Saturday, May 30, 2015

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Monday, June 17, 2013

Monday, June 10, 2013

35th Anniversary Show Review

Natyananda, the Birmingham dance troupe founded by Sheila Rubin in 1978, celebrated its 35th anniversary Saturday with a stunning display of Bharatanatyam, the classical dance tradition that originated in South India 2,000 years ago.  Multi-armed deities, elaborate costumes and leggings, sculpturesque poses,  neck and eye movements, and a wide array of poignant and celebrative narratives unfolded in nine dances on the Bell Theatre stage at UAB. One of India's finest dancers – Venkatakrishnan Mahalingam (V.K. for short) – joined for two solo dances and two ensemble numbers, placing in sharp perspective the artistic and technical discipline Rubin has instilled in her 40 or so dancers.
To all but a few devotees of Indian culture, Natyananda has remained mostly under the radar for the better part of three decades. But the packed theater indicated that has changed. Indian families – mothers and daughters adorned in colorful saris – and Western patrons alike turned out.

Click to enlarge and read the dancer's  names!
Well-prepared program notes gave insight on each number, including the ragas and talas of the musical accompaniment. Additional verbal notes were presented between dances, an additional aid to the uninitiated. Tributes to Rubin were frequent and heartfelt, paying homage to one of Birmingham's artistic treasures.
A puja invocation, performed in front of a shrine, began the event with prayers, candles, flowers and incense. A lotus dance by the entire troupe followed, young dancers arching their backs in a circular formation indicating the open of a blossom, four taller dancers in the center reaching to the sky. Another ensemble number, “Ganapati Vandanam” centered on the elephant-headed, obstacle-removing deity, Ganesha, with a series of a still poses and ensemble movements.

Vindhya Bassetti,    Krishna Pulipaka,    Arushi Kotru,      Prasanna Bassetti
Nikki Karnam (back)  VK (center),  Smriti Krishnan  & Sheila Rubin                   
Photo by Deloye Burrell
V.K. took the stage for an abstract solo, “Jatiswaram.” Dressed in white with gold trim and wearing a gold necklace and waistband, he demonstrated the essence of Bharatanatyam, executing the mudras (hand positions) and limb extensions with impeccable precision, boldly pouncing on rhythmic accents. “Sankara Srigiri” was more narrative, V.K. entering the realm of Nataraja, the Lord of Dance, with angular wrist and hand movements and ankle bells.
Rubin, who studied in the 1970s at the same school as V.K. in Chennai, India, revealed her virtuosity in “Rupana Dzuchi,” an homage to Lord Shiva. While Rubin possesses the physicality to carry out this difficult dance, it was the emotion revealed in her facial gestures that drew attention. Within a short time span, she expressed sorrow, despair and elation, empathy, cheerfulness and mourning. She was, to paraphrase cultural scholar Joseph Campbell, a woman with a thousand faces, each convincingly realized.
Our Program!
One of Rubin's prize graduates, Smriti Krishnan, danced solo in “Magu Duchi,” a tearful story about a young woman promised in marriage but in love with Lord Krishna. Her distant gazes, looks of fright and classic poses of Krishna playing a flute revealed her torn emotions, but most impressive was her ability to tell the story by moving from character to character.
The high point of the concert came with V.K.'s choreography of “Thillana,” a tale of romantic rivalry with two women –  Krishnan and recent Natyananda graduate, Neha Udayakumar – vying for the attention of Krishna, portrayed by V.K. Most striking were each dancer's individuality within the rigid structure of Bharatanatyam, and the Birmingham dancers' ability to meld seamlessly with one of India's best. It is testimony not only to the dancers, but to their teacher.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Natyananda celebrates 35 years of Bharatanatyam in Birmingham ,

By  Michael Huebner  

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- For the last 35 years, Sheila Rubin has been bridging two very different cultures a half a world away through the universal language of dance.
To mark the milestone of the founding of her Birmingham Indian troupe, Natyanananda, Rubin will bring to the city one of India's finest practitioners of Bharatanatyam, an Indian dance form that has survived for 2,000 years.
Venkatakrishnan Mahalingam, or V.K. as he is called, will be the featured artist at Natyananda's 35th Birthday Anniversary concert on Saturday, June 8, at UAB's Bell Theatre, 700 13th Street South. He will be joined by Rubin, two of her company's prized dancers, and the remainder of the 40-member company.

The connections are palpable. V.K. is a solo dancer who trained at Bharata Kalanjali, the school founded in the late 1960s by V.P. and Shanta Dhananjayan. The Dhananjayans, in turn, were associated with Kalakshetra, another revered, and even older, institution that traces its origins to Rukmini Devi, the most important revivalist of Indian dance.
Rubin's dance roots follow the same path. She became interested in Indian dance in the 1960s and 1970s while traveling with her mother, a linguistic anthropologist. After eight years of dancing with the Dhananjayans' troupe, she landed in Birmingham, where she started Natyananda.
The first years were pretty lean."We had four, maybe five dancers," she recalled. "It was hard to get people interested in Indian dance. Indians who had recently arrived wanted their children to do it, but all their children wanted to do was to be American, and blend." Although some of the young dancers would heed their parents' call to duty and learn Bharatanatyam, they would quit when they became teenagers. Since the 1990s, those attitudes have completely changed. The availability and popularity of Indian culture, especially Bollywood, has helped to established a new awareness and appreciation.
"Now I get young adults who have wanted to do Indian dance all their lives and haven't had an opportunity," Rubin said. "Teenagers are coming of their own initiative. I have dancers who have danced with me for 15 or 20 years." To have an western woman as a Bharatanatyam coach has been advantageous for everyone involved, she said."It's very helpful, especially for teenagers, because they have to rebel against their parents. It's their job," Rubin said. "They all call me their second mom."
The discipline of Bharatanatyam keeps them focused. It combines the mystical with the metaphysical, spiritual narratives with emotionless technique. Costumes are extremely elaborate, with colorful silk embroidery, headdresses and abundance of percussive leggings and jewelry.

Often based on ancient epic poetry, the narratives can be complex, but the equally complex system of hand and limb movements, statuesque poses, and back-and-forth eye and head movements helps narrow the far-away story lines to a dramatic level that anyone can understand.
The concert on Saturday will be noticeably traditional. While the Bollywood dance craze has taken a firm hold, and many Indian dance troupes have embraced modern and popular dance, Rubin prefers to stick to convention. In addition to two solo dances by V.K., the company will perform a dance drama on the 10 incarnations of the Hindu god, Vishnu, with a cast of 14 dancers.
Exclusively sacred dances are at the heart of Bharatanatyam, and Rubin's own dance training.
"There will be nothing cross-cultural," she said. "Just the purity and beauty of traditional dance. For me, nothing compares with it."
All 40 troupe members will participate, with two of Rubin's best students in the spotlight. Smriti Krishnan, who performed her arangetram, or "rite of passage," in 2009, will be dancing, and so will Neha Udayakumar, who performed her arangetram in 2011. Rubin believes they will make a nice complement. "Smriti is very dramatic and intense," she said. "Neha is a different personality than Smriti. She is pure sweetness, just exquisite."Unlike traditional concerts in India, the event shouldn't last longer than 90 minutes.
"My teachers' motto was, 'leave the audience wanting more.' Don't satiate them."



Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Visit from the past

Let us learn Abhinaya from Sheila akka!


Monday, October 8, 2012

Scintillating Natyananda Performances

Nikita Karnam @ Magic city Art festival, Linn Park, 2013

Sheila akka @ 25th Anniversary of Natyananda, 2003

Smriti Sheilakka Deepa Sowmya Neha

Muruga Kauthavam at Museum of Art, B'ham

Niki Udaykumar- Jasmine Cobb -Vishali Krishna

Prasanna Basetty -Rosalynn Fairless - Arushi Kotru

Preeti Venkat - Krishnapriya Pulipaka - Vindhya Basetty

Joshita Suresh - Sahiti Athan

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Gandhi Jayanthi 2011

Natyananda students performed the following dances for the Indian Cultural Society sponsored Gandhi Jayanthi Celebrations on Oct 2nd, 2011 at the Birmingham Museum of Art.

1. "Lotus Dance" by Beginner students
2. "Krishna Dance-Drama" by Intermediate students
3. "Thillana" by Sheila Akka and Deepa Chandrasekar.

Click this to view the full video. Audio difficulties with the 2nd & 3rd dances during the show have been fixed in the video.

Thanks to Suresh Grandhi, photos are now available here.

Bharatanatya Arangetram by Neha Udayakumar

Natyananda student, Neha Udayakumar, performed Bharatanatya Arangetram on July 23rd, 2011 at Harrison theater, Samford University, Birmingham, AL with musicians from India. Ramesh Babu on Mridangam, Easwar Ramakrishnan on Violin and Nandakumar Unnikrishnan's vocal provided grand accompaniment and enthralled the audiences. Sheila Akka's incredible first ever Nattuvangam performance was spot on throughout.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Birmingham Museum of Art

All the students of Natyananda performed a beautiful dance drama Kuravanji at the Birmingham Museum of art as a part of Gandhi Jayanthi celebarations on Oct 3rd, 2010.
Kuravanji Part1 ; Part2 ; Part 3; Part 4,; thanks to Preethi's Parents for the videos.
As usual Sheila akka's choreography is very eye catching and all the little kids look adorable.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Natyananda performed at the "Taste of Asia" Fall Festival and fundraiser on Saturday, Apr17th , 2010. This event, sponsored by The Birmingham Chinese Garden and Asian Cultural Center Foundation, was at the Cedars Club (301 Green Springs Avenue South).

Here are are some of our young dancers.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Holi at Birmingham Museum of Art!!

Smriti and Neha represented Natyananda at the Birmingham museum of Art, Holi celebrations held on March, 27th.

Hamsanandi Jatiswaram - Neha & Smriti