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Arangetram: Dhwani Sreenivas

Manasa Jayanthi

An Arangetram is a celebration of art, commitment, and dedication. A symbolic milestone of reaching a level of technical understanding and emotional maturity to become an able “professional” dancer. Here in the Boston area many of us eagerly wait for the season to start early summer and enjoy it as it lasts into the fall. As a regular attendee of many Arangetrams, I am always astonished by the level of effort put in by everyone in order to orchestrate such a grand event flawlessly. Any Arangetram for that matter is most successful when the collaboration is coupled with an ardent love for the art, support from family and friends, and a perfect understanding between the Guru and Sishya. It is this relationship that unfolds into the Margam, a special repertoire made up of carefully chosen pieces, allowing both the Guru and Sishya to create a magical performance that is lauded by everyone. It was not only my pleasure but also my honor to attend a very special Arangetram this season of the Thillai Fine Arts Academy where Smt. Sunanda Narayanan featured Dhwani Sreenivas as the debutante, on September 15, 2018. Needless to say, the program was a blissful experience on the whole. 

The evening started out with an invocatory piece sung in praise of the deities of the village temple of Vazhuvoor as the curtain raiser, followed by the first item of the evening. Dhwani ascended the stage dressed in a bright golden yellow costume, radiant and confident, as she depicted the magnificent, joyful, and humble Lord Ganesha in “Sri Vignarajam Bhaje”, set to Ragam Gambhira Nattai and in Kanda Chapu. She comfortably sustained the rhythm pattern while setting the tone for the rest of the evening with her gentle yet powerful demeanor and clear demonstration of her understanding in the grammar of the art form. This was followed by a brisk Alarippu set in mishram (a 7 beat cycle) where the attention to details was remarkable, a trademark of Sunanda Narayanan and her school. Dhwani’s Anga Shudhi, eye movements and overall execution were neat and clean, bringing out the true beauty of Alarippu, a simple yet beautiful piece of choreography. This was followed by selected passages of the Thirrupavai and an Andal Kauthuvam, where Dhwani enchanted us all as she impersonated the benediction of Andal. The divine energy that was felt from the passages and the interpretation depicted transformed the school auditorium into a spiritual sanctuary, setting the stage for the central gem of the Margam. 

A Pada Varnam, composed by the great Lalgudi G. Jayaraman in Ragam Shanmukhapriya and set to Adi Thalam, “Devar Munivar Thozhum Paathan”. Here the young artist was able to excel in illustrating her ability to seamlessly convey the ideas and bhavas of the themes of the composition in a lucid manner as the choreography intertwined between aspects of nritta and nritya. As the accompanying musicians brought out the nuances of the composition with great vigor, Dhwani executed the choreography in an equally robust fashion. As she illustrated elaborate Sancharis, the audience was able to witness great episodes of the Lord, as Krishna the friend of Kuchela, as Vamana, as Vishnu the one whose consort is Mahalakshmi, as Krishna in the Gitopadesham, and as an added bonus were transported to Tirupathi at the peak of the composition and choreography. It was clear that both guru and Sishya had spent a great ordeal of time to dabble into the poetic and philosophical themes of the composition, providing Dhwani a higher level of comprehension over the item. “A Varnam that is a magnum opus” as stated by Sunanda Narayanan, was handled spectacularly in performance with great musicality by the young dancer. 

In the post-intermission section of the Margam, the danseuse returned in another elegant costume, a deep peacock blue hue with a striking red contrasting border. She started this section of the Margam by paying her homage to the majestic Lord Nataraja in a padam, “Ananda Natamaduvar Thillai”. Dhwani looked stunning in each sculpturesque pose and performed, this evergreen favorite padam of many dancers, with great energy and chiseled movements. The next item juxtaposed the devotional mood of the previous piece to provide variety and was set to the mood of Ninda Stuthi as Dhwani performed, “Etthai Kandu Ichai Kondai, Magaley” in Ragam Kalyani and set to Rupakam Thalam. She maintained the sthayi bhavam effortlessly as a mother concerned with disapproval of her daughter’s choice of Lord Shiva. Following this item was a piece on Mother Goddess, Chamundeshwari, “Saarasamukhi” set to Ragam Godamalhaar and in Thalam Rupakam. Dhwani’s representation of the goddess and her prowess was refreshing and remarkable as she was able to display a fine balance between the fierce yet compassionate nature of the goddess, what is a feat for many Rasikas seemed to be very natural for her. She then re-entered the stage with a very vibrant and scintillating Thillana in praise of Lord Muruga, set to Ragam Bimplas and in Adi Thalam. A piece that was shared with Sunanda Narayanan by the eminent guru and artist, Durga Krishnan, a challenging piece for both music and dance that was specially choreographed as the celebratory finale for Dhwani’s Arangetram.  The Thillana was nothing less than a mosaic of movements where Dhwani held her own in terms of layam and thalam as she molded to the music’s nuances, cadences, and crescendos. Thereafter, with a radiant aura, a proud grin, and a bit of relief in her stance Dhwani transitioned into an auspicious conclusion with a Mangalam, ending on a reverent note and a prayer seeking Divine Grace for all creation. 

This Arangetram coalesced into a beautiful collage with the support of a wonderful orchestra made up of both local and non-local artists. With guru, Smt. Sunanda Narayanan on nattuvangam, Smt. Tara Anand on violin, Sri Murali Balachandran on mridangam, and Sri Srivatsan Raghavan on vocal. Photography credits are given to Sri Ganesh Ramachandran of Purple Ganesh Photography. Videography credits are given to Pradeepan Gnanapradeepan of Oli and Olhi. 

Once again hearty congratulations to both the Guru and Sishya, Smt. Sunanda Narayanan and Dhwani Sreenivas on a wonderful milestone. Dhwani was poised, elegant, and delivered a challenging Margam with great ease and maturity. May she continue to explore the depths of this art form and discover all of its magic for many years to come.

(Manasa Jayanthi is Assistant Director of Nrityanjali School of Dance and Senior Disciple of Smt. Jothi Raghavan. )

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