In the beginning....
Starting modestly in 1982 with a handful of students, Ramya Harishankar's Arpana School of Dance celebrated its 20th anniversary this year with a multitude of productions. Arpana has been a pioneer in S. California in many ways; held the first Arangetram in the area with a live orchestra from India which included Ramya's guru the late Swamimalai K. Rajaratnam; conducted annual programs for the last 10 years raising over $60000 for charities worldwide; has presented over 30 visiting Indian dancers/companies to local audiences through the Arpana Foundation.

Arpana with over 120 enrolled students including active graduates and another 35 graduates who are in various parts of the world, took on the challenge to create an event that would celebrate the past, present and future of the school. Irvine has been home to the school and hence all the events were scheduled at the Barclay, Irvine one of the finest theaters in S. California.

In mid-2001, planning began for a weekend of performances showcasing the talent of the current students, more recent graduates and some of the senior members of the Arpana Dance Company (ADC) that started with the school 20 years ago. Accordingly 2 weekends were chosen and the productions slated for June 30th and July 6th. After much thought, it was decided to attempt 2 shows in a day; one as a matinee and the other as the evening presentation on June 30th. This was to be 'Samarpan' and 'Maya Manusha - the illusive One'. The new production 'Woman Divine' was scheduled for July 6th and would feature some of the most senior members of the Arpana Dance Company and a guest choreographer. An undertaking of this magnitude was also made possible by the dedicated efforts of Harish Murthy, Geetha Nath and Usha Sampath.

The Offering!
Musical Ensemble
Vocalists: Ahila Gulasekaram (disciple of Rose Muralikrishna), Sruti Chandramouli (disciple of Sunanda Chandramouli), Vani and Shiva Ramamurthy, Visalini, Varshini and Vinodini Sundaram, Aniruddh Venkateswaran & Sweta Kambhapati (disciples of Padma Kutty)
Mridangam: Shubha Chandramouli (disciple of Poovalur Srinivasan)
Violin: Arun Ramamurthy (disciple of Delhi Sundarajan and Krishna Kutty
Nattuvangam: Ahila Gulasekaram, Amita Sheth & Smeeta Vora

has been the annual 'offering' of the school for the last 10 years. Always featuring the various levels of enrolled students, it serves as a showcase of their efforts and progress towards achieving proficiency in the art form. The special presentation this year, a first of its kind in this region, was dedicated to all the children of the community who had committed to the arts; a program of these children, by the children and for other children in the community serving as cultural role models. Students of Carnatic Music pitched in to be the musical soul - singing, playing the mridangam as well as the violin. No professionals. No seasoned amateur musicians. Just the children and their art! Additionally, there was an interesting format by selecting songs that would fit the sequence in a typical Carnatic music concert. Beginning with 'Melukovaiya', the evocative prayer by the great Thyagarja, some of the songs featured in the program were the popular geethams followed by 'Gajavadana', the Mohana Varnam 'Ninnu Kori', Thyagaraja's 'Gandamu Puyaruga', 'Shiva Shiva' (Bhajan) and a Poornachandrika Thillana. The senior members of ADC handled every aspect of the program including introductions and stage management.

'Maya Manusha - the illusive One'
Arpana Dance Company

The Maya Manusha dancers:

Trisha Banerji ; Purwa Bansod ;Shubha Chandramouli ; Nitya Joseph ; Hemali Lalu ; Maneesha Limaye ; Vidya Murthy ; Sumita Nair Aditi Nath ; Rupa Nath ; Avni Patel ; Jemini Patel Sejal Patel ; Shivani Reddy ; Asha Sumanth ; Anita Vaidyanathan

The crowds had hardly left the foyer of the theater when the set up began for the evening's presentation. As the lobby was being prepped with beautiful portraits of the company dancers, none other than the famed Sethumadhavan himself was prepping the young dancers backstage. 'Sethu Sir', as he is fondly called, was an honored guest for this special event having been Ramya's make up artist since her Arangetram in 1970. Hardly taking a rest after 'Samarpan' he went through 16 more girls with the precision and detail that he is renown for.

The program started with a prayer and the introduction of the theme with a bright Swaranjali:

'Arrives a maiden with jubilant news

A child is born! A child is born!

Such joy she exudes!

Who is He who with His birth

To Gokula has brought such mirth?
Poetically woven verses (written by Usha Sampath and Ramya) formed brief and succinct introductions linking the various events in Krishna's life; His Birth (Vannamadangal), His youthful pranks (Chikkavane), his Love (Rusali Radha) and His being the Saviour (Ode Oodi Vanden Kanna).

Oh Krishna! It's you I desire to see.

You, who are the personification of beauty!

Oh Krishna! I bow with devotion,

Whether you are real or an illusion.

"Maya Manusha "Rusali Radha"

'Maya Manusha' concluded with a sprightly 'thillana' that evoked an appreciative response from the near sell out crowd at the Barclay. This production, first presented in 1992, secured Ramya the coveted Choreographer's Fellowship award from the National Endowment for the Arts (1993 -1997). Although never attempted before, the dual presentation on the same day turned out to be quite a success although it posed some stresses on the technical and administrative staff.

'Woman Divine'
Arpana Dance Company
The Woman Divine dancers:
Sruti Chandramouli ; Meera Deo ; Ahila Gulasekaram ; Anusha Kedhar ; Supreeta Sampath ; Amita Sheth ; Arathi Varma ; Anjali Vora ; Smeeta Vora

As everyone breathed a little easier on Monday July 1st, it was not to be for long. The final touches had to be put to 'Woman Divine', the new presentation. A tribute to Devi, as a metaphor for some of the great qualities of women over the centuries, it started with a powerful rendition of the Kali Kauthavam by Ramya. To extol some of the virtues of women, the endearing tale of Abhirami Amman using select verses from Abhirami Andadhi highlighted Compassion; Meerabai's Dedication was presented in the lilting bhajan 'Paga Ghunghroo Bandh'; verses specially written by mridangist, G. Vijayaraghavan, and tuned by Reji George in musical opera form eloquently conveyed Kannagi's Courage; woman's Strength as portrayed by Mahishasura Mardhini performed to fiery rhythmic sequences brought a fitting climax to this unique segment. A scintillating exposition of group choreography, symmetry, patterns and poses along with meaningful interpretation contributed to a pleasing end to the first half, in the piece about Nityakalyani originally choreographed by dancer, A. Lakshman.

Second half's piece de resistance was performed by Ramya and G. Narendra in a classic representation of the concept of Ardhanariswara in 'Chaampeye Gauradhra'. Holding the rapt attention of the audience, the duo exemplified the concept of the male and female principles working in harmony and balance in the Universe, unique to Hindu mythology. Following solid solo performances in an Astapadhi by Narendra and 'Krishna Nee Begane' by Ramya, this segment brought other powerful aspects of Devi. Using the backdrop of the Navarathri festival, sculpturesque bommai's of Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswathi came to life to popular lyrics that proclaim their great qualities; mental and physical energy (Durga), wealth of character and prosperity (Lakshmi) and power of discrimination and intellectual inquiry (Saraswathi). A light 'Kummi' traditionally performed during Navaratri provided a segue to a Thillana in Yaman. 'Woman Divine' provided a challenging yet rewarding experience for nine of the early graduates of the School and senior members of the Arpana Dance Company. Narendra's dedicated contribution to the choreography, Ramya's enthusiasm and energy and the support of the accomplished musical ensemble made the event a grand celebration of the 20 years of Arpana.

The Honorable Larry Agran, Mayor of Irvine and Ramya Harishankar

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Harish Krishnamurthy, Mayor ProTem, Beth Krom and Ramya Harishankar

The Recognition
The celebrations concluded with a reception honoring all the artistes, members of the community and the families who have contributed to the growth and success of Arpana. Ramya spoke eloquently and with devotion of her gurus, the late Swamimalai K. Rajaratanam and Smt. Kalanidhi Narayanan; her mentors Radha Nagarajan (mother), Pattu Balagopal (grandmother) and Lakshmi Krishnamoorthy (mother-in-law), the 'women divine' in her life. In her continued efforts to make a 'difference' she had chosen to invite Sethumadhavan on his first visit to the US. To commemorate the event specially commissioned mementos were presented to everyone including the participants in the 3 programs.

Credits - Woman Divine
Artistic Direction: Ramya Harishankar
Choreography: G. Narendra, A. Lakshman and Ramya Harishankar
Producer: Harish Murthy
Musical Direction: Reji George and Nellai D. Kannan
Makeup Artist: Sethumadhavan
Musicians: Sunanda Chandramouli (vocal), Padma Kutty (vocal), Usha Sriram (vocal),
L. Saravanan (Flute), Rusti Gillette (Ghatam), Ravi Deo (tabla)