Anitha Sivaraman, exceptional NRI Bharatanatyam dancers, and more about lokadharmi, natyadharmi and the American lasya. Anita.

Anitha Sivaraman, the world’s fastest dancer?

This post is related to a new post on Anita Sivaraman

Remark: I don’t know why dancers post on YouTube the worst or most boring fragments from their recitals!

A beautiful dancer, with a perfect figure, and very graceful too. How can this 6-feet tall girl move faster and have a better stamina than 99% of the Chennai dancers who are 5 feet tall??? True, at the highest speed, she had to sacrifice the amplitude of some moves, and was sometimes making shortcuts, especially towards the end of the recital, as she was getting tired and was not sitting low enough in araimandi. And did not accentuate her steps and nritta hasthas.

It is quite common that the US-trained dancers seem to focus primarily on the physical perfection, and many are good at thillanas, although it was a surprise that Anita’s balance, agility, accuracy of movements, her laya was far superior to 99% of Chennai’s dancers.

What was far more surprising is that it was the first NRI dancer whose mukha abhinaya was superior even to 95% of Chennai’s dancers in the normal speed range, and far surpassed the Chennai dancers’ in the fastest abhinaya passages. I think the ability to do fast-changing abhinaya is related to one’s ability to speak (and think) fast.

Anita’s expressions were graceful, the transitions were smooth and natural, despite the often lightning speed of the changes. Something that I had hardly ever seen in an NRI dancer. Well, Surya Ravi is another pleasant exception, much younger to compare. Anita’s nritta abhinaya was miraculous (I had never seen anything like that!): the expressions, powerful and sparkling, were changing each other at an amazing speed and accuracy, and were matching the nritta so well! Something that dancers like Swathi Ariyapadi are yet to learn.

Nandini Ramani attributes Anita’s impressiveness not to Papanasam Sivan’s genes, but to a unique combination of Padma Subramaniam’s stamp in Anita’s training with Srikanth, and his experience in the Bhagavatamela tradition. But Nandini forgot about Anita’s Kuchipudi training with Vempati Chinna Satyam. What a powerful blend of 3 schools! I forgot to ask Anita if both Vempati Vempati Chinna Satyam and Padma Subramaniam interpret the karanas in the same way! 🙂

Rupa in The Hindu justly wrote that Anita is “blessed with a keen sense of timing, an extremely mobile face and a vibrant movement vocabulary”. Not only this vocabulary is vibrant, but is rich too, and the sheer variety of moves and their unexpectedness keeps the rasikas from falling asleep, especially the American audience who instantly get bored when a Bharatanatyam dancer starts doing a slow abhinaya piece, hardly moving at all.

Anita is using a few karanas too (not as difficult as these). Without karanas, any recital is boring.”From the standpoint of providing enough action and excitement, it was good, but from the angle of providing some depth, the recital fell short”. Rupa cannot explain what is “depth” or “width”. I think often the dancers are left clueless as to what a particular criticism was about! “Width” is about variety and entertaining. “Depth” is about magic and enchanting.

Well, what was somewhat missing was “magic”, or was this impression created because Anita does not seem to like very slow passages? While Anita Sivaraman’s was nearly “perfect” outside, what she could learn from dancers like Alarmel Valli is how to concentrate within. The deeper this concentration, the better the dancer is dissolved in the dance (laya…), and the more powerful the recital. Depending on how well we are focussed within, we are able to visualize the vivid images and project them onto the audience. The approach is different: we are not trying to impress the audience, we are not trying to prove that we are good dancers, we are not at a dancing competition. We are becoming one with the audience, one in the meditation. Perhaps Nandini was luckier than me when she saw that recital where Anita’s “approach to her technique was one of deep concentration”. Maybe Anita’s mind was indeed more focussed then.

But, should we really blame the NRI dancers for the “lack of depth” if even the Chennai dancers, while portraying nayikas-nayakas, think not of the symbols beyond them, but of copying some vulgar Tamil serial’s actresses? How low! It is harder for the NRI’s to understand the difference between a photograph and a painting. There is no art in photograph. Everyone can take a photo. The painting can go beyond the physical, change it, and bring in the invisible. So much the difference between lokadharmi and natyadharmi. Have I seen much real natyadharmi? Errrrrr…. 1% ? Is there at least 0.0001% of natyadharmi in the “British South Asian dance“?

Life in the USA

Let us see what other American girls write:

I’ll admit I was somewhat diffident about performing the piece at all. This was because I wondered whether there was even a possibility to capture such an emotion: the shyness exhibited by a young bride when her to-be husband touches her hand for the first time.

I made several attempts at this expression as my mother repeatedly told me that my expression was far too bold and needed to look more coy. It made me wonder, however, if girls growing up in America are even capable of expressing the emotion at all. Are we perhaps too open-minded and brazen that we cannot portray the timidity expressed by a young bride on the day of her wedding?

“Can the ratisringara themes in Bharatanatyam actually apply to contemporary Los Angeles ? Does not longing, disappointment, anticipation of passionate union and various aspects of love apply to contemporary teenage life in America?”

But as the mother of one of the young Californian dancers notes, “My daughter, at 15, will not reconcile to the fact that this woman is pining for her man. She finds it too ‘cheesy’ because she has been raised in America. The culture is different here, girls are much more verbal and direct here.”

Thus it is the pining, the waiting game with which young girls today can no longer relate. Because they utilize a direct approach in their own love-lives, shyness in the company of the opposite sex is a concept that’s hard to grasp.

So, isn’t it a proof that, for Americans, the nayika bhavas are no longer accessible, and they don’t even understand why or how a soul would pine for a union with the Divine. After all, there is no need to search for God if you have a Social Security Number, a sports car and a fat bank account! America is better than HEAVEN itself! Well, maybe not every NRI feels so.

A typical shortcoming of a US- or UK-based dancer is a poor lasya, but, surprisingly, Anita Sivaraman was good (not perfect, but good) in this respect. Pleasant exception. The Americans’ subconscious mind just does not understand what is lasya, and it is often reflected in the tone of their voice and intonations too. As a result of the feminist movement in the USA, the absolute majority of the women who grew up there are less capable of displaying Lasya. They want to be men, haughty, aggressive, direct. The subconscious attitude is the ready-to-fight-back attitude. These women are ready to assert themselves, to hit back, always on the alert, always competitive, always tense like a fist.

Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhana: Bharatanatyam competition

Ranjani Murthy, the winner of Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhana’s Bharatanatyam competition in 2007Ranjani Murthy , is a good illustration for the above, would be fit to act in “Dance like a man”. Does sheever relax her face??? Can she be sweet? Can she enjoy what she is doing??? She thinks that Bharatanatyam is a hard workout at the gym (but, as you see from the picture, she cannot lift her leg even half-way to its proper position), and so her face reflects it.

The funny thing, proving the debilitating influence of the American “culture” is that, unlike in any Bharatanatyam competitions in India in the 19–23 age group “each of the items must be either a Padam or Javali”. These items are usually reserved for the 60-70 age group in Chennai. How Ranjani Murthy got the 1st prize in that all-US Cleveland competition (while Anita Sivaraman, though among the “finalists”, did not even get into the top 3) is a miracle. Although, looking back at the US presidential elections in 2000, we cannot deny the fact that miracles can be the result of the political shrewdness of the NRI community who judicially invited only 2 judges (if you know of any other annual competition where the judges remain the same every year , please tell me): Smt. Savitri Jagannatha Rao and Smt. Radha, one of whom privately admitted that they could not follow and did not quite appreciate Anitha Sivaraman’s dance for several reasons:

  • it was too fast (the judges are elderly women who take 5 times longer to realize anything than a college student),
  • too intricate, unlike the Kalakshetra-style straight lines and plain moves
  • karanas are not yet part of the mainstream Bharatanatyam, nor the lively and expressive Kuchipudi flavour is palatable

Smt.Radha said, “I do remember there was one Anitha Sivaraman. I looked at her several (!) times. She was dancing when I was busy chatting with Savithri”. Radha remembers she did a lot of shopping and bought some expensive things after the competition was over.When asked what marks which dancers received and how, she gave a scared look, said she cannot remember, and ran away.

Pooja Kumar, who did win the 1st prize in 2008 after learning more plain Bharatanatyam under… Savithri Jagannatha Rao (!!!), explained the strategy, “If you don’t have the cash to bribe the judges at a competition, try becoming a student of the judge”. Well, after eeveryone saw how the competition was judged in 2007, no strong contestants cared to apply in 2008, so Pooja was beyond competition anyway. 🙂

George Bush said he is proud of the NRI community. 😦

Want to talk to the two shrewd judges? Here they are:

“Pradakshina”, Savithri Jagannatha Rao, 13, 2nd Crescent Road Gandhi Nagar, Adyar, Chennai 600020 Ph: (044) – 24412624

“Pushpanjali”, Rhadha R, 8A, Lambeth Avenue, Off Bawa Road, Alwarpet Chennai 600018 Ph: (044) – 24997715

“Ranjani Murthy dance”

ranjani murthy dance” is what a lot of people (to my surprise) enter in the google search box before they discover this post. Ranjani Murthy is probably quite annoyed, but will have to bear with my blog until she publicly renounces her ill-gained first prize and until her parents disclose the circumstances under which she got it.

I really don’t understand why the American NRIs blame India as one of the most corrupt countries in the world while themselves are as honest as an average politician in Tamil Nadu.

Until then, let Ranjani Murthy dance!

24 thoughts on “Anitha Sivaraman, exceptional NRI Bharatanatyam dancers, and more about lokadharmi, natyadharmi and the American lasya. Anita.

  1. I do not know who wrote this. But, obviously whoever wrote it has not seen a full recital by Ranjani or has seen it and can not bear out of jealousy that Ranjani won the first prize in Cleveland. The judges were after all, well-known gurus from India. They did not have any bias because they did not even know this young girl. I am a dancer and a connossuier of dance and have been to many programs by her. She is a wonderful dancer with one of the most beautiful smiles, she dances with devotion, and can very well hold poses upto five minutes if not longer. The picture probably was shot in the middle before she could finish it–I do not know if that is the case. But to me it looks pretty good. All NRI dancers are not dancing just thillanas beautifully as you claim. You should see Ranjani doing other items with so much devotion (you would not even call her an NRI then). Not just her, but other upcoming NRIs sometime are doing better than even the local dancers in chennai. so, if you have a problem with jealousy go climb another tree. As they say, you are barking up the wrong tree.

  2. The observations were made at the recital by Ranjani in Narada Gana Sabha’s main hall. We could not watch the full recital: it was so bad that we could not bear it for long! 😦
    The picture was NOT shot in the middle: this is her “best”. If you claim that you had been to many of her performances, how come you did not notice it?????? You are blind, my dear!

    About these well-known gurus from India, do they really have no bias? Pooja Kumar, as everybody saw it, dances much much better, but Ranjani was judged as “the best”. Did these “well-known gurus from India” disclose the parameters by which they judge? Did they substantiate their marks? Who paid for their trip? Who are they connected with in the USA? Should I continue?

    Did I say “All NRI dancers are dancing just thillanas beautifully”??? Only a complete idiot would believe so.

    If you say that “ther upcoming NRIs sometime are doing better than even the local dancers in chennai”, where can we watch these dancers? Seeing is believing.

  3. This is again Geetha Swami. I think you were the only one who left. There were others at the recital who stayed and who gave wonderful remarks about her program. You said that Pooja is a good dancer, so do I, but Ranjani is also a very good dancer and has devotion in her. May be you are biased not the judges to say that Pooja is a much better dancer. Like I said, I also believe that Pooja is a good dancer but anything is in the eyes of the beholder (that too if the beholder does not have any grudges or biases) and is genuine. I will not be writing any more because no point in arguing with somebody who is biased already.

  4. It is unfortunate that you have not understood the role of Kali. She does not shatter illusions but everything that is bad in human nature. You, on the other hand, hide behind an anonymous name and spew nonsense and hatred about everyone and everything. No, I have no vested interest in any of your blogs. We have a saying in the US and it goes: “if you have nothing nice to say about anyone, don’t say anything at all.”

  5. My dear Sheethal,
    I do understand what Kali is.
    Aren’t illusions too “bad in human nature”?
    Just as the devas often take upon a disguise, I do hide behind an anonymous name. It is a guerilla warfare between the unequal parties, a war in Kali Yuga, when the world of dance is ruled by powerful asuras. Most dancers and rasikas are afraid of speaking out their mind publicly. There is too much falsehood and fear.

    If you think I only “spew nonsense and hatred”, ok, let it be your personal opinion. You have many sayings in the US. I think the saying that you should remember is, “Call a spade a spade”.

  6. //There is no art in photograph. Everyone can take a photo. //
    Obviously you have no idea about visual communication. Photographs, paintings and dance have same basics.

  7. Vanakkam Ashwini!
    I would have to disagree with the harsh way you have evaluated Ranjani Murthy. I feel that she should not be compared to dancers such as Anita Sivaraman who are first of all much older and more experienced than her.
    However, that is not what I am here to discuss. I wanted to know your feedback on this year’s Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhana Dance Competition because I was rather surprised by the outcome of the competition as many deserving dancers were not rewarded.

  8. Did anyone SEE anita in chennai this season!? Her abhinaya was incredibly theatrical!! Good GOD! It was NOT good!! Having coy flirtatious abhinaya while doing pure nrittta is not attractive! I dont know about Ranjani Murthy but Anita is not as amazing as you have all are making her to be!

  9. Yes, dear, I did SEE Anita in Chennai this season! I did not see any students from The George Washington University, though! 😉 Did you really come to Chennai, dear? 😉

    Now, would you tell us where exactly her “abhinaya was incredibly theatrical”? I think what you mean is that she occasionally used the kuchipudi style of abhinaya, when the dancer appears to be communicating with the audience, so it may look like “coy flirtatious abhinaya“. Otherwise, you may have occasionally had this “theatricality” impression because of the very high speed of expressions changing each other. If it is too fast for you, go and watch Mohiniattam. 🙂

    Now, why don’t you tell us whose abhinaya you think is “good”? 🙂

    Anyway, since you are so conservatively-Bharatanatyam sensitive, you will have a heart attack if you watch Ranjani Murthy! 🙂

  10. I do not see the relationship between fast nritta and “coy” facial expressions. Nritta is pure dance so why is it necessary to be coy? Fast footwork shouldnt make you flirtatious, correct?

    You must be able to separate Kuchipudi and Bharathanatyam from each other if you are an artist in both artforms. This includes the abhinaya for pure nritta….

  11. Ok, let us separate the two issues.

    1. abhinaya in fast nritta

    Except for a dozen or two fast dancers (including Anita, Rajeshwari Sainath, etc.), the other dancer’s nritta is much slower. Which means that people are used to slower transitions in nritta abhinaya. If the transitions appear to be too fast, it will look funny. Got it? 🙂 However, if you are aware of how your mind processes these impressions, you can adjust the perceptional speed within some range. Watch many fast dancers, then watch super-slow Mohiniattam, and you will understand how to expand your mind’s range of perceptions.

    Now, there are 2 kinds of nritta abhinaya: a fixed smile (like in western dance), and the facial expressions that are supposed to follow the dancer’s emotions (usually the underlying feeling is joy, with various tints) in nritta.

    Now, let us distinguish between 2 types of nritta: soft (lasya) and hard (tandava). The presence of lasya in the sringara mode will likely to be perceived (especially by men or by the American women) as “coy and flirtatious”. The tandava will be more solemn and stern. Since the emancipated American women lost any idea of what is feminine, I don’t expect much understanding from a resident of Washington DC.

    There will be no difference in the facial expressions (“unisex nritta abhinaya”) between the male and female Kalakshetra dancers. In fact, this is why Balasaraswathy was publicly cursing Rukmini Devi for cutting out Sringara.

    2. Bharatanatyam vs. Kuchipudi

    In Bharatanatyam, this joy of nritta is to be internal, and the dancer is not supposed to look into the auditorium (but the dancer’s eyes must follow the other limbs). “Dance as if nobody is looking” was the devise of the devadasis who danced unwatched in the temples’ mandappams.

    In Kuchipudi, the dancer is supposed to engage the audience (“Dance as if everybody is looking”), primarily by making eye contacts, and the shift of the attention is more outside. It is more ostentatious and demonstrative rather than meditative.

    Since you expected Anita to separate Kuchipudi from Bharatanatyam, first ask Alarmel Valli or Malavika Sarukkai why they could not separate Odissi from Bharatanatyam fully. Maybe they just don’t bother.

    Since you want to be a purist, I am eager to hear where you saw “pure Bharathanatyam” nritta abhinaya. You know, after watching so many performances, it sounds like a joke to me.

  12. Friends, you may be interested to watch this year’s winner of Cleveland competition:

    In the very beginning, you see she is not able to hold her arms symetrically.

  13. i don’t see what purpose criticizing serves when most of here haven’t perfected our dancing ourselves. I don’t think anyone here is Lord Natarjah himself on the internet criticizing, Anita Sivaraman, Ranjani Moorthy and Shobha Narayan. why don’t we all stop being hypocrites for a change.

    like Lord Krishna said:

    A man of faith, absorbed in faith, his senses controlled, attains
    knowledge, and, knowledge attained, quickly finds supreme peace. But the
    ignorant man, who is without faith, goes doubting to destruction. For the
    doubting self there is neither this world, nor the next, nor joy.

  14. @above,
    u mean to say she did alaripu for the competition? her hands are not bad- may be camera angle problem. i think she did a fine job.

  15. i don’t recall her doing and alaripu for the competition, she did a padam or javali. she was amazing by the way!

  16. god .. i admire your attitude…you have comments about everyone ashwini from priyadarsini govind to valli to madurai murilidharan… if you re such a good dancer yourself how come nobodys heard about you.. we ve heard about varna even though shes quite bad… but you ha ha… this blog will only get you good karma.. its shows the values your guru has instilled in you.. even if you are a dancer chee… very good ashwini… you ll never get anywhere in dance because of your mouth. best of luck

  17. i Agree with Charles… Ashwini if this is even your real name. Dance has no business with you. even though i love your blogs 🙂

  18. You people have no right to say what you are saying. Just because you wanted somebody else to win but Ranjani won doesn’t mean you have accuse the judges of cheating. How would you know that the judges aren’t doing their job properly? are you a judge? you guys are blindly writing mean and disgusting remarks which are not even true. please don’t say anything if you don’t have anything good to say.

  19. See, so here even you agree that fast nritta and its related abhinaya changes do have a kuchipudi connection!! Kuchipudi is almost always fast and therefore abhinaya has to be more sharper and as you Bharatanatyam dancers say, ostentatious.

    And yes, Kuchipudi should be danced like evrybody is watching as its essentially a dance-drama format!! its meant to be watched!!!

    So why were u arguing with me on that!! 😦

    Somewhere else I read you talking about how the anklets of a Melattur Style dancer match perfectly with the rhythm.

    Try catching Yamini Krishnamurthy’s Kuchipudi or Shantala Shivalingappa’s, or any good dancers. See how much importance is given in Kuchipudi to this!

    And yes in Kuchipudi we consider “gajjalu” (anklets) also a musical instrument in the performance. Just as you said about the Melattur Style of Bharatanatyam. Lots of similarities there.

    BTW, what’s your opinion of Yamini Krishnamurthy’s Bharatanatyam??

  20. I think miss Anita made an extremely good choice by leaving N. Srikanth, afterall he himself isn’t a very good dancer anyway. Anita wouldn’t be where she is if she had not left him. I’ve been following srikanth’s shows and im extremely disappointed with his solos and duets, I mean its as if two women are dancing on the stage together. His bhava is very limited and i don’t feel any presence while he dances, i’ve noticed him looking into the audience to see who has attended the performance instead of concentrating of what the next step is. Even offstage he is EXTREMELY Feminine i dont see how this dancer aswathy is handling it, or is she just blind?, god knows. I think he should just get a sex change to be honest, it wouldnt be that difficult for him anyway he does drag for bhagavathamela already, so its in his nature to be a women. I’ve noticed srikanth off stage also, he tends to be very “friendly” with these young male dancers, after discussing this with some male dancers I came to know that he has tried and maybe even succeeded in having his way with them, lets hope aswathy doesnt know of this ;). i’m not suprised he didnt have many shows this season, im glad the sabhas have acknowledged he isnt very good. lets hope it stays that way.

  21. There was another dancer who won the 2007 cleveland first prize but I did not see her in Chennai, does anyone remember her dance @ the competition, I think it was a trikala jathi?

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