Monday, 9 February 2015

A KUCHIPUDI ENCOUNTER

A KUCHIPUDI STORY
I virtually stumbled upon this great dance style in 1967/8. Driving around Panagal Park after a usual visit to the Nalli showroom I saw a board 'Kuchipudi Art Academy'. I parked outside and just went in to see what this school was all about. I had seen just one Kuchipudi performance in Bombay conducted by Guru Acharyalu, for the dancer Sudha Doraiswamy and it made an impression. But I never imagined I would one day learn this style of dance. Thank God one is adventurous in one's twenties. A brief meeting with a tall elegant Telugu speaking gentleman clad in traditional Dhothi and Jibba, interrupting his class(!), led to my joining the school the next day. That is how informally Vempatti Chinnna Satyam became my Kuchipudi guru. One year later I performed the whole repertoire.... And played Satyabhama in his dance drama Krishna Parijatham! Thereafter I performed full length Kuchipudi recitals, and also did select Kuchipudi dances during the second half of my Bharatanatyam recitals with the exciting costume change.....!

Many even today do not know what Kuchipudi dance is. Well, that is another story. This past season, writers visiting from abroad asked me where they could see a good Kuchipudi performance. Considering one of the great Kuchipudi Gurus of the twentieth century, Vempatti Chinna Satyam lived and ran his school successfully for more than five decades in this city, it seemed odd that this style was not featured prominently in the Sabhas. However, I myself
did get to relish some really impressive Kuchipudi talent in mid January.

The most touching and arresting impression was made by none other than the current Guru of the Vempatti school.....Vempatti Ravi Shankar, son of Chinna Satyam.  He has been in the field as a dancer and teacher now for decades. And, to my utter delight, he has truly arrived now as a Guru. He is a master of his craft and to my special satisfaction, his singing is impeccable. I always think musical expertise is so essential to conduct a dance performance. He fits the bill. And as for his choreography....he follows his father's style in all the minute details  and comes up with classic pieces.
The pleasant surprise for me is the superb dancing of his wife Priyanka. There is a body language which defines Kuchipudi. I experienced it in my learning from guru Chinna Satyam. It is a fluidity of both movement and stance which is very different from Bharatanatyam. This young dancer knows it well, and brought that special authentic touch to the recital. A range of dances were performed with grace, perfect co-ordination, precise footwork and pleasing expressions. The Tarangam is as elaborate as a Varnam in this style and it has the added attraction of dancing on the edge of the brass plate. Priyanka held her poise through this, and brought a beguiling charm to the two Padas, one of Annamayya and the other of Kshetrayya.
Two others who are in training with Ravi Shankar shone in their performances. One is Deepika Potarazu who is an American-born teenager from Washington DC , full of vibrant energy, and a remarkable sense of dance . She is a Kuchipudi exponent in the making. The other is Yamini Saripalli, who is also from Washington , a mature dancer who did complete justice to the Vempatti school in her performance.  Credit goes both to the Guru who has maintained a high standard of technique and a carefully chosen repertoire, and to the hard work of these dancers. They are united in keeping the reputation of Kuchipudi dance in tact.
Vempatti Ravishankar should be celebrated not only for his expertise as a Guru, but also his equipoise in coping with the trials of health to give the joy of dance so generously to all his students.

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