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Maadhurya Shauryam, “Sweetness of Compassion and Empowerment” was presented by Harshitha Venkatesh, daughter-disciple of Bhuvana Venkatesh, Artistic Director of Nrithyanivedhan School of Dance, on March 26, 2016, in Sunnyvale, CA. It was a bold move to present a young, post arangetram dancer in a three hour solo. The topic was also a very mature one, one that aided Maitri, a non-profit that supports South Asian survivors of domestic violence, emotional abuse, human trafficking, cultural alienation and family conflict.
The format was a traditional Bharatanatyam margam, starting with Pushpanjali and Gam Ganapathim which was followed by Dhyaana Slokam, Nrittanjali. Harshitha looked appealing in her youth and charm, her upper body crispness carried the pieces well. The Shakti poses especially were perfect and the nritta sequence with the repetitive, emphatic araimandi, on-toes, and muzhumandi was especially attractive. You could tell that Harshitha could handle a faster tempo, it felt as if she was raring to perform more. It should have been a stronger start, the vocals, both singer (Chandrika Pai) and nattuvanar (Bhuvana) should have held the mic closer and aimed for a clarion effect; the mridangam (Balajai Mahadevan) should have come on stronger. After all, the first item in a program is a promise made to the audience of a great experience.
Swati Thirunal’s Gopalaka Paahimam was next. Harshitha’s upper body execution was flawless, she shone as the various roopas (Yashoda, Kuchela, Gopala, Vishnu). Her sideways jump poses were noteworthy, the highlight being “bhujajaraaja sayana.” Her footwork faltered here though, most of the dit-tit-taiswere hurried. A takeaway for the vocals here is that there was no need to enunciate every word in the song, the piece would have benefitted greatly from just holding a swara for a while, allowing the nattuvanar to hold sway.
The varnam Maathe in Kamas paid homage to Goddess Chamundeshwari. The item was well presented with the quality of abhinaya matching that of the nritta; laya, gati and orchestra finally came together. The aradhi with jumps was charming; the oft-heard Tariku Dhiruku Dhin Dhin Kukuta was given a fresh flavor; Harshitha’s Chamundeshwari was shimmering, fierce, divine, gentle. However, the teeramanams (footwork) were most often not completed, which distracted greatly from the complete enjoyment of the piece.