"I must have attended more than 100 to 150 rangapravesams. I have never seen anything like this. Sindhu is outstanding and mesmerizing and the gurus' talent spectacular. Excellent rendering." - Anand Kuchibhotla, president and founder of Silicon Andhra
The Audience Reaction
Madhavi Chimata, an engineer whose own daughter performs classical dance, could not contain her awe of the "hypnotic" items in this rangapravesam. "From the distinct items to the stage affects, spellbinding music, Kaushalya Reddy's nattuvangam, everything was enthralling! This is how kuchipudi must be spread, in its purest form, and in several languages to reach out to all," she said.
According to Chimata - whose husband, Srinivas Chimata, founded the well-known American Progressive Telugu Association (APTA) of the Bay Area - the kuchipudi dance's core form has been diluted by other dance formats.
"Kuchipudi unfortunately is being turned into semiclassical format by overachievers to gain quick popularity," she said. "What I have seen from Sindhu's show is a feast to my eyes. I got hope kuchipudi will be popular soon in prestigious circles and taken seriously if this pure format is popularized. Hats off to her gurus."
The president and founder of Silicon Andhra, a prominent Bay Area cultural organization, Anand Kuchibhotla, said, "I must have attended more than 100 to 150 rangapravesams. I have never seen anything like this. Sindhu is fascinating and the gurus' talent spectacular. Excellent rendering." A supporter of cultural arts, Kuchibhotla has contributed extensive service to the Kuchipudi village in Andhra Pradesh, in addition to organizing yearly kuchipudi conventions in the United States and India.
Often, Sindhu expressed fear that her performance would not resonate with those who are unfamiliar with the kuchipudi art form. Growing up, she would observe that men (fathers, brothers) often remained disinterested at kuchipudi performances, choosing to stay outside during rangapravesams. However, many novices in the audiences found the items unique, engrossing and riveting.
"When the performance started late, I was going to leave," said Manohar Mahavadi of Fremont, his voice gruff with emotion. "I am not usually very interested in dance performances. But the minute Sindhu came on stage with her Ganpati Vandana, I was spellbound. From then on, I could not move from my seat. It was extraordinary. Her dance, the choreography, the stage effects and her gurus' affectionate presence gave it all an-out-of-the-world, mesmerizing sensation."
For many, the music enriched by Manohar Balatchandirane's Mridangam, Madhvi Mehta's (Sason ki Mala) Hindustani and Deevi Ravikanth's Carnatic vocal, Dr. Manda Anantha Krishna's flute, Guru Prasath's violin refined with Kaushalya Reddy's powerful nattuvangam and narration (Sita's Ramayana) --all added stunning and powerful pitch to Sindhu's performance.
"The overall effect was phenomenal," said Bhawani Pothana, Sindhu's aunt who came from India. "A feeling of cosmic power and energy floated through my veins as I watched the show. The sensation is unbelievable. It's as if my soul was lifted to another world."
The decorations, which went well with the majestic ambience of the hall and the stage effects brought in by the theater's tech team headed by Claudia Goodsell and by Sandeep Dutta, member of Natya Tarangini, flown in from India for this special purpose, captured the hearts of many.
"While all items are mind-blowing, the tech effects of Shiva Dance and the Taraana Dance are spell binding," said Lata from Fremont, who teaches dance at Aerodance. "I have never seen anything like this before," she exclaimed.
Nalini Mohan of Cupertino felt that Sindhu's dance and her speech were something he would treasure and take back with him as his memories.
"Sometimes when people ask me about dance programs I would have to talk about the decorations, which would often be taller than the performances. This time the dance outshined everything else! Decorations blended with the hall. Sindhu was an amazing, a stunning performer. Her dance and speech are etched in mhy memory."
Sunanda Gadigottu, instructor, Art of Living, summed it all up with her keen observans.
"Sindhu's rangapravesam is a true entry onto the stage of artistic universe! The setting was a feast to the senses. Beyond all of that I deeply appreciate the beauty and grace with which Sindhu performed. I had experienced Raja and Radha Reddy's art form as a young woman. Sindhu imbibed their fluid and unique style and performed with so much poise! I had tears in my eyes with her Sita and Tarana. Lots of blessings to her!" said
The Show Pieces
The show started out with Ganpati Vandana (Hari Duri Gajamukha) - an item praising Lord Ganesha. For the success of a rangapravesam, it is customary to commence with a prayer to the Ganesha, the elephant-headed god whose gifted with the power to remove all obstacles.
Following the first item was Shiva Dance. Historically, this item is the hallmark of Dr. Raja Reddy. In it, he masterfully intersects non-stop aggressive, powerful technique with calm emotional stability, earning him the title of "Black Shiva." Less than five students in the entire Natya Tarangini dance school have performed this item as his daughter Yamini Reddy, who describes Shiva Dance as "an atomic bomb", mostly performs it. Sindhu was given this rare opportunity by the Gurus. According to Sindhu, this was the most difficult dance she ever had to perform. In it, she, as Shiva, describes the five-fold cosmic activities of the Lord - Creation, Preservation, Destruction, Abode of the Soul and Salvation.
Third, was Bhamakalapam, a sringara kavya. As a stark contrast to the Shiva Dance, a powerful mastery of formidable nritya and nrutya (expressions and technique), Bhama Kalapam heavily relied on feminine emotion. Siddhendra Yogi's Bhama kalapam describes Krishna's famously arrogant wife, Satyabhama. This piece - interweaving jatis, verses, and Telugu dialogue -- demonstrated the traditional, theater-style format of kuchipudi. Dr. Raja Reddy himself came on stage to become the endearing Madhavi, Satyabhama's best friend, in a teasing conversation with Satyabhama about her husband. The defining thread of this piece is the expressions.
To her guru, Padmabhushan Raja Reddy, Sindhu is born to dance. "Her expressions and dance are truly mesmerizing," he says. "God chooses a few people to promote art and culture. Sindhu is one of them. I am very proud that I am her teacher. Her dialogue delivery, her dedication to dance and her hard work always amazes me."
Following Bhamakalapam was Saason Ki Maala, a Sufi song written in the 16th century, and sung by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. This song explains the devotional, unrelenting love of the narrator for their lover. It is an example of how kuchipudi, a South Indian form, uses other national languages to convey its message.
L-R: Manohar Balatchandirane(Mridangam), Guru Kaushalya Reddy (nattuvangam)
Deevi Ravikanth (Carnatic vocal),
Guru Prasath(violin), Dr. Manda Anantha Krishna (flute) Missing in picture: Madhvi Mehta (Hindustani Vocal)
"Guruji has choreographed this bhajan to depict spiritual love, an everlasting connection between two souls. This kind of love has no language, no religion -- it's the same whether it is God or the Beloved. Just thinking about it makes me cry," said Sindhu.
Then came Sita's Ramayana, exclusively choreographed for Sindhu by Dr. Raja Reddy. This dance is based on the book by Samhita Arni, which looks at Ramayana from Sita's perspective. This piece interweaves English narrative with pure jatis, intended to connect with the English speaking audience. It relays the pain, anguish and struggle of Sita's journey once exiled by her own husband for rumors of being intimate with Raavana. While Satyabhama and Sita are both female characters (unlike Shiva), their personas and journeys are polar opposites, providing Sindhu the opportunity to delve into diverse, complex female characters.
"The depiction of Sita by Sindhu left me spellbound," said Ranjani Manda, director and founder of Aerodance in Fremont. "I heard Ramayana so many times, but I cried watching her expressions. I felt I was watching real Sita." Finally, is Tarana, a Hindustani composition by sitar maestro Bharat Ratna Pandit Ravi Shankar. Drs. Raja and Radha Reddy choreographed this item in kuchipudi classical dance style, and it has grown to be one of their most famous pieces. In this, the dancer showcases rhythmic footwork patterns by dancing on the rim of a brass plate for an extended jati.
"It was unbelievable that Sindhu had energy to finish the finale act. The technical implementation on plate in Tarana was flawlessly executed by Sindhu," Manda said. Such a feat is only possible with utmost dedicated practice, extensive training in combination with self discipline. To such discipline, I bow today to the artist's spirit that I have seen in Sindhu. It gave me immense pleasure to watch her perform," Manda said.
Reflections on the Show
Sindhu intentionally brought her distinct brand of expressions to these dances. She took the audience into her personal journey of storytelling, hoping to leave everyone artistically replenished.
But she had to learn to submit to her gurus, to give their judgment her undying trust.
"I once asked Guruji, 'Do you think I can do this?'" Sindhu said. "He told me 'you don't have a choice. YOU MUST.' For him, there was no such thing as 'can't,' just 'do.'"
Her ideas of kuchipudi itself expanded.
"When Guruji told me about Saanson Ki Mala, I couldn't understand the structure of the song," said the 21- year-old. "It was so uncommon for a kuchipudi interpretation, but my guru thought otherwise."
Born and brought up in the USA, it was difficult for the young performer to truly understand and appreciate the languages involved in kuchipudi. "I had to ask the meaning of certain Urdu and Telugu words. But, when Guruji explained them to me, I saw an entirely new meaning to his choreography. Once I overcame my fear and insecurity, I started loving the experience of immersing completely in dance, interacting with my gurus in a daily basis and learning directly from them. My God, I treasure every moment of those days. When we were putting together the music and choreography for the Sita item, it was an honor and pleasure sitting in the discussions of my gurus, discussing, learning, observing. I saw art being made."
For many, the camaraderie and love between the gurus and sishya, Sindhu was extremely heart-warming to watch. "It's so rare and touching to see Kaushalya Reddy, her guru, addressing her disciple as "Sindhu baby" so lovingly on stage and Sindhu communicating with her guru Padmabhushan Raja Reddy as if he were her family. During her speech, as the guru watched her affestionately, right by her side, Sindhu's eyes would fill with tears as she spoke about him. And I saw her guru Radha Reddy got up and hugged Sindhu tightly after the performance. Such warmth and love is so rare to watch in this commercialized world," said Satya Irrinki, Sindhu's aunt, who came all the way from Detroit to attend Sindhu's debut.
For Sindhu, the opinions of those who were instrumental to her growth as a dancer were also very important. Her mother and her Gurus worked tirelessly to ensure the success of her show, spending sleepless nights coordinating the event of a lifetime. Sindhu could not let them down.
"I could not afford to mess up, for them," she said. "I love my mother immensely, and this art form is only in my life because of her unending devotion, dedication, strength, tenacity, and vision. As long as she was satiated, I would be too."
Moreover, at the end of the rangapravesam, Carlos Carvajal, artistic director of renowned San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival, spoke for her. He remembered when Sindhu performed at the festival at the tender age of 10, becoming the youngest soloist and Kuchipudi performer in the show's history. He bought with him Sindhu's audition tape for that show.
"Watching Sindhu's dance is like going into a candy store - you simply can't choose your favorite amidst all the delicious flavors," he said.
While she was glad the performances resonated in the audience's memory, Sindhu can only remember what her gurus said.
"She has to dedicate herself to dance now," said guru Kaushalya Reddy. "She can't let her talent go waste." And, Sindhu says, she never will again.
About the Gurus:
Drs. Raja & Radha Reddy, known as India's legendary kuchipudi dancing couple, are the world-renowned choreographers and gurus who have given new dimension to the age-old art of Kuchipudi dance. Their illustrious career, spanning over five decades, has gained them a reputation for rare excellence. They have travelled to more than 95 countries, showcasing their rich culture and talent to numerous Kings, Queens, Princess, Presidents and other dignitaries all across the world.
About the Artist:Sindhu Shivani Ravuri is a UC Berkeley undergraduate senior, double majoring in Bioengineering and Molecular Biology at UC Berkeley, California. Her goal is to become a fetal surgeon. Following her rangapravesam, she is determined to advancing kuchipudi in its purest form, following her gurus' footsteps. In the past, Sindhu received many national and international awards for her dance, both in classical and semiclassical formats. She is the recipient of International Certificate of Recognition from UNESCO and a "Letter of Recommendation" from the Director of UNESCO. She was recognized for Outstanding Achievement in Dance at the Santa Clara County Salute to Youth/Hall of Fame. Additionally, she was a member of her high school's Junior Varsity and Varsity dance teams, as well as the youngest performer in the history San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival. With her kuchipudi gurus, she performed for the president and the Parliament of India and also performed in Russia and Germany.