What makes a Bharatanatyam Arangetram (Rangapravesha) a good experience for the audience?
An Arangetram is a Bharata Natyam dancer's first full-length solo performance signifying that he/she is able to present the complete suite of traditional repertoire.
1. Starting on time
Arangetrams or any shows for that matter should start at the specified time. That shows respect for the people who were there on time. These days, most of them start late and no one even apologizes for the delay!
2. A good orchestra
Having a great vocalist is of paramount importance. The mridangist should be an experienced one who knows how to keep the importance on the dancer and not draw attention to him. One could have a violin or a veena or a flute if you want to keep it simple. If money is not an issue at all, one could have violin, veena and flute and also extra accompanists like rhythm pad, tambura and so on. But in my opinion a simple orchestra shows class rather than having a huge ensemble of great musicians playing for a first time or novice performer.
3. Selection of songs
As one knows all Bharatanatyam performances follow the Margam (format) set by the Tanjore quartet starting with the Alarippu, Jatiswaram, Shabdam, Varnam, Padams and concluding with a Thillana. We have items like the Pushpanjali, Mallari, Thodayamangalam, Javalis and so on that have been added to the repertoire in more recent years. So, in most parts the items follow the same order. But one has to take care that the main God portrayed in an item is not repeated again as the hand gestures will become repetitive. Also, one should take care that the Ragas of the songs don’t get repeated, so the audience will be able to enjoy songs of varied ragas and portraying varied themes and Gods.
One should keep the items limited to 7 or a maximum of 8 songs in total. For instance, 3 items before the central piece Varnam and 3 items after that. That is an optimum number. One should keep in mind that the average audience for an Arangetram are friends and families of the performer and most probably not a learned Bharatanatyam audience. Boring them with far too many items is not the way to go.
4. The quality of dance – this ofcourse being the most important!
The dancer should have had sufficient training to do justice to the items being performed. The songs should have a certain level of complexity and well-choreographed and challenging nritta and abhinaya passages to give scope to the dancer to show his or her talent.
The dancer should exhibit a good standard of
Araimandi (half seated position)
Hasthas (hand gestures)
Abhinaya (facial expressions)
Rekha (ability to cover the stage),
Confidence; a pleasing smile throughout
Stamina to make it all look effortless and
Here is a short video of a dancer who exhibits all the above
I have seen some dancers who are technically good but lack life when they dance. This makes it boring for the viewer.
5. Number of performers
I am okay with 2-3 dancers sharing the stage to perform their Arangetram if sharing the costs makes a difference to them. Otherwise, I believe that an Arangetram should be a solo performance. It tests the ability of that dancer to perform the full repertoire. It is akin to writing a board exam. Just as we do not allow many students to submit a single answer sheet, in the same way it would not be right to have around 10 dancers each performing 2-3 songs and calling that an Arangetram.
6. Good compering, MC.
The decision whether to hire a professional MC or have someone in your circle do it is purely your choice. One should make sure that the compere speaks the language well (whatever it may be), pronounces the names of the songs, ragas, composers etc correctly, without any distinct accents which can really disturb the listener. The words spoken should be pronounced right, not just the dance related words. For instance, Shiva’s matted locks should not be referred to as mated locks. The MC should make sure to practice the introductions to each item well, keeping it short and relevant and not go into huge monologues that no one is listening to.
Costumes can be simple or grand depending on what the dancer wants to spend on it but care has to be taken to choose colours that suit the dancer and the stage background. It should be tailored properly. Make sure to go to the best tailors and have it done well. The next thing is to wear it properly. Having two costumes is ideal and sufficient – one for the first half and another post the Varnam. If one insists maybe even 3 costumes but anything more is sheer torture for the audience to sit through even if you think you can entertain them with music, slide shows and so on.
8. Back drop
Based on the budget one has in mind, one can have a grand backdrop with arches and mandapas as long as they don’t overshadow the dancer. Keeping the centre free of any decorations is better as it gives full attention to the dancer. Having a huge statue of Nataraja etc just behind the dancer really distracts the eye and so does having huge pictures on the sides and so on. Using fresh flowers like jasmine in simple arrangements gives an aesthetic look. Here are a few photos of backdrops that I liked and disliked.
Here are 2 examples of backdrops that I feel are distracting to the eye
Here are some that I liked
Make sure to have a maximum of 2 speakers at an Arangetram and not more. The teacher could also say a few words as that is always interesting for the audience. The audience has not come for a public meeting where they have to sit and listen to speeches one after the other. One should tell the speakers to limit their talk to not more than 2-3 minutes. Care should be taken to call people relevant to dance and relevant to the dancer. Calling random celebrities makes no sense at all. People sometimes invite actors or stage personalities to be the chief guest which makes no sense and worse than that is calling politicians. Having a friend of the dancer say a few words is okay but having an array of friends giving random experiences can be kept for a sweet 16 party or graduation party etc and not for the Arangetram.
10. Brevity of proceedings
Make sure the items flow quickly without unnecessary breaks. During the Vote of thanks, please do not start by thanking every person involved like the make up artist, lighting team, caterers and so on. They are just doing their job. If you feel they did a good job, please go and them personally. The audience does not have to sit through that.
Whether one wants to spend a lot on the Arangetram or keep it simple is upto the hosts and I don’t have much to say except that it is not compulsory to do it in a grand manner as many think that there is no other option but to do it that way.
In foreign countries, many parents treat this as a coming out event or in lieu of the sweet 16 parties that other parents spend a lot on so they don’t mind spending a lot on their child’s Arangetram.
Related posts on this
Much ado about a debut - http://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/dance/Much-ado-about-a-debut/article16777939.ece