Arangetram in the time of pandemic

That all-important debut performance: live or virtual? Dance gurus debate the question

An arangetram is the moment that every young classical dancer looks forward to. It’s supposed to be the first time they perform on stage and showcase their talent and years of intense training. It is as much personal fulfilment as it is about being recognised as a professional artiste and getting the stamp of approval from eminent gurus and rasikas who form a large part of the audience.

But the pandemic has put a pause on the arangetram plans of many a young dancer, and the wait for it to end seems endless. Hence, some gurus and disciples have decided to go digital even for this momentous occasion.

Smitha Madhav and Bhargavi Parameshwaran with their student V. Ramya Hasini  

Bharatanatyam dancer and teacher Smitha Madhav recently conducted the arangetram of her student, V. Ramya Hasini, online. Says Smitha, “We decided on a virtual show since the arangetram has been on hold since last August, when it was first scheduled to be held live. Hasini and her family have been eagerly looking forward to it, and I felt there was no point delaying it further.”

Last year, Bharatanatyam gurus V.P Dhananjayan and Shantha Dhananjayan set the precedent by conducting the first online arangetram. Smitha too decided that going virtual seemed the most responsible thing to do in this situation.

The dance floor at Smitha’s Varna Arts Academy, Hyderabad, was transformed into a stage to give Ramya an auditorium-like experience. Smitha used pre-recorded music to train Ramya online, with a few practice sessions held at the academy.

The preparation for an arangetram usually begins when a learner decides that she wants to pursue the art seriously and opts to undergo rigorous training, which includes mastering the margam.

Setting a trend

For the Dhananjayans, the decision was taken when the family of one of his dance students had to leave for the U.K. The couple thought it best to organise the arangetram at their Chennai dance school, Bharata Kalanjali, and stream it live.

V.P. Dhananjayan  

With the help of his son C.P. Satyajit, dancer, instrumentalist and an expert in visual communication, Dhananjayan planned and presented a digital arangetram experience for his student and the family.

“The 1990s saw a boom in arangetrams with affluent NRI parents coming down to India to organise their children’s maiden performance, which often would turn into a social gathering. At our institute, we prefer to keep it simple, since we view it as an occasion for the students to showcase their skill to the learned,” says Dhananjayan.

“To the parents, who tend to spend lavishly on the event, I’d advise them to instead invest in their child’s all-round learning and exposure to various arts ,” he adds. He suggests it would be best if one can wait for normalcy to return to stage an arangetram. “After all, it’s a moment cherished by dancers all their life.”

Seize an opportunity

Bharatanatyam dancer, choreographer and guru Urmila Satyanarayanan says, “When life offers an opportunity, make the most of it.”

Urmila Satyanarayanan 

Since its inception, 140 students from her dance school Natya Sankalpaa have had their arangetrams. Barring the lockdown period, Urmila did not stop conducting arangetrams, although she maintained COVID-19 protocols and ensured a limited physical audience.

Cautious steps

Not wanting to take a chance, senior Bharatanatyam dancer and founder of Sruthilaya Kendra Natarajalaya, Rajeswari Sainath feels that arangetrams can wait for now. “Seven of my students, some from abroad, are waiting for their debut performance. I am hoping the situation will improve in the next few months and we will be able to conduct live shows for a limited audience. A live experience is necessary, especially for arangetrams. It’s worth the wait,” she says.

Bharatanatyam dancer and guru Ananda Shankar Jayant is totally against conducting arangetrams now — physical or virtual. “Online training can get dreary and cannot replace personal coaching. It’s not fair to have them go through the rigours of arangetram in this condition. I’d like to wait,” she says.

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