Not online! Tanya Saxena a sight for dance-sore eyes in my first physical event in two years!

Tanya Saxena (pic: Anoop Arora)

After several fits and starts of revival between lockdowns over the past two and a half years, auditoriums and performing arts venues finally opened their doors to spectators at full capacity earlier this year. All throughout these attempts, I had still not been comfortable going to an enclosed space with many strangers, a remnant of the fear that COVID-19 had left behind in our psyches. In fact, I had declined a few invitations even when physical performances has resumed because there was still a fear of going out to be among several strangers. But this time, when I learnt that auditoriums were opening up and at full capacity, I thought I would finally give it a try if I was comfortable. So it was that I attended my first live event in two years – and it was totally worth it!

The event was the IIC Spring Festival of Dance and Music. held at the India International Centre on 6 April 2022, and it was a double bill featuring Kathak dancer Arti Shrivastava Gedam and Bharatanatyam dancer Tanya Saxena. Tanya is a disciple of Gurus Saroja Vaidyanathan and Rama Vaidyanathan and is continuing her learning under her mentors Gurus Kamalini Dutt and A. Lakshmanaswamy. I could not watch Arti’s performance and thanks to the Delhi traffic, also missed the first piece of the mini-margam Tanya performed.

Tanya Saxena (pic: Anoop Arora)

Tanya was a sight for dance-sore eyes in her traditional green and magenta Bharatanatyam aharyam, and so was the familiar stage, with a ceremonial lamp lit to one side. The second piece Tanya performed was a Tanjore quartet varnam. The varnam is in raag Khamas, taal adi. The nayaki asks her sakhi to go and fetch the lord since she is pining for him. I just want him to come for me, she says. When you give me flowers, I don’t like their fragrance, I cannot get any sleep because I am being struck by the arrows of Kamadeva. He is no ordinary man — Brahma went looking for his head and Vishnu searched for his feet, but in vain. He was the one responsible for the emergence of the sound of Om from his damru. He drank the poison from the samudra manthan. He is the beautiful lord of Madurai, Sundareshwar. The sprawling temple at Madurai is extensively carved and the bhaktas go there to get a darshan of the lord. Here he stands in the Nataraja pose and is wedded to the goddess, the fish-eyed Meenakshi. The nayika further relates an interesting story to her friend: when the temple at Madurai was flooded, Shiva took on the form of a little boy and in return for some food, helped to build a dam to save the city. However, he was whipped on the shoulder by the Pandya king for the delay and all the bhaktas in the city felt the pain of the of the whipping. Such is her lord and his leelas. 

Tanya Saxena (pic: Anoop Arora)

She further tells her sakhi that this is the right time to be with him. He is the one who is adept at playing the amorous game of love. As she yearns for him, she strings flowers for him. She gets lost in the memory of when he came to her stealthily and shut her eyes. She made sandal paste for him and garlanded him. He then embraced and kissed her as she was faking annoyance at his advances.
As she pleads to her sakhi to go and get him, Kamadeva showers arrows at her and the pain is intensified by the chirping of the birds and the buzzing of the bees. The finally lord appears and puts his necklace around her neck.

Tanya Saxena (pic: Anoop Arora)

Tanya depicted the entire bouquet of emotions through her abhinaya, which was very subtle and delicate. Her eyes and some hastas were enough to convey the meaning. It was particularly her eyes that were doing all the talking, sometimes about viraha with wet eyes or yearning with painful eyes, and the wait for him to come was depicted very sensitively. The nritta was very graceful, with many balancing moves. She moved all over the stage in all the jathis seamlessly, and her eyes moved well with her. The jathis had extensive squats, backward turns and leaps. A varnam well performed.

Tanya Saxena (pic: Anoop Arora)

The next piece was a ninda stuti, which is a form of poetry with double entendre. On one hand is the mockery, but hidden in that is praise. In this ninda stuti by Sarangapani, the conversation is between the gopi and Krishna. She tells Venugopal, you are the one who resides in Karvetinagara. I called you Achyuta, constant and immortal, but I would not have done so had I known that you steal butter from the gopis. I prayed to you as the one who sleeps on the kshirsagar, but I would not have done so had I known that you steal the saris of gopis while they bathe. I thought you were the father of Kamadeva, but I learnt that you herd the cows in Vrindavan! Considering you the one with the lotus navel, I asked you for boons, but you served as a mere charioteer to Arjuna, a mortal. I called you the one who wears the pitambar, but went around conveying messages between Pandavas and Kauravas. Had I known, I would have not let you into my house.

Tanya Saxena (pic: Anoop Arora)

The literature is very appealing, more so because it comes from a gopika who loved Krishna so much that they could chide him in any way. The composition was in raag Gowli, taal adi. Tanya once again employed some expressive abhinaya to depict how Venugopal would hit the matki with a pebble and drink the buttermilk, the four-armed Narayana stealing saris, Krishna going around herding the cows, Krishna as the charioteer who carried the wheel as the sudarshana chakra. The mocking gopika shuts the door on him and walks off with the matki in hand. 

Tanya Saxena (pic: Anoop Arora)

The finale was a thillana in raag Hamir Kalyani, taal adi. The nritta aspect of her dance was also well-delivered. The jathis, with leg lifts, footwork, hastas, squats and leaps, was neatly executed. It ended with an ode to goddess Pankajakshi. 

Accompanying Tanya on nattuvangam was Radhika Kathal, on vocals, K. Venkateshwaran, on mridangam, Manohar Balatchandirane, on violin, K.P. Nandini, on lights, Sharad Kulshrestha, with K. Lakshmanan for video, Rakesh Bhardwaj for photography and Kishan Lal for costumes.

Tanya Saxena with accompanists Manohar Balatchandirane, Radhika Kathal, K. Venkateshwaran and K.P. Nandini (pic: Anoop Arora)

I have been watching Tanya for a few years now and she has really matured as a dancer. She exhibited subtle abhinaya and seamless, smooth nritta in this very welcome and (for me) special event.


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