World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival



First appearance in SF EDF: 2016

Tiruchitrambalam School of Dance, founded by Deepa Mahadevan, gives students a firm grounding in theoretical and practical aspects of the “Dandayudapani Pillai” style of bharatanatyam, as passed on to her by her teacher, Usha Srinivasan. She is currently continuing her training with Madurai R. Muralidharan. Student dancers from Tiruchitrambalam also assimilate additional vocabularies, incorporating other styles of bharatanatyam as they progress toward compositions. Tiruchitrambalam dancers are also encouraged to incorporate social and feminist critique in their interpretive performances, in both traditional and contemporary compositions. Deepa Mahadevan is a PhD candidate in performance studies at UC Davis.


GENRE: Bharatanatyam
TITLE: Thillana
DANCERS: Shruthi Aravindan, Aditi Gopalan, Navya Maitri Konda, Sumanapriya Krishnakumar, Deepa Mahadevan, Lakshmi Ramesh,Akshaya Sekharan, Kiran Umesh

Photo by RJ Muna

Thillana is the traditional concluding piece of a bharatanatyam dance performance. It’s a presentation of non-narrative pure dance and lyrical verse. An eight-beat adi tala cycle supports these graceful dancers, in fluid, calculated patterns of rhythm and pause. The musical scale is Madhuvanti, typically a sweet raga (melodic framework) for the foundations of love. In exhilaration and joy, the lyrics honor the guru as beloved teacher, as close as a second mother:

You gave us the world’s wealth of knowledge;
You gave us intelligence and wisdom, O Guru!
When I was at an impressionable age you
taught me right from wrong.
So, you too are my mother.
You taught me to sing, dance
and play lovely musical instruments.
Your blessing manifests in my heart and
eradicates all the darkness and
ignorance that surrounds me.

—from the Tamil

In bharatanatyam, as in all Indian classical dance, a dancer’s body is divided along a vertical median. Most moves originate from the half-sit stance called aramandi, defining space along straight lines or in triangles in relation to the ground or to the body median. Bharatanatyam dancers relate typically to
spiritual stories, giving insight into human relationships, performing with three main elements: nritta is the intense rhythmic footwork; ritya is expressive gesture; and natya is theatrical presentation.

The dancers wear a costume stitched from a South Indian silk sari, with fan-like pleats arranged in the center. The pleated fan allows for ease of movement and it opens up dramatically when the dancers perform the quintessential bharatanatyam aramandi stance.

The musical composition of this thillana is by Madurai R. Muralidharan: it features the mridangam—a two-faced drum—violin, flute, vocal music and cymbals, as well as the dancers’ ankle bells.

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