Suvarna's 20 years of fine arts

Suvarna Shakti is the theme of Bharata Natyam
performance at the 20th anniversary celebration
Twenty years ago, Ajith Bhaskaran Dass left a career in law to focus on his passion for Indian classical dance and established Suvarna Fine Arts, his own dance academy.  In the past two decades Suvarna has produced distinct and original dance works that combine authentic classicism with universal appeal.  With his mastery of techniques in the rigorous disciplines of both Bharatha Natyam and Odissi, Ajith has collaborated with professional productions locally and abroad to produce an impressive repertoire of performances.

Renowned as one of the most accomplished Bharatha Natyam dancers in this region, Ajith has performed in some of the most prestigious venues around the world and 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 award-winning, Johor-born performer and choreographer was the first male Indian classical dancer to be featured in the 2000 International Arts Festival in Frankfurt, Germany and also the first Malaysian to perform at the famed Lincoln Center and at the Joyce Theatre, Broadway, New York in 2003.

Ajith [2nd from Left Front Row] acknowledging his
first four students who are still with him now
“I’ve always wanted to be both teacher and performer of Bharata Natyam,” said Ajith, who learnt to dance under his illustrious gurus, Adya K. Lakshman and Ramli Ibrahim.  Ajith’s teaching style in Survana includes in-depth understanding of the dance rather than learning the steps alone.  Even though his students are eager to dance, they must listen to lectures to learn about the concept of the dance and understand the lyrics to the music before they can perform more competently.

At age 25, Ajith started Suvarna and he performed its first show with just four students – Sujatha Vijay, Ananthemalar Durairaj, Vijayan Veeryan and Vijay Chandran.  These students graduated under his tutelage and are still with the dance academy as teachers.  From a humble beginning in Johor Baru, there are now 600 students in five branches of his dance academy located in Pulai, Saleng, Masai, Kulai and Kluang.  And every year since 1994, Suvarna showcases its students’ talents in elaborate stage productions. 

A dance tribute to the Goddess Saraswati who plays the
music of love and life on a traditional stringed
instrument called a veena
Ajith believes in giving his students a holistic education in all aspects of dance, from dancing and teaching to choreography as well as stage production.  So in every production, some of the senior students are not only dancers but also given the opportunity to be involved in wardrobe management, set and lighting design and execution.  At Suvarna, only students who seriously want to continue dancing will be given their dance debut or arangetram – a solo performance where the guru presents his pupil to the public. 

The Goddess Rajarajeshwari, the consort of Lord Shiva,
in a beautifully choreographed tableau
To commemorate Suvarna’s 20th anniversary, a show entitled, Suvarna Shakti, a Bharatha Natyam dance that invokes the myriad manifestations of the Goddess Absolute, was performed recently.  Ajith’s older sister, Dr Asha Dass, paid tribute to her brother on behalf of their family in a speech sprinkled with accolades, anecdotes and a bit of humour.  Among other things, she said Ajith has devoted his life to Bharata Natyam, not only as a dancer and performer but also as an amazing choreographer. 

Ajith Bhaskaran Dass [2nd from Left] the guru who is also
the Nattuvanar or dance cymbalist, who provided the
Nattuvangam as he played the cymbals and recited the
rhythmic patterns or Solkattu for his dancers
In the tradition of gurus of Bharata Natyam who are well versed in the art of dance as music and the choreographer of the dances, Ajith was the Nattuvanar or dance cymbalist who provided the Nattuvangam as he played the cymbals and recited the Solkattu in rhythmic patterns for his dancers.  Throughout the show, Indian classical dance enthusiasts in the audience were impressed by Ajith’s experience and expertise as the dancers and the Nattuvanar performed in total harmony.  The dance performance was accompanied by a ‘live’ traditional orchestra with Theban Arumugam on mridangam, Manikantan Gurunathan on violin, Ghanavenothan Retnam on flute, Kumaran Palaniappan on tabla and Bhavani Logeswaran’s exquisite vocals. 

Dance performances by Suvarna Fine Arts are always a visual delight
Looking back to the last 20 years where Suvarna has been promoting and nurturing classical dance as a powerful medium for the performing arts, Ajith is determined to continue his legacy in training and producing dancers of exceptional talent.  While Suvarna is recognised for their vibrant dance renditions, striking choreography and innovative theatrical presentations, Ajith has a vision to create a suitable venue for the arts in Johor Baru where professional artistes can stage their shows.  For more info and queries on Suvarna Fine Arts courses in Bharatha Natyam, Odissi, contemporary and folk dances, email:

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Streets Johor on 12 December 2013

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