Watch Classical Dancers Upclose, But What’s That Pose?


Photo: Navin Mediwala


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By Jawahar Malhotra

SUGAR LAND: The pose was questioning longingly, hand outstretched, fingers turning, asking why, and the body arched backward even as she tilted slightly to on side in a crouching pose. She was only five feet away and the impact was real: you wanted to turn your head, meet eye-to-eye and try to answer the question. But this was a dance, half-pantomime, the other half purely metaphor, part of the rigorous training of Baharat Natyam and responding was not in the cards, even if you flirted with the desire.

It was a performance that Padmini Chari, Executive Director of the Nritya School of Dance and many of her students had coalesced in eight movements as part of the Dance of the Gods set before a small, group of 60 people at the home-turned-performing venue of Upma and Mukulesh Shah in Sugar Land this past Sunday afternoon, July 17. And Upma had moved all of her furniture and belongings out of the living area so that the artists could performance with the big floor-to-ceiling glass windows behind them through which you could see the palm trees and the aeration fountain in the middle of the lake.

Being so close was a treat for those who understand the meanings of the elements of Bharat Natyam, but for those who didn’t – like this reporter – it was the opening of another reality to the realm of what forms this much acclaimed dance style. Later, unable to resist asking the question, Surabi – the one with the questioning eyes – explained the gesture of the hands. “Each one of these 22 mudras can be used for a different meaning depending on the way it is used in the movement,” she said, extending a thumb straight up, with the rest of the fingers closed, a sign for good – or perhaps defiance.

“How do you keep a straight face when you stare right at a spectator at this close a range,” I asked. And Surabi replied, “You’re not looking at them, you’re looking through them. You’re in a trance, in the zone,” which shattered any illusion that one could distract the dancer with a giggle.

Chari narrated the storyline behind each of the eight pieces before the dancers began on the tile floor, their feet thumping hard to set the gungroo (bells) belt on their ankles off. She also performed a piece herself, full of multiple gestures, cajoling, beckoning, asking, answering, mocking and endearing. And the other young women danced in duets and the final piece or talana in a four-some.

The dancers were: Dr. Surabi Veeraragavan, senior disciple of Padmini Chari, a passionate dancer and teacher who enjoys working with children and spreading the joy of dance. She is also a faculty in the Department of Molecular Human genetics at Baylor College of Medicine; Maya Iyer, a junior at Rice University and captain of the Rice Rasikas dance team; Jahnavi Sreeram, a junior at UT at Austin and captain of the Nritya Sangam Dance Team; Shruthi Natarajan, a senior at Debakey High School who had her arangetram in 2014; Meghana Thota, a senior at Cy- Fair High school who completed her arangetram in 2015; Prerna Atreya, a senior at Cypress Ranch High School, who did her arangetram in 2015; Amrita Sriram, a graduate of Bellaire High School who will attend UTSA and is part of Rythym India; Varsha Vasu, a junior at Travis High School who has participated in Pongal Programs; Manasa Udthawar, a junior at Cy-Woods High School; and Advitha Udthawar, a 5th grader at Sampson Elementary School and an aspiring young artist.

This was Upma’s second time to feature Chari and her dance troupe, as she normally concentrates on singers and musicians. But the effervescent Upma can’t ignore the performing arts. “I just love to feature all this talent within our community,” she said of the seven years that she has done this, even as her eyes scanned around to see if any of her guests were in need of something in the snacks and dinner that follow each of the performances at her home-turned-event center for the day.