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Nalanda celebrates forty glorious years
- Vijay Shanker

February 8, 2013

Dr. Kanak Rele & Dr. Uma Rele

One of the premier dance research centres in the country, Nalanda Dance Research Centre, celebrates forty years of its glorious existence with outstanding and pioneering work in the field of classical dance. The alumni association of the Nalanda Nritya Kala Mahavidyalaya had organised the 'Smriti-Parva' festival of dance wherein twenty two dancers performed on 24th January at Ravindra Natya Mandir in Mumbai as a mark of tribute to Nalanda and its founder director, renowned Mohiniattam and Kathakali exponent and dance educationist Dr. Kanak Rele. Dr. Uma Rele, the principal of Nalanda Nritya Kala Mahavidyalaya, is an exponent of Bharatanatyam and also the visiting faculty member for various educational institutes and Universities in India and abroad. She reveals the significance of dance education in India and growth of Nalanda that has produced professional dancers who hold prestigious positions as dancers and teachers.

How would you analyze your growth from the level of a student to the position of a Principal?
After my graduation in Economics from Mithibai College, I enrolled myself for Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) and completed my Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in 1991. Initially as a student I was quite scared of Kanakbhen as I was told that she was a real taskmaster and a disciplinarian but I started knowing her better when I was assisting her in the production of 'Santvani' based on the popular abhangs of Maharashtra by saint poets like Gyaneshwar, Eknath, Namdeo etc. I also had the privilege of working with her for the organisation Ahimsa dealing with handicapped and orthopedic children. It was a wonderful experience for me to assist Kanakbhen to teach these children dance. After being a lecturer for more than 13 years, I was appointed the principal in 2003 after my research work.

Tell us about your research work.
The Sarvangabhinaya of the Balaramabharatam, Phd thesis entitled 'Aesthetics of nayikas in Indian classical dance' delves deeper into the characterisation of the various nayikas at various levels like Uttama, Madhyama and Adama and different types like the Mugdha or the Pragalbha nayikas. Besides the Ashta nayikas, there are varied references to women who have sacrificed their life and love for the betterment of life and society too. There are several instances like the Kubja nayika or Gandhari for that matter. It was an experience of a lifetime to seek guidance from a scholarly person like Kanakbhen for whom life is dance and dance is life.

How relevant is dance education in India?
Dance education is extremely relevant as it is essential for dancers to know the significance of the theory and as to how it can be put into practice or application while we perform. While all the classical dance styles are based on Bharata's Natyasastra, it is important for the dancer to understand the text, implement it into the performance and ultimately take dance into the higher sublime level. It is sad that there are dancers who don't know anything about dance and still continue to be dancers and there are dance teachers whose knowledge is limited. Due to onslaught of the western culture, it is important for us to propagate, preserve and promote India's rich cultural heritage which is possible through colleges like Nalanda. With proper training and guidance, one can be a master in classical dance. You cannot force today's generation to step into classical dance. One needs to have a keen interest towards it and I am ever ready to help and encourage the young enthusiasts.

What are the courses that Nalanda offers?
We have courses at different levels. After completing 12th, the student is entitled for graduation which is known as Bachelor of Performing Arts (BPA), Master of Performing Arts (MPA) and the Ph.d for the doctorate degree. The five new courses which have been introduced are certificate in dance (Kathak), Diploma in Dance (Kathak), Advance diploma in dance (Kathak), MPA and Post graduate diploma in dance and fitness. The varied styles taught are Bharatanatyam, Mohiniattam, Kathakali, Odissi and Kathak.

How did this idea about Smriti-Parva come about?
As you know, Nalanda students have spread out in various parts of the country and abroad and are all top professionals doing extremely well in varied styles. One of the foremost students of Nalanda, Guru Deepak Mazumdar is a highly respected performer and teacher with top personalities like Hema Malini and Nita Ambani seeking guidance from him. Dr. Malati, also a student of Kanakbhen, heads the dept of dance in Nalanda. Mandakini Trivedi, one of the senior most disciples of Kanakbhen is a top exponent today. Sunanda Nair who has migrated to US is doing extremely well both as a teacher and performer. Vaibhav Arekar is among the best male dancers today in Mumbai. Megha Ahire is also a brilliant Mohiniattam dancer. Hence we decided we must come together and celebrate life and dance by dancing for a limited time of ten minutes for each performer as we are twenty two performers altogether.

Which role of yours is most difficult - principal, teacher, mother or daughter-in-law?
The role of principal is difficult, as to manage all the students is not easy but my door is always open to students as they can contact me whenever they have any problem or seek guidance. I came to know Kanakben better when I married her son Rahul and became the daughter-in- law. I definitely feel that I am blessed to be with such a family where culture and art is combined, hence life becomes more significant and peaceful too. My daughter Vaidehi initially learnt Kathakali and performed too but now she is concentrating more on her law studies. I want her to continue dance, and my son is not really interested in dance.

I believe you are a good singer too.
I won gold medal for light vocal in the competition organised by the University of Bombay. I also won gold medal for light classical. I was known for my renderings of songs of Geeta Dutt.

Do you feel your dancing has taken a back seat?
Yes, I would like to be more active. Initially I did feel I must dance more, but teaching and holding this position is also a great responsibility. It is not easy to do everything in life.

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