BY JYOTHSNA HEGDE
Photos by Venkat Kuttua Photography
Atlanta, GA, November 4, 2023: Amazing grace pervaded the movements of her hands and fingers. Fluidity in her motion and ‘Bhava’ in her eyes effortlessly and flawlessly conveyed poetic imagery. Her rhythmically intricate footwork and evocative expressions transitioned from reverential to beckoning, thoroughly enveloping the viewer’s senses. I understood, in that moment, why Rama Vaidyanathan is such a phenomenon, why millions of people around the world refer to her as an exponent of Bharatanatyam, par excellence.
Deeksha School of Performing Arts treated Atlanta rasikas to Bharatanatyam maestro Rama Vaidyanathan’s repertoire of classical dance form-based compositions, “New Dimensions to the Margam,” on October 22, 2023, at Berkmar High School Auditorium. In her latest artistic endeavor, Vaidyanathan showcased an exquisite tapestry of solo and group presentations of original compositions rooted in the classical dance form with the incorporation of a fresh perspective on its evolving vocabulary.
The “Margam” is a specific set of dance compositions that a student of Bharatanatyam learns (from the Guru), Vaidyanathan told NRI Pulse in an exclusive interview. Margam, translating to path in Sanskrit, is the journey a dancer embarks upon as the training commences. Starting with simple and direct compositions, the path culminates to fast-paced combinations that make room for vigorous execution with an obvious display of delight and abandon when the journey ends. So, “Margam” essentially encapsulates the core grammar and principles of the dance form.
In “New Dimensions to Margam,” Vaidyanathan said she wanted to explore a fresh perspective on the collection of dance compositions that comprise the “Margam.” She expounded further, explaining that she had been working for the past several years on new poetry in different languages, with different perspectives and flavors. Using the Bharatanatyam idiom, the grammar, with an intention to widen the spectrum of the dance form, Vaidyanathan said, she conceptualized, conceived, and choreographed each of the standalone compositions from scratch. Her compositions, rooted in Bharatanatyam, flavored with a contemporary approach, add fresh impetus to the traditional “Margam.”
Vaidyanathan’s creative choreography came alive with her disciples Kavya Ganesh, Reshika Sivakumar, Shubhamani Chandrashekar, Vaishnavi Dhore to the musical renditions of Anugrah Lakshmanan on vocals, Sannidhi Vaidyanathan on mridangam, Vishwesh Swaminadhan on violin, and Ashwin Subramanian on Nattuvangam and Kanjira. Lighting was designed by Gyandev Singh and executed brilliantly by Abir Thakurta.
Each piece started with a brief narration. As fingers trembled like flames and ankle bells shuddered with each step, the clarity and warmth of the dancing took over.
In the initial piece, Vaidyanathan’s choice of verses from the Mukundamala provided the perfect platform for the group to display a range of pace variations and tempos – from spirited to the meditative. The composer identifies himself as immersing himself in a lake of lotuses, equating hands and feet of Lord Krishna to the lotuses, the fish to HIS eyes, and waves to HIS ever-embracing arms. The composer depicts this imagery as the traveler sighting water amidst a parched desert and finds himself slowly, steadily immersing himself in this lake, that is, but, Lord Krishna himself. The dancers’ depiction, combined with the brilliant illumination, transported the viewer to this elusive lake, thoroughly justifying the poignant composition.
A varnam is the central and most elaborate number in a Bharatnatyam Margam. The second piece, varnam, “Jhuk aayi re badariya saawan ki,” Vaidyanathan picked from Mirabai’s Padavali, expounded the eternal love and yearning of Mirabai towards Krishna as she compares the dark clouds to elephants that Lord Krishna is riding. Mirabai parallels herself to the earth burns with intense heat after a fiery summer, longing for the rains – Her Krishna. And as the raindrops descend upon her, she feels the touch of Krishna. Guests watched in rapt attention as Vaidyanathan’s mastery of dance and storytelling was on full display, as she emoted effortlessly and moved flawlessly, maintaining perfect control of stature when she lunged or stretched all through the nearly 30-minute performance. Her dancing breathed with the singers’ vocals, accompanied by the perfect milieu of rain and thunderstorm, all as one.
Marathi abhang, “Vithala namaachi shaala bharli” by Jagadish Khebudkar followed the varnam. The endearing piece portraying students of the school of “Vittala,” who aspire for nothing but the attention of their headmaster “Panduranga,” was very well received. Laced with a sense of humor, the choreography mostly featured Vaidyanathan’s disciples as students with a final entry from the Guru in the role of a mother reminding the children that they had not had food, bath, rest, completely lost in praise of Vittala. A very reluctant child that sprung back on a stage in a flash drew laughter in the audience. The amalgamation of classical Bharatanatyam and an abhang was a delightful surprise.
In her fourth piece, Vaidyanathan forayed into Rabindra Sangeet, “O je mane na maana…,” a composition of the revered Rabindranath Tagore. ‘’Gone is the night –The lamp turns dim’ I know you have intense passion for me.. But it is time to go. But you – adamant, stubborn, you stand at my door, saying no, no, no, no.” The number, backed by the rhythmic sounds of the Kanjira, the dulcet voice of the vocalist, and the visual of a door on the stage backdrop by the light designer transitioned the viewer into a romantic trance.
Concluding on a high note, Vaidyanathan picked verses from Tirumular’s Tirumandiram where the composer speaks of becoming one with Shiva. “I become one with Shiva. He and I, together in one entity. We represent the cosmic darkness of the universe when every single thing is engaged in the activity of dance. Every time I read, I dance; every time I dance, I become one with Shiva. And every time I’ve become one with Shiva, I am with the universe.” A fantastic showcase of complex formations, coordination, and dynamic footwork, the final piece made way for an eloquent execution with the display of delight and abandon in sheer enjoyment apparent in each of the dancer’s movements and expressions. The intentional pauses amidst the reverberating mridangam held the stage and audience in stillness, allowing the viewer to imbibe Shiva consciousness, even as each of the dancers, Vaidyanathan in particular, did.
Vaidyanathan is one of the most sought-after artistes of her generation. When you witness “New Dimensions to the Margam,” or, I’m quite sure, any of her other productions in person, you will realize the reason.
“It was an honor to host Rama Vaidyanathan and Ensemble in Atlanta on Oct 22nd. I have been a true fan and an admirer of Rama Didi since I was a teenager. I have always loved her choreographic skills, her dancing style, and her attention to little details when it comes to stage performances. It was a privilege to present her and her team on behalf of my school in Atlanta. She presented her new work called the “New Dimensions to the Margam” which was very well received by the audience. A unique Margam where she presented 5 pieces in 5 different languages. It was very appealing to a much broader audience, and that’s what I always liked about her work. Despite so many events on that day, the turnout was very impressive. I was very happy to see so many people come and support Indian Classical Dance which is rare these days.
I was very satisfied with the overall outcome. I hope we can see more of such refined artists in Atlanta. Deeksha School of Performing Arts is committed to bringing artists and performances of the highest caliber to enrich the community we live in.
I want to thank our sponsor Mr. Shiv Aggarwal of Global Mall for supporting our event. I also want to thank Sandeep Savla (Mumbai Masala) and Turmeric restaurant for being our food sponsors for the artists. I also want to extend my gratitude to NRI Pulse for being our media sponsor,” Anupa Thakurta, Founder/Director Deeksha School of Performing Arts said.
Vaidyanathan also conducted workshops during her stay in Atlanta. Many Atlanta aspiring dancers and Artistic directors alike, attended these meetings to learn from the maestro.
“It was an amazing opportunity to watch Smt. Rama Vaidyanathan’s performance and I really enjoyed the show. Being a dancer myself, I understand the brilliance of her style, the way she portrays the emotions, her expressions were very amazing to see. The concept that she brings and how she makes that concept live through every phase of that dance performance was very interesting for me. I think there’s a lot to learn from such a great artist like Rama akka and it was quite a privilege and honor to basically watch her performance. I have seen some of her performances in the past as well as on social media. But seeing it live again was very impressive, and I hope to see many more of her performances, if possible get an opportunity to perform along with her, that will be an absolute honor for me.” – Sridevi Ranjit, Founder, Laasya School of Performing Arts.
“It’s evident that Rama ji is not just a talented dancer but also an excellent instructor. Her workshop was a masterclass in clarity and thoroughness. Her workshop was a perfect blend of artistry and education.” – Padmaja Kelam, Kalaivani Dance Academy.