Dance till the end of night
One is grateful to Radha Anjali, particularly in times of slush and snow, for warming hearts in Vienna with glowing performances of bhav, raga, tala and natyam, or Bharatnatyam in short.
A student of the late dancer Kama Dev, Radha Anjali has been performing Bharatnatyam for over three decades. Most importantly, Natya Mandir, the dance studio founded by this talented Viennese danseuse, has trained dozens of Indians living abroad and Austrians too in the traditional art of adavu, jethis and abhinaya. More than 30 students have staged the arangetram, debut public performances, under her guidance; scores of others continue to be introduced to the Indian classical dance at numerous lectures and workshops held by Radha Anjali all over Austria.
As an end of the season tribute to artistes as well as to the audience, Radha Anjali organised yet another programme of dances performed by her students at the Natya Mandir a few weeks ago. Apart from being the venue of high-spirited performances, the Natya Mandir is seen here as a unique meeting place for lovers of Indian dance and music in a very Viennese setting. The dance studio is carved out from a part of her apartment in Vienna's glittering first district where she lives with Saber, her Iranian husband.
It is no surprise to be greeted at the Natya Mandir with a namaste after the door is opened by lily-white hands painted in henna and belonging to a blue-eyed blonde beauty dressed in a colourful sari. Any performance at the Natya Mandir these days overflows with fans who are often treated to Indian snacks and meals after the show. On occasion, the Natya Mandir organises shows of Indian cinema and visiting artistes from India offer performances rarely seen here, like the amazing Baul singers of Bengal.
Born into a family of scholars of Indology, Dr Angela Petra Zaimian (or, Radha Anjali) studied Indian philosophy and completed her doctorate on the religious and philosophical aspects of classical Indian dance. She first accompanied her parents to India in 1972 and was learning ballet when she saw Kama Dev perform in 1978.
Radha Anjali joined the dance troupe of Kama Dev and together they performed all over Europe. After the sudden and most untimely death of the dashing dancer Kama Dev, Radha Anjali continued to learn with Adyar K Lakshman and Kalanidhi Naryanan.
A grant from the Indian Council for Cultural Relations brought her to India for a course in advanced studies in Bharatanatyam. She was introduced to the Seraikella Chhau by Kama Dev and admired the martial elements of the dance form. While in India, she took lessons in Chhau and learnt Kuchipudi from Raja and Radha Reddy and Kathak from Dilnawaz and Aban Bana of Mumbai.
With so much in her repertoire, Radha Anjali returned home to teach classical dance at the University of Vienna. She continues to travel to India where her performances are remembered for being breathtakingly magical.
In Madras, the Coromandal Star wrote, "... many foreigners performed... In a rare Javali that melts the heart as it enchants the ear, Radha Anjali from the fabled Vienna spoke with her lissome grace, (and) the delicate fragrance of her appearance was most impressive."
"Radha Anjali performed Bharatnatyam with a degree of aplomb that rivalled many..." raved another Indian critic. The Statesman eulogised her dancing and found it overwhelming with zest and liveliness. Her smiling grace makes an impression, and Radha makes a fine illustration of the infant Krishna.
Ambassador PT Sreenivasan's tribute to Radha Anjali before he left Vienna is significant: he addressed her as the most celebrated Austrian Bharatanatyam dancer who has enriched her repertoire with a bit of fusion. "She has begun to use Western musical instruments for her Bharatanatyam recitals. She has taken liberties with the costume too, but not with the mudras or the abhinaya. Interestingly, her tour of India recently with her new choreography was quite successful and even the inveterate sabhas in Chennai acknowledged and appreciated her innovation. She has been running her dancing school in Vienna for nearly 20 years and has turned her home into a mini Indian Cultural Centre. Her Iranian husband too is more Indian than Iranian or Austrian," says a note Sreenivasan has left in Vienna.
What more is there to say about Radha Anjali except to pick up the glass in the new year and go, "Here's looking at you kid!"