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September 20, 1999


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Dhanajayans Take Mahabharatam Across America

Shanthi Shankarkumar in Chicago

The Dhanajayans and their troupe, Bharata Kalanajali, embarks on a 26-city tour across America, from September 18 to November 21, to bring alive the Mahabharatam through songs and dances.

Last seen on stage here in 1997-98 when they staged the Adventures of Mowgli in collaboration with the Ohio State Ballet, the world-famous duo -- V P Dhanajayan and Shanta Dhanajayan -- have come back in deference to popular demand.

Their performances have been sold out in Philadelphia, Washington, Houston and Dallas. Encouraging feedback has also come in from other cities. The Illinois-based Natyakalalayam Dance Company has sponsored the tour.

Speaking from Indianapolis, V P Dhananjayan said he hoped the tour would be a success, both in terms of artistic success and audience participation.

"Mythological stories are still relevant to today's public despite the so-called onslaught of modern dance," Dhananjayan said.

"Everybody has been asking for the Mahabharata even though we have done so many contemporary themes," he says. "Over the years I have seen that audiences here, both Indian and American are very open to Indian ideas and mythologies, so I am sure we'll have very enlightened audiences."

The Dhanajayans's troupe, Bharata Kalanjali, is also presenting another dance drama, Thyagaraja Vaibhavam, during their tour. But this, along with Mahabharatam, is being staged only in two cities, Rochester and Philadelphia. The dance drama based on the life of Saint Thyagaraja is presented through Thyagaraja's kirtanas.

Dhanajayan said, "Thyagaraja Vaibhavam is more classical and is for people who enjoy classical music. Mahabharatam, on the other hand, is more spectacular and entertaining in its content and will be shown in all the other cities in our tour."

The Mahabharatam production made its debut in the Island of Union (near the Seychelles) in 1998. It was produced and funded by a French theater group and an Indian organization called the Vani Association. The Dhanajayans staged it in Madras in February with over a hundred dancers. In America, they will rely only on 25 dancers.

Dhanajayan who plays Bheema, and his daughter-in-law, Preeti Vasudevan, a dancer based in Indianapolis who plays the sutradhara, will be the main attractions in a production that promises all the artistic fireworks associated with the Mahabharata.

The Dhanajayans, known as "masters of choreography", have choreographed over 20 ballets and have collaborated with Pandit Ravi Shankar (for Ghanashyam -- a production commissioned by the Birmingham Touring Opera House of England) and New York's acclaimed dancer, Jacques D'Amboise. They bring to their present production their characteristic creativity within a traditional format.

"We have brought in a lot of new choreography ideas," Dhanajayan said. "Since we have many excellent dancers we were able to bring in creativity within the traditional dance techniques."

The Dhanajayans are also known for their efforts in imparting an understanding of Indian values and culture through art oriented education. They have been holding annual summer camps for children for the past 12 years at Swami Satchidananda's ashram in Virginia and take great pride in enlightening American-born Indians about their rich culture.

"People are getting more aware of our culture here. Much more than in India today, American-born Indians know more about Indian stories and their significance. That is very encouraging," Dhananjayan said.

"Our coming here very often and conducting the gurukula in Virginia has added to the understanding of our culture. Over the years I have seen a phenomenal change in the attitude of children here."

The Troupe

Apart from the Dhanajayans the following are seen in the new production:

Preeti Vasudevan is among the most talented Bharatanatyam dancers of today. A principal disciple (and daughter-in-law) of the Dhananjayans, she has been an integral part of most of their productions and has toured with them extensively in India and abroad. She has received critical acclaim for her lead roles and has been the recipient of numerous awards. Preeti has been noted for her natural grace and a compelling stage presence.

As a choreographer, she has been lauded for her interpretation of Tagore's Tasherdesh and her recent presentation of Padshanamah based on 17th century Mughal manuscripts. Preeti spent a year in Japan teaching Indian culture and dance while studying traditional Japanese art forms. She is deeply involved in arts in education programs promoting arts as an integral part of a holistic learning process. She currently lives in Indianapolis, teaching Bharat Natyam.

She is the founder-member of Natya Varna: Dance Expressions Inc, an organization devoted in preserving traditional art forms and presenting dance productions on an international level crossing the boundaries of tradition and collaborating works of art as a means of a common human expression.

G Narendra is one of the leading dancers in India today. A graduate from the famous arts academy, Kalakshetra, he is one of the few to come out its portals and establish himself as both a solo and group performing artist. He has been lauded for his choreographies for various projects and has won critical acclaim for all the lead roles played by him in dance ballets, including the role of Sher Khan in the Adventures of Mowgli -- a collaboration with the Ohio Ballet.

He has toured the United States almost every year since 1993 and conducts an annual summer camp in Cleveland under the auspices of the Cleveland Cultural Alliance. He will play the lead role of Krishna in the Mahabharatam.

Suresh Sridhar is one of the senior-most disciples of the Dhananjayans and is on the staff at Bharata Kalanjali. He is known to be a versatile dancer and an accomplished actor, taking on challenging characterizations and bringing out the most in characters. He has traveled widely performing for prestigious festivals. He is also the recipient of the Government of India scholarship for artists. He will play the role of Duryodhana in the Mahabharatam..

B Rajeshkumar, one of the rising stars in the field of dance, hails from a family of musicians and artists. He has trained under eminent gurus as Kalanidhi Narayanan, Adyar K Lakshman and is now with the Dhananjayans. He has participated in many productions of the Dhananjayans and was also involved in Adventures of Mowgli and the Bharata Kalanjali academies of dance. He will play Arjuna.

K T Pradeesh has been with the Bharata Kalanjali academy for over seven years and has risen as a very promising male dancer. He is known for his growing depth in character roles. He will play Dushashana.

K P Karvarnan is a graduate from Kalakshetra, one of the finest fine art and performing art schools in India. He has performed for many eminent dancers and their academies of dance. He has been under the tutelage of the Dhananjayans since 1996. He will play Shakuni.

T B Unnikrishnan is also a graduate from Kalakshetra and has undergone training in other classical dance forms as Kuchipudi and Mohiniattam. At present he is undergoing advance training under the Dhananjayans and teaching at their academy of dance. He will play Yudhishtra.

A Ravi has been associated with Bharata Kalanjali since 1994 and has performed in many productions since. He is also on the staff, teaching technique classes in Bharat Natyam. He will play Ekalavya.

M B Vijayalakshmi, one of the Dhananjayans' senior disciples, is a staff member in the academy of dance. She also has undergone training in Mohiniyattam and has participated in many prestigious productions in India and abroad. She has been lauded in the US for her dancing in the production, Kanya. Her recent role as Draupadi has won her critical acclaim. She is also known to be a very dedicated teacher and a worker with great perseverance. She will be again essaying the role of Draupadi this time.

Sandhya Murali has been under the tutelage of the Dhananjayans and before them under late guru Shri Rajarathinam Pillai. She has performed in many prestigious festivals and is one of the senior disciples of the Dhananjayans. She has toured the US in 1995 (The Banyan Tree) and 1996 (Adventures of Mowgli). She also teaches at Bharata Kalanjali and is known to be a committed and dedicated student of Bharat Natyam.

Jayashree Ramanathan has been training under the Dhananjayans since 1984 and, before that, was a disciple of Sudharani Raghupati. Apart from being a strong dancer, she is also an accomplished vocalist and has provided vocal support for many dance concerts. She is on the staff of Bharata Kalanjali.

Divya Devaguptapu has been a rising star and has participated in the Indo-US cultural exchange program organized by the National Dance Institute of New York in 1991. Divya has been critically acclaimed for her fine technique and her involved abhinaya in dance.

Divya Ramachandran comes from a family with varied artistic talents. She has been under the tutelage of the Dhananjayans since the age of five and has played lead roles in many dance dramas. Her striking personality adds color to her dance, which has won her critical acclaim. She has also traveled widely performing for various dance companies and in many countries. She participated in the Indo-US cultural exchange program organized by the National Dance Institute of New York in 1991.

Krishnakshi Sharma has studied dance under many famous teachers and is currently undergoing training under the Dhananjayans. She has also had training in Kathak and Manipuri. She is known for her natural grace and sensitive abhinaya and has participated in many productions with the Dhananjayans.

Seetha Sasidharan has had her initial training in Kalakshetra and then in Bharat Kalanjali. She is the director of Bharata Kalanjali's Payyanur branch in Kerala. She has participated in many productions under Kalakshetra and Bharata Kalanjali. She is acclaimed as a true product of the Kalakshetra technique with clean movements and dedication in her dance.

Priya Mohan has been learning dance since five from the Dhananjayans and is one their senior disciples. She is a promising artist, having won many awards in prestigious competitions. She is also qualified in Carnatic music, which has added lustre to her dance. She is known for her appealing presence on stage and her finesse in dance. She is a final year student of architecture.

Deepa Narayan has been in Bharata Kalanjali since 1987. She has participated in the Indo-US cultural exchange program organized by the National Dance Institute of New York in 1991. She is a senior dancer in Bharata Kalanjali.

A Gajendran, one of the most accomplished musicians of the Carnatic style, he has performed for most of the famous dancers in India today. Apart from being an accomplished vocalist he is also trained in Nattuvangam (cymbals) and had traveled widely accompanying world artists.

N Sasidaran is a member of the Bharata Kalanjali orchestra and one of the most promising vocalists in the field of musicians today. His training with many prominent gurus, including Yesudas and T V Gopalakrishnan has further enhanced his qualities as a vocalist, and won him critical acclaim as a vocalist with large range in music. He has performed for various dance companies both in India and abroad.

Ramesh Babu comes from a family of musicians. Having started his initial training under his father, he later joined Pudukote S Krishnan and is now a disciple of Karaikudi R Mani. He is currently a member of the Bharata Kalanjali orchestra. Ramesh is known for his perfection in technique and his skills as a mathematical genius on the percussion.

R Kalaiarasan, a violinist, is the recipient of many awards and has accompanied many orchestras around the world. He is currently a member of the Bharata Kalanjali orchestra.

S Sunilkumar has been a member of the Bharata Kalanjali orchestra for over 15 years. His training under eminent gurus including T S Sankaran has made him a very sought after flautist in India and the US today.

K Venkatesh is well known in the stage and theater technique world on India and has won acclaim for his elegant touches in lighting techniques and his mastery in being a stage manager for travelling dance companies from India.


September 24 -- Detroit, MI. Louise Schmidt Auditorium. For details, contact Roopa Shyamsundar at 248-650-5261.

September 25 -- Columbus, OH. Capitol Theater. For details, contact Srikanth Iyer at 614-261-0699.

September 26 -- Cincinnati, OH. Kresge Auditorium. For details, contact Prashant Paliwal at 513-751-1770.

October 2 -- San Antonio, TX. Carver Auditorium. For details, contact Rajam Ramamurthy at 210-6980023.

October 3 -- Dallas, TX. Carpenter Hall, Irving Arts Center. For details, contact Lalitha Seshadri at 972-416-4490.

October 9 -- Sacramento, CA. Natomas High School. For details, contact Goutam Gandhi at 916-484-6669.

October 10 -- Los Angeles, CA. Irvine Barcley Theater. For details, contact Viji Prakash at 310-837-5875.

October 14 -- Chico, CA Laxson Auditorium.

October 16 -- Houston, TX. Cullen Auditorium. For details, contact Ratna Kumar at 713-774-6100.

October 17 -- Austin, TX. Helms Fine Arts Center, St Stephens School. For details, contact Janaki Nagarajan at 512-918-1351.

October 22 -- New Orleans, LA.. Dixon Hall, Tulane. For details, contact Vijaya Devarajan at 504-394-1708.

October 24 -- Portland, OR Alrene M Schnitzer Concert Hall. For details, contact Sathya Narayanan at 503-614-0805.

October 27 -- Rochester, NY. Jewish Community Center. For details, contact Dr Kamath at 716-381-1541.

October 30 -- Rochester, NY. Jewish Community Center. For details, contact Dr Kamath at 716-381-1541.

October 31-- Boston, MA. Kresge Auditorium, MIT. For details, contact Ranjani Saigal at 781-272-9082.

November 3 -- Orangeburg, SC. Martin Luther King Auditorium. For details, contact Anuradha Murali at 803-536-4133.

November 5 -- Washington DC. Eleanor Roosevelt High School. For details, contact Mohan Narayan at 301-309-0761.

November 7 -- Raleigh, NC. Page Auditorium, Duke University. For details, contact Surinder Desai at 919-854-9989.

November 10 -- State College, PA. Mt Nittany Middle School Auditorium. For details, contact Krishnakumar at 814-867-1997.

November 13 -- Albany, NY. Shaker High School Auditorium. For details, contact Dr Gattu Rao at 518-449-5391.

November 14 -- Syracuse, NY. Jamesville DeWitt Auditorium. For details, contact Rajindar Maniktala at 315-457-1210.

November 19 -- Buffalo, NY. Rockville Hall Performing Arts Center. For details, contact Tejaswini Rao at 716-639-0902.

November 20 -- Philadelphia, PA. Germantown Academy Art Center. For details, contact Sudhakar Rao at 610-277-1607.

November 21 -- Flushing, NY. Hindu Temple of New York, Flushing. For details, contact Brinda Patel at 203-322-9862.

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