This blog was contributed by Mahalakshmi Ramanathan.
Baala - The tale of Kanha, the brainchild of Vidhushi Megha P Rao, a 90-minute dance drama that recently won a grant from Artists 3 60 - A program of mid-America arts alliance, successfully brought forth the talents of her students in an exciting and spectacular venture in their 5th annual fall production held at Bentonville West High. This event was also logistically supported by the Ra-Ve Cultural Foundation. The mayor of Bentonville, Stephanie Orman, and the Superintendent of Bentonville Public Schools, Debbie Jones, were special guests to the event and spoke about the importance of such events in our community and the contributions of the Indian community, in particular.
The pace of the evening was established on a high note as the curtains rose and Megha’s senior students displayed their strength and stamina with precise, intricate footwork dancing through complex rhythms and melodies brilliantly executing every move. As the story unfolded from the birth of Krishna to the festivities at Gokul, demise of Pootana, mischievous Krishna who shows the entire universe in his mouth, students across varied ages, moving in and of out character flawlessly, portrayed the majestic conqueror of the hearts of people of Gokul. The youngest performers of the night performed the Krishna leela with much gusto. In all honesty, such young children dancing on stage are usually mere caricatures, endearing only to the parents. Megha’s students were an exception as they performed effortlessly with precision. Each item was carefully chosen, crafted and tailored to suit the age of the dancer.
The choreography of “Maadu meikkum kanne” composed by Oothukadu Venkata Subbaiyer set in Sahana - a playful prelude between Krishna and his mother Yashoda characterized beautifully by Megha Chander and Matangi Arun merits special mention showing the immeasurable blessing of the joys of rearing the creator of the universe.
Whilst there were familiar numbers like “Thaye Yashoda” and “Maadu meikkum kanne” , the moment “taam dheem tarana taam” hit the speakers, a flurry of joy rose in the audience. The night matured into brilliance with another Oothukadu Venkata Subbiyer’s composition in the form of Kalinga Narthana thillana - The conquering of the poisonous snake Kaliya with Megha Chander playing Krishna and Jyothika Arunkumar, the serpent. The dancers captured each nuance together with their intricate footwork, astounding choreography with sculpturesque poses and a combination of strength and grace in nritta and the intense yet subtle and effortless flow of abhinaya was a beauty etched in the brain. There was a sense of conviction and dominance that was depicted in the sudden and arresting pause the dancers provided after a swift sequence of movements, an approach carpeted throughout the performance in various places done to perfect rhythm gave the impression of mastery of the artform. The final portion of the night was the defeat of Kamsa. Megha Chander playing Krishna and Medhansh Sankaran playing Kamsa locked in the final battle evoked the veera rasa in the audience without which the presentation would have been soulless. From the synchrony in the footwork and hand gestures to the dexterity in utilization of the stage was exemplary of Megha P Rao’s skill of using her choreography skills to the best result.
The commendable aspect of this production was, it came together in all aspects - the precision and coordination in dance, the descriptive introduction and the accompanying music. It was a homage to the enjoyment one experiences when the different aspects of a performance come together without forcing the audience to separate these aspects in order to look for a saving grace. Baala - the tale of Kanha, an oxymoronic substratum of losing oneself to finding oneself.
Contributed by Nandhini Varadaraj, President, RVCF
After a gap of two years, RVCF is back to hosting their community showcases Natyam & Sapthaswara live. I attended both these events recently (December 2021) as a host, MC, parent of a performer and as someone interested in the classical performing arts.
I first attended the Natyam & Sapthaswara in December 2019 as a parent and since then have been seeing the quality of performances improve greatly. The December 2021 event also saw Odissi performers for the first time in Natyam and a Dhrupad singer (Hindustani) for the very first time in Bentonville.
The community showcases are just that. It’s open for Ra - Ve members to perform and free for anyone to attend. One of the ways the Indian immigrant population keeps in touch with our roots is through learning these classical art forms and Bentonville thankfully has its more than fair share of teachers imparting these lessons.
Natyam and Sapthaswara are platforms for these students (kids and adults) where they can gain experience in performing to a small group. Although it is informal, Ra-Ve does encourage the performers to prepare by submitting their pieces and duration ahead. The audio / video, performance space and lighting are all arranged in a way that the artists gain a fairly true experience of a concert. Mistakes are allowed and encouraged so the student artists can learn from and gain confidence in their art.
Just as important it is to provide the space for the performers, it is important for the society to step up to support and motivate these artists. It was heartwarming to see every seat occupied and extra seating provided on the floor for the audience members.
I’ve been personally involved in organizing Sargam, another classical event between 2009 & 2016. It is inspiring to see how far some of the children have come since then. We are seeing the students who started their performance at Sargam unable to hold ‘araimandi’ or maintain the pitch, do spontaneous improvisations, manage rhythm and enthrall us with their foot work and expressions.
It’s a déjà vu moment to see the next generation of artists begin their journey at Natyam & Sapthaswara. I am looking forward to seeing these students grow into their own and pave the way for coming generations. It is a matter of handing over the baton and as adults of this thriving community, it is our duty to give them the space and support.
As with any live streamed event, we did run into technical delays and other mishaps, but nothing unmanageable and we are also learning through our mistakes.
It is ultimately the students, teachers and parents who drive this initiative. I hope this tribe grows and Ra-Ve is forced to increase the time allotted & move to a bigger space to accommodate many more in the audience.