While New England is home to many practitioners of Bharatanatyam, it is rare to find artists raised here embodying the spirit and beauty of this Indian classical dance form. With her solo concert, titled 'Nivedhyam,' held at the Rogers Center for the Arts at Merrimack College on Aug. 10, dancer Niveda Baskaran has taken a firm step toward establishing herself as that rare artist. The event doubled as a benefit for Make-A-Wish Massachusetts and Rhode Island to help individuals suffering from cancer. Renowned dancer-composer Madurai Muralidaran was chief guest for the event.
With 'Om Greem,' the invocatory piece, Niveda Baskaran set the tone of an experienced dancer. As she performed this ode to Devi in incarnations such as Annapurna, Durga and Parvathi, Niveda demonstrated her abilities in both technique and bhava. One could see the dancer's confidence in her crisp and symmetrical adavus, as she depicted the story of an aging devotee who envisions the Goddess in her many forms. The varnam, 'Swami Naan Undanadimai', was a Papanasam Sivan composition that came early in the concert. Niveda proved equal to the task of executing this physically demanding piece, which lasted nearly 25 minutes and included fast-paced movements. However, the choreography for this bhakti-sringara varnam, in praise of Lord Shiva, was notable more for the nritta and left one wishing it had offered the dancer more scope for abhinaya.
As it turned out, the pieces that followed, a bhajan, abhang, javali and padam, provided more opportunities for Niveda's skills in abhinaya. Each of these pieces, from recounting the story of Sabari in the bhajan about Lord Rama to portraying the lovelorn and betrayed nayika in the javali, allowed her to display range in technique and emotional expression. Nevertheless, of all the performances of the evening, it is likely that her depiction of ' Vishamakara Kannan' will linger in the minds of audience members. With the help of noteworthy choreography, Niveda delighted the audience with her portrayal of Lord Krishna's mischievous antics as well as the gopis' frustrations. To be truly great at Bharatanatyam, a dancer must not just have talent, grace and dedication but also the essential element of bhakti. Niveda offered much evidence of this as she concluded the concert with 'Kayena Vacha' during the mangalam, looking visibly moved as she offered salutations to her guru Sapna Krishnan, the accompanying musicians and the audience. Accompanists Sri Sudev Warrier (vocal), Smt. Sapna Krishnan (nattuvangam), Sri Sudhaman Subramanian (mridangam) and Sri Ramani Thiagarajan (flute) provided able musical support throughout the concert.
For someone who started learning Bharatanatyam at the age of 12 in Massachusetts, Niveda Baskaran has come a long way. So what's next for a dancer in her position? One hopes that she continues to pursue her passion and refine her art; there is much more to learn. And perhaps she should aspire to follow in the footsteps of dancers such as Mythili Prakash, look beyond New England and may be even enjoy the legitimacy that comes with performing for a traditional ticket-paying sabha.