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Srinidhi Chidambaram, Bharatanatyam dancer

Sep 2000

Starting early has been the trend with Srinidhi. She started learning Bharatanatyam at a tender age, performed within a couple of years, won accolades, awards and honours even at a very early stage of her career. Yuva Kala Bharathi title of the Bharath Kalachar, Kalaimamani award of the Tamil Nadu government, Dr. M.G.R award, Nadanamamani title of the Kartik Fine Arts, Balasaraswathi Memorial Award are some of them. And now she has been chosen for the prestigious "Nrithyachoodamani" title by the Krishna Gana Sabha.

Srinidhi is medical degree holder with a post graduation in Public Health and Preventive Medicine. A dancer and a doctor who has time for her family also, Srinidhi speaks to Narthaki Online.

How do you feel on being chosen for the "Nrithyachoodamani" award?
I am so excited and happy about it. I really did not expect it. It is a great honour. This award is a prestigious one. To be conferred the"Nrithyachoodamani" is like being in the hall of fame, I feel so honoured. Of the younger generation that is of my age group, I think I am the first to receive it and I am very thrilled.

When did you start learning Bharatanatyam?
I started very early. I was exposed to music and dance at a very young age. I was taken to Kalakshetra to watch dance performances. Like any child, I loved dance. My grandmother took the initiative to put me in to dance. I started to learn dance under Smt. Kamala. I still remember that on one Vijayadasami day, I started my lessons. Smt. Kamala herself was a child prodigy and she believed in starting early. There were other children like Madhushri, Shoba Natarajan and others. While Smt. Kamala taught us she also kept in mind the fact that we were children.

After a year of training, she wanted to do the dance drama "Shakuntalam" and she wanted me to do the role of Bharatha. When she told this to my parents, they were initially hesitant because I was hardly 4 years old. My role was in the later stages of the drama and they thought that I might not be able to do that. But my guru Kamala convinced them and I did the role. I even had to recite a few lines of a sloka. In a way, entering the stage at a young age has helped me. I did not have stage fright and I have been comfortable on stage. This is how I started.

When did you change to another guru?
After my performance as Bharatha, I was asked to do small roles like Seetha and Krishna. People started talking about me. I had my arangetram in 1977. After that, slowly the initial seriousness in approach of Smt. Kamala started waning. And finally she settled in the US. By that time I was already performing. For a brief while I learnt under Guru Samraj. At that time, Swamimalai Rajarathinam Pillai was keen to take me as his disciple. And he has been my ideal guru.

Can you tell us about Swamimalai Rajarathinam Pillai?
My guru Swamimalai Rajarathinam Pillai was a good teacher. Though he belonged to the Vazhuvoor School, he wanted to bring in variety. He combined the grace of Vazhuvoor style with the other good aspects of other styles. He choreographed fresh pieces. He brought variety in adavus. He would take care to correct us. It was easy to communicate with him. He insisted on angasuddham. He would welcome suggestions. He would explain why certain things could be done and why others could not be done. After a certain stage, he gave us creative freedom and this added to the variety. He was a great teacher.

You were under a teacher who was a performer and under a traditional nattuvanar. Did you find any difference in their approach?
It is very difficult to answer. I was too young when I learnt under Smt. Kamala. Her schedules used to take our class timings. When I evolved as a serious dancer, I was under Swamimalai Rajrathinam Pillai. So I would not compare them.

Do you feel that you have evolved your own style?
Basically it is my guru's style. But over a period of time, you gradually have your individuality. I am not able to place it. My guru gave us a lot of creative freedom. That has helped. Once, during a December festival at Krishna Gana Sabha, every performer had to include a Papanasam Sivan's kriti. My guru was not available initially, so I choreographed the piece, later my guru appreciated this. He even announced that I had choreographed it. He used to encourage us and that is why we are able to manage even after his sudden demise. Also I learnt nattuvangam under Smt. Kamala Rani of Kalakshetra, music under Smt. Suguna Purushothaman. These aspects have helped me. It is but natural that you evolve your own style over a period of time.

Arts are said to mould a person's mind and personality. How has Bharatanatyam helped you?
Dance has helped me concentrate more and be focused. It has brought in physical and mental discipline. My personality is such that I prefer change. My profession as a doctor and dancer has helped me break the monotony in life. I feel dance is a good outlet.

At what stage did you decide to stay in dance?
I cannot really say that I am concentrating on dance alone. One compromise that I have made in medicine is that I did not choose any clinical specialty. I have done my MD in Public Health and Preventive Medicine. I am carrying on my medical activities based on that. But because of this you cannot say that I am not a professional dancer. Yes, I do not make a living out of dance. That doesn't mean that I do not put in effort in dancing or practicing. I am as good as a full time dancer. Just because I am a doctor I cannot make any excuses. I am dedicated to dance as much as I am to medicine. Happily, I have been pursuing both well. My focus in both the fields has been on quality rather than on quantity. Have you tried contemporary choreography?
I feel I should do much more in terms of traditional dancing. It is not for us to decry contemporary choreography. Nor is traditional dance backward. Each style has its own approach and beauty. But I feel I have a lot to do in terms of traditional dancing.

Do you think that the audience prefer contemporary to traditional dance?
Audience is one aspect that worries me. Be it contemporary or traditional dance, you see the same set of people as audience. There are very few youngsters watching performances. Television and other distractions keep the youngsters away from watching dance. Even in television the coverage that arts receive is very minimal. We should do something to cultivate a taste for dance and other arts.

What is your favourite item of dancing?
I like the Varnam. It gives ample scope for nritta and abhinaya. The varnam reveals the potential of the dancer. If you watch a dancer perform a varnam you can get to know the quality of the dancer. The varnams of the Tanjore Quartette are replete with raga bhava and provide scope for proving one's potential.

What is your opinion about present day teaching?
I feel that in some cases the parents are taken for a ride. I think that parents should make enquiries before they choose a guru. People prefer a teacher who stays near by or who comes home. This might not be right; the emphasis should be on a good teacher rather than the above said reasons.

How have you managed with dancing and medicine?
I was fortunate in the sense that by the time I finished my school I was quite an established dancer. It was understood that dance was a part of my life. I could continue dancing because I started at a very young age. Had I started late, say in the 13th or 14th year, I would have stopped. Especially during my internship the timings were not fixed and it was demanding. But fortunately I have been able to do both.

Do you think that dancing can be taken as a full time profession?
A dancer can perform actively till a certain stage. Unlike in other professions, where getting older is an advantage, a dancer's activity is curbed as age advances. You can take to teaching dance. I feel it is better to have something to fall back upon. Only a very few have clicked as full time professionals.

Are you a religious person?
I am. Our dance is steeped in devotion, you cannot show emotions unless you have felt them. In fact, most of our dancers are religious. My religious faith has helped me do lots of things with courage and successfully.

Any Idols or influences in your life?
I admire dancers, who have given themselves totally for dancing. I really admire them for their dedication. My grandmother has been a great influence in my life. My parents, in-laws and my husband have been very supportive towards my efforts and they have made me into what I am.

Can we have your list of favourites?
City - Chennai. I do not like the climate of Chennai, but I like the place. I like the climate of Bangalore. In foreign countries I like London.
Food - I enjoy good food. I am a vegetarian and tend to eat lots of vegetables and salads. My husband and I try to experiment with new foodwhen we go abroad. Thai, Italian food. I like traditional South Indian food. I like food that it is not too spicy.
Ragas - Kalyani, Anandhabhairavi, Nattai, Thodi, Hindolam, Amirthavarshini.
Color - I like white, red. My favourite combination is black and red.

How important is costume to dance?
Very important. The costume should not be dazzling and distracting. I prefer simple elegant costumes. My mother helps me in this. My favourite costume is red and gold. Nothing to beat a Kanchipuram saree. In terms of jewellery the simpler the better. I like the taste of Malavika Sarukkai, Sudarani Ragupathi and Vyjayanthimala.

Your star sign and date of birth.
I am a Gemini. Born on 8th June.

How do you see your role in the society as a dancer apart from being on stage?
I would like to teach. Lot of people want me to do that. I want to do it in the future. I will choose people who are serious about it. I want to develop them into multifaceted artists with knowledge of languages, music etc. I have to learn much more before I do it.

Which is your most memorable performance?
Many of them. My first performance at the Krishna Gana Sabha. Once at the Music Academy, I was the only dancer asked to perform during the Season. My performances at temples are memorable because they have a very special atmosphere.

You were on stage from a very young age and branded a prodigy. To be in the limelight from a very young age and maintaining is a very tough thing. How have you coped up with it?
I think that I have not done anything to maintain my image. I do not think about image. Things have happened naturally & by God's grace and till now I am happy with what I have done.

Can you tell us about your medical activity?
Health First is a NGO that I have established a year ago to carry out research in Public Health and to do service oriented programmes in Community health. It is basically a research and service organization. We go to schools and target adolescent girls and educate them about reproductive health and make them aware about HIV. And we have many other innovative plans for the future

Srinidhi Chidambaram
16, Pycrofts Garden Road
Chennai 600006
Ph: (044) - 8279025 / 8222266
3 C, Eldorado
112, Nungambakkam High Road
Chennai 600034
Ph: (044) - 8215616 / 8270931

(as told to TNC)

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