Watching Bragha Bessell perform abhinaya, or the art of storytelling, in bharatanatyam is akin to picking up a beautiful diamond on a stroll by the sea. She chisels every emotion and brings poetry alive on stage, making it an effortless exercise for the viewer to connect with her completely. Master performer Bessell will perform in a concert titled Abhinaya sponsored by the Rangoli Foundation of Southern California on Oct. 7. “Bragha does not separate art and living,” Malathi Iyengar, director of Rangoli Foundation, says with conviction. “Her abhinaya has a raw quality. I am very happy that senior dancers from my school and some from other local schools took master classes from Bragha during her residency with us between August and October. Songs learnt during this residency will be showcased during our upcoming program, Abhinaya.” The first half will feature Bessell performing solo pieces. Pieces that she taught during her artist residency will be featured in the second half. Senior dancers from Rangoli Foundation and Murali Mohan K., a kathak dancer from India, will perform these pieces. Songs from Tamil, Telugu, Sanskrit, Hindi, and Kannada literature are included. (The work of Bessell’s favorite poet, Kshetrayya will be showcased in some of the pieces that will be performed that evening.) Bessell has trained under leading gurus Adyar Lakshman and Kalanidhi Narayanan. Along with this training, she brings to her art uncommon humility and a sincere work ethic. While researching this article, I was struck by a coincidence that attests this work ethic. Vidhya Subramanian of Lasya Dance Company commented, “Of the pieces that Bragha has performed ‘Sarasamuladedentuku,’ a Telugu poem that handles the feelings of a young wife who chides her husband for a public display of affection stands out in my mind as an example of her emotive prowess.” After this conversation, when I asked Bessell about any poem that she found especially complex to perform, she immediately answered, “‘Sarasamuladedentuku’ was a piece that I worked on for eight years. I learnt it from Guru Kalanidhi Narayanan in 1981, and we felt that there was something missing in my portrayal. I revisited that piece, trying to perfect it over several years, and staged it finally in 1989.” Eight years of working on one song. An exacting work ethic and a love for translating Indian literature into dance echoes in Bessell’s words. “Every poem is beautiful, and to experience that beauty through dance overwhelms me at times. My understanding of each poem evolves over time. I look at the same poem 10 years later, and through life’s myriad experiences, my understanding of the character changes, impacting my dancing. Audiences need to look beyond the usage of old Telugu or Sanskrit words within abhinaya pieces, and should enjoy the way in which human emotions are celebrated through the ages. Every piece that I perform captures the essence of the human experience by the way in which it captures our emotions.” In the past, I have experienced her powerful performance sitting next to a woman who had tears moistening her cheeks. When the performance was over, among those who crowded around her, there was one saying, “I laughed when I saw you play the lover who squirms to answer the heroine’s probing questions,” while another said, “I cried when I saw you as a humble devotee on stage.” You may laugh or cry depending on where Bessell’s dance leads you that evening. But, experience her artistry you must. —Nirupama Vaidhyanathan Saturday, Oct. 7, 7 p.m. Barnsdall Gallery Theatre, 4800 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. $15, $18. (323) 644-7272 theatre, (818) 788-6860 info. www.bgttickets.com. www.rangoli.org

Nirupama Vaidhyanathan is a multifaceted artist - a dancer, writer, storyteller, and educator. She founded the Sankalpa School of dance, where she trains the next generation of committed dancers to pursue...