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11 Dec 2023, Edition - 3072, Monday

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Articulations in laya, abhinaya and abhyasa

Ajay Menon


Lavanya Sankar, the pride of Coimbatore and Bharatanatyam exponent, has taken the dance form to greater heights, not just nationally, but globally too. Her mastery in and dedication to this classic dance form are well acknowledged by all.

At a recent college theatre festival, Coimbatore’s very own Lavanya Sankar, a renowned dansuese and Bharatanatyam exponent was speaking to her audience comprising students, about communication. She soon realised that the students were rather disinterested. She then asked a few of them to come on stage and enact some ideas like saving tree, etc. They tried it but not with success.

She then offered to present the same through mudras. “Not only did the students enjoy it, but they could also easily understand the language of mudras,” Lavanya told The Covai Post.

This is just a little case in point of how a traditional art form like bharatanatyam, rooted deep in classical style, gets communicated to even those who are not familiar with it.

Lavanya was just four years old, when she heard the sound of tala from a wooden stick coming from a house in the neighbourhood. Her father, who also heard the sound, mistook it to be some construction work. But he still went to see what the noise was about. He found out that a bharatanatyam teacher was coming from Chennai to teach the dance form to the children of that house. He decided then and there that his daughter would learn from the teacher too.

He approached the guru, Kalaimamani KJ Sarasa of Sarasalaya with a request to train his little daughter. But the guru found Lavanya to be too young to start training. Not satisfied with the answer, the little girl watched the other students go through their paces. She then repeated them in front of guru Sarasa, who recognised the spark in the child. Lavanya was accepted as the guru’s shishya. That was the year 1983. Lavanya however, insists that this is the version of her parents.

This guru-shishya bond remained till Sarasa’s death some nine years ago. Lavanya recounts that it was the same guru through all the years of her training and the right one for her. She dutifully followed her Vazhavoor style and incidentally, had her arangetram at the tender age of seven-and-a-half.

The traditional forms of dance continue to be popular even today but have developed from being deep-rooted in tradition, to being successfully communicative to all. On how this has been possible, Lavanya recounts the incident at the theatre festival in the college and says, “It is about keeping the traditional framework and communicating new things at the same time through innovation.”

Lavanya has presented such innovative themes as Kathamrutham last year, where she drew parallels from Panchatantra tales and mythology for her presentation. Another was about five elements and temples associated with them. Yet another was on seasons and their relation with different festivals across the country. It is all about innovating new themes within the traditional framework.

“I don’t mix two art forms,” asserts Lavanya. “I like to work on visual communication through mudras, eye movements in a simple language that everyone can understand. For example, my project on seasons based on Kalidasa’s ‘Rithusamharam’ was in Sanskrit which is difficult to understand. But the language was communicated through mudras and was so colourful that the crowd enjoyed it,” she says.

For her new project, she says she has just started work on two contradictory, yet complementary themes. “I don’t pick up social themes. Not epics either as people know about them. My interest is to look at one particular character, research on that and work on it for a a project,” she adds.

New gen seeks art forms with academics

The popularity of dance as an art form has seen a new breed of enthusiasts among the new generation students, who are also trying to be academically sound.

“I belong to the previous generation. My guru insisted on teaching us the ‘maargam’, the repertoire. You learn a number of varnams, javalis and padams. But today the new generation is more into academics in various streams. It helps them learn about history, about literature, etc., which certainly reflects in their choreography. I too do a lot of learning, reading and research when I take up a new project or theme. I’ve not gone deep into academics myself but I think I have better practical knowledge than these youngsters. This helps in performing better,” says Lavanya.

Accolades and more

She has had more than a thousand performances at all major festivals across the country and abroad, to her credit. Due recognition has followed too, with the latest being the recent Kalaimamini award. She has won the Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar for the year 2013 and the following year, she won the Sangeet Natak Akademi puraskar. Nadanamamani from Karthik Fine Arts and Yuva Kala Bharathi from Bharat Kalachar are some other notable awards. She has been the recipient of a national scholarship from The Centre for Cultural Resources and Training in New Delhi, and is the winner of the Balasaraswathi Endowment Prize at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha.

Lavanya was the youngest dancer invited to perform at Apna Utsav in New Delhi when she was just eight years old. An A-grade artiste for Doordarshan National and an empanelled artiste by Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), she has performed at the “India International Week” in Japan, the BRICS International Conference in New Delhi and the famed Khajuraho Dance Festival in Khajuraho.

Lavanya runs Abhyasa, her academy of classical dance, in Coimbatore. She also gives lecture-demonstrations and presentations. An accomplished nattuvangam artiste, she is also a renowned imaginative choreographer of Bharatanatyam ballets and productions, and has been a television hostess for a leading Tamil TV network.

Lavanya is also the dance choreographer for the official anthem “Namami Gange”, which talks of the central Government’s mission to clean, rejuvenate and conserve the river Ganges. She appears in the video version with her students, representing Bharatanatyam.

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