A dance for the gods

Girls in multicolored saris flitted around the auditorium like butterflies, weaving through the crowd of suits and dresses to man the receptionist desk. Guests who had already received their tickets paused to sign the guestbook, gazed at the photos circling the lobby and went outside to eat.

As the clock neared 6:30 p.m., the lights dimmed. The murmur of voices faded and seats began to fill up as the musicians, settled on the left of the stage, struck up their instruments.

Glittering with gold jewelry, Anjani Nadadur ’08 danced onto the stage and began the invocation dance—the first of eight dances she would perform that night for her arangetram, a solo dance debut for traditional Indian dancing.

It took 11 years of weekly classes and annual performances to get on that stage. Two hour classes twice a week progressed to four hours daily in January, when Nadadur began practicing for her three hour long arangetram.

“When your dance teacher thinks you’re ready, you do it,” she said. “I didn’t want to do it next year because I wanted to dance with the company before I graduate.”

Having completed her arangetram, Nadadur is now officially a member of the Shakti Dance Company and will take part in subsequent performances and tours.

Nadadur took classes at the Shakti School, where she learned the traditional dance bharatanatyam, a style that originated in ancient temples in south India and focuses on the Hindu pantheon of gods.

Nadadur’s teacher, Viji Prakash, is an internationally lauded dancer, choreographer and teacher, according to the company’s website.

Nadadur began dancing when she was five, becoming the second in her family to actively pursue dancing.

“It’s a really fun thing that connects me with my culture,” she said. “Dance like this is a really big part of it.” She added, “My sister did it, and I always wanted to be like my older sister.”

Nadadur’s arangetram, which took place last Saturday at the James Armstrong Theater in Torrance, consisted of nine dances centered on the Hindu gods. It began with a pushpanjali, the invocation dance in which the dancer pays salutation to the gods, the teacher, and the audience. Clad in a blue, green and gold dance constume, Nadadur danced onto the stage after a brief musical introduction, ringing the bells on her ankles in time to the music.

Taking flower petals from a shrine on the right of the stage, she sprinkled them as she danced in a circle before beginning her salutations.

After dances praising the god Ganesha and the goddess Madhurai Meenakshi, Nadadur went offstage as Prakash introduced the all-male instrumental group, which consisted of violin, flute, vocals, mridangam and tabla, both traditional Indian percussion instruments.

Once the introductions were completed, Nadadur began the varnum, the main piece of the program, in which she integrated pure dance, lyrical interpretation and dramatic interpretation to tell stories of the Lord Krishna, including episodes of his birth and killing of demons.

“[The varnum] is when you really demonstrate your versatility as a dancer,” Nadadur said. “You do [the debut] after you’ve reached a certain point when your dancing is good enough.”

The 45-minute varnum was followed by a 20-minute intermission, during which refreshments were served outside.

Nadadur performed five additional dances after the intermission.

In the first, she sang verses praising the celestial weapon of the god Vishnu, acting out various stories between verses to the narration of her teacher.

She then performed the Dance of Nataraja, which described the god Shiva as Naada Swaroopi, the embodiment of music, and as Nataraja, Lord of Dance.

“You always do this piece because you have to offer Shiva something, since you wouldn’t have dance without him,” Nadadur explained.

Following a dance describing the lord Rama as a child, audience members watched a slideshow that offered a glimpse of the backstage.

It included various photos of Anjani practicing or performing and video clips dancing at home or at lessons. The arangetram closed with a mangalam, a benediction in which Nadadur again took blessings from the gods, teacher and audience.

After congratulatory speeches by Prakash and Nadadur’s relatives, a blessing by South Indian priests and thank you presents, the audience celebrated Nadadur’s 16th birthday, which was Oct. 3, with dinner and cake.

Despite the commitment and energy required, Nadadur only sees the positive results of learning traditional dance.

“I love dancing,” she said. “As much as it makes me exhausted and takes over my life—I haven’t seen most of my friends outside of school in a month—it gives me a place to get away from normal life.”

She plans to perform as a member of the Shakti Dance Company until she graduates.

“I really want to come back [from college] and dance in productions. I want to embrace every chance to dance because I love it.”

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