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All The world's A Stage
You walk into an auditorium and as you take your seat, the lights dim. The dancer comes on stage and immediately you are lost in the rapid eye movements, delicate finger positions, sweeping arms, and eternal chiming of the bells that make up her anklets as she moves across the stage.
Her quickly changing expressions capture your full attention as the dancer tells nine different stories with just her dancing and expressions in about three hours. In one story she even plays two characters, her face changing from extreme fury to one full of love, admiration, and devotion. This is Bharatnatym.
Bharatnatym is an ancient Indian dance form that comes from the area of Tamilkam, India and is said to have divine roots. It is the oldest classical Indian dance and was originally preformed in the courts and temples of southern India.
After many years of training under a guru (teacher), the dancer performs their Arangetram, which literally means, “to ascend the stage.”
An Arangetram is a Bharatnatym dancer’s debut on-stage solo performance. It represents a graduation ceremony, when the guru presents their student to the public. An Arangetram is a dancer’s dream and ambition. It requires much dedication and discipline.
On September 2, 2012, Vibha Alanger preformed her Arangetram after 12 years of study under Guru Shobha Narayan. Vibha is a junior at SHS and has been studying Bharatnatym since the age of four. “I feel extremely relived that I have completed my Arangetram, but I also feel sad because it is over,” Vibha Alangar said after achieving this milestone.
Vibha’s Arangetram took place at in downtown, at the Cleveland State University auditorium. The audience was packed with well-wishers to see the performance of a lifetime.
At the intermission, all that could be heard were exclamations of “Wow, that was amazing!” and “I don’t know how she does it!” in reaction to Vibha’s awe-inspiring dancing.
The Arangetram was made up of nine different dances. Most praised or called upon the blessings of a Hindu god. The dances described attributes, aspects, and reincarnations of the god. In the final dance Vibha thanked the Gods, her Guru, her parents, the musicians, and the audience with a prayer. This was all depicted solely through the movements of the carefully choreographed dances.
Vibha’s dancing was accompanied by a live orchestra including vocals, violin, flute, nattvangam, which is an instrument similar to cymbals, and tabla (similar to a drum). The program was emceed by Apshara Ravichandran, a close friend of Vibha and a junior at Westlake High School, who completed her Arangetram last year.
The performance was followed by dinner from a local Indian restaurant called Jaipur Junction. At dinner everybody who came to watch Vibha got a chance to congratulate the dancer herself. She was swamped with family and friends complimenting her on her beautiful dancing and wonderful outfits.
Credit for orchestrating this event seamlessly goes to Vibha’s parents, Bharti and Ravi Alangar. They have spent months and months booking the venue, sending invitations, organizing catering, setting the menu, gathing props and outfit, decorating the stage, and most importantly, driving Vibha to dance practice.
Vibha’s Bharatnatym teacher and the choreographer for her Arangetram, Shobha Narayan, has been dancing for 35 years and teaching for over 25.
“My immense interest and passion for dance and the training that I received in my dance school in India made me interested in teaching. I have always wanted to be creative…propagating this beautiful dance gives me immense satisfaction,” declares Narayan.
She is the director for the Nritya Gitanjali School of Dance, which she established in 1985 and has taught over 100 students. It was one of the earliest full-fledged dance institutions in Cleveland.
“It is a feeling that can't be put into words. When my student goes on to complete the Arangetram, it feels like I am up on stage performing and I feel very proud and happy that I have been instrumental in contributing to his/her success in Bharatanatyam,” Guru Shobha Narayan said after watching Vibha’s performance.
As well as dance, Shoba Narayan provides instruction in vocal music and nattuvangam. It is arguably the most important member in the Bharatnatym orchestra. She provided the lead vocals and nattvangam for Vibha’s performance.
Bharatnatym takes dedication, discipline, and hardwork. Vibha will continue to perfect this art form by learning from Narayan. “I will definitely continue learning Bharatnatym for as long as I can, so it will always be a part of my life. It’s routine, and it would be weird if it wasn’t there,” states Vibha
For Vibha, who is passionate about this beautiful dance form, it is an important part of her life and a defining characteristic of her personality. As Vibha said, “It’s a part of who I am and always will be.”