Suvarna's Shakuntala

In the opening Bharatha Natyam dance,
Suvarna's junior dances strike a pose in a tableau
Lovenya Vigneswara Rao was just 4 years old when she first saw Ajith Bhaskaran Dass perform in an Indian classical dance production by Suvarna Fine Arts in the RTM auditorium.  Ajith, renowned as one of the most accomplished Bharatha Natyam dancers in this region, has performed in some of the most prestigious venues around the world and established his own dance academy, Suvarna Fine Arts, 19 year ago.  Captivated by his mastery of techniques in the rigorous disciplines of both Bharatha Natyam and Odissi, Lovenya persuaded her parents to register her as a student with Suvarna Fine Arts where Ajith is the Artistic Director.

Johor-born Ajith left a career in law to focus on his passion for Indian classical dance and he was voted Best Male Dancer in the December season of the International Music and Dance Festival in Chennai, India by the Shankarabharanam Trust in 1996.  This versatile performer and choreographer has won numerous accolades for his work and is proud to be the first male Indian classical dancer to be featured in the 2000 International Arts Festival in Frankfurt, Germany.  He is also the first Malaysian to perform at the famed Lincoln Center and at the Joyce Theatre, Broadway, New York in 2003.

Suvarna's students [Left to Right], Leeshalini
Muralitharan, Kausalyaa Vigneswara Rao,
Ganggadevi Athi Naidu and
Lovenya Vigneswara Rao
Now aged 14, Lovenya and her sister, Kausalyaa, 12, are training under Ajith along with their friends Leeshalini Muralitharan, 13, and Ganggadevi Athi Naidu, 15.  They attend regular dance classes on Sunday afternoons but for 6 months, a cast of 50 students practiced hard for their annual presentation, entitled Shakuntala, the Ring of Remembrance.  The Suvarna Fine Arts calendar of events culminates in much anticipated annual thematic presentations and since 1994 they have been presenting full length dance dramas. 

“Ajith is not merely a dance teacher but also a nurturer who gives his students a holistic education in all aspects of dance, ranging from dancing to teaching, to choreography and also aspects of staging a production,” said Meena Kumaree, the narrator of the drama. 

“This year, he debuted two of his senior dancers, Sujatha Vijay and Ananthemalar Durairaj, as assistant nattuvanar or dance cymbalists.  Some senior students were also involved in wardrobe management, set and lighting design and execution,” she added.

Laavanyaa Murali, 11, [Seated Centre] portraying
young Shakuntala
In an adaptation of Kalidasa’s legend of Shakuntala, the Ring of Remembrance, from the epic Mahabharata, Suvarna dancers retold the love story of beautiful Shakuntala and King Dushyanta with Ajith’s exciting choreography and artistic direction.  For two and a half hours, they danced to live music played on traditional Indian musical instruments like the mridangam, tabla and the flute while the skillful violinist seemed to make it “speak” to illustrate poignant moments.  Bhavani Logeswaran presented exquisite vocals with lyrics by V. Balakrishnan while Ajith provided the screenplay and voice-over and Meena Kumaree narrated in English.

Shakuntala played by Haridivya Muralidharan, dressed in
bridal finery, ready to be reunited with King Dushyanta
In this drama, 4 students were given the opportunity to showcase their skills by playing the role of Shakuntala at various stages of her life.  Shakuntala as a child was played by Laavanyaa Murali while Haridivya Muralidharan was Shakuntala as a maiden. 

In the second part of the drama, Shaama Priya Kalaiselvan played Shakuntala as she was leaving the palace and Logeswary Durairaj was Shakuntala in the final few scenes.  Similarly, the role of King Dushyanta was played by two students – Vijay Chandran and Vijayan Veereyan.

Live music and vocals were provided by [L to R] Theban
Arumugam, Ajith Bhaskaran Dass, Bhavani Logeswaran
and G. Manikantan, among others in the band
Parents and fans of Indian classical dance in the audience recognized the hallmarks of Ajith’s touches in the drama because the performance reflected his extraordinary talent, deep spirituality, breathtaking creativity and absolute sensitivity. 

He is not only involved in artistic direction and choreography but also in every aspect of the production including designing the interesting costumes and choosing beautiful fabrics from India.

A fisherman found the signet ring which King Dushyanta gave to Shakuntala,
inside the bowels of a fish he caught
Shakuntala, played by Logeswary Durairaj, is devastated when King Dushyanta
fails to recognise her and rejects her because of a curse from a sage who she
inadvertently offended
Released from the curse when the fisherman returned the ring, King Dushyanta
played by Vijayan Veereyan, reunites with Shakuntala and presents the ring to
her again, in a happily-ever-after ending

“Ajith is a refined and disciplined dance teacher,” said Akkamarie Seenivasan Naidu, the mother of Manish Seenivasan Naidu, 17, a student with Suvarna Fine Arts since she was 8 years old.  She said her daughter always enjoys the experience from their annual workshop and in this year’s workshop, students were given a concept and challenged to present a drama in a friendly competition.  “He is doing a fine job at nurturing the next generation of students to be performing artistes,” she added.

This presentation marked the launching of Suvarna’s 20th anniversary celebration in 2013 that is planned with a year-long calendar of activities for students.  The dance academy offers courses in Bharatha Natyam, Odissi, contemporary and folk dances.  For more info on Suvarna Fine Arts email:

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 17 December 2012

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