Third Eye: Seeing Bharatanatyam Through A New Lens

By Pallavi Nagesha

INDIA New England News Art & Dance Critic

LEXINGTON, MA–Jayshree Bala Rajamani, the founder and director of Bharatakalai School of Dance, brings to us TriNetra, the third eye dance festival. Jayshree hopes to give an opportunity to talented dancers and professionals from the world over to give solo Bharatnatyam performances.

Photo by: Pallavi Nagesha

Photo by: Pallavi Nagesha

This year’s inaugural festival was staged at the Scottish Rites Masonic Museum in Lexington, MA, and featured the celebrated mother-daughter duo, Rama and Dakshina Vaidyanathan. Performances were presented on two evenings, the 13th and 14th of November 2015. The first evening opened with the Bharatakalai ensemble presenting a margam. From the elaborate and unhurried abhinaya solo by Jayshree to the brisk Thillana by the entire group, the dancers gave a captivating performance. Jayshree portrayed the “viraha nayika” in Maharaja Swathi Thirunal’s “Aye Giridhar mere dware” with her trademark finesse and grace. I was especially impressed with her daughter Mayari and her senior student Vennela.

The inaugural evening continued with “Mad and Divine” an ethereal performance by Rama Vaidyanathan. Utha Panduranga! Rama invokes poetess Saint Janabai to rouse the Lord both within and without. Devotion drips from every pore of her being, while the ecstasy on Rama’s aspect is palpable. Rama evoked the very spirit of Janabai, as rapture seeped through the auditorium sweeping all into a mystical, devotional storm. As Lalleshwari, the Kashmiri mystic dressed in white, Rama deftly moved through the musings of this mad poet. There was nary a dry eye in the audience as we wept for the abused Lal Ded, wept with joy in her euphoria, while tears of intense devotion threatened to spill throughout. With the refrain of “Jeevan mukta”, Rama sure seems to have a liberated soul, for it oozes through her art. A feeling of divine madness washed over me that night.

Saturday evening brought to us a performance by Janani Swamy, yet another talented dance teacher. She was remarkable with a subtlety of expression that can only come with innate talent. This was especially apparent in her portrayal of her bereft heroine in the Varnam.

The highlight of the night was “Dwita – Duality of Life” as portrayed by the mother-daughter duo, Rama and Dakshina Vaidyanathan. The universal quest often finds us at divergent paths, life’s crossroads. Mankind struggles to harmonize this duality and Dwita presents this struggle with beauty and artistry. The pair began by pitting knowledge against wealth, as they portrayed Goddesses Saraswati and Lakshmi individually. Every movement in tandem, every breath synchronized, they emulated human thirst for these powers with equal diligence and desire. This was followed by yet another juxtaposition, a devotee’s love for the One and a beloved love for the one. Each characterized by unabashed and ardent passion. Rama skillfully portrayed these seemingly opposed qualities in the same person. As the nayika in this Varnam, she yearns for her beloved lord Shiva, wishing to be one with him not just physically, but spiritually too.

Ardhanareeeshwara, a divine being symbolizing the yin and the yang, feminine and masculine, creation and dissolution. With grace and power, Dakshina painted this divergent, yet harmonic image of the Lord. I was awe struck by the sheer beauty in her portrayal of this duality. The poised and elegant Parvati contrasted against a coarse and agitated Shiva, both portrayed in the same breath was simply sublime.

The piece that simply struck home was the angst of a mother who wants to hold on to her little girl, yet wants her to explore the world with wonderment and joy. It resonates with the mother-daughter duality and the hopes and fears living side-by-side in each of us.

“JeevaH ShivaH, ShivojeevaH” they conclude is the truth of existence. The dual nature of the world fuels life and sustains it. This eternal quest, the Promethean torch that all of us carry brings meaning to Our reality. Continuing this quest assures us of our future and keeps our progeny striving forward. Whether in search of emancipation or life on another planet, our struggle moves us on and “Dwita” gives us pause for thought. The beauty of art is in its introspection. If the artist is able to suggest this through her art and the rasika can read this and question it, art is served. Rama and Dakshina present their art like an ever-flowing river, one that gracefully meanders, yet falls in a fury. The journey brings ecstasy and agony to the many who are on the path the river takes. The river itself cannot be contained, yet, flowing between the banks, fulfills its destiny in the sea. I hope to see the three generations of Vaidyanathans grace Boston with in a future performance and wish Jayshree the best in her noble endeavor.

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