Children as young as three walked on to the stage, dressed in traditional bharathanatyam attire, to perform complex dance and music compositions during the eighth anniversary of Ranga Mandira, school of performing arts. Much to the surprise and awe of the audience, Marga Darshanam, as the programme was titled, also had the students reciting temple ritual practices and rare song compositions .
“We aim to blur the distinction that exists between dance and music,” said Swarnamalya Ganesh, director, Ranga Mandira. “It’s not just about dance or music, we aim at giving a holistic training to the students,” she added. Rightly so, the syllabus at Ranga Mandira includes story-telling, miming and creative classes, wherein students are encouraged to take up a serious subject and choreograph the same in groups. The sessions are taken by Sangeeta shala teacher R Vidya and Natya Shala teacher Seelucksee Subhaskar, apart from Swarnamalya herself.
While the stage at Sri T N Rajaratnam Pillai Auditorium was lit with tiny tots performing Jatiswaram, a traditional dance composition, and another batch singing with ease the much complicated Kamalamanohari ragam, the foyer was equally enlightening. An array of thermocol models of musical instruments and scrapbooks with notes and images of the Tanjore Quartette, all done by the students, were displayed.
“Tanjore quartette was the topic chosen by the students this year. The project works include their history and compositions,” Swarnamalya said. Further, she explained how students were also taught about the working of the musical instruments, acoustics, dance costumes. Sessions are taken on how to critique performances and students are also taken on occasional visits to heritage sites like Thanjavur and Mahabalipuram.
Anita Ratnam, who was one of the chief guests of the occasion, recounted her arangetram, which she had performed when she was just nine. “The performance went on for around three hours, at the end of which my grandfather told me mother that if I danced more, no one would marry me,” she said, to laughs from the audience. “In the past, we had to fight with our family to dance,” she added, pointing the contrast with the present, with so many parents coming to see their kids perform.
V V Sundaram, a member of Cleveland Thyagaraja Festival, spoke about how the students had performed on stage without any fright. “It was like the Saraswathi, which resides inside us, being brought out,” said Sundaram, who has been encouraging US-born Indian students to opt for traditional dance.
While for Swarnamalya, it’s all about catching the students young and honing them to become good human beings, for Anitha Ratnam, what Ranga Mandira does is make the students good rasikas. “In future, they would go to katcheris and not just recognise the ragams, but will also know how Tevaram should be sung and appreciate the beauty of Thirupaavai.”