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Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Classical Bharatanatyam Dance Performance in Birmingham by Dr. Vasundhara Doraswamy

Dr. Vasundhara Doraswamy (photo credit: Suresh Grandhi)
Dr. Vasundhara Doraswamy (photo credit: Suresh Grandhi)
By Dr. Krishnan, Birmingham, AL
Classical Bharatanatyam Dance Performance “Dancing to the Deities with centuries -old music” by acclaimed Dr. Doraswamy from the princely city of Mysore, India was held on Friday, August 23, 2013 at The Hindu Temple & Cultural Center of Birmingham Auditorium.

As the lights dimmed, it seemed that we were drawn further and further back in time. And to India. 
Dr. Vasundhara Doraswamy’s Bharatanatyam was a remarkable display, keeping in mind her seniority in the art. Her flexibility and still poses depicting the various gods in the pantheon of Hindu mythology lingered long in one’s mind after the show. Her dexterity in blending the right amount of yoga into Bharatanatyam without losing its grammar was also very much appreciated. In today’s world, it is not often that we find such devotion to the art. 
The evening commenced with a melaprapti, which parallels a pushpanjali. The sloka paying obeiscence to Shiva was very unusual (taken from Yajurveda)—generally, we find slokas on Ganesha, Lakshmi, or Saraswati. 
As the audience expected an Alaripu next, as per custom, it was quite a surprise to see Dr. Doraswamy take the stage in Gajavadana karuna sadana, a popular Papanasam Sivan kriti in the beautiful ragam of Sriranjani. Sriranjani in some lights is very similar to Aboghi—both possess a bit of a haunting mood. Normally, Gajavadana is danced to by Kuchipudi dancers. It is not often included in a Bharatanatyam recital—however, Dr. Doraswamy’s rendition of the kriti was keeping in with this art form’s grammar. 
The third piece Hari Harana regale saw the dancer move towards pieces centered more on bhakti. Indeed, this is Dr. Doraswamy’s area of expertise. Her dedication and humility towards her art and as she assumed each character is a very valuable lesson to today’s upcoming dancers. Here, her yoga training was showcased as she portrayed how Lord Shiva danced for his devotee, the humble pot maker. The peacock gallivanted all over the stage, while the snake impressively bent backwards and slithered to the beat. The audience was stunned by her mobility as she knelt down, and bent backwards—touching the floor—four times in a row, right and left sides. 
Her javali, composed by Chittoor Subramanya Pillai, showcases a typical mischievous Krishna’s pranks. He stops a gopika and asks her playfully what will happen if she can’t go to the Vraj. Exasperated, she outwits him by saying that her aunt will “take care” of him if he doesn’t move out of her way. As Krishna runs away, the moment is bittersweet for the Gopika as she feels let down without his presence. While there was very strong rhythmic content, the composer being, Chittoor Subramanya Pillai, Dr. Doraswamy chose to focus on the expressive part of the dance. 
Meerabai: The name speaks for itself. Through several centuries, her all-encompassing bhakti for her Krishna have made a powerful impact on everyone who comes into contact with her message of longing for her Lord. Dr. Doraswamy even fit in how Meera was poisoned by her husband—but nothing happened to her! As she set Meera’s devotion for the Lord against a backdrop of cruelty towards Meera, the story became real. 
The next item was a devaranama showing the vamana and Narasimha avatar. Normally, dancers do not focus on the vamana avatar in such detail. Dr. Doraswamy held her leg high, and we could see the Lord Vishnu’s giant form. It was a moment of peace and stillness. Of course, her Prahlada was beautifully innocent. I feel that her portrayal of him was enhanced by the fact that she is a mother off the stage, and her kindness carried over, adding so much more poignancy into Prahlada’s story: he didn’t have a mother. 
Bhagyda Lakshmi baramma is a traditional Kannada song, inviting Lakshmi to come bearing her signs of prosperity. “Oh, Daughter of the Seas! With your beautiful bells and your immense kindness, the wife of Purandara Vittala, please come!”  A large segment of audience enjoyed even more as Dr. Doraswamy’s dancing brought to life the words in their native language. 
The Thillana, valachi, was on Devi. What made this Thillana unusual was the fact that it incorporated a sanchari, or a few minutes of music to depict a story in detail. As the audience waited with bated breath for the demon to be killed, it came to mind why Dr. Doraswamy holds our attention unflinchingly: despite the familiarity of the stories, she brings her passion for dance to each story—making it new. 
The mangalam was traditional, in perfect line with the fact that Dr. Doraswamy has practiced innovation within tradition in her margam “Dancing to the Deities.” A good person has the ability to become a good artist through their sensitivity and kindness. Dr. Doraswamy, her breath not quite back yet, ran to the microphone after her mangalam, and personally thanked Guru Smt. Sheila Rubin for attending and blessing the performance. She also thanked other gurus in attendance. This not only speaks volumes about her humility as an artist but also about her respect for the traditional gurus of our society. We certainly hope to see Dr. Doraswamy back in Birmingham very soon!
Dr. Vasundhara Doraswamy, an Yoga expert (disciple of Late Sri. Pattabhi Jois) and a professional classical dancer was visiting The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, as a guest speaker during the Week of Welcome and conducted yoga workshop and gave a talk "India and the Culture of Yoga on August 22, 2013. 

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