Navaratnas of Indian dance

 Navaratnas of Indian dance

For any country its dancer are like precious gems, each enhancing its quality and taking the values and traditions to another level. In our country, we have many fantastic dancers who have dedicated their entire life to dance and, in turn, have become an icon of India’s dance scene. Who are the ratnas of dance in India was a question on my mind? And to answer this complicated question, I fortunately met the perfect person when was in Delhi few weeks back. I am talking about the dynamic and stunning Dr Usha Rk.

Ushaji is a renowned art consultant for whom dance became her companion during the days of her schooling. Training under the venerable gurus of the Raja Rajeshwari Bharata Natya Kala Mandir, Gurus CR Acharya and Vempati Chinna Satyam, Ushaji chose to take up research and academic aspects of dance that enabled her to develop her dance writing skills. A pioneer in the arts organising sphere, Usha Rk has carved a niche for herself as an impresario of formidable calibre and competence.

Conceptualising and creating some of the pathbreaking dance and music festivals, Ushaji was lucky to work with legends in the music, dance and film worlds.  Whether it was thematic festivals like Swarna Sankhya, the grand music festival Raga Tala or Nritya Dhara celebration of International Dance Day featuring over 175 dancers or the PR-led concerts of music and art almost all her endeavors have been excessively successful and appreciated.

Bharat Ratna MS Subbulakshmi, Ustad Alla Rakha Khan, Ustad Vilayat Khan, Dr M Balamurali Krishna, Ustad Zakir Hussain, Palghat KV Narayanaswamy, Umayalapuram K Sivaraman, Vikku Vinayakram are some of the musical geniuses Usha Rk has worked with.

Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, Ustad Birju Maharaj, Vempati Chinna Satyam, Guru Kalyanasundaram, Yamini Krishnamurthy, Sonal Mansingh, Chitra Visweswaran, Malavika Sarukkai, Dhananjayans, Sanjukta Panigrahi are some of the dance legends with whom Usha Rk has enjoyed working. Her list of film personalities includes Amitabh Bachchan and Lata Mangeshkar among others.

Interesting thematic dance programmes like Thyagaraja Vaibhavam, Margam – a festival of varnams , Rama Katha, Diksha-based on the compositions of Muthuswamy Dikshitar, Padams & Javalis and the recent Divya Trilogy have attained exceptional success. Her complete dedication to promote and propagate the arts is significant and noteworthy.

Dr Usha Rk, an arts consultant, has with complete devotion contributed immensely in promotion and propagation of classical arts for over three decades. Her interesting thematic presentations have been widely appreciated and gained exceptional success. Her deep understanding and training in two dance styles Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi along with her immense love for music has led her to research in various aspects of composers and compositions in Carnatic music.

The list of young dancers she has brought to the forefront includes dancers from across India. Soundarya Srivathsa, Shivaranjani, Parswanath, Srinivasan, Mithun Shyam etc from Bangalore, Dakshina Vaidyanathan, Arupa Lahiry, Vidha Lal, Abhimanyu Lal, Himanshu Srivathsa, Ragini Chandrasekar, from Delhi, Uma Satyanarayana, Jai Quehaeni from Chennai and the list goes on.

Ushaji is one person who with her love for art and art promotion has completely changed the fabric of classical dance presentations in India. So I asked her the question which was on my mind about the navaratnas of dance scene in India and here is what she had to answer:

Vyjayanthimala Bali – Diamond
With an inborn sensitivity and spirituality Vyjayanthimala is peerless becoming synonymous with Bharata Natyam. The words that spring to your mind when you think of Vyjayanthimala and her dance range from pristine purity, vibrant, traditional, natural, spiritual etc to creating a mesmerising effect on the audiences.  This octogenarian has held on to the heritage and purity of Bharatanatyam invincibly.

Birju Maharaj – Blue Sapphire
Whether it is the lightening like footwork , the ultimate control in making a single ghungroo ring and  up to creating a cascading melodious effect through his feet interlacing expressions that could make a young maiden almost shy were the highlights that made my heart swoon while experiencing the dance of Birju Maharaj. The simplicity with which he communicated the most inexplicable Indian philosophy, portraying the naughtiness of a child hero , the enlivening of the heartbeat through his shringarasa and the soul stirring yearning for the lord through the rendering of his bhajans makes him the most respected and loved exponent of our times.

Vedantam Satyanarayana Sharma – Yellow Sapphire
A pioneer in transformation into an extremely beautiful and arrogant Satyabhama from a simple Telugu brahmin villager from Kuchipudi took India by storm when he entered the national stage. Vedantam Satyanarayana Sharma’s mannerisms, costumes, characterisation, makeup, jewellery all of these contributed in creating a mesmeric Satyabhama. We are yet to find a replacement for him. His portrayal of the feminine characters was enhanced by his innate sense of emotional expression highlighting every moment whether it is hasya or karuna.

Sonal Mansingh – Red Coral
An iconic personality of India Sonal Mansingh is without any doubt an exemplary master of cultural interpretations delineating inter-linkages with philosophy literature mythology, sculpture  and Dance. Odissi has reached heights and attained the status of being an highly intellectual form due to her contribution. When pure dance and expression is combined with intellect, knowledge and spirituality the result is Sonal Mansingh.

Bharati Shivaji – Cat’s Eye
The credit of taking this dance of the enchantress across the globe and formulating it goes to Bharati Shivaji. Creating a wide spread interest for this very niche and unique form of mohiniattam ensconced in the villages of Kerala, Bharati’s efforts in this area noteworthy. Taking literature and poetry from various languages she has extended the mohiniattam repertoire in a very composite manner.

Jhaveri Sisters (Naina, Ranjana, Suvarna and Darshana) – Pearl
These four sisters performed together this traditional rasleela style and were responsible for bringing the traditional Manipuri dance to the cities. If one wanted to understand the meaning of the word ‘subtility’ they had to only witness the dance of the Jhaveri Sisters. Their soft nature complemented the lasya aspect along with bringing out a very underplayed tandava aspect of the Manipuri style. Their beautiful and colourful performances demonstrated the subtle body movements and rhythmic peculiarities of the Manipuri dance. Their group and dance drama presentations have always been a treat to the eyes.

Sadanam Balakrishnan – Hessonite
Sadanam Balakrishnan is an exemplary artist merged into the role of an artistic director with absolute ease. Sadanam uses the grammar of the art form seen in traditional performances to bring alive on stage some classic international plays for Indian audiences. His very adept ability to look into the varied aspect of production music composing, lyric writhing costume designing and choreography has made him probably the only kathakali exponent who dwelled into ‘ Communicating through Tradition’. Kathakali today has seen today newer and interesting shades through the eyes of Sadanam Balakrishnan.

Yamini Krishnamurthy Ruby
Was it a matter of genes or prodigal inheritance or a sheer in born genius one could never tell. She emoted like very few could. Her energy, strength and sponge like memory, grace and an aggressiveness that struck the audiences like an Astra that demolished one completely. Yamini Krishnamurthy is Kuchipudi and Kuchipudi is Yamini Krishnamurthy. She romanced, argued, fought, loved, beseeched and prayed to every deity through her dance. Dance gives the dancer an opportunity to communicate and Yamini took the opportunity by the horns performing with authenticity and convincing credibility retaining the stamp of Kuchipudi loud and clear.

Chitra Vishveshwaran Emerald
Bringing to an otherwise calculative precision like style, the beauty of lyricallity and melody was the contribution of Chitra Vishveshwaran to the Vazhavoor bani. It is probably the spiritual approach in communicating even the most simple concepts of Indian philosophy that transformed Chitra’s successful performances. Her visualisation and choreography specially of composers like Meera, Purandara Dasa among others changed the style of presenting the Bhakti aspect in dance. At the same time her interpretations of the varied emotions while dealing with shringara were very close to real experiences. She encouraged modern compositions of traditional items in the traditional format with a view to extend the Bharatanatyam repertoire.

Sandip Soparrkar is a well-known Ballroom dancer, a World Book of Records holder and a Bollywood choreographer who has been honored with National Achievement Award and National Excellence Award by the Government of India. He can be contacted on [email protected]



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