Dr. Sneha Rao, started pursuing her dream to be a Classical Indian dancer in the Odissi genre at the tender age of 7. By the time she was at Lakshmi Girls Hindu College she had already been under the tutelage of the renowned T&T based Odissi guru Shrimati Mondira Balkaransingh of the Nrityanjali Theatre dance school. Sneha was indeed fortunate to have been under the wing of Shrimati Balkaransingh as her intuition has been recognized nationally and internationally. Guru Mondira Balkaransingh is the artistic director and the go cofounder of the Nrityanjali theatre which was awarded the hummingbird medal (gold) for culture. Nrityanjali Theatre is a nonprofit organisation founded in 1977, and its main aim has been to educate, train, nurture creativity and innovation in the pursuit of excellence in the fine arts. In 1993, Nrityanjali was the recipient of the Humming Bird Medal (Gold) for culture.
Shastriya Devesh or Indian Classical Dance is a formal system of dance in India with eight main forms of dance. Odissi, in which Sneha is specialized, is one of these eight. Sneha graduated from Medical School as a medical doctor in 2017. Even after achieving this, her calling in the field of dance was ever so strong that she worked diligently and persistently to also be granted the honor and title of a professional Indian classical dancer.
During her training, she was quite a sensation for many Indian cultural programmes hosted by High Commission of India, Port of Spain and other organization that promote Indian culture like the National Council of Indian Culture of Trinidad and Tobago (NCIC TT), Mahatma Gandhi Institute for Cultural Co-operation and Federation of Indian Nationals in T&T (FINTT).
As a medical colleague I saw her blossom into her own in the field of dance as I attended many of her performances. I was indeed privileged to have attended her Manch Pravesh (Investiture of Bells or formal graduation in the field of Odissi dance) held on Sunday, 21st June, 2020 at the Sri Dattatreya Yoga Centre Trinidad and Tobago as her final rite of passage into the hall ways of professional Indian dance. I was quite impressed by the programme as it reminded me of professionally done Indian classical dance performances at the Theater Thalia in Suriname and at the Zalencentrum Opera in Den Haag, Netherlands. The ambiance at the mandir was ideal as it celebrated the hallowed halls of institutions where this genre of dance was patronized and propagated. This atmosphere was accentuated by the superb lighting and live music provided by Paritosh Kumar Sinha Vocalist, Arshad Khan (tabalchi), Narendra Maharaj (flutist) and Anil Maharaj.
Booklets were provided with explanations of the performances and greetings from the graduate and her guru. This I thought was a clever touch as it added more meaning to the performances.
As for the performances themselves, words fail me. Never have I seen such accuracy, stealth and precision executed by an artist in this particular field. The movements seemed to have a synchronized fluidity as they resonated with live accompaniment amplifying the emotion. The rasas or humors expressed, aptly told the narrative that each performance portrayed. The vocalist singing in Oriya language at times paid homage to the land of the state of Orissa, India, where this classical art form originated. The space was indeed transformed into the Aanand Bhavan (Abode of Bliss) of Swarga (heaven) with an Apsara (dancer in heaven’s court) dancing on stage to live Gandharva (the vocalists and instrumentalists of heaven) accompaniment.
My only disappointment was that the seating arrangement due to social distancing limited the view of this spectacular rendition. I was told that it was recorded, so I look forward to seeing the video and I’m quite glad that this performance was documented for all posterity. We look forward to it on social media.
I would like to take this opportunity to wish Sneha all the best in her dual career path. Further collaboration with this rising star who epitomizes modesty and humility will be an asset and an honor!
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Photos via GhanShyam Photography
Article by Dr. Visham Bhimull
Founder of Caribbean Hindustani