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Celebrating 30 years of dance: Bharatanatyam artist Uma Palam Pulendran returns to Chennai for a soulful performance

BY SUSHMA MOHAN*

Uma Palam Pulendran, a renowned performer from Atlanta, recently performed in Chennai, her hometown. Hailing from a family of scholars, she is a graduate of the Bharata Kalanjali institution founded by the celebrated dance couple Guru Dhananjayans in Chennai.

Titled “Guru Samarpanam” this performance marked the 30th year of completion of Uma Palam’s Bharatanatyam Arangetram (solo dance debut). To celebrate this significant moment, Uma traveled to Chennai to seek their blessings and offer this performance to her gurus as a token of her respect and appreciation. In the new campus of her alma mater Bharata Kalanjali, she presented dance numbers from her arangetram repertoire as well as some new choreographies.

As Uma mentions, “This was a moment of joy and reminiscence as I repeated songs from 30 years ago. This brought back memories of my learning and arangetram rehearsals.”

Uma presented traditional songs like the Mallari an invocatory dance and Devi Neeye tunai a composition on Goddess Parvathi, the first dance which she had learned when she came to BK (Bharata Kalanjali). She also presented the most challenging piece in a Bharatanatyam repertoire, Varnam, a traditional piece that requires immense stamina, focus and strength.

Uma shared anecdotes about her growing up and learning at BK during the 80s. She shared fun episodes such as how she had to scale a wall so that she could attend class on time.

The ever-encouraging Guru Dhananjayan commended her for her community services and her dedication to preserving traditional dance forms in the US.

While these are the days of group choreography and group presentations, Uma emphasizes the beauty of solo classical performances and performers as it accentuates the beauty of the dance form. “It is challenging”, she accepts “to make audiences come to a solo recital”.

She confesses that she enjoys and relishes the inward and soul ward journey of a classical soloist. She continued her recital with traditional dance numbers, “Aasai Mugam” a popular poem by Poet Subramanya Bharathi and Tillana, the finale.

Though a traditionalist and purist, Uma has made small efforts to integrate crossover music such as pop, opera, and Jazz and has weaved contemporary themes such as social Justice into traditional repertoire, which was evident in the presentation “Maithreem Bhajata”.

She has trained several students in Bharatanatyam in Atlanta and is a curator as well. Through her dance institution Natya Dhaara, she has presented the dance production ‘I am Sita’ by renowned artist Vidhya Subramanian, and playwright and theatre director Gowri Ramnarayan. She has hosted Guru Dhanajnayans at her dance institution.

Uma Palam is the artistic director of Natya Dhaara and at present resides in the Bay Area. She frequently travels to Atlanta to teach and perform.

*The author is the Artistic Director of Soorya Foundation for performing arts.

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