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May 2001

Dharani School of Performing Arts Trust, founded in 1987 by Shyamala Surendran, wife of late Capt.Surendran and herself a performing artist, was established with the intention of training and imparting knowledge in classical arts, particularly Bharatanatyam, Mohiniattam and Carnatic music. Dharani started with just three girls and soon blossomed into the most prestigious institution for classical arts in the city of Kochi. Aside from the dance training, the study of Carnatic music is a compulsory requisite for the dance students. The workshops and camps organized by Dharani gives an excellent opportunity to teachers and students, from music and dance institutions throughout Kerala, to watch performance of high quality.

In December 1999 Dharani formed the Society Dharani for bringing eminent artists to perform and give lecture demonstrations in Kochi. Dharani has presented Vyjayanthimala Bali, Priyadarshini Govind, Kalanidhi Narayanan, Malavika Sarukkai, the Dhananjayans, Krishnaveni Lakshmanan, Anita Ratnam and her dance theatre.

In the land of Kathakali and Mohiniattam, how well is your Bharatanatyam school doing in Kerala ?
Bharatanatyam is very popular in Kerala. Even at the premiere institute of Dance 'The Kerala Kalamandalam' Bharatanatyam is the main dance form taught until recently. Mohiniattam and Kuchipudi are also taught there in the four-year course. So I have no problems. The strength of almost 150 students speaks for itself.

You present many artistes in Kochi through your organisation Dharani.
What are the aims of Association Dharani ?
We started a Society called Dharani as a subsidiary of the Dharani School of Performing Arts Trust to bring in good performances of eminent artistes so that the students and also the public will understand what good performance is and not send their children to study only a ten minute Varnam for the competitions. Or get the child to do the arangetram in a year's time and that too doing about two or three art forms at the same time one after another. Our effort is being rewarded. We have good audience and now they have started coming for the lecture demonstrations also the following day. The Trust has the aim of taking traditional folk arts like the Padayanni, Chavituunatakam etc to the schools but then fund is our major problem. To get sponsor ship is very difficult. For a fashion show, a gana mela, or a mimics parade there are sponsors, but for classical art forms they feel that they will not get enough mileage.

You are an IFA grantee and presently working on a project on Sopanam music of Kerala.
Can you tell us about it?
The research project for IFA came about from a casual talk. Dharani had invited Brhhadvani for a music workshop on their commet methodology. The Kerala temple instrument Edakka was played for Dr. Karaikudi Subramanian and I spoke about the Sopana music of Kerala, which did not have a proper teaching methodology. It struck us that the methodology of Brhhadvani would be ideal for teaching Sopana music and there would be uniformity in rendering the ragas. Around this time we got a letter from IFA asking for application for grant in various projects. After much difficulty we got the grant for the research work. We have completed documenting the old artists from Trivandrum to Kasarkode. We could not get information in three districts of Kerala - Wynad, Idduki and Kasarkode. We are still trying to get information and if we get it we will be documenting it. We presented the work we did to the IFA at the seminar they held at Chennai on the 26th January 2001.

How accessible has your research made this music to dancers, musicians and other performing artistes?
Once our work for the IFA is complete then the music will be accessible to anyone who wants to learn the sopana style of singing and there will be uniformity in the Ragas. Now different artists sing the same ragas in different ways, only the name of the raga is same.

Do you think knowledge of language and music is a must for a dancer?
Yes, there is no doubt about the fact that working knowledge of the language and music is absolutely necessary for a dancer.

What do you spend in terms of money or time to publicize your events?
For the society we spend a lot of time and energy to get membership and then to get them to come for the programme. Each member is contacted on the phone and invited even after we send the invitation cards. For the school we do not spend anything on publicity. Press is informed about the arangetrams and lec/dems.

How have you benefited in choosing dance as a career?
Dance has brought me back to my roots and made me understand the value of our Culture. I took up dance when I was 34 years old. I had a son of ten years then. Until this time I felt that Hindu religion was barbaric praying to anything and everything. Now I understand the universality of God much better and value the old scriptures. When I lost my husband two years back it was only dance that has helped me carry on my life with courage and strength. The very people who had chided me for taking up dance now feel that it was the right thing I did in my life.

How difficult is it for you to balance your dance career and yet have time for your family?
Yes, it is difficult to balance my dance career and family life but we can manage both when you are committed to it. We find time for both in life. Your family has to understand too. They will understand if they realize that you are doing something good.

Which is your most memorable performance?
My most memorable performance was in Vienna when after the programme, a Father (priest) came and asked me for my blessings.

Do you have any advice for today's upcoming dancers?
The advice to upcoming dancers is to work hard and do their best always. Practicing everyday whether there is programme or not and to keep learning through out their life. This brings to my mind the words of late Sri Mani Madhvan Chakkar, the doyen of Koodiyattam “Child, I am 91 and I am still learning. There is no age for art forms. You learn all your life”.

Shyamala Surendran
XLII - 2418, S R M Rd
Kochi 682018
Ph: (0484) - 401143 / 401400

( As told to LV)