Bharatnatyam is more than 5000 years old and is a complete science in itself. It is divided in to pure dance or ‘NRTTA’ and expressions ‘NRITYA’. The limitless dimensions are presented in a sculpturesque form that transforms the dancer into a performer beyond definition. The costumes, the makeup, the jewelry and the music create a charged atmosphere that makes each one of us proud of our cultural heritage. The striving art form from South India has seen many stalwarts who have got this art form global recognition.
Let’s take a look at the handpicked five stalwarts most of the world thinks are the best Bharatnatyam dancers.
5. Mallika Sarabhai
A well known public figure who is not just an acclaimed dancer, but also an accomplished film maker, anchor, editor, social activist, and an alumnus of IIM Ahmedabad. She is a master danseuse in Bharatnatyam and Kuchipudi and is a beauty with brains, on a lighter note. Her sharp features and finely chiseled face can never be forgotten once seen. She with a little help from her famous mother Mrinalini, runs the Darpana Academy of Performing Arts, where new and budding talents are given an opportunity. Mallika Sarabhai is very passionate about environmental protection causes and has published books on it. She is a headstrong woman, who believes that dance is a language form that is alive. Her energy is infectious and gets her supporters wherever she goes.
4. Yamini Krishnamurthy
Since childhood, Yamini was very keen to learn dance and shifted to Chennai at 5 years of age to pursue dancing. She joined Kalashetra, a school of Dance run by legendary Rukmini Devi. So strong was her hold over her trade, that her first performance made her a star overnight. She was a known face in classical dance by 1960, touring the world to give performances. She created awareness for Kuchipudi and received loud appreciation wherever she went. In 1990, she established Yamini School of dance at Delhi, where she imparts her knowledge to young dancers. She also made a serial on dancing for Doordarshan that was well received by the audience. A Passion for Dance, written by her can be found in the study of every Bharatnatyam dancer. She has dedicated her life to dance and has opted to remain celibate.
3. Alarmel Valli, 1957
At just 16 years of age, she was invited to perform at the International Dance Festival of the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre De La Ville, in Paris. Such is the glory of Alarmel Valli, that one can write endless words about her acclaim. She has mastered the knack of converting simple grammar into a subtle dance of poetry in motion. It is very difficult to classify her form of dancing into any particular theme, it is classically grounded, yet it manages to blur the boundaries between tradition and invention.
Even a lay person with little knowledge can connect to her dance form and feel mystified in a very subtly sensual manner. The training in music she got from T. Muktha, was influential in evolving a musical style of dancing. Like she always says by having a strong grasp of the history or sahityas, she is able to write with her body and sing with her art. She has performed at every cultural capital of this world. By holding seminars and workshops she has created awareness for Bharatnatyam across the globe. Dipashikha, was founded in 1984, to encourage new artists as a center for performing Arts.
2. Padma Subrahmanyam, 1943
“Nrutyodaya,” needs no introduction in the world of Bharatnatyam dancers. This is the dance school run by the legendary danseuse Padma Subrahmanyam. She is one of the most esteemed and respected classical dancers of India. The dance school was founded by her father in 1942. She gave her first performance in 1956, in the world famous “Arangetram.” She studied and researched the Karana sculptures in detail and has also received a Ph.D. for her thesis on Karanas in Indian Dance and Sculpture. So extensive was her detailed study that she founded an individual style of dancing called Bharatnrityam, based on her founding’s. Her main component of dance is its embodiment based on melodies. She has got global fame for her one woman ballets like Ramaya Tubhya, Namah, Krishnaya Tubhyam Namah, Jaya Jaya Shankara and Kuravanjis. She is a unique gem of our country that effortlessly combines a dancer, composer, choreographer, singer, scholar, teacher and author in one person.
1. Rukmini Devi, 1904
Rukmini Devi born in an upper caste Brahmin family was exposed to an environment of learning and culture, from a very young age. She got an opportunity to spread the knowledge of Indian cultural values in Europe, while travelling with her husband Dr. George Arundale, an educationist. While learning ballet from Russian legendary ballerina Anna Pavlova, she could identify her passion for dancing. The more she learnt, the more passionate she got about bringing about a revolution in Bharatnatyam. She has been credited for correcting the theories of dance and music. She laid a lot of stress on the fact that costumes and jewelry should be designed in an artistic manner. Her emphasis was to bring out the spiritual aspect of dancing by laying stress on the correct hand gestures. The charisma in her personality made her attain a niche in Indian classical dancing. She established the Kalashetra, a school for training in Bharatnatyam. Besides creating waves in dancing, she created an uproar when she had an inter religion marriage. There are certain reports that suggest that she was offered the chair of president of India by Morarji Desai, which she declined for the love of dance. She was also the Vice President of the International Vegetarian Union for 31 years, until she passed away in 1986.