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Arangetram: Sneha Rao

Padmini Narayan

On the afternoon of August 31st, 2013, a large audience from the Boston metro area and beyond were treated to a scintillating Bharatanatyam debut performance by Sneha Rao, at the Medway High School Auditorium. The Arangetram, or debut performance, is a much anticipated event in a young dancer’s life. After years of dedicated training with the teacher
or Guru, the student or Shishya ascends the stage to present a full-fledged solo dance performance for the first time. It is an occasion to showcase the dancer’s facility with the art form, as well as to pay his/her respects to Lord Nataraja, to the Guru and to family. And Sneha did justice to all of that! A student of the highly acclaimed Bharatanatyam dancer Smt Sridevi Ajai Thirumalai, at just 16 years of age, Sneha did her Guru proud.
In traditional form the afternoon commenced with a musical invocation to Lord Ganesha, the remover of obstacles, rendered beautifully by Vidwan Sri Akshay Padmanabhan and the musical ensemble.Sneha started her performance with an invocatory piece paying obeisance to Lord
Nataraja, the patron deity of Bharatanatyam. This was followed by a Ganesha Stuti in Ragam Gambeera Natai, and a brisk Alarippu, with adavus in Thisra, Chatushra & Khanda nadais. Right from the get go Sneha exhibited confidence and grace rare among debutantes. She captured the audience with her Angashudhi (well-coordinated movement of body parts) and excellent Abhinaya (facial expressions). The Alarippu was followed by
the evergreen Jathiswaram in Ragam Vasantha which Sneha joyfully executed while displaying her command over the rhythmic patterns and intricate footwork. Next, in the Padam Shivakama Sundari set to Ragam Jaganmohini, Sneha was exemplary in her portrayal of Goddess Parvathi – one moment depicting her as a beautiful maiden and in the next as the fierce Mother Shakthi.

The musical interlude that followed by the stalwart musicians in the ensemble was a treat in itself. Purandara Dasa’s enchanting composition, Badavanu Naneke, in Ragam Behag was rendered with great feeling by Vidwan Sri Narasimha Murthy Ramamishra on the flute. Next was a Tyagarja composition in praise of Lord Krishna, Ganamurte, in Ragam
Ganamurti. Vidushi Smt Tara Bangalore’s soulful rendition of this piece brought out the lyrical beauty of the song.
The piece de resistance for the evening, the Varnam, was the beautiful Gokula Bala in Ragam Kalyani in praise of Lord Krishna. It was evident from the superb choreography of the complex Nritta passages and the elaborate Abhinaya segments that this was no simple Varnam. But Sneha proved herself to be more than equal to it. She executed the intricate Jathis with grace, precision and agility, receiving much applause from the audience. Her
depiction of Krishna’s childish pranks alongside the Gopi’s annoyance was a joy to behold. Various scenes from Krishna’s life, such as the liberation of ferocious Poothana, the lifting of Govardhana Mountain, the overpowering of the snake Kaliya, Krishna’s exchange with his friend Sudama, his protection of Draupadi’s honor, and the salvation of the elephantGajendra, were all presented with absolute clarity. The ease and maturity with which
Sneha drew us in to each of these beautiful stories of Lord Krishna left us wanting for more!

Happily for us, we did get to witness more of Sneha’s dancing! The second half started off with a bang with an elaborate Dashavataram piece, Paarkadal Alaimel in Ragamalika. Sneha’s portrayal of all the Avataras of Lord Vishnu, with Vamana being my favorite, was very well done. Next was another favorite of mine, a Tulsidas Bhajan, Thumaka Chalata Ramachandra, which describes the antics of Lord Rama, his first steps, his first words. Sneha’s playful expressions as she depicted the interactions between baby Rama and his mother, as well as her rendition of the mother’s pure love and adoration of baby Rama were an absolute delight to watch. Moving on from motherly love to a maiden pining for her absent lover... Next, Sneha performed a Javali, Idene Sakhi, in Ragam Behag. A predominantly Abhinaya piece, Sneha’s portrayal of the lovelorn Nayika or maiden anxiously awaiting her Lord were spot on. Excitement over the Lord’s pending arrival, the nervous anticipation as she waits, and the disappointment and confusion over His
indifference were all demonstrated beautifully.

The Thillana in Ragam Dhanashri was a fitting finale to the flawless performance.Challenging choreography, a testament to Guru Sridevi, was executed to perfection. The gracefully done Kathak moves added a nice touch to this Thillana composed by Maharaja Swati Tirunal in Hindi. The performance concluded with the Mangalam, a somber benediction where Sneha sought blessings from God for herself and for a world where
everybody can live with friendship and love, in peace and harmony.
Guru Sridevi held the reins for the entire evening gracefully through her nattuvangam. 
young Vidwan Sri Akshay Padmanabhan enthralled us with his commanding yet mellifluous voice. Winner of several accolades in India, Sri Padmanabhan’s soulful rendition of all the songs set the right mood and provided the right support for Sneha. Likewise, Vidwan Srihari Rangaswamy on the mridangam provided excellent rhythmic support to Sneha. What was more compelling was that through his skillful playing, Sri Rangaswamy helped to set the perfect tone for the various sancharis (elaborate story
telling) even in the Abhinaya segments. Our local treasures, Vidushi Smt Tara Bangalore on the violin and Vidushi Smt Durga Krishnan on the veena were just fabulous, as was Vidwan Sri Narasimha Murthy Ramamishra on the flute. They closely followed the dancer’s movements and sancharis, providing just the right touch of melodic support to embellish the story the dancer was portraying. A unique addition to the musical ensemble was Master Sudarshan Ajai Thirumalai, providing well-timed support on the rhythm pad.

To many in the audience that afternoon, Sneha’s arangetram felt less like an introductory solo performance and more like a full-fledged program by a seasoned dancer. Such was the maturity and understanding that Sneha exhibited in every piece. Credit goes in large part to Guru Sridevi. Her ability to nurture young dancers and instill in them a deeper understanding of the art form is commendable. Sneha is indeed fortunate to have such a
dedicated Guru, and with her own passion and excellent work ethic, as well as supportive parents Sumana & Anand Rao, Sneha will surely continue to blossom in her journey as a Bharatanatyam dancer.

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