D-Day – Madhana Raghavan

Dear BN&WWW readers,

We are pleased to publish this post by Shri. Madhana Raghavan on how dancers prep themselves on the D-day of their performance. We hope you find this post interesting and we would like to hear your thoughts on how you prep before any performance. 


Madhana Raghavan

(with inputs from Aniruddhan Vasudevan, Bhavajan Kumar, Christopher Gurusamy, Jyotsna Jagannathan, Lavanya Raghuraman & Uma Sathyanarayanan)

Madhana Raghavan is a rasika and a student of Bharatanatyam.

Ask any dancer and they will agree that every performance is a process; a physically and mentally overwhelming one at that!  There is fear, excitement, nervousness, and various other emotions masked underneath the layers of makeup, glittering jewelry and the colorful kancheepuram sarees. Remember the time when you had to give a speech in school? Or the time you had appear as a tree in the school play? Now imagine organizing a cultural event in school. You would have to get actors in line, get props on stage, make sure the invitations go out, and also make sure that there’s enough publicity. How about people who emcee the shows? They have to research, make sure their voices sound good and difficult nouns are pronounced correctly. Add the experiences of teacher who handles the CD making for a kids’ play, the mom who does her daughter’s hair, the director of the show who interfaces between the artists on stage. Now imagine one person who does ALL OF THE ABOVE!

While in the west, most of these jobs are handled by individual professionals, in the east, the onus is on the dancer to coordinate the logistics and ensure that the show runs smoothly. To say that it is stressful would be an understatement. We spoke to a few dancers to see what their typical performance day looks like and things they do to keep their cool. Indeed, from stretching to diet to superstitions, there is a process to everything!

Photo Credit: Cris Andina Fotografía, A Coruña.

Aniruddhan Vasudevan Photo Credit: Cris Andina Fotografía, A Coruña.

For thousands of years, we have used dance as a means of prayer. So, do the instruments of this great art, the dancers, need to pray before their performances? According to Uma Sathyanarayan, mental warm up is essential to the physical warm up. She finds a special 15-minute prayer (dhyanam) before the performance indispensable. While Christopher Guruswamy calls on the Amman and Bhavajan Kumar breaks a coconut at the Pillaiyar temple in Besant Nagar, it looks like most dancers believe in personal calling upon their deity of choice prior to ascending the stage.

Lavanya Raghuraman

Lavanya Raghuraman

Practice of natya is referred to as practice of supreme yoga. However, performing an hour-long kutcheri or even a 40-minute long varnam is physically grueling, not different from running a marathon. Hence warm up and cooling down is being increasingly recognized as the right way to treat your body before and after a performance. . Aniruddhan Vasudevan prefers to take a long walk to stretch the finer muscles. He adds – “We should protect our knees, lower back and neck region with proper exercises and asanas.  I do a set of asanas and stretches to warm up before. After the performance, I unwind with a different set of stretches and asanas.” Bhavajan prefers combining warm up and practice together. He starts with something called the 7-minute workout. He follows this up with an alarippu, and the jathis from his show. Talk about killing two birds with a stone!

Bhavajan Kumar

Bhavajan Kumar

As for diet, most dancers seem to have a common mantra – eat light! So where do they get all the energy from? Lavanya Raghuraman carries bananas, dates and 100+ (isotonic drink) to the backstage for instant energy. Bhavajan eats a spoon of raw salt in the morning to avoid cramps!

Christopher Gurusamy

Christopher Gurusamy

Wishing a dancer “good luck” before a performance is considered bad luck, and hence the phrase – “break a leg”.  Many of our Bharatanatyam dancers have a small dhristhi pottu on their chin to ward off the evil eyes. We asked some of our own dancers what their performance day lucky charms were! Christopher admitted to having few lucky accessories (including a lucky pair of undies). “But that’s just for solos and I don’t know how much I believe in that… I have a mala that I believe I don’t dance well when I wear, but I’m trying not to think like that because it is a pretty mala!” A dabba with pottus used after every show serve as a career souvenir for Lavanya. A practice that has become “a (proud) collection of stamps”, she muses.

Jyotsna Jagannathan

Jyotsna Jagannathan

It is hard to imagine these confident, self-assured and successful dance personalities to be unsure of themselves. After all, how can a beautiful girl, who confidently fights with Gods, ever be insecure you ask. Jyotsna disagrees.  “I am always looking for signs, especially when I’m feeling unsure. At times like these, I find meanings in the strangest of things, correlate them, and turn them into a positive calling!” Sentimentality, we learn, is important for these performers too. “I like to wear my grandmother’s pendant during performances. But if I haven’t carried it along, I don’t think things will go wrong either”, she elaborates. “I never used to be superstitious and I don’t think I am. But some coincidences over time have made me keep faith in certain things!”

Uma Sathyanarayanan

Uma Sathyanarayanan Photo Credit: Iyappan Arumugam

Anything else?? Aniruddhan keeps away from all social media. It helps him to focus better on what’s important on that day. Christopher said that he likes to listen to his favorite performer Beyonce, before a kutcheri. “Akka (Leela Samson) has been talking to me about letting go and becoming one with the darkness of the stage and I remind myself of that before the kutcheri.”

What of post-concert rituals? Personally, I can imagine nothing better than finding a bed and tending to the sore leg muscles. But a dancer has to remove make up, and put up with post-kutcheri criticisms. Most dancers’ brutal critics are in their own families. Jyotsna is no exception! “It is a ritual at home to have the entire extended family come home after a recital in Chennai for idli and molaga podi. It’s almost like a thanksgiving dinner! We all sit, eat, and talk about the performance. We’ve been doing it for years now. They eat while I remove makeup and listen to the post mortem report of my loved ones!”

Do you have any interesting performance day rituals or tips that you’d like to share? We’d like to hear them. Comment away!

Thanks to Subhalakshmi Kumar for the editorial inputs.

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