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  DANCE COLUMN
SPOTLIGHT ON BHARATANATYAM: DANCE COMPRISES OF NRITTA, NRITYA AND NATYA
By JYOTHI VENKATACHALAM

Bharatanatyam is an artistic yoga for revealing the spiritual through the corporeal. It is the most widely practiced of classical dance forms in India, which are based on Natya Shastra the Bible of the classical dance forms in India.

The term "Bharatanatyam" was introduced in the mid-30s by E. Krishna Iyer and later spread by Rumkminidevi Arundale, and is thought to derive from the four syllable BHAva (_expression) Raga (music) TAla (rhythm) NATYAM (dramatic act or dance). Bharatanatyam comprises of three aspects.

1. Nritta (pure dance, i.e. rhythmic elements);

2. Nritya (combination of Nritta and Natya);

3. Natya (dramatic art, _expression through gestures, poses, mime).

Bharatanatyam used to be and is still mostly performed by women dancers. In the first half of the 19th century, Bharatanatyam was revitalized and redefined by the contributions of four talented brothers known today as the Tanjore Quartet: Chinniah, Sivanandam, Ponniah and Vadivelu. They organized the basic Bharatanatyam movements of pure dance into a progressive series called Adavus.

A student first learns these adavus (basic) steps, which are then combined into Jatis. Today, a recital commences with the rhythmic utterances of voice and drum in the invocation the Alaripu, both of blessing and of welcoming. The dancer offers namaskar (salutation) to the Gods above the head, the gurus in front of the face and the audience in front of the chest. This also is a warm-up piece to prepare the body for the following hours of Bharatanatyam performance.

Next, the dancer dances to the mood of the music in the Jatiswaram in varied ragas with the swaras and jatis in combined patterns. From the rhythm, she swiftly moves into abhinaya or _expression in her next dance called the Shabdam.She is now beginning to transcend the technique. Through this Bahinayam or facial _expression, she tells the tale of Rama or Krishna or Shiva, but it must be told in a measured and disciplined manner. It is in the Shabdam that the dancer begins to show her knowledge and all that she has assimilated.

It is after mastering this discipline that she dances the Varnam, which is a living river that holds together movement and interpretation. The Varnam is the most important dance in a Bharatanatyam repertoire. It is here that the dancer is tested for her capacity to perform both abhinaya and nritta and also for her tremendous strength of emotional _expression and physical exertion required to perform this piece. Because of the depth of thought necessary in this item, the more mature the artist, the more exciting it is to watch. The artist who is more experienced will bring a fresh wealth of ideas to the composition. It becomes so personal and intimate an _expression that the one who sees often becomes the one who seeks.

After the Varnam, the tempo of the performance slows down. In the Padam, the dancer narrates _expression of divine love or pathos or pangs of separation in love. Padams have Nayak (Heroes, Supreme lover, Divine Lord) and Nayika ( Heroine, The yearning soul). The heroine will talk to her friend Sakhi) and narrate her feelings towards the hero. Expressions are given foremost importance while narrating these Padams.

The Tillana is usually the last item in any Bharatanatyam performance where the dancer abandons herself purely to rhythm and movement. It is full of complicated movements and postures. It is mainly an Nritta piece which might have meaningful lyrics at the end for which abhinaya is shown.

With a prayer called the Mangalam, the dancer ends the recital.

Training for Bharatanatyam took seven years under the direction of great well- learned and dedicated Gurus. If we approach Bharatanatyam with humility, learn it with dedication and practice it with devotion to God, the great beauties of this dance can be portrayed with all the purity of the spirit.

Jyothi Venkatachalam, director of Abhyasa School Of Dance, Club Tampa Palms, offers classes in Bharat Natyam, traditional folk dances, Indian percussion instruments (Mridangam, Dholak, Ghatam, Kanjira, Morsingh and Konakol). She can be reached at (813) 977-9039 or (813) 404-7899 or via e-mail at jvenkata@yahoo.com




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