was the master of ceremony for the evening and he assumed his role with dignity. His subtle humor with a lot of anecdotes brought out the lighter side of the otherwise deeply reflective and contemplative Ravi, and evoked a lot of laughter from the audience.

Nitya's ranga pravesham was unique in many respects. It was like an exhilarating ride for more than 3 hours that Nitya took us all on. Each dance item she presented seemed to be competing with the others and as such it is very difficult to pick a favorite. My personal favorites were Tarangam, Ananda Tandavam and last but not least the ultimate "Bhama Kalaapam". Nitya could not have chosen a better collection of compositions for her ranga pravesham. The wide variety of the collection provided ample opportunity to Nitya to demonstrate her prowess in nritta, natya and abhinaya. It was a real feast to the eyes watching Nitya transform into an accomplished dancer. It was like a beautiful butterfly coming out of a cocoon flapping the wings joyously.

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