In the closing days of the On The Rocks festival Bharathanatyam showcased classical Indian dance, brought to the Barron stage by students Sanjana Ramaswamy and Lakshmi Thiagarajan.
The show began with a narration giving insight to the history of Bharathanatyam as one of the eight classical dance traditions of India. This was much-appreciated and by fostering an informed audience there were no barriers to our full engagement in the performances about to commence. Other members may very well have had more knowledge on this aspect of Indian culture, of which I came to this performance knowing very little. Nevertheless, this format of both performance and exposition created an intimate and informal atmosphere and resulted with this reviewer, at least, leaving feeling enriched and having learnt something about which they had previously known nothing.
As one of the classical Indian dance styles, Bharathanatyam dates back 2000 years to Tamil Nadu in southern India. Sanjana and Lakshmi’s performance involved two of the three main parts of the repertoire. Nritta, or pure dance, is a display of the performer’s technical ability focusing on speed, form and pattern. The second dance on display was Nrittya, an expressive and narrative dance that links to Bharathanatyam’s aim to embody religious and spiritual germane to South India.
First to perform was Sanjana. To add to the narration that briefly explained the history of this dance type, the audience was given an insight into Sanjana’s personal relationship with Bharathanatyam; how long she had trained for, notable places where she had performed. These personal insights allowed the audience to feel more engaged and connected to the dances we were about to see and were a valuable addition to the performance in and of themselves. Sanjana’s ability to express emotion and convey a narrative through movement was remarkable. The purpose of Bharathanatyam is to convey a theme or feeling and transmit this to the audience and the emotion conveyed by both dancers was compelling.
Speaking of both performers, the second set of dances by Lakshmi were equally impressive with her technical skill in the forefront. Again, having been given an insight into Lakshmi’s background in this traditional dance gave an increased appreciation for the proficiency needed to master the dance style. The beautiful outfits only added to the experience for the audience. Dressed in the style of Tamil Hindu bridal wear, as is traditional for Bharathanatyam dancers, the bright colours of the long-tailored saris and the adornments of gold jewellery only served to enhance the expressive nature of the performances.
The performance was set against a minimal backdrop and the transitions between dances were not as seamless as one would expect from larger On The Rocks performances. However, none of this really mattered. The few hiccups in continuity could do nothing to take away from the talent of the dancers or the beauty of Bharathanatyam. It was a lovely way to spend an hour on a Saturday evening and a privilege to gain an insight into a tradition of which just an hour earlier I had been completely ignorant. Bharathanatyam came just a few days after Shimmy Society’s Around the World of Dance, which showcased global dance. These events have brought the many cultures existing in this small seaside town to the stage, bursting the Bubble in joyous fashion and I certainly hope to see this commendable achievement continue in next year’s On The Rocks festival.