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Classical Moves Down Under

In 2003, three young sisters staged their debut performance of Bharatnatyam, called the Arangetram, at the Besan Centre, Mount Scopus Memorial College in Melbourne. They were met with a standing ovation and awarded the Natya Kala that year for best overall performance. Eight years later, the Soma sisters - Deena, Janessa and Jaya – are set to rock the stage again.

The long break, they say, is because of the time they had taken off to chase their other callings in life. Having achieved that – today Deena is an occupational therapist, Janessa a radiographer and Jaya a pharmacist – the sisters say coming back to performance is like coming back home. They feel they are at one place at the same time and ready to showcase their talent once again.

They have been putting in five days a week since March for their mega show in July titled ‘Trishakhti – The Totality Of Female Energy’. With seven performances and seven concepts, including three solos each and four group presentations, coordinating and synchronising the whole show is a challenging task. But with a celebrated and renowned guru Chandrabanu, whose illustrious career as a dancer spans 30 years, choreographing the show, the girls are all geared up. Besides, they have a well-known singer from India Ahilan Sivanandam, who will lend his rendition to the performance. The show will aim to promote Indian classical dance, music, culture, religion and mythology to the wider Melbourne community. Mostly funded by themselves, the sisters say it is love for the dance that is their motivating factor.

Born in Wellington, the three started learning this ancient classical dance form at the ages of 13, 11 and 9 years there before they moved to Melbourne in 1995. In fact, Given their Gujarati Indian background, it was one way of not missing out on the culture part. “Wellington had a small Indian community where we attended a Sunday school where we could learn Hindi, bhajans, dances etc.. The second headmistress who came started a small Bharatnatyam class and that is how we got into,” says Deena, 29, and eldest of the three. Initially trained under Ambika Docherty, they subsequently undertook advanced studies under renowned Bharatnatyam proponent Dr. Chandrabhanu in Melbourne.

Interestingly, it is not just Bharatnatyam that they love. “Ever since we were young, we always loved dancing. We did balle and a bit of Kathak,” says Deena. While Deena has forayed into Odissi, Jaya, 25, learnt the Flemingo dance in Spain and Janessa, 27, dabbles in hip-hop. But the bottomline: all of them specialise in Bharatnatyam.

“Bharatnatyam is definitely challenging. There are a lot more components to it, and it is very meaningful,” says Jaya.

“One has to know the philosophy, intricate hand and eye gestures, there are so many different levels, you are using your body to create passion to narrate a story,” says Janessa, adding, “We do things together as we don’t have much difference in age.”

Donned in tracksuits and jumpers, the Soma sisters are your quintessential next door girls but what defines them is their intrinsic love for this very ancient dance Indian form which also defines their identity, to an extent. Of course, they love their roots and have visited India a few times, each time enhancing their love for their culture, religion and food.

As for their long term plans, they hope to keep on dancing as long as their bodies can hold. Jaya is already instructing young dancers on the art form. Deena says she plans to go to India and learn more because “Bharatnatyam is something that is expansive and involves a life-long learning process”. Janessa says she has learnt about Hindu culture, tradition and mythology through Bharatyam, and, in a fun way as well. They all agree that there is also the devotional part as also the love lyrics that you would not normally explore in religion anywhere – the eight nayika, expressions, et al.

The sisters attribute their success to their guru who has taught them that Bharatnatyam is like meditation and yoga and finding themselves, their mind, body and soul by internalising and focussing on one thing. “You need a good guru to bring that out. We are lucky to have ours,” adds Janessa.

Of them, says their guru Chandrabanu, ““Deena, Janessa and Jaya have a natural flair for dance, which makes their performances always appealing and charming. Their dancing is full of vitality and verve, reflecting on their enthusiastic approach to the art.”     

“We have come back to dancing after doing everything else in our life. It is the right time, it is like coming home again,” sums up Deena. Clearly, life meets art for the Soma sisters. 


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