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Bharatanatyam Arangetram of Manisha Swaminathan

Start date: 7 Feb 2015

Venue: The Atrium, Netherall Sports Centre, Netherhall School & Sixth Form Centre, Queen Edith's Way, Cambridge CB1 8NN

Venue address: Netherall Sports Centre, Netherhall School & Sixth Form Centre, Queen Edith's Way, Cambridge CB1 8NN

Bharatanatyam Arangetram of Manisha Swaminathan, disciple of Smt. Krishna Zivraj-Nair, Artistic Director, Sanskruti School of Dance, Cambridge, UK

The Sishya

Manisha Swaminathan started learning Bharatanatyam when she was 9 years old, and has been learning for 7 years. What started out as just a hobby soon developed into a true passion of hers, and dance classes quickly became a highlight of her week. Her first performance was at the Onam festival in 2008 in Cambridge, UK, and it was her first true taste of what it was to be a dancer. From then on, she has been performing for most of the Big Weekend Festivals organised by the Cambridge City Council, and took part in Sanskruti’s home productions: Rangoli…colours of Bharatanatyam and The Ramayana. In addition, she represented Sanskruti School of Dance which was invited to perform in Madurai R Muralidharan’s dance musical Sivagamiyin Sabadham. Manisha has also performed in the auspices Sri Venkateshwara Balaji Temple in Birmingham. Recently, she passed the grade 1 and 2 of ISTD exams with distinction.

The Guru

Smt. Krishna Zivraj-Nair is an Indian classical dancer, choreographer and founder of Sanskruti School of Dance in Cambridge, UK. She is trained in the Pandanallur style of Bharatanatyam for eleven years under the guidance of Natya Ratna Guru Smt. Padma Murali, director of Padmalaya Dance Foundation in Bangalore, India. Post her arangetram in 1994, Krishna continued giving performances with her Guru in India until she left for higher education in overseas. Today, Krishna performs and trains dance enthusiasts in Bharatanatyam. Her students regularly perform throughout the year at local community and charity events. Krishna continues to perform at temples in the UK during temple festivities and encourages her students to perform for the same. She continues her training with Guru Smt. Padma Murali and is mentored by Guru Smt. Pushkala Gopal, Vice-Chair of the ISTD Bharatanatyam faculty in the UK. With a baggage of performances in many countries, Krishna humbly offers Sanskruti School of Dance to the Cambridge community. In fact, Krishna would like to dedicate Sanskruti’s first Arangetram to her Guru Smt. Padma Murali.


Chief Guest

Dr Rama Balachandran, Senior Lecturer, University College London


Nattuvangam: Krishna Zivraj-Nair
Vocal: Anusha Ananth
Miruthangam: Senthuran Premakumar
Violin: Dhivya Kumaramurthy
Flute: Yatheesan Selvakumar
Compere: Dr (Mrs) Nithya Udayakumar: Mrs. Sangeetha Subramanian
Make up: Mrs. Geetha Jason
Costumes: Pravena Costumes, Coimbatore, India
Photography & Video: Shiva AD Productions, London



Beautiful costumes and good layam marked Manisha Swaminathan’s arangetram at the Netherhall School Atrium auditorium in Cambridge on the 7th of February 2015. Manisha performed a traditional margham, filled with accessible and engaging items, and very suited for a debut performance. Ably supported by her teacher Krishna Zivraj-Nair, she navigated the margham landscape with grace and confidence. It was a delight to watch Dhandayudhapani Pillai’s compositions come alive on stage, in what was possibly the first arangetram in Cambridge in decades.


The recital opened with a shlokham on Ganesha followed by the Ganesha kauthvam in Nattai ragam. Dressed in off white and maroon costume, Manisha got off to a smooth start. Her ability in abhinaya was evident right from the first item. ‘Arithiru marughana vignavinayaka’ was expressed with subtlety, demonstrating her understanding of the lyrics. While she was able to pull off the adavus in the vilambhitha kalam (slow speed) very well, her feet didn’t speak as fluently in the duritha kalam (fast speed) – something to work on for the budding artist. Manisha was able to maintain contact with the audience through good use of the eyes, but she rationed her smile! The first item of the performance is perhaps always the tensest!


The Kauthvam was followed by Alarippu and Jathiswaram. With a more static item like the Jathiswaram, the depth and breadth of the stage was felt, but Manisha managed to keep the audience with her through this item. It was evident she had worked hard on trying to perfect the nrittha. Apart from a little slip in the third swaram, her memory stood her in good stead. She maintained flawless rhythm throughout. Her dance guru Krishna embarked on her first nattuvangham performance with the sollukattu in the Jathiswaram, maintaining a good grip over the thalam and holding it all together rather well. It was lovely to watch a nice variety of movements throughout the piece, interesting one for Tha hatha jham thari tha where Manisha used chatura as mudra. Overall, a neat and graceful rendition of the Jathiswaram. Where she can improve is her posture, opening out the shoulders a bit more, and feeling the full length of the arms reach upwards as she does the Ushi adavu. To add to the grace and suppleness, the whole of the torso needs to be employed when doing the that thei tha ha adavu. Odambu valayanum! A phrase we have heard over and over again from our teachers in India if we took the easy way out, which we often did!


Another costume change, and it was on to the centrepiece of a margham – the varnam. Manisha made it accessible by expressing alongside the Compere, syncing very well with the words. A composition of Dhandayudhapani Pillai, sakhiye indhi jhaalam yenadi, yendhan sami yai vara cholladi, idhu samayam, in Tamil, meaning ‘o friend, why this trickery? ask my Lord to come to me, this is the right time’.  The meanings were clearly conveyed in abhinaya by Manisha, there was an especially endearing sequence in the sahityam where she cajoled her friend by showering her with jewellery. Here, take my necklace, my bangles, now go, and tell my Lord it is the right time to come. Nicely done! The second half was brief and filled with variety of lore on the Lord Vishnu. The stories of Andal, Gajendra moksha, protecting Panchali’s dignity in open court and that of Rama featured in the second half. A bright smile spread across Manisha’s face as she depicted Lord Vishnu blessing the elephant! Equally, she came alive as she did the Panchali story. She took charge of the item with fluent rendition of the nrittha, and did not sag as the varnam progressed, however her centeredness (aluththam) did. Nothing that a good spell of practice cannot cure!


For the Kavadi Chindu, she returned to stage with a spring in her step and a twinkle in the eye. With the weight of the varnam behind her, Manisha exuded confidence and élan in this item. A  Kirthanam Yaar Aadinar, in ragam Charukesi was the main abhinaya item. Manisha depicted the cosmic dance of Shiva through lovely light jumps. The dynamic poses suit her style very well, and she should use more of these. Her connection with the audience was much improved in the second half. With her promising potential for abhinaya, Krishna should venture more into strong abhinaya pieces for Manisha with just one caveat – dissuade her from mouthing the words. It really detracts from the abhinaya, urge her to internalise and feel no need to lip-dub.


Her final item was Thillana in Ragam Revathi and Thalam Aadhi. While the posture for the Thillana entry could have been improved, she made up for it later on with great poses of Parvathi in perfect arai mandi and broad shoulders. There was this one bit, and the only time, where she obviously forgot the choreography, turned and gave her teacher a fraught look, which was reciprocated by Krishna with a reassuring smile. Sure enough, she got back on track and happily chugged along to the finish.


The margham could have included a Shabdham, this would have played to her strengths. The orchestra rendered good support, the flute was particularly impressive. The audience was great, most of who stayed for the whole event at the end of which they formed a long queue that snaked through the auditorium to meet Manisha – quite a departure from Chennai Sabha practice of milling around the artist back stage, near the green room, in a narrow space!


A margham is indeed a road well-travelled and as every dance enthusiast sits back and prepares to take in the familiar, it provides one with a secure space, to savour our culture in, to dwell and to see different things, make new sense of old stories, pick up something missed, examine something in more detail and ultimately to enjoy it in all its exquisiteness. It’s something about a classical art form, steeped in layers of history and human experience. It is to the credit of the dancer, her teacher, the orchestra and her supporters who jointly created the atmosphere that contributed to this intangible sense of fulfilment. With the help of little touches here and a touch there, like the kalasam, the kuththuvillakku, the tiny Natraja, and even Frooti – the break time drink, they got us there! A particular high point was the chief guest’s speech which adopted a deconstructionist tone to exploring the place of Bharathanatyam in the modern age. Altogether, a very well organised and enjoyable evening. Manisha’s teacher has sown the seed of self-discovery in her, she will hopefully carry on learning, practicing and performing, focussing on developing her abhinaya, and honing her nritta skills.

Reviewed by Chamu Kuppuswamy, Nandavana Dance