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Vempati Ravi Shankar: A complete artist
- Shantala Shivalingappa

February 6, 2018

It was a sad day indeed when Kuchipudi lost one of its greatest artists much too soon: Vempati Ravi Shankar. He was the perfect embodiment of Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam's style, rendering the very demanding form with a flawless technique and an utterly graceful and powerful body language, conveying the deep emotion and energy of Kuchipudi in a most compelling way. A supremely elegant, refined and devoted dancer, he was a mesmerizing performer. He understood all the intricacies and complexities of Kuchipudi, mastering the entire gamut of components in detail, from the deeper meaning behind the wording of the compositions, the mythological sources, the subtleties of the musical compositions, the principles and details of rhythmic patterns as adapted to dance, the vocabulary of Kuchipudi as designed by his father....he was a complete artist.

Not only was he a divine dancer, he was also a supremely gifted choreographer and created an extensive repertoire that kept alive the soul of Kuchipudi. He was able to make very unique and apt creative innovations which enhanced the deep emotion of the style and made it shine with a bright new energy, while still retaining the specific character and essence of his father's style. Not a small feat by any standards and only possible for the true master that he was. He often composed lyrics which he set to his own music and then choreographed into a piece, creating rhythm patterns to match the particular composition. He was talented in all aspects related to dance and choreography. Vempati Ravi Shankar was also a dedicated and naturally gifted teacher, who knew how to unravel the most complicated details of the dance form. He transmitted Kuchipudi to countless students, strictly and rigorously respecting its unique identity and characteristics. He passed forth the essence and soul of Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam's style.

I relished his classes and remember them with great fondness and nostalgia. They were pretty hardcore, and also exhilarating and inspiring. You left the class full of the buzz and flow of dance in your being, exhausted but determined to work harder and delve deeper into Kuchipudi. And Ravi had a great sense of humour! To me he is unforgettable, the epitome of Kuchipudi after his father.

A very large part of what I have learnt in Kuchipudi comes from him, either through direct teaching, or through observing him dance or teach others. I have had the great privilege of performing and touring a duet with him in my early years as a Kuchipudi dancer, and more recently of having him choreograph a piece for me. For this I am very deeply grateful.

He will be sorely missed. As the repository of Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam's style, his talent was a great beacon of light in the Kuchipudi of today. His absence leaves a terrible void. All of us disciples of the Vempati lineage now more than ever have the responsibility to keep the style alive and flowing. Though he struggled with serious health issues for several years, Vempati Ravi relentlessly continued his dedicated Kuchipudi work even through times when he was ill. His life was an offering of dance. His great talent and dedication to the art will continue to be an inspiration to us. There is comfort in knowing that he is now free from a failing and struggling body, and no doubt, his soul is blessed and continues to dance in the grace of our great lord Shiva Nataraja.

Prayers and warm thoughts to all those he was dear to. Om Namah Shivaya....

Born in Madras, based in Paris, France, Kuchipudi dancer Shantala Shivalingappa is also an actor and contemporary dancer, having worked with great artists such as Peter Brook and Pina Bausch. She is the recipient of the prestigious Bessie Award for dance (outstanding performer) in New York, for her Kuchipudi solo 'Shiva Ganga' and was the first to receive the award for a South Asian dance form.

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