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Alekhya Punjla: Dance conferences are important
- Lalitha Venkat

November 27, 2008

Dr. Alekhya Punjla described once as a jewel in the world of dance, is a top ranking exponent in both the Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam styles of dance. She started dancing at a very tender age under the tutelage of late Dayal Sharan, continuing with Dr. Uma Rama Rao and is an artist to reckon with, with over 3 decades of work in these two styles.

Alekhya is a graduate in English literature, psychology and philosophy and also holds a bachelor's degree in dance (Bharatanatyam) Osmania University. She holds a postgraduate degree in ancient Indian history culture and archaeology, and was awarded Ph.D. for her work on 'Kshetrayya Padams and their importance in the Abhinya aspect of Kuchipudi dance.' She was been academically involved with the Potti Sriramulu Telugu University for over 17 years in various capacities. She was the convener of the National Kuchipudi dance festival conducted by the University in December 2006.

A dedicated teacher Alekhya has also taken an initiative to train young, budding and talented upcoming Kuchipudi artists, in order to pass on the art form to the younger generation through 'TRISHNA,' a center she has started in her quest for excellence. Last several years have seen her devote her time and effort to the study, practice and propagation of Kuchipudi dance form.

You have trained in Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam but you are more of a Kuchipudi exponent?
Yes, I have been trained both in Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi right since my early days of training in classical dance. I have also performed both these styles in several reputed sabhas and organizations both within the state and outside. Even on my tours abroad, personally and through ICCR I had the proud privilege to represent both the styles. It is only in the last few years that I have been partial to Kuchipudi for several reasons. One, I love its vibrancy and the freedom (Manodharma) it gives the artist to create within the given frame work at any given point of time, even on stage while performing. Secondly, it was my passion for Abhinaya which made me more inclined towards this form as I felt a little stifled in Bharatanatyam. Today the scenario is different, than it was years ago. I find many artists exploring in different ways. Last, but not the least I wanted to contribute in my own little way to the propagation of this beautiful form of Andhra, the state I belong to.

There are Kuchipudi conferences / seminars being held everywhere. Do you think Kuchipudi is gaining in popularity around the globe?
Yes, there has been of late a lot of activity where Kuchipudi is concerned. For instance, dance festivals at various levels, as you mentioned conferences and seminars, the last being the International Kuchipudi Conference at California, USA. You name it and it's all happening in Kuchipudi. Kuchipudi has always been popular and is growing in popularity around the globe in leaps and bounds.

How important do you think dance conferences are? What purpose do they really serve?
Dance conferences are important for an interaction between teachers, performers and also the rasikas. It provides the platform for exchange of ideas and also for a healthy creative relationship between several artists who otherwise dwell in their own world.

You perform your dance drama Lakuma Swantamu to recorded music. Do you prefer live music or recorded music?
As a performer, I definitely prefer live music because it gives you an opportunity to improvise instinctively if you have a very understanding orchestral support especially where your vocal and mridangam are concerned. It is not so easy in the present day free lancing cultural scene. Earlier the members of the orchestra were attached to a guru or a school. It is not so in the present times. Still one is able to manage where a solo performance is concerned. But as you mentioned, for my recent dance production Lakuma Swantam, I found it necessary to go in for recorded music, as there were many instruments in play with several musical interlude bits and it would have been difficult, every time I wanted to stage it. As I did not want to compromise on my standards I had to fall in with the present day technical advancements and use them to enhance my presentation.

Your point of view on Ramayana in the performing arts.
Ramayana and the characters which brought to life the entire story, have inspired many a poet to give vent to their feelings in different ways. How can one not be inspired by the compositions of Saint Thyagaraja who sang in praise of lord Rama. Likewise performing arts have also enriched themselves by bringing to life many of its characters and the key episodes through their performances time and again. Ramayana will always continue to inspire and enrich all arts and artists.

Your topic for the NKC conference is on Mandodari, a woman of fortitude - a life of trials and tribulations. What sort of a character do you see Mandodari as?
In Ramayana, Mandodari appears to be a woman who is endowed with all the qualities which all women yearn for. She is not only a beautiful lady, but one who perfectly understood what it is to be a woman. She was a wife, a lover, an adviser, a councilor, and a friend to her husband. What efforts she put in to bring Ravana back on to the right path and what she herself went through in such a situation. I think she perfectly fitted the description given in our scriptures -
    Karyeshu Daasi, Karaneshu mantri
    Roopesha lakshmi, Bhojyeshu Maata
    Shayaneshu Rambha, Kshamaya Darithiri…
Your comment on the Chennai season.
Come December, Chennai is brimming with music and dance. What more could the artists and the rasikas ask for. The artists get a chance to showcase their latest works and the audiences are at least sure of a sumptuous feast at this part of the year. But sadly, Kuchipudi does not get its due, except in a sabha or two. I sincerely hope the sabhas take note and provide a platform for talented and worthy artists.


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