News & Notes

Bharatanatyam school celebrates 50 in Quebec

Being an engineering professor, I am not a music or dance critic by any standards, but I do get attracted to good music or artistic performance whenever available in the area where I live, particularly music concerts and dance performances organised by various associations, schools from the Indian diaspora.

My introduction to Bharatanatyam was from Priyamvada Sankar during the arangetram of one of her students more than four decades ago, for which her husband invited me. He was my roommate at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, and in 1974, I immigrated to Canada to join as a Professor at the Universite du Quebec a Trois-Rivieres in Quebec, Canada. Priyamvada, through her wellprepared explanations on the format of a standard Bharatanatyam, made it easy to understand this beautiful art form. Her dedication and her introduction of this art form into the Québec mosaic fifty years ago is a commendable achievement. The 50th anniversary of the Priyamvada Sankar School of Bharatanatyam was celebrated on 5 October 2019 at the College Durocher Auditorium, Saint-Lambert, Quebec, Canada. Priyamvada was one of the earliest, prime students of the illustrious guru T. Balasaraswati, about whom I have heard so much in my youth.

The impressive souvenir/ commemorative album, aptly named Natyam 50, brought out for the occasion, contained numerous meticulously preserved photos from the earliest days of Priyamvada as a child dancer as well as articles relating to her school, her awards, and on her numerous associations with various dance schools in North America and India. With her background as a Sanskrit scholar, in addition to being a Bharatanatyam dancer and teacher, Priyamvada is also associated with various organisations like the Interfaith Council for several decades.

The grand event was wellcoordinated by Priyamvada’s two sons, with the assistance of a large number of students and their parents. There were speeches by invited guests and a couple of parents whose daughters were the second and third graduates of the school who had performed their arangetram more than four decades ago! These speeches were tactfully presented between two items in the programme to enable the audience to pay full attention to the details.

The evening started with a prayer to Lord Nataraja, Raksho Daksha padambujena, composed by the late Dr. V. Raghavan, father of Priyamvada. This was rendered live by T.S. Ranganathan, a family member who came from India to participate in this celebration.

The traditional prayer songs accompanying the opening dances were offered first to Lord Ganesa and then to Lord Muruga. An interesting format of the dance repertoire was chosen for this occasion, which included traditional items such as jatiswaram, padam on Lord Nataraja, and tillana; a beautiful ashtapadi of Jayadeva on Lord Krishna was also presented. As this anniversary coincided with the auspicious Durgashtami day during the Navaratri festival, befittingly a Tamil masterpiece – Sri Chakraraja – a melodious song on Devi was chosen and performed gracefully by three senior dancers. The overall choice of songs, mostly in Sanskrit and Tamil, to suit the Navaratri celebrations, made an enjoyable impact. Muthuswami Dikshitar’s Ananda natana prakasam, which was performed by senior graduates from New York, also received good response.

The fitting finale of the celebration was the graceful abhinaya performed by Priyamvada Sankar for the famous song Maitreem bhajata, composed by Dr. V. Raghavan and blessed by the Paramacharya Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham.

Another special aspect of this celebration was the remarkable camaraderie between the students, their parents, and the appreciation and admiration for their guru Priyamvada Sankar. Their feelings were sincere and heartwarming, a

trait that is becoming rare in th  present day. The fact that the idea of this celebration was initiated with enthusiasm by more than sixty past graduates and current students bears witness to the guru-sishya tradition, return in the form of gratitude, and respect as ‘dakshina’ by the disciples to the guru. The fact that many of Priyamvada’s past students who hold high positions in their professions, despite their numerous commitments, all of them found time to come from long distances for rehearsals and participate actively on the stage, is indeed most commendable.

One notable observation was the presence of ex-Provincial Minister of Health and Current MLA in our Quebec National Assembly, Dr. Gaetan Barrette, a special guest for this occasion. He witnessed his first full-fledged Bharatanatyam performance and remained appreciative till the end of the celebrations that lasted more than three hours.

‘Natyam 50’ was a spectacle that we enjoyed celebrating the remarkable milestone in Priyamvada’s artistic endeavour, in the company of an adoring audience, numerous old and new friends, family, loyal students, and committed parents. This is the legacy that Priyamvada Sankar has achieved in the past 50 years of her promotion of the Tanjavur bani of Bharatanatyam in North America.