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A B Balakondala Rao: Change is inevitable
- Bhavanvitha Venkatesh

July 17, 2012

Kuchipudi Guru A B Balakondala Rao is known to her students, disciples, well-wishers as Balakka. She is one of the prominent disciples of Kuchipudi maestro Dr. Vempati Chinna Satyam and runs Kuchipudi Kalaa Kendram in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. She started her dance at a very young age of eight years and it was all her determination that her father left her at the dance school, to stay back, go to school from the academy and most importantly learn dance as it happens in the traditional Guru-Sishya parampara manner. She became a key faculty at the academy. Ravi Sankar Vempati, her master's son learnt from Balakka. She participated in the many dance programs, projects and tours along with her guru.

Thereafter, she continued her dance without a break and founded Kuchipudi Kalaa Kendram after her marriage. The institute is now a world-renowned Kuchipudi school and has been continuously producing best talent year after year including Vidya, Aditya Brahmam etc.

Recently in the month of May 2012, she was awarded Kala Ratna by Government of Andhra Pradesh and I met her to congratulate her besides asking her opinion and thoughts about the award itself and present day Kuchipudi.

Balakka, what are your feelings about receiving the award?
First of all, I feel it is my good fortune and a gift from Lord Nataraja. This award gave me the opportunity to share the dais with veteran artists like PVG Krishna Sarma, Nerella Venu Madhav, Vankayala Narsimham, Bhattam Sri Ramamurthy who are idols to all of us in this state. So, I thank our Government and our Chief Minister for this. This is my guru's grace.

Many of us feel that the recognition itself had come a bit too late.
I am happy to have got this recognition. I always believe awards have to be decided (by the agencies) after searching for the talent and not from out of those who approach them. Agencies and organizations have to uphold the prestige of the awards by having stringent quality standards; else they lose the respect of the general public. In short, awards and recognitions are not to be sought or solicited for - this is what I learnt from my guru and I believe.

Your comments about the changes in the teaching methods of Kuchipudi. There is a huge change since the days you learnt and the present day scenario of limited hours spent in classes.
It is true. Change is inevitable. However there are also some good developments that have taken place, like availability of various sources to learn more on dance, to get information, to attend dance programs and also in having access to rich content on the internet. Agreed, they have their own limitations. For a sincere student of dance, it is always possible to reach true art. It is one's own quest that shows the path. There is a way a dance form itself reaches the true seeker, then or now. (Smiles)

Balakka teaching in a Kuchipudi session in Kuchipudi village that was arranged for the teaching faculty

What about the traditions? We hear a lot about innovations, new works and approaches.
(Again smiling, Balakka explained about the classicism and tradition in the best possible manner)
I will give you an example. Take for instance a preparation like ghee. How is it made? Only after following a set of processes, and in the process the initial input milk transforms, taking different forms and ultimately becomes ghee, isn't it? Once you make the ghee, is it possible to reverse this? Is it essential to do this? Similar is the classicism, wisdom, knowledge in our dance forms. They are already refined to perfection and have taken into consideration all the required ingredients and elements. Altering this in the name of innovation or new works is not something that is to be done for the sake of doing it.

Balakka, on this happy occasion let me also convey our congratulations on you becoming a proud grandmother. We expect your grandson to be a Kuchipudi dancer!
Yes, my eldest son Anand Srihari and daughter-in-law Maalyada are blessed with a son, Sushen. Isn't he expressive?

Saying this, she showed the picture of her grandson on her mobile. I got my answer. I recognized that Kuchipudi also finds a way to spread itself, weaving into committed artiste families like Balakka's own. Her eldest son is a well-known mridangist. Her daughter-in-law and younger son are both famous Kuchipudi dancers.

A B Balakondala Rao can be contacted at:

Bhavanvitha Venkatesh is a Kuchipudi dancer and trained under Balakka.

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