Jayanthi Raman’s Indian dance seeks the divine

Beautiful dancing and glimpses of the gods but also some mundane production problems

On Friday night at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall, Jayanthi Raman, the director of Jayanthi Raman Dance Company and school, along with her company of five Bharatnatyam dancers, some local and some visiting (Shradha Vinod, Soujanya Madhusudan, Sweta Ravishankar, Mugdha Vichare and Ramya Raman), performed Anubhava, a mixed program of seven dances to a variety of traditional Carnatic music.

The word Anubhava has many meanings but generally refers to the ecstatic experience of the divine. The first half of the concert was an homage to Lord Shiva, the Hindu god known as the destroyer; the second half was devoted to Lord Krishna, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu and known as the creator or preserver.

Jayanthi Raman Dance Company in Anubhava. Photo by G. Sriram.

Jayanthi Raman Dance Company in Anubhava. Photo by G. Sriram.

Within the costume choices, choreography and hand gestures I could clearly see references to the gods’ identities, physical attributes and their historic stories. Shiva’s four-armed form was represented by a straight line of dancers lined up behind each other undulating their arms, creating the illusion that the first dancer or Shiva, has multiple arms. This is always a popular choice in Bharatanatyam choreography and a fun effect.

In general, the choreography was symmetrical, simple and straightforward, with the rhythms of the dancers feet and bells matching the instrumental rhythms in the music. Many of the dances began and ended with beautiful tableaus of the dancers posing as different characters within the stories. Raman experimented with different groupings of dancers on the stage, coming and going throughout the dance creating different relationships at different times. The dance themes ranged from abstract rhythmic dances to ancient stories from the Vedas.

The dancers, who were of different ages and experiences, were beautiful and talented, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. One dancer in particular, Sweta Ravisankar,  embodied the aesthetic of Bharatanatyam completely, I thought. She was long and lean, her movements were sharp and quick, and she looked as though she enjoyed every minute of every moment on stage and shared this joy with us through her beautiful smile and boundless energy.

In the second half Raman performed a solo to a song called Thottu thottu pesum with lyrics by poet Periyasaamy Thooran. She spoke to us onstage before she performed, explaining that she had only heard the music once and was going to improvise the dance based on the three different types of love for Lord Krishna as described in ancient Indian dance literature: Vatsalyam or maternal love; Sringaram, romantic love; and Bhakti, devotion. As far as I know, improvising while performing in the Indian dance context is rare if nonexistent.

My issue with this particular improvisation was that it wasn’t an improvisation. The dance itself consisted mostly of pantomime that looked familiar to me as I have seen these stories performed many times before. The movement is pretty much set repertoire for any Bharatanatyam dancer. If you already know the dance, how does it all of a sudden become improvisation when all you’re doing is changing the music?

The beautiful dancing in the concert was undermined by many presentation and production problems, unfortunately. The concert opened with a recording of Raman reciting her biography and achievements while we viewed an accompanying slide show that went on far too long, it was later repeated in a shorter version during the last dance, an homage to Mahatma Gandhi on his birthday. Normally this information is printed in a program (there was no program) and felt inappropriately placed within the context of the performance.

The projections of photos of the different gods behind each dance included helpful translations of the songs, but perhaps those could have been printed in the program, and the constantly changing background was distracting. Many times the dancers forgot choreography or were out of sync with each other, and the curtains, lighting and projections did things they weren’t supposed to do.

This company has many of the ingredients of what a professional Bharatanatyam company should look like and that made these shortcomings stand out more than they might have otherwise.


20 Responses.

  1. Shubha says:

    This review does not do justice to the performance. The choreography and synchronization was was excellent. Many movements especially related to Shiva were so graceful that you feel his Rudra avatar. Each dance item transitioned very well into other and though Mahatma Gandhis song might not be part of the subject of ‘Anubhava’ it was apt for that day as it was Mahatma Gadhi’s birthday. I think it does fit into the indian tradition where professional artists pay their respects to great personalities on such occassions. Also I feel doing impovisation in a art-form is good as it does not keep the art static. Even if one has heard the song it is hard to come up with appropriate steps as the song is playing live.

    I recently moved here and this was the first performance I have seen which I feel was excellent. I have seen many professional performances in SF Bay area and this was at par with those programs.

    This review is far too critical to do justice to the amazing efforts and gracefulness of the performers. I feel very fortunate that I got to see it.

  2. Prathima says:

    I am appalled by this Author’s ruthless comments on the professional dance company program. “Anubava” is one of the best programs that I have seen with beautiful choreography, wonderful dancers in a magical surrounding. I was very fortunate to attend this program with my little girl who is a student of Natya dance academy. I never felt the need for a program brochure as every dance brought a surprise element for the audience. Background display was in fact a clever idea giving the context of the dance for the audience (American patrons). If the audience had to refer the context from a program brochure during a live performance, what a distraction it would be?!?

    Ramya Raman scooped our hearts away with her elegant choreography. I couldn’t take my eyes off the stage. Bombay Jayashree is one of my favorite singers. Jayanthi Raman’s dance was a sight for the sore eye with my favorite song ‘Thottu Thottu Pesa’. I would never forget this — One Magical Night. Six Dancers. Seven performances. Beautiful colors. Wonderful Choreography.

  3. HT says:

    Dear Editor: I am very annoyed on seeing the review of Jayanthi Raman’s Anubhava by your staff. Jamuna apparently has minimal to no training in Bharatha natyam and should try to learn more about the art form instead of insulting a master artist of Jayanthi’s caliber and also insulting the Indian community who loved her show that evening. There were three generations of family members who attended the show and all of them were in awe and wonder of the classicism and quality of the show. Jayanthi’s performance was outstanding and showed her to be a brilliant performer par excellence. Her choreography was especially intricate, elegant, stunning, playful and extremely scholarly, nothing simple about this work as the reviewer stated. Were the footwork patterns on the beat – yes, and this is a flaw according to the reviewer? The senior dancers: Shradha and Soujanya had elegant stage presence whereas Sweta was gawky and awkward in comparison. Mugdha and Ramya, both who had trained under guidance of Jayanthi also were graceful and elegant that evening.
    Perhaps the reviewer should do her homework about ‘improvisation in indian dance’ before making comments that make her appear silly and amateurish in both her dance knowledge and writing skills. In meantime, Jayanthi Raman continues to be the best among the Northwest artists….. HT

  4. KS says:

    I am a classical Indian dancer having trained in both Kuchipudi and Bharatha Natyam and I was among the many other classical dancers in the audience on Friday for Dr. Jayanthi’s Anubhava show.
    This so called review is more a biased opinion with twisted facts rather than a critical observation. The reviewer apparently has some training (although seems mediocre and superficial) in Indian dance and perhaps should learn from a master artist like Dr. Jayanthi before attempting to review for such a professional high quality show. I am surprised that she did not even mention the intricately patterned choreography of the Mallari by Ramya Raman, who was definitely the most outstanding dancer of the evening. Jayanthi’s solo work is definitely ‘improvisation’, if not what is this called? while emoting Indian dance, there is shabda artha abinaya- word to word translation of the lyrics, vakyartha abhinya – translation of the entire line of poetry and then the sanchari which is improvisation at its best. Jayanthi certainly proved to be the abhinaya queen with her soulful portrayal and her excellent explanation before performing the piece. Sweta was marginal amateur at best with over exaggerated mannerisms that would not fit into an elegant art form like Bharatha natyam well. She has potential and perhaps could become better with further guidance from Jayanthi Raman. The synchrony was amazing and inspiring and Raman’s choreography in both the group and solo works show her as a brilliant choreographer, an elegant performer and most of all a classy and versatile artist. I hope Oregon Arts Watch will be more responsible in writing any reviews in future or should perhaps stick to reviewing student showcases of Indian dance, which this writer has critiqued previously.
    Deeply disappointed!

  5. Pratheebha says:

    I attended the dance concert Anubhava presented by Jayanthi Raman last Friday from Seattle with my family. I was shocked to read this review by Jamuna Chiarani. Oregon Arts Watch certainly has to take responsibility for such a flawed review. Jamuna claims to have training in Indian dance! She has been definitely been misguided and misinformed about Bharatha Natyam and should consider training under a master like Jayanthi (if Jayanthi permits), instead of trying to critique her. Maybe Jamuna should read the books written by Jayanthi to get a better view of Bharatha Natyam. Whatever may be the case, this review is biased and faulty.
    I advise the readers: IGNORE the review, this does not reflect the opinion of even one member of the audience who were glowing about the concert during the intermission and after the show. The star of the show was Jayanthi herself with the solo piece that showed a master at ease on stage, natural, elegant and dancing from her heart, sharing her joy of dancing with the audience.
    The senior members of the troupe were elegant and Soujanya stood out with her Kalakshetra training. Sveta was amateur on par with many of Jayanthi’s senior students and can definitely become better as she continues to learn from Jayanthi, not worthy to be mentioned as the best one. Again a flawed viewpoint. My advice to Oregon Arts Watch, stop insulting a master artist like Jayanthi and be proud of having someone of her caliber among us, and also stop insulting the Indian community who have been watching and supporting Jayanthi’s performances over the many years. It is also insulting the many organizations who have awarded Jayanthi with honors such as the Fellowship from the Oregon Arts Commission and the NEFA NDP etc. who clearly do not agree with Jamuna’s confused and jumbled view point.

  6. Karthik says:

    A critical review is a scholarly overview of a concert presentation or a kutcheri by Indian or any other global criterion. What Jamuna Chairani has written is an absurd overview of Jayanthi Raman’s Anubhava concert held last Friday at PSU Hall. She is not a reviewer by any standard.
    The concert started with an overview of Jayanthi’s accomplishments which gave the audiences a perspective into the 25 years of dancing history of a very distinguished artist with a slide show that was most inspiring, especially for the young dancers and students of dance in the audience. The first item Mallari was an abstract piece choreographed by Jayanthi’s student Ramya, a Fulbright scholar who has had training from legends such as Dhananjayans and Guru Lakshman. The training and talent was not wasted as Ramya’s choreography as well as dancing that evening stole the show! The Rudram with lyrics adapted from the Vedas was scholarly depicted in dance with complete understanding of the meaning of each word by Jayanthi and her dancers. The Varnam was a glorious piece that was the main item which had all the nuances of a brilliant choreographer, and performed synchronously by the dancers. The meanings presented in the slide show was another brilliant touch by the master artist and choreographer of the show. The folk-classical piece with Kolattam intertwined with Bharatha Natyam pleased everyone and was imaginative, and fun showcasing Jayanthi’s ability to please a global audience. The highlight of the evening was the solo piece sung by Bombay Jayashree performed by Jayanthi. Although she explained the piece as a master would for the novice, it was her rendition of the piece that touched everyone with its elegance and purity. The tillana choreographed by her Guru Lakshman and the beautiful Bhajan favored by Mahatma paid respect to two great human beings, and this showed Jayanthi’s humility, strength of character and her devotion to pay homage, instilled by her Indian upbringing and her American professionalism.
    All in all, a beautiful evening of indian dance and music presented by a very professional company. No other dance company in this genre in the Northwest matches to this kind of production or presentation. Jayanthi definitely stand out as the ‘Gold Standard of Indian Dance in the Northwest’!
    That is how a review is written, perhaps Jamuna should take notes!

  7. Aarti says:

    I am seriuosly surprised to see the writer’s comments on the Anubhava ” performance by Jayanti Raman and her co-artists. I witnessed the performance that day and to be very honest till that day I was a big fan of jayanthi Raman’s expression and from that day onwards I am v big fan of her choreography and her song selection. She is one of the finest dancers i have ever seen. At any point of time as an audience I didnt feel or see that any piece was out of sync. Regarding her solo performance she did it amazingly beautiful with full emotions and wonderful steps.
    As an audience I felt that she and her co-artists gave proper justice to the dance and song. She is a g8 artist.

  8. Ajit says:

    Well though all have their own views I am surprised to see the comments posted by the author for a perfectionist such as Jayanthi Raman. The entire program was nicely choreographed and executed. The synchronization was at its best.Bharatnayam is also a dance of expression and I bet I haven’t seen as expressive dancer as Jayanthi. Not sure what were the intentions of the author behind the comments but as an audience this was one of the best performance i have seen.

  9. Vasini says:

    After watching Dr. Jayanthi Raman’s anubava dance show on Friday, I went home feeling exhilarated. As opposed to other Fridays,I decided to skip the screen time before going to bed to savor the glimpses of the show replaying in my head. It was sad to see that a dance critic saw more flaws in many petty things such as brochure etc which makes me think that this person was not focusing on the essence of the divine moments created by the many pieces. The main pieces, Lathangi varnam and Swagatham Krishna brought out divinity and was melting my heart. The dancers were crisp, graceful and well synchronized. In particular, I have seen Ramya Raman dance from the time she was a child. After seeing her dance for over a decade, I felt that she was clearly standing out from the rest. She showed confidence, maturity, precise timing and gracefulness that overpowered the stage. This calibre of Kalakshesthra style of dancing and training can only be brought to the Northwest by none other than Dr. Jayanthi Raman herself. Jayanthi is a treasure and a gift to Oregon and the Northwest!

  10. Seeta Nagaraj says:

    I think we are moving into a huge drift in terms of audience in Indian classical art forms- between two types of audience.
    1. those who have experienced the authenticity of the original form and as a bonus, can relate in some social way to the dancers (personal, family heritage etc)
    2. those who enjoy the professionalism and entertainment factor albeit with less authenticity.
    The first category will enjoy dance performances such as this one, because they can connect to the people performing, items being performed and the format of the programs.
    The second category- which is more of the author of the article- compare this with other performances which are less purist, have more entertainment value (like some kind of fusion) for someone who doesn’t understand the intricacies and have no connection to people performing.
    Beyond all this, there is the linguistic/ religious/ spiritual element which cannot be dismissed. People in the audience that in some way realize that divine aspect of the dance, understand the literal meaning of the items without a brochure can experience this in a different way compared to those who can’t.

    Art- as it happens- is very subjective in interpretation and assimilation. Being open to criticism is important, as is being respectful to the various forms of presentation.

  11. Dinesh Matta says:

    We are stunned and amazed by a jaw dropping performance by Jayanthi and her team, we could not take off our eyes from the stage (including our 5 year old daughter) during the entire performance. Movements, facial expressions, costumes and rhythm synched up so well and the show inspired so many of us including our 5 year old daughter and wife to follow your path. All the dancers were so abstract and expressive, the performance is an outcome of lot of hard work and practice. Choreography and music was well thought through considering a broad spectrum of audience.

    Kudos to Jayanthi and her team for exposing our rich heritage, culture and bringing in your distinctive features of Bharatanatyam and have been inculcating extremely high levels of knowledge to our community. Jayanthi is truly admired by all her students and who ever saw her shows. Please continuing sharing your knowledge and keep up your high level of sprits & passion. Thank You!


  12. Arpita says:

    Artappreciation is subjective but this reviewer claims not only to be familiar with Indian dance but also to have studied dance and masquerades as a knowledgeable dancer and writer. All those who witnessed the cocnert have written about the high quality of the performance and I don’t see one response of any member who attended the show agreeing with the reviewer.
    We all know this was not the general community dance shows by some local kids in the Indian community (which is also enjoyable by local standards of familiarity of the performers and events being free). I was fortunate enough to see Jayanthi’s Anubhava performance with family and friends, a professional ticketed event. The audiences were a mix of some who were savvy about Indian dance and others who were seeing it for the first time. ALL of them enjoyed the performance and claimed this to be on par with visiting professional dance troupes, Indian or otherwise. So where did this reviewer see so many ‘flaws’ in the concert. No one else seemed to agree with her and that is why there is an outpouring of response from the audiences. I am sure Jayanthi has reached a point in her career where she does not care about reviews but we have been watching her performances over many years and admire her work, attending her concerts consistently a the only local performer presenting professional quality concerts far above in quality than the regular student Indian dance performances generally witnessed locally.
    The writer Jamuna definitely has some ‘conflict of interest’ or hidden agenda in writing these remarks. I am hoping the editor of Oregon Arts Watch will look into this article and the generated responses and evaluate our concerns seriously.
    If you want to know if the food at an Indian restaurant is authentic, look at the patrons, if there are Indians in the mix, then the food is good and authentic. Same applies here, for a ticketed event (not donations but openly ticketed public event without student participation), if you find Indians in the audience, it is an authentic performance. This performance was certainly an authentic professional one and we are proud of artists like Jayanthi among us.

  13. Dinesh Matta says:

    Words are more powerful than swords. Request all knowledgeable artisans to join hands and not to pin point or use this open forum to downsize some one like Jayanthi who have been consistently contributing to our community to bring art to life across the oceans.

  14. Poonam says:

    We were present with family for the Jayanthi Raman’s concert in Portland. All of us enjoyed the performance and appreciated the sacrifice and hard work which has gone into it to make it possible. It takes special dedication and perseverance to get through such a demanding performance. We congratulate you and wish you the best in your endeavors. Your achievement is an example to us all.

  15. Oregon ArtsWatch says:

    Thank you for your comments. In a review that has much positive to say, three general criticisms have been made: (1) There was no program, and much material delivered from stage that might have have been printed in a program slowed the performance down. (2) What was presented as improvisation did not seem to the reviewer to be improvised. (3) The “beautiful dancing,” in the reviewer’s words, was “undermined by many presentation and production problems.” If anyone has anything new to add in response to those statements, please, add your viewpoints to the conversation. But, please, let’s not continue to plow the same field. ArtsWatch welcomes dissenting viewpoints – we’re all in a conversation, and sometimes conversations turn argumentative – but asks that comments remain civil. Personal attacks will be deleted. Thank you sincerely to those who have kept your dissents courteous. You are always welcome to this forum.

  16. Priya says:

    I had the privilege of watching Jayanthi Raman’s Anubhava last week and was completely mesmerized by the show. I have been to several art performances over the years and this easily was one of the best I have seen. All the dancers were extremely graceful and did full justice to their part.

    Dr. Raman’s performance in particular was outstanding and a treat to watch. The improvisation piece that she performed was fantastic and really was a true reflection of her caliber as a dancer. Keep up the good work and I am proud and honored to have my daughter have a teacher as skilled and renowned as you.

  17. ARao says:

    We witnessed the dance performance ‘Anubhava’ by Dr. Jayanthi Raman on Oct 2 2015. It was an excellent show and I personally enjoyed the Varnam piece, that was both long & physically demanding, but all the while being a treat to the eyes. I enjoyed the choreography which show-cased individual talents of all the artists and the song selection was great to maintain the interest of the kids and adults alike. I believe, some of the dancers were from India and the rest were from different cities around the US – coordinating this program in a short while demonstrates Dr. Jayanthi’s dedication to the art of Bharatanatyam. The tribute to Mahatma Gandhi was apt for that day. Overall, we the show was quite delightful!

  18. Snarayanan says:

    My family attended and thoroughly enjoyed an evening of dance at Dr. Raman’s Dance company’s dance performance “Anubhava”.

    With every dance presentation, the footwork of all the dancers in the company, their expressions, overall choreography and song choices were fantastic and led to a mesmerizing performance.

    In my personal opinion, Dr. Raman as a master artist is one who is always willing to extend the boundaries through experimentation and improvisation in order to reinvigorate interest in the dance form. In all of her performances she brings in her own unique artistic and cultural connection to the main theme of the performance.

    My understanding of improvisation within the context of this dance form is for the same song, the dancer uses different movements to interpret it differently every time they dance. It was wonderful to watch her sensitive portrayal from Vatsalyam to Shringaraam to Bhakti within this piece. I have also thoroughly enjoyed watching her do improvisations during her lecture demonstrations at other local venues.

    I and the others around me in the audience were so engrossed in the “Anubhava” ( experience) of the stunning dance show to have been detracted by any of the shortcomings highlighted by this author.

    At the end of the day, it was a fantastic performance and kudos to the the entire team for giving us a visual treat!

  19. Sai says:

    We attended the “Anubhava” (Experience) concert, and true to meaning of the word, it was a truly magical experience. Jayanthi’s mastery over the art form was evident from her performance and the choreography. The aesthetic visuals in the backdrop supported the performance, and the meanings of the lyrics provided the context to connect the dance with the audience. The colorful costumes, the music perfectly complimented the choreography.
    Kudos to Jayanthi and her team for putting together such a wonderful “Anubhava”.

  20. Mr. Thompson says:

    Please don’t retract the article, these comments are way too entertaining. I think this performer should get over herself and accept the minor criticism and perhaps learn from it.

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