Natya Praana - Meet the Teacher Ms Lakshanya Vasan
Lakshanya started learning this beautiful art form at the age of 5, under the tutelage of highly respected Kalakshetra graduate Smt, Shanthy Rajendran, Director of Nrithakshetra School of Indian Classical Dance. After gaining a strong foundation of Natya basics, she then continued her learning under Smt. Rathika Mahadeva, disciple of Natyacharyas the Dhananjayans. Lakshanya performed in many of Bharata Kalanjali Melbourne’s large scale dance drama productions, including Sringara, Ashokavanam (Ramayana), as well as the lead role of Goddess Annapurani in Annapoorna Devi, Goddess of Food. Lakshanya completed her Bharatanatyam Arangetram alongside her brother Vasish in 2011 with special training from one of the last direct disciples of the great Rukmini Devi Arundale – Shri P.t Narendran, and also was/is blessed to undergo training from him regularly in both Chennai and Melbourne. In January 2013 Lakshanya and Vasish performed a Margam at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan as part of the Chennai Margazhi Music and Dance Festival, and a few years later Lakshanya decided to take up dancing as her full time career, thereby going to Chennai and living there for a period to study Bharatanatyam in detail. She is now under the tutelage of Natyacharyas the Dhananjayans themselves, after deciding to enrol in their gurukulam-like Natya Institution (Bharata Kalanjali) in Chennai. During her time in Chennai, Lakshanya performed at many prestigious Sabhas and theatres, including Madras Music Academy, Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao Concert Hall, Sivagami Pethachi Auditorium and even Saraswathy Hall in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
She was also part of a Performance Tour with Bharata Kalanjali’s senior dancers around Yelagiri (a Hill station in Tamil Nadu) and the surrounding villages. After completed the Natya Abhyasa course in Bharata Kalanjali, one moment in her life that she will treasure for years to come is receiving the opportunity to perform a solo Margam at Madras Music Academy in 2019 with her beloved Guru Natya Kalanidhi Smt. Shanta Dhananjayan guiding her on Nattuvangam.
After returning from Chennai, Lakshanya has since started her own Bharatanatyam school here in Melbourne, called Natya Praana. Natya meaning dance, and Praana meaning life force, essentially translates to ‘Dance is what keeps us breathing’. Lakshanya wishes to showcase the greatness of this extraordinary art form, and do so in such a way that even non-dancers are able to connect to the Natyam.
Guru Shri V.P Dhananjayan
The popular dancing couple of India, Vannadil Pudiyaveettil Dhananjayan and his wife Shanta Dhananjayan are amongst the most accomplished dancers and teachers of Bharatanatyam. On the auspicious day of Vijayadasami, October 18th, 1953, Dhananjayan was initiated into two art forms – Kathakali and Bharatanatyam. Besides graduating in politics and economics, he is a postgraduate in Kathakali from Kalakshetra, Chennai. Dhananjayan was also one of the leading male dancers under Rukmini Devi, Founder, Kalakshetra.
Dhananjayan always had a flair towards poetry and Sanskrit dramas. The place he was born, Payyanur, was rich in culture and heritage such as Kalarippayattu (Martial arts), Kathakali (the classical dance theatre) and Theiyyam (a ritualistic folk-art form). He acted in his father’s plays and grew up seeing his father and other relatives travel from one village to another during school vacations, performing along their way.
Fortunate to be discovered by Chandu Panickar for his talent, Dhananjayan moved to Kalakshetra where he spent the next 15 years of his life learning the art. The discipline and dedication which later reflected in his performances and productions were instilled within the walls of this institution. His flair for academics and arts was equally well utilised and he was principal in organising and executing production tours. He was given the scholarship to study at Kalakshetra where the rigours of his education and way of life prepared him to meet the challenges of life as a dancer.
“In many ways, I am the person I am because of that institution”
Guru Smt Shantha Dhananjayan
Born on 12th August 1943, to a well to do Indian family in Malaysia, Shanta Dhananjayan had been showing an ardent passion towards dance from the tender age of three. Walking into the campus of Kalakshetra as young as 8, Shanta, a child prodigy had an inborn response to dance and joy of movement. With Rukmini Devi as mentor and Chandu Panickar as the guru, she was an outstanding student in Bharatanatyam and Music. Holding a Post Graduate Diploma with a distinction in Bharatanatyam, she has also learnt Kathakali and Carnatic music from Kalakshetra.
The match made in heaven was matrimony realized at Kalakshetra. A partner on stage becoming a partner for life was a dream come true for Shanta & Dhananjayan. They stepped into a life dedicated to dance in the staff quarters of the Kalakshetra Campus where both of them served as faculty. There is never a moment that passes without Akka and Master stating, “Whatever we are today, it is because of Rukmini Devi and Guru Chandu Panicker.”
A performer, a singer, a teacher par excellence – Shanta Akka is the perfect balance to this legendary institution installing in her students the core values which shape not just an artist but a better human being.
Smt Rathika Suresh Mahadeva
In Rathika Mahadeva’s view, Barathanatyam is not limited to the structure of movement alone, but includes a wide spectrum of literary, aesthetic and emotional concepts. Establishing her dance school Bharata Kalanjali, in Melbourne in 1998, this highly talented and dedicated guru has staged many outstanding dance dramas starting from ‘The Shattered Anklet’ in 2005 based on the great epic of South India ‘Silapathikaram’, upto 2009 which saw her joint work with her teacher, the eminent P.T. Narendran from Chennai giving birth to ‘Ashokavanam’ – successfully combining the classical Indian epic Ramayana with the current environmental crisis of Global Warming. In 2010 her school had the privilege of hosting its founding masters, the legendary Dhananjayans for their ‘Bhakthi Maargam’ production in Melbourne. Rathika is also the recipient of the “Natya Thaarakai” award from the Victorian Multicultural Commission.
Shri P T Narendran
P.T.Narendran is one of the last direct disciples of the legendary Rukmani Devi Arundale, the founder of Kalakshetra, Chennai. Since 1989, he has been one of the foremost dancers of the Kalakshetra dance troupe. After receiving his post-graduate diploma with first class
honours and ten years on the faculty at Kalakshetra, Narendran has chosen to freelance his Art. Though he resigned in 1999, his connection with Kalakshetra continues. As a guest faculty and performer, he is often featured as a principal dancer in their dance productions, where he has developed a presence and command through the major characters he has embodied. For him, dance is more than just an Art. It is Life. “Learning and practicing at least one classical art form,” he says, “is essential for bringing forth the inner qualities as a human being.