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Arangetram: Laiya Maria Pavlov

Lily Abha Cratsley

Indian-American Dancer performs a Uniquely Multicultural Arangetram

 by Lily Abha Cratsley


In a small town in Massachusetts, a recent Bharatanatyam Arangetram seamlessly blended traditional Indian practice with the American diasporic experience. Laiya Maria Pavlov, 15, ascended the stage alongside her guru Smt. Sunanda Narayanan to offer a uniquely multicultural Arangetram on August 20, 2023 at Middlesex School's Kaye Theater in Concord, MA, USA. Bharatanatyam is a classical South Indian dance form that originated over two thousand years ago, initially performed in Hindu temples to tell stories from mythology, literature, or philosophy. Laiya's performance, however, showcased the ways in which this art form now transcends cultural, religious, and geographical boundaries. While the program largely followed the traditional Arangetram journey, including the centerpiece half-hour Varnam dance, Narayanan also welcomed Laiya's identity as a Christian Malayalee to find its way into the performance.

After the traditional Kriti, Laiya danced to "Kanivolum Kamaneeya Hridayam" (originally featured in the 1955 film Snehaseema) with Malayalam lyrics describing the crucifixion of Lord Jesus Christ and the story of the Good Samaritan. The ultimate piece was a ballet and Bharatanatyam fusion dance, choreographed by Narayanan and Mrs. Lindsay Moncrieff from the Acton School of Ballet, where Laiya has studied since age eight. As a second-generation Indian-American and a first-generation Russian-American, this piece represented her multicultural identity and completed the program with a deeply personal touch. In addition to these dance pieces, Laiya's Arangetram wove in her Indian family's diasporic experience through two short films that played inside the theater during her costume changes. The first highlighted voices from Laiya's grandmother and younger sister Arya. The second rolled family footage of the late Professor Felix Mathew–Laiya's grandfather whom the Arangetram was dedicated in honor of–during the years he first immigrated to the United States. At the end of the film, audiences saw a young Laiya dancing with him before his passing, a deeply moving touch.

These modern, multicultural touches to the program were merely embellishments to an already impressive and traditional Arangetram. Laiya has studied Bharatanatyam since age six with Narayanan, as well as Smt. Sridevi Thirumalai, Smt. Jothi Raghavan, and Smt. Manasa Jayanthi. Her expertise in the art form was apparent as she navigated complex poses and rhythms on stage. Narayanan, who runs Thillai Fine Arts Academy in Newton, MA and teaches Bharatanatyam at Harvard University, noted that "Laiya's dancing is a perfect blend of grace and strength, a mirror of her kind personality."

To showcase her great talent, the performance drew on the expertise of a musical ensemble full of accomplished performers. The musicians include Smt. Tara Bangalore of Anubhava School of Music on Violin, and Tarun Bangalore on Mridangam, a mother and son duo, as well as Smt. Sumitra Nitin of the Natyasruti School as Vocalist, and Smt. Durga Krishnan of the New England School of Carnatic Music on Veena. Laiya launched The Lotus Fund to provide financial scholarships for young South Asian-Americans like herself who would like to pursue dance education but do not have the resources to do so. For more information on this unique, diasporic Arangetram and the Lotus Fund, please visit laiyamaria.com.


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