Generation after generation, Bharatanatyam has been lucky enough to find artistes who have held the flag high at all times.

Meet the next gen Indian artistes keeping Bharatnatyam alive and flourishing
Features Bharatnatyam Sunday, January 08, 2017 - 12:16

India’s national instrument, the Saraswati Veena is staring into a black hole. With dwindling number of world-class performers in the last few decades, the instrument might soon be a museum piece. That would be a collective loss for the arts fraternity across the spectrum.

But India’s national classical dance, Bharatanatyam, is fit and fine. Though inside the dance fraternity, one might complain of many things, Bharatanatyam is thriving in a hundred ways that no other classical dance form is. And the credit for this must go to its committed practitioners.

Blossoming in different styles and schools of thought like Pandanallur, Thanjavur, Mysore and Kalakshetra variants, the dance form is only growing in strength. Generation after generation, Bharatanatyam has been lucky enough to find artistes who have held the flag high at all times. Several other forms like Kuchipudi continue to struggle along the way.

One of the reasons Bharatanatyam is flourishing is because of the institutional support it has been lucky to have for a long time. Be it the Madras Music Academy or Rukminidevi Arundale’s Kalakshetra, the dance form found great patrons and visionaries at an early age.

The Music Academy was solely responsible to showcase Bharatanatyam, then called Sadir, when the anti-nautch movement was at an all-time high. They invited dancers from traditional communities to perform in public spaces under their banner and educated audiences to create awareness.

Rukminidevi envisioned a school that would impart holistic art education focusing on Bharatanatyam. Even if Kalakshetra themselves have produced very few successful performing soloists in so many decades, they have surely oriented scores of art lovers into appreciating dance. One cannot say any other institution so consistently in North India did the same.

Over the decades Bharatanatyam as a dance form not just grew popular but also gained more professional practitioners.

Among the superstars of this generation, we have the iconic Alarmel Valli, Malavika Sarukkai, Rama Vaidyanathan and Narthaki Nataraj who are international names to reckon with. They have taken the dance form across the world and created awareness of it.

Alarmel Valli

Today Bharatanatyam rubs shoulders with Ballet and other genres only because these artistes. There is no dearth of talent in Bharatanatyam. One cannot say the same about other classical dance forms. But no other form is thriving more than Bharatanatyam is.

Through hundreds of students, hundreds of Gurus and not just in Chennai but even in other places, the dance form has found passionate practitioners. In Bengaluru, Mumbai, Delhi and even outside in India, year after year, there are more number of Bharatanatyam dancers than any other forms.

So who are the next generation stars to look out for?  

The Music Academy’s annual international dance festival is the final litmus test of this. If a dancer has danced here, he or she has arrived finally.

This year the festival had some of the finest talent in the world of Bharatanatyam programmed. Among the most promising names were Meenakshi Srinivasan who had her Arangetram under the guidance of Guru Alarmel Valli took further training in Singapore-based Girish Kumar. She is today, one of the best soloist among the younger generation dancers.

Meenakshi Srinivasan

Mythili Prakash, trained under her dancer mother Viji Prakash and currently takes guidance from Malavika Sarukkai. Guru Chitra Visweswaran has trained some good students like Uma Namboodripad Satyanarayana and Lakshmi Parthasarathy Athreya.

Mythili Prakash

Bengaluru-based Praveen Kumar who trained with Guru Narmada currently takes guidance from the veteran Guru Padma Bhushan C V Chandrasekhar, who continues to be performing even as he enters his mid 80s! Every male dancer aspires to be like Guru CVC. Praveen has made a name for himself among one of the finest male soloists in the country. He has been honoured with the Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskaar from the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi.

Praveen Kumar

Vaibhav Arekar, a Marathi boy from Mumbai is one of the few male superstar performers we have. Having mastered the language, the dance form and the nuances of rendering it, he has done a serious amount of work to adapt Marathi Abhangs, the songs of the poets saints of Maharashtra to Bharatanatyam.

Vaibhav Arekar

Bharatanatyam has been successfully practiced and propagated throughout the world by these dancers. It is easily India’s most successful classical dance form. That it happens to be the national dance form of India is incidental.

India has officially recognized eight classical dance forms. None of the others can claim to be proud of these many performing stars at one point of time. All these Bharatanatyam artistes do it for the love of the dance form. They don’t get any support from the State in any which way. The economics of the classical dance industry is not half as flattering as the film or even television industry.

Despite all these setbacks, these artistes toil day and night to spread the message of good dance. It takes great amount of passion and courage to pursue a full time profession in performing arts in India.

Each of these artistes are cultural ambassadors who represent a rich heritage of classical dance tradition. More power to them! We hope some day India’s national instrument will find as many lovers and practitioners! 

 

(Veejay Sai is an award-winning writer, editor and a culture critic. He writes extensively on Indian performing arts, cultural history, food and philosophy. He can be reached at vs.veejaysai@gmail.com)

All photos by Rajesh Kumar, Siddharth Chakravarthy 

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