Wearing ornate, brightly colored costumes, decorative temple jewelry, stylized makeup and bells on their ankles, seven students of Guru Kripa Baskaran at Natyarpana Dance Company will perform debut dances called Arangetrams this summer.
Based in Brookfield and Madison, the dance school teaches about 100 students from ages three to adult a form of classical Indian dance called Bharatanatyam.
The dance has roots going back more than 2,500 years in India, and it combines expression, music, rhythm and drama. Dancers tell stories through a combination of facial expressions, elaborate hand gestures and poses.
“Bharatanatyam is a beautiful art form and people should know about it," said Ragashree Komandur, an eighth grade student at Wisconsin Hills Middle School in Brookfield. "It’s not just for the Indian community alone, we want to make it open to others.”
Free public performances will be held in June and July at sites in Sussex, Waukesha and Oconomowoc. Komandur will be traveling to Bangalore, India to perform her Arangetram at her grandmother’s dance school.
“Bharatanatyam is a combination of facial expressions and rhythmic movements to tell a story,” said Nisha Ramanathan, a ninth-grade student at Arrowhead High School in Hartland, who will be performing her Arangetram jointly with her sister Diya, a seventh-grader at Swallow School.
An Arangetram is a major accomplishment for the dancer. Each performance lasts two hours, telling cultural and religious stories. Preparing for these performances help the students to learn more about their roots and the language that their families speak. Most of them understand their parent’s spoken language, but will respond in English.
Students dance to songs in their family’s native language and act out stories. There are hundreds of languages in India, with 29 different languages each spoken by more than a million people. Natyarpana Dance Company also teaches students who represent other nationalities, as well as Hindu, Muslim and Christian religions.
“Bharatanatyam has helped me get in touch with my Indian roots," dancer Meera Raghavan said. "Connecting with other Indian families through dance gives me a sense of community and identity."
Raghavan, a graduating senior at Homestead High School in Mequon, will present her Arangetram on June 25 at the Hamilton Fine Arts Center in Sussex.
Raghavan has been practicing two hours a day in preparation for her Arangetram, and said she looks forward to sharing what she has learned with others. She is inspired by the dancer Priyadarshini Govind, a top-ranking artist from India who visited to perform for the students at Natyarpana about a year and a half ago.
Raghavan plans to attend the University of Utah in Salt Lake City in fall to study bio-medical engineering. She wants to connect with the Indian dance community in Utah and possibly teach Bharatanatyam there.
Live Music, Dance and Theatrical Performances
Natyarpana dancers practice at Baskaran’s home, Peace United Methodist Church in Brookfield, and the Hindu Temple of Wisconsin in Pewaukee.
The music played for Bharatanatyam is called Carnatic Music. Archit Baskaran, a ninth-grade student at Brookfield East High School and vocal artist Ramya S. Kapadia will be performing live music for the Arangetram performances.
To create the uniquely Indian sound, Archit Baskaran uses a Korg X50 Music Synthsizer keyboard with a portamento and pitch bender to imitate the sound of the Veena, an Indian musical instrument, and the Mandolin.
As part of their cultural outreach to the wider community, students from Natyarpana perform programs at high schools and universities in the Milwaukee and Madison areas. Baskaran also will be teaching a fall semester class called 370 World Movement Traditions at the University Wisconsin - Milwaukee in partnership with a Flamenco dance teacher.
The public is invited to attend the dance company's Arangetram Performances. Each performance lasts about two hours and there is no admission cost.
June 25 at 3:30 p.m. – Meera Raghavan
Hamilton Fine Arts Center, W220 N6151 Town Line Road, Sussex
July 2 at 3 p.m. – Meher Ali
Waukesha Civic Centre, 264 West Main Street, Waukesha
July 9 at 3:30 p.m. – Nisha and Diya Ramanathan
Oconomowoc Arts Center, 641 East Forest Street, Oconomowoc