By Rimi Chaudhuri
Arangetram – To many Indian classical dancers, an Arangetram is a rite of passage. This extraordinary event showcases years of extensive training, the transfer of knowledge from teacher to student, and the blossoming of the student into a professional artist. (Photography by Ng Photography/Naga Gandham.)
After ten years of intensive training in three forms of Indian classical dance at the Triveni School of Dance in Brookline, Rani Balakrishna ascended the stage as a solo performer at Pine Manor College on August 12, 2018.
However, it was not an ordinary Arangetram. It truly made history in New England when dance teacher Neena Gulati’s granddaughter, Balakrishna, was joined by her mother and Ms. Gulati herself during one dance—all three generations performing together.
Rani, with poised confidence, commenced the program with three classical dances in Odissi style. The intricate footwork, along with the fluid movements of the body, were inseparable from the lyrical music for each dance. Rani’s Arangetram continued with two other forms of Indian classical dance, Bharathanatyam and Kuchipudi. She masterfully demonstrated pure dance patterns of endless variety, symbolic hand gestures, ever changing facial expressions, neck and eye movements, and versatility and control as she danced on the rim of a brass plate. The melodious music that accompanied her was performed by Dr. Maitreyi Sharma (vocal), Shri Gaurishankar Chandrashekhar (Mridangam), Dr. Suresh Mathur (Flute), Dr. Ram Naidu (Veena), and Smt. Neena Gulati (Nattuvangam).
The pinnacle of Rani’s Arangetram was the Tillana, a dance in Kuchipudi style that captured the familial significance of this event and enamored the audience. Rani was joined in the Tillana by her mother, Rachna Balakrishna, and her grandmother, Neena Gulati, founder and director of Triveni School of Dance. All three generations of ladies danced with devotion and intensity. Members of the orchestra and audience eloquently commented on the program, and particularly the Tillana:
“What an incredible honor to have been part of tonight’s very special, unique Arangetram where 3 generations – Neena Gulati, Rachna Balakrishna and Rani Balakrishna – performed together. Thank you so much for asking me to sing for Rani’s Arangetram. It was such a beautiful, unforgettable, and moving event that had me in tears. It will be a long time before we see such a performance again. Feeling humbled and blessed to have been part of it.” – Dr. Maitreyi Sharma
“Still reeling from an overwhelming sight of 3 generations presenting Tillana together. You are an inspiration Neenaji.” – Shri Gaurishankar Chandrashekhar
“Congratulations on the Arangetram of your granddaughter! It was a very beautiful and emotional experience for Ritika. Thank you for making her a part of this great event.” – Bharati Singh
In lieu of gifts, Rani asked attendees of her Arangetram to donate to two nonprofit organizations: Smile Train, which provides cleft lip and palate surgery for children in India and many other countries, and Hope for Paws, an animal rescue organization. The gifts from this event totaled over $4,000.00 for Smile Train and over $500 for Hope for Paws.
Indian classical dance calls for complete mastery of body and mind, discipline, and surrendering to the forces of rhythm and melody. Rani embraced far more than this rich and mystical art form. Her grandmother’s passion to inspire, love for all, and humility transcended into the teachings. Rani will continue to pass this “richness” on to her peers and community as she embarks on her professional artistic journey.