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On the mythological side, as our temples in Michigan such as the Parashakthi Temple in Pontiac and others get ready to celebrate Navratri by adorning the goddess Shakthi (meaning Power) in various forms for 9 nights and provide her offerings, the other side will be seeped in reality as the Dhananjayans will be in Michigan educating our community about a woman who has emerged victorious after facing many obstacles – her spirit and her energy intact!

Anupama Gopalakrishnan provides a brief spectacle of the legendary dancing couple of India who form the main characters of a success story that focuses on dedication and commitment to an art that touches one’s soul, and also presenting a few seeds from their most recent production Ekantha Seetha – the lonely furrow.

It has been nearly 40 years since the dancing couple started their mini Kalakshetra – (Kalakshetra was the fountainhead for classical art – Bharatanatyam founded by Rukmini Devi Arundale). The dancing couple the ‘Dhananjayans’, who are the epitome of Natya Shastra and are the direct disciples of Rukmini Devi who continued her legacy of live art, music and folk dances through Bharata Kalanjali.

The Dhananjayans have been instrumental in establishing the best traditions of our country through dance using the medium of modern and contemporary thinking and giving the children the best of valued traditions. Establishing their motto of Discipline-Devotion-Dedication, their values are deep rooted and spiritual.

The Dhananjayans were the pioneers in ushering a new wave into the bharatanatyam repertoire as a dancing duo whose choreography was relatively new. To that extent, they believed that Bharatanatyam as a genre is traditional but the style needs to be adapted to the modern times.

According to Shri V. P Dhananjayan, one can “branch off from traditional Alarippu and can do anything with the idiom”. He has held this theory to heart without deviating from aesthetic value of the style, an inspiration drawn from Rukmini Devi. According to the duo, “we created some dance items in the early stages, where some were successful and some became the victims of certain critics. We have been instrumental in creating a new wave of dance idiom for the younger generation. There is criticism always - but one should never lose focus on experimentation – think about alarippu, jadhiswaram and shabdam and in place of that is Natyanjali…the choreography today combines the bhakthi and the story concept. Most of the stories are like the Panchatantra stories – bridging the gap between the lay people and the learned ones”. Well, that’s the Dhananjayans for us. Compact, focused and full of substance!

Talking about dance drama productions, the Dhananjayans stressed on the humongous effort that goes towards strategy and planning. “For a good and unique production, you need two years of thinking, mostly research”, says Dhananjayan. For Ekantha Seetha – the duo worked on the concept since last February – prior to that they had lots of discussions and exchange of thoughts with regard to choreography. As the concept was given life, discussions with the music composer, stage designer and costume designer followed for a year.

Bharata Kalanjali has been a home for many artistes across the globe. Shri Dhananjayan stated that most of his disciples are those who would want to retain their cultural affinity and those who would want the Gurukulam style of training. He keeps re-emphasizing that the whole procedure of education is a slow and a steady process, not a capsule size. He feels blessed that he has a fulfilling job of a guru to a large section of our society that would want to go through Gurukulam. Being a couple has worked as every student gets the affection of a family by staying and learning at the dance ashram. Dhananjayan happily recalls how few of the students call them as father, mother, anna (brother), akka (sister) and how many have treated him as a friend, philosopher and guide.

To enter Bharata Kalanjali, you need not fulfill any criteria because every living testimonial proves that once a student enters its portals, the very attitude changes and how the institute provides an atmosphere congenial for self development. The humble duo has established high family values and ethics that go hand in hand with service and dedication. “We live what we preach”, say the Dhananjayans. “We share the good and the bad things and slowly the inmates get to realize the purity of the culture, the innocence of the tradition and the depth of one’s character. To the extent, that the students leave their sandals in a proper fashion before entering the door. Sumathi Sriram, the first disciple of Dhananjayans has made the ashram her home as she still lives with the couple and shares her knowledge with the students. At present, Bharata Kalanjali has 150 students from various countries.

As the discussion moves from the past to the present, we excitedly discuss about the flavor of the season – the latest and the most recent production from the family – Ekantha Seetha – a lonely furrow which is currently touring the US.

Ekaantha Seetha provides you with a 3 in 1 capsule which can be understood and related to by any segment of the society. The latest from Bharata Kalanjali links the past to its present and provides is a fabric that weaves together epics, history and our contemporary realities through music and dance.

Shri Dhananjayan adds that Ekantha Seetha is so totally not a feminist interpretation. It stresses on the fact that Guru is the essential person to drive anybody to wisdom. It keeps the language in the background and allows the expressions to be musical – there is a certain sense of a universal appeal – celebrating a woman’s strength- her success. Doing that, there need not be a feeling of dejection. Seetha raised her children and trained them to be warriors without help from anybody. Jhansi Rani set forth in sowing the seeds of freedom, again- she stood single. Aparajitha is the contemporary counterpart who goes through struggle and failures to lead the community to a bright future.

 

AIM for Seva is holding a fundraising event "Ekaantha Seetha", a Musical Dance drama with English Narration by the Dhananjayans…

One dollar a day can help change a child's life
for a year. Please consider sponsoring one child
for a year.

www.aimforseva.org

Watch Ekantha Seetha @
Ford Community & Performing Arts Centre, Dearborn, Michigan this Sunday the 24th of September 2006.

The Dhananjayans have made use of a lot of innovative movements that only proves how our traditional idiom of Bharatanatyam is capable of handling even the contemporary. Music is by T.V Gopalakrishna who was musically challenged as he has provided a fusion of Carnatic with Hindustani and Folk. The Dhananjayans have firmly believed in the sanctity of the dance tradition keeping in focus their concentration and meditation. As they succinctly affirm that “dance, otherwise called Natya is physical, mental and spiritual and should be properly treated as it is meant to educate the uneducated, elevate the educated and entertain the enlightened”.

According to Uma Ganesan, president of the Cleveland Cultural Alliance and the brain behind the production, Ekantha Seetha required a mature choreography with some delicate treatment and this could have only been provided by the Dhananjayans. “It is about women living in ordinary circumstances rising up to adverse challenges. They strike a balance by managing families, and yet rise up to the potential of being supportive and extraordinary human beings".

"The artistes are excellent dancers and bring their own valuable contribution to the work”, says Dhananjayan. There will be a galaxy of brilliant dancers who immaterial of big or small roles have been simply remarkable. We have Sujatha Srinivasan from Cleveland, Pavithra Srinivasan from New Jersey, and Rathna Kumar from Houston who have been selected to perform in this massive production.

Uma shuttles her time between Chennai and Cleveland and has been instrumental in starting The Cleveland Cultural Alliance dedicated to bringing the Indian dance form to the North American soil. Ekantha Seetha is brought to us by AIM for Seva in collaboration with the Cleveland Cultural Alliance. Their past events namely “The Living Tree” in 2001 and “Silapadhikaram” in 2004 have seen auditoriums filled to capacity. The Dhananjayans are appealing to the Michigan community to come forward and support the movement and to enjoy the Natya Shastra. “It would be nice to see more volunteers step up to contribute to the great work, raise the funds and raise the spiritual power through Natyam”. T. V. Gopalakrishnan is the music director, Ranjitha Ashok is responsible for concept development and script, and the magnificent costumes have been designed by Lakshmi Srinath and the beautiful sets by Lakshmi Krishnamurthi. For more information about AIM for SEVA, please visit www.aimforseva.org. Ekaantha Seetha will tour 28 cities in the United States.

On a personal note, I believe that the production is a fitting tribute to all those women – in history, mythology and contemporary times who have successfully managed to overcome all odds by being lonely in their battles, strong in their minds, taking challenges up front and by leaving indelible footprints for others to follow. This only comes from determination, confidence and belief without making any compromises in terms of self respect and dignity of character.

For comments and feedback, please email Anu Gopalakrishnan
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