Bustling with youth and sheer passion for Bharatanatyam, eight dance prodigies of Indian origin from Boston can hardly contain their delight as they recount their three-day dance tour of Bangalore last week.
As we sit with them a day after their third and final performance, it is not hard to see what attracted the girls to the great Indian classical dance form. Showing a rare depth of knowledge and interest in Indian arts and culture, to borrow their own words, “The only way people realise we are not from India is through our accents!”
The eight girls, aged between 10 and 22 years, are all students of Natyamani School of Dance, Boston, USA, run by Sridevi Ajai Thirumalai, who is their guru. Originally from Bangalore, she is a young veteran of sorts who has performed across the country and is well-known to Bangalore’s dance aficionados. The troupe came to Bangalore in the second week and after rigorous rehearsals, presented three enervating performances in the city.
The first show, on July 25, was part of the popular ‘Shantala Dance Festival’. It saw the school’s two senior-most students Akshaya Krishnamurthy and Shriya Srinivas hold a packed house at Malleswaram’s Seva Sadananda Auditorium with an hour-long Bharatanatyam recital. Their duet included performances of Srivignarajambaje, an ode to Lord Ganesha penned by Oothukadu Venkata Subba Iyer, and a thillana by Swathithirunal.
The following day, the entire troupe, including Guru Sridevi’s daughter Amrita Thirumalai, danced to Pushpanjali and Govindashtakam (the story of Krishna) in an hour-and-half-long performance ‘Nrithyollasa’ at Rama Mandir in Jayanagar.
On July 27, the girls performed a group repertoire at JP Nagar’s Keshava Samskriti Sabha.
Through all their performances, the troupe was accompanied by local musicians including Vidushi Bharati Venugopal on the vocals, V R Chandrasekhar and Nagar on the mrudangam, Madhusudhan and Mathur Srinidhi on the violin and Mahesh Swamy on the flute.
The prodigal performers include : Akshaya Krishnaswamy(22), Shriya Srinivas (15), Ramya Ravindrababu, (17), Sneha Rao (16), Pallavi Krishnamurthy (15), Sirisha Nouduri (14), Gayatri Kasi (18), and Amrita Ajai Thirumalai (10).
The Indian experience
Sridevi’s students are no strangers to the stage, having performed regularly at the prestigious, state-funded Annual Westborough Arts Programme for the last five years. But performing in India is always special. As Akshaya, who had her arangetram at Bangalore’s Bharathiya Vidya Bhavan in 2007, puts it: “It is an experience that gets better and better every time”.
18-year-old Gayatri Kasi describes it as a novel experience to perform in front of an audience which generally has a greater knowledge of the art form compared to the Western audience.
Her friend, Remya Ravindrababu echoes her words as she says: “I didn't appreciate Bharatanatyam till I came to India, which is a whole new world where the dance form is an everyday affair.”
“We dropped everything back home for a couple of months just to travel halfway across the world to perform here. It has been such a freeing experience and was totally worth it,” she adds.
“I feel lucky to be able to perform not just in the place I live, but also in the place I belong originally,” says 10-year-old Amrita, who is already proving a worthy successor to her mother.
Some of the students - Sneha Rao, Pallavi Krishnamurthy and Sirisha Nouduri, have their arengetrams coming up in the next month-and-half and for them, the experience has been an eye-opener, while being thrilling at the same time.