Bharatanatyam Guru Smitha Madhav, at the outset confesses that they didn’t start off with the idea of an online arangetram. “We had planned for a live event in August 2020. When the pandemic hit, we had to postpone the live arangetram. When the first wave showed signs of abating, our hopes of having a live arangetram were rekindled. But after the second wave started, it became clear that a live arangetram would be neither feasible, possible or safe any time in the near future and it was then that we decided to conduct the arangetram virtually,” says the dancer. The Academy founder says that the child performing the arangetram had been looking forward to and preparing for her big day for a long time and they did not wish to diminish her enthusiasm by postponing the event further. “Hence, the online arangetram seemed to be a wise option,” she says.
Smitha says that she tried to follow Shri VP Dhananjayan Sir, who conducted an arangetram online as early as in April 2020. “While emulating this was certainly not my first choice, it did serve as a precedent for me and considering the fact that this seemed like the most responsible thing to do at this time, we decided to go ahead,” says the dance expert, whose 15 students have performed arangetram till date.
Speaking on whether there will be live orchestra for the online arangetram, the Law graduate says that even before the pandemic (when this was supposed to be a live event), they had planned to have pre-recorded music for the arangetram (as with many arangetrams of Varna Arts Academy). “Thankfully I was able to complete recording the music for the Arangetram Maargam around March 2020 and thus Ramya Hasini (the child performing the arangetram) was able to practice with the pre-recorded tracks throughout the pandemic. This also made it easier for us (my colleague Bhargavi akka and me) to conduct online classes, practise sessions and rehearsals for Ramya Hasini throughout the pandemic.”
Recreate Auditorium Experience: Explaining further, Smitha says that in terms of the arangetram itself, they have tried to recreate almost all the elements of an “auditorium experience”. “Firstly, we decorated our dance floor (within the premises of our academy) in a manner that replicated what one would see on stage. In our pre-pandemic arangetrams, the prayer/ invocation song would usually be rendered by a group of our own students (children who learn music at Varna). Keeping in mind COVID protocols, we avoided a group and instead had the prayer song rendered by Kum. Sreya Masilamanian, daughter of our faculty Bharagavi Parameswaran.”
Smitha says that there is also usually a small pooja ceremony before the commencement of each arangetram. “This was also done, with the help of a close family member; ensuring that most people who participated in the virtual event were from “within our bubble”; thus, reducing outside interaction. We also made sure that at any given time, only those whose presence was absolutely mandatory remained in the premises. Needless to mention, constant sanitising was carried out. Except those in front (for the most part, the dancer Ramya Hasini herself) of the camera, the rest of us were always ‘Double masked’,” says Varna Arts Academy founder.
Student of Rajeswari Sainath adds that they also had the traditional Guru Pooja ceremony, where Hasini offered Tamboolam to her gurus, in the presence of her parents. “All in all, it was a complete arangetram; replete with all the elements that go into it. Only a large gathering of audience was avoided. This (the audience) will be virtual and the event will be watched by a global audience from the safety of their homes,” says Smitha.
Ramya Hasini to take make online debut: Giving details of the online arangetram student, Smitha says that it is Vanama Sai Ramya Hasini (daughter of V Madhuri & V Murali Krishna), Class X student. “Ramya Hasini has been learning from us for a few years now. She is also a budding musician. Practicing through the pandemic has been a test of her dedication and she displayed a maturity far beyond her years; patiently braving poor internet, lack of personal interaction with Gurus and the uncertainty brought by the pandemic – all the while staying focussed on her practice,” she says quickly adding that the arangetram will be telecast within the coming fortnight.
On selection of items for arangetram, the dance expert says it depends on many factors. “I depend on my instincts a great deal too. For instance, when I think of some students, I sometimes feel (almost instantaneously) that she can perform a piece on a certain deity/ or a song at a particular pace well. I also try to ensure that each maargam is complete in itself: as in there is sufficient variety in terms of ragas, talas, deities, languages, tempo, composers etc. I also try to accommodate any special requests by the family of the child (if it is not in conflict with the basic structure of the maargam to be presented at the arangetram). For instance, the father of one of my students is Marathi, while the mother is Tamil speaking. So, I included a Marathi Abhang along with the regular Tamil pieces. Needless to mention, it was a hit with the family,” Smitha says with elan.
Spl. Place For Ramadasu: In Ramya Hasini’s arangetram as her family hails from Bhadrachalam, Smitha has chosen a Keerthana of Shri Bhadrachala Ramadasu to be part of her Maargam. “I also chose the evergreen “Seetha Kalyana Vaibhogame” (reminiscent of the divine wedding that takes place at Bhadrachalam each year) as the concluding number,” she says.
Smitha points out that arangetram is a memorable milestone in the life and career of any dancer. “In many ways, it marks the beginning of a life-long commitment to dance in particular and to the arts in general. In the olden days, a dancer made her debut at a temple and I feel it is quite appropriate that Ramya Hasini got to make hers in our own temple of learning: our Varna Arts Academy,” she says. The multi-talented artist shares that their dance floor is very dear to them all (me, our faculty, our students and their parents too). “In many ways, it is like a mother’s lap: a place where all of us learn, stumble and get up stronger. Thus, in many ways this arangetram is one that is very dear to my heart. I am also someone who has always enjoyed small, intimate and austere events. In fact, I even got married in our house!! (the same place that was home to this arangetram) several years before COVID forced people to go for scaled down events,” says emotionally moved Smitha.