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Arangetram – Nidhi Yabannavar And Jenika Patel

Shridhar Kulkarni

If an everlasting standing ovation is any measure of the success of a performance, then the joint Arangetram of Nidhi Yabannavar and Jenika Patel, disciples of Guru Smt. Poornima Risbud, on September 10, 2016 at Canton High School’s Auditorium was a grand success. The amazing coordination between the two, the high quality of performance by each, superb choreography by their Guru, the top-notch accompanying artists who brought the best out of the two dancers, and the perfect sound and lighting, all left the assembled 600+ audience wanting for more.

It was a culmination of 10+ years of the hard work by Nidhi Yabannavar and Jenika Patel, who have been students of Rasarang School of Performing Arts under the guidance of Guru Poornima Risbud that brought us all to the Rangapravesha event at Canton High. The decoration at the entrance, in the hallways, and leading up to the auditorium was exquisite. It set the tone and expectation for what was to follow. Family members of both Yabannavar and Patel families had travelled from India and from different parts of the U.S. to witness this important milestone for Nidhi and Jenika. Hundreds of friends and well-wishers poured in well before the program started at 4 pm.

After a melodious invocation by the musical ensemble, the program began with Pushpanjali, the welcome dance. The dance symbolizing the offering of flowers to Lord Nataraja showed how much Nidhi and Jenika must have worked on their steps together. The synchronous movements and the beautiful blue costume was a treat to the eyes. This was followed by Gajavadana Beduve, a devotional composition by the 16th century saint, Purandara Dasa, in raga Hamsa Dhwani set to Aadi taaLa. The next item was an Alarippu, set in Mishra Chapu taaLa. Both dancers demonstrated their command over form and their readiness for the rest of the evening.

The last piece of the first half, the Varanam, was the most elaborate item. Set in raga Ramapriya and Aadi taaLa, this Varanam praising Lord Rama was choreographed and performed very beautifully. A short demonstration given by both the dancers to Shachi Risbud’s narration of the stories enacted in the Varnam was of great help for those not so conversant with this classical art form. The musicians used this piece to show their command over the various nuances, crescendos, and climaxes of the composition. Shri Ramani Thiagarajan’s Flute and Shri E.P. Sudev Warrier’s voice filled the auditorium with the bliss that was equally matched by the abhinaya and nritta by the young dancers. Shri Sudhaman’s electrifying fingers on the Mr’dangam and Smt. Poornima Risbud’s equally powerful rendition of the intricate Jathis enhanced different episodes in Rama’s life narrated in this Varnam.

The second half of the program started with “Bagilanu Teredu”, written by the 16th century saint, Kanaka Dasa. In this piece, the dancers performed three stories depicting the glory of Lord Vishnu in helping his devotees. The first story was of Gajendra Moksha, in which Vishnu rescues an elephant from a crocodile. The second story depicted Narasimha, the fourth avatar of Vishnu. In this story, the demon king Hiranyakashipu, who tortures his own son Prahlad for being Vishnu’s devotee, is killed by Lord Vishnu who comes disguised as a half lion, half man. Lastly, it was the story of Draupadi, the wife of the five Pandava brothers. Lord Krishna, another avatar of Vishnu, saved her dignity when she was being disrobed by Dushshasan on the orders of his elder brother Duryodhan, both staunch adversaries of the Pandava brothers. Nidhi and Jenika’s abhinaya was very authentic, especially when Hiranyakashipu, enacted by Jenika, is killed by Lord Narasimha, portrayed by Nidhi. Thunderous applause by the audience confirmed how convincing they both were.

The next two items allowed Nidhi and Jenika to showcase their talent individually through separate dances. For her part, Jenika chose “Bhavani Ashtakam”, a hymn about taking refuge in Goddess Bhavani, the ferocious version of goddess Parvati. Composed by the 8th century saint Adi Shankaracharya this piece was set to Khanda Chapu taaLa. Jenika did a great justice to the composition with her excellent presentation of Bhavani’s fierce and kind natures at the same time. Nidhi followed this up with something unique to her heritage. She chose “Vachanas”, rhythmic Kannada poems written by Veerashaiva philosophers from the 11th and 12th century. Nidhi was spot on with her expressions in conveying the meaning of these poems that stress the importance of righteous speech and the impact of words. The vocalist, Shri Sudev Warrier went outside his comfort zone to understand and learn these vachanas and render them in the most authentic way as if he inherited this language and the content. Nidhi and Jenika then did a joyful Thillana in raga Kadanakuthuhala. This was their chance to show their intricate footwork and graceful body movements. Witnessing the rhythm cascade between the orchestra and the dancers was a pleasure.

Before Nidhi and Jenika got ready to perform the last couple of items for the day, the musicians were given the stage to entertain the audience with their amazing instrumental music. Shri Ramani Thiagarajan and Shri K.S. Sudhaman took the audience to a different world. Shri Sudhaman rubbed his enthusiasm and energy on the crowd so much that the entire hall started clapping rhythmically to his command. The audience and the musicians seemed like they were in a trance and kept feeding off of each other. It did seem like this could go on forever!

The next items showcased the blending of tradition with the modern. It was an expression of the fusion of the old with the new. Based on Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet Swan Lake, this composition by none other than Bharat Ratna Pandit Ravishankar set in raga Miya Ki Malhar, showed the split personality between white and black, or the split between innocent and happy versus strong and fierce. Choreographed by Shachi Risbud, the accomplished daughter of Guru Poornima Risbud, this performance did justice to the concept and the composition. Nidhi and Jenika leveraged their learnings about abhinaya from Bharatanatyam and showed effectively the difference between the two personalities and the eventual culmination of the two to make the person whole. This was followed by Mangalam, the ending piece of the entire performance. In place of a traditional Mangalam, the song chosen was a prayer to the almighty ‘Hey naath hum par Kr’pa keejiye...’ written and composed by Pandit Ravi Shankar and sung by S.P. Balasubramanyam.

The EmCees of the event – Julie Shah, Santrupti Nerli-Patil, and Asha Yabannavar – effectively narrated each item for the audience. The thank you speeches were of special importance as they highlighted something unique about Arangetrams in the U.S and what they mean for the people here. When Vijay Yabannavar, Nidhi’s uncle said he felt as if he was in Bengaluru or Chennai, or when Sanganna, Nidhi’s father said she is the first in the family to accomplish this level in an art form, it showed that nurturing the talent and carrying on the tradition did not seem like just a wish. It came across closer to the heart than just a desire to respect the heritage. Recital of Max Ehrmann’s poem “Desiderata” by Dipesh Patel, Jenika’s father, was a reflection of the values he and his family placed on life choices, focus, and commitment. Message from the poem “You are a child of the Universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here” resonated with the audience.

The stars of the closing ceremony no doubt were the two younger brothers. The audience almost choked when Jenika said her 12 year old brother would rub her feet when she came back from her hours-long practice sessions. Nidhi’s 11 year old younger brother Neil stole everybody’s heart when he held the prepared speech paper folded in his hand and spoke from his heart instead. He said he almost cried when he saw his sister perform so elegantly on the stage. When the audience thought he was joking and chuckled, he was swift with “I’m not kidding”, his voice heavy. The audience quickly realized how sentimental he had gotten.

This was the day when there was so much anxiety and drama occurring behind the stage while the on-stage performance appeared so calm and professional. This was the day when the young girls had tears of joy on the stage after successful completion of their 10+ years of dedicated learning of India’s ancient dance form. This was the day when they fully grasped what it meant to focus and achieve, a life lesson learnt at such a young age. This was the day when a family, a dance school, a community came together to celebrate the joys of life. On their way back, the audience kept pondering about the event of the day.

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