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Bharatanatyam is a classical dance form originating in India.
Bharatanatyam is thought to have been created by Bharata "Muni", a Hindu sage, who wrote the Natya Shastra (The Science of Dance), the most important ancient treatise on classical Indian dance.
Many of the ancient sculptures in Hindu temples are based on Bharata Natyam dance postures. In fact, it is the celestial dancers, apsaras, who are depicted in many scriptures dancing the heavenly version of what is known on earth as Bharatanatyam.
Bharatanatyam is a traditional dance-form known for its grace, purity, tenderness, and sculpturesque poses. Today, it is one of the most popular and widely performed dance styles and is practiced by male and female dancers all over India.
Bharatanatyam is the manifestation of the South Indian idea of the celebration of the eternal universe through the celebration of the beauty of the material body. In Hindu mythology the whole universe is the dance of the Supreme Dancer, Nataraja, a name for Lord Shiva, the Hindu ascetic yogi and divine purveyor of destruction of evil.
Bharatanatyam is considered to be a fire-dance — the mystic manifestation of the metaphysical element of fire in the human body. It is one of the five major styles (one for each element) that include Odissi (element of water), and Mohiniattam (element of air). The movements of an authentic Bharatanatyam dancer resemble the movements of a dancing flame.
Rukmini Devi Arundale raised Bharatanatyam to a puritan art form, divorced from its recently controversial past by "removing objectionable elements" from some original styles.
Rukmini Devi Arundale founded the school Kalakshetra outside the city of Madras to teach it and to promote other studies in Indian music and art. She was one of first teachers to instruct a few men to perform the dance. The dance, until then, was exclusively performed by women, while men, called "Nattuvanars", had only been teaching Bharatanatyam without actually performing it.
Rukmini was also instrumental in modifying mainly the Pandanallur style of Bharatanatyam and bringing it to the attention of the West after being heavily influenced by Anna Pavlova, a Russian ballet dancer.
At present, Bharatanatyam recitals are usually not performed inside the temple shrine but outside it, and even outside the temple compounds at various festivals. Most contemporary performances are given on the stage with a live ensemble. In popular culture, the classical dance form of Bharatanatyam is exposed largely through depiction in popular movies.
Learning Bharatanatyam normally takes many years before the arangetram (debut). There are commercialized dance-institutes in many countries, including India, the United States, Singapore, and Malaysia. Many people choose to learn Carnatic music along with Bharatanatyam as they go together.
Although most of the contemporary Bharatanatyam ballets are popularly viewed as a form of entertainment, the Natya Shastra-based dance styles were sacred Hindu ceremonies originally conceived in order to spiritually elevate the spectators. Bharatanatyam proper is a solo dance, with two aspects, lasya, the graceful feminine lines and movements, and tandava (the dance of Shiva), masculine aspect. Typically a regular performance includes:
* Ganapati Vandana - A traditional opening prayer to the Hindu god Ganesh, who removes obstacles.
* Alarippu - A presentation of the Tala punctuated by simple syllables spoken by the dancer. This really is sort of an invocation to the gods to bless the performance.
* Jatiswaram - An abstract dance where the drums set the beat. Here the dancer displays her versatility in elaborate footwork and graceful movements of the body.
* Shabdam - The dancing is accompanied by a poem or song with a devotional or amorous theme.
* Varnam - The center piece of the performance. It is the longest section of the dance punctuated with the most complex and difficult movements. Positions of the hands and body tell a story, usually of love and the longing for the lover.
* Padam - Probably the most lyrical section where the dancer "speaks" of some aspect of love: devotion to the Supreme Being; or of love of mother for child; or the love of lovers separated and reunited.
* Thillana - The final section is an abstract dance when the virtuosity of the music is reflected in the complex footwork and captivating poses of the dancer.
The performance concludes with the chanting of a few religious verses as a form of benediction.
When a dancer has mastered all the elements of dance, as a coming out performance, he or she generally performs an Arangetram, which everyone in his/her institute attends. After that, he/she is entitled to teach and his/her lessons are finally over.
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