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Kuchipudi Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam (Oct 15, 1929 - July 29, 2012)
(Compiled from Internet)

July 31, 2012

Guru Dr. Vempati Chinna Satyam dedicated his life to preserve, promote and propagate Kuchipudi in India and all over the world. A charismatic performer, a brilliant choreographer and an inspiring teacher, he has been largely responsible for the revival of Kuchipudi dance in post-independent India. Hence, the name Vempati Chinna Satyam has become synonymous with Kuchipudi, as one who put Kuchipudi dance on the world map. Along with Surya Rao, Andavilli Satyanarayana has authored a biography of Chinna Satyam.

Vempati Chinna Satyam was born to Vempati Chalamaiah and Varalakshamma in a traditional family of dancers in Kuchipudi village, Andhra Pradesh. Following the centuries old tradition of the families in the village, Vempati began dancing from a very early age. Vedantam Lakshmi Narayana Sastry, a great master in the field of Kuchipudi, initiated young Vempati into this art form. As he learnt the nuances of this style of dance, Vempati was avid to popularize this art form all over the world. With this burning desire, he left his native village at the age of 18. Due to financial constraints, he walked all the way to Madras (now Chennai), the cultural Mecca for all fine arts. He refined his art by learning from Tadepally Perrayya Sastry and later underwent vigorous training (in expressions) under his cousin Vempati Pedda Satyam who was a well-established dance director in the film world. He also spent a year under various teachers, extending his knowledge of various styles.

The glitter and glamour of the tinsel world failed to impress him. With the desire to spread Kuchipudi burning within, Vempati started teaching and started his Kuchipudi Art Academy at Madras in 1963.The Academy has to its credit more than 180 solo items and 15 dance dramas composed and choreographed by Dr. Vempati Chinna Satyam. These solo items and dance dramas have been staged all over the world. He composed his first dance drama Sri Krishna Parijatham in the same period followed by another hit Ksheera Sagara Madanam and played the lead role. His portrayal of Lord Shiva and his brilliant choreography was received with thunderous applause. With his very first attempt passing in flying colors, his long cherished desire to establish Kuchipudi among the prominent classical styles, got a shot in the arm.

Vempati produced many more marvels like Padmavati Srinivasa Kalyanam, Vipranarayana Cheritam, Menaka Viswamitra, Sakuntalam, Bama Kalapam, Chandalika, Rukmini Kalyanam, Hara Vilasam, Siva Dhanurbhangam (the first part of the oldest epic Ramayana) and Ardha Nareeswaram. He also composed Kumara Sambhavam, Padmavathi Tirumanam and Sri Krishna Parijatam in Tamil. His latest works were on Sri Pada Parijatham (Annamayya) and Kirataarjuneeyam. Each dance drama choreographed and directed by him epitomizes the depth of his knowledge and mastery over Kuchipudi, and his ability to communicate every nuance of the theme to appreciative connoisseurs and lay persons.

Kuchipudi was considered only a folk dance, with its repertoire limited to plays such as Bhama Kalapam, Usha Parinayam, Sasirekha Parinayam, Prahlada Charitham and Gollakalapam. Being well versed in the Natya Sastra, Vempati revolutionized the Kuchipudi art form by refining movements he considered rustic as well as establishing a structured syllabus for students to learn the art form. He systematized Kuchipudi without sacrificing its pristine purity and gave it a more classical and sophisticated look. He rid dance dramas of long spoken dialogues and instead added pure dance sequences and song. Vempati made these innovative changes without compromising on the classicism of the art form. He refined and redefined the choreography bringing it completely within the boundaries of Natya Sastra, gave it a whole new perspective and introduced new elements, e.g. chari (leg movements) of Natya Shastra that are significantly different from the interpretations of other dance authorities. Vempati ensured that Kuchipudi was not confined only to men and introduced new trends. With his creative genius, Vempati choreographed many solo items and brought in changes in the execution of the pure dance sequences. This attracted many young women who did not belong to Andhra Pradesh or to traditional dancing community to take to Kuchipudi.

Vempati's charismatic choreography and scintillating style were witnessed and applauded in almost all parts of the world. Along with his students, he made his first trip overseas in 1971 to London and France, gaining accolades wherever he went. He then toured South America and the Caribbean Islands with his troupe to participate in the festival in 1973. From then on, followed an endless stream of trips to USA, Russia, Canada, European countries like Germany, France, Italy, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, and Gulf countries with the Academy troupe and staged programs in all those countries earning glorious tributes. For the first time, this Academy organized and conducted on its own, two promotional tours to USA - 'Kuchipudi Prathidhwani' in 1998 and the second in 2000 called 'Kuchipudi 2000.' Both the tours covered approximately 50 cities across the length and breadth of the USA.

Being a dance drama, Kuchipudi was never considered a classical dance form. But Vempati contended that it is also a classical dance and due to his relentless efforts, the Central government recognised Kuchipudi as a classical dance. He was a perfectionist and a task master, but also had a benevolent side. Having suffered the ills of poverty himself, he invited dancers from Kuchipudi village, supported and trained them at his dance academy. He paid for their costumes and jewellery and even provided accommodation for them.

Vempati was the dance director for film star NT Rama Rao's hit movie 'Narthanasala.' NTR's daughter Union minister Daggubati Purandeswari was Vempati's student. He worked with the legendary Telugu filmmaker Kamalakar Kameshwar Rao, known for his mythological films. He choreographed dances for Hema Malini in two Telugu films, Pandava Vanavasam and Sri Krishna Vijayam. He assisted in the choreography for NTR's social drama 'Devadasu.'

Notable among the numerous awards, honors and citations conferred on him are: Padma Bhushan by Govt. of India, "Fellow" by Sangeet Natak Akademi (New Delhi) in 1991, Kalidas Samman by Government of Madhya Pradesh in 1992, Kalaimamani by Govt. of Tamil Nadu in 1994, Kuchipudi Nritya Pramukh by Sangeet Natak Academy (New Delhi), Kalaprapurna by Andhra University, Honorary Doctorate (D.Litt.) by Sri Venkateswara University (Tirupati) in 1980, Asthana Vidwan by Sri Venkateswara Temple (Pittsburgh), TTK Memorial Award by the Madras Music Academy.

The Mayor of Miami presented the Golden Key award to Vempati in 1984. The Mayor of Dayton, Ohio, declared April 27, 1984 as classical Indian Kuchipudi dance drama day. In honour of the dancing guru, the African State of Ghana declared September 25 as Vempati Chinna Satyam day in 1994. The Mayor of Atlanta declared November 3, 1994 as Kuchipudi Dance Drama Day. The Mayor of Cleveland conferred honorary citizenship on Dr. Vempati. The Mayor of Memphis declared September 24, 1994 as 'Ramayana Day' and the Key to the city was awarded to him. Gold medal was presented to him by the President of Tunisia at the Cartage Festival. Citations and honors were conferred on him at the Avignon Festival, France in 1995. Former President of India Pratibha Patil honoured Vempati Chinna Satyam in Hyderabad in 2010.

Some of his distinguished disciples include Shanta Rao, Yamini Krishnamurthy, Sobha Naidu, Hemamalini, Vijayanthimala Bali, Rathna Papa Kumar, Sonal Mansingh, Swapnasundari, Manju Bhargavee, Bala Kondala Rao. Kalamandalam Kshemavathy, Kalamandalam Mohana Thulasi, Kalamandalam Saraswati and Kalamandalam Vimala Menon from Kerala also learnt from him. Several of his disciples run Kuchipudi dance schools in India, Australia, England, France, Germany and the United States.

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