Veterans sparkle on World Dance Day
- Swetha Sundar

May 10, 2016

“Great dancers are great not because of their technique, they are great because of their passion.”

The seven wonders, each unique in her own way, descended on the stage and set it on fire. Fourteen pairs of eyes, emoting beautifully, ensnaring the audience with their movements, fourteen pairs of hands gesticulating gracefully and fourteen feet moving lithely and with gay abandon, covering the stage and moving to the beat relentlessly! Am I talking of a rare dream or something impossible? No…I am talking of the unique celebration of World Dance Day on April 29, 2016 at Chitrakala Parishath, Bengaluru. The event was conceptualized and organized by Guru Vyjayanthi Kashi, founder director of Shambhavi School of Dance.

The program promised a rare opportunity to witness seven star gurus in action. And it lived up to the promise and more. The setting was the outdoor stage in Chitrakala Parishath, amidst the trees and rocks. The venue was jam-packed and seats started filling up much before the appointed time of 6:30pm. The event was free and what was heartening and amazing was the percentage of youngsters and college students in the audience. The program began promptly with a beautiful Kannada song about dance and music. The lamp was lit by Guru C. Radhakrishna, (a shishya of Guru Kolar Kittana), who has been serving the cause of dance for more than six decades now. He is a ripe 87 years old now and expressed, “extreme happiness and honour to be invited to preside over this event and also for this chance to see all these stellar gurus perform on a single platform.” A radiant Kashi came onto the stage and said it was a “gift which she wanted to give herself and the rasikas - a unique opportunity to give the gurus, who are well into their 60’s and have been out of active action for some time, an opportunity to reclaim the stage and prove that their talent and performance is still unblemished and fresh even though they are past their “shelf life.” The event aimed to create a treasured experience for the audience to see the magic that age and experience can add to a performance and bring back memories of youthful dancing days to these gurus who have been part of the Bengaluru dance history since the 19th century.

Kashi got this idea while interviewing a 77-year-old guru. “When I asked her to perform a dance piece to understand its details, there was a sparkle in her eyes. I could see an urge in her to perform. Tucking her saree pallu into her midriff, she started performing. I saw so much grace and passion in her performance. I felt that she would love to perform again,” she said.

Recalling Guru Kalanidhi Narayanan, who passed away in February, Kashi said, “When she performed at a program to mark her 80th birthday, it was a real spectacle. She slipped into the character of a 16-year-old girl in that performance. It left an indelible impression on my mind.”
Kashi’s aim in organising the event was to create a model for others to replicate, one that will offer the gurus an opportunity to exhibit their talent again.

The first performance was by Choodamani Nandagopal who mesmerized the audience with her performance. The slower paced and reverential piece suitably commenced the recital, setting the invocative mood for an auspicious beginning. She took on the role of a nayika pining for her lover and beautifying herself for the encounter. The change in her demeanor was startling and so was her youthfulness and energy in the performance. Next on stage was a beautiful performance by Sreedevi Unni. She portrayed a nayika, who is busy with her household but also nurses extreme love and longing for Lord Padmanabha. It was a treat to watch her body sway ever so gently to the music and her abhinaya perfectly conveying the mood of the piece. Her depiction of sringara with suggestive abhinaya, subtle gestures, rhythmic gestures and lilting music won the audience’s hearts.

Choodamani Nandagopal

Sreedevi Unni

Radha Sridhar

Kshama Rao

The third item was one to remember and cherish. It brought back memories of the legendary dancer Balasaraswati. Guru Radha Sridhar, though wizened with age, made up with her infectious passion and pure abhinaya. She was performing after a hiatus of 45 years now but her confidence and talent hasn’t waned and her performance was imbued with tradition and classic purity. She has studied the craft of Bharatanatyam intensively, has composed many Kannada dance dramas, combining classicism of dance and drama or theatrics. Her portrayal of Jayadeva’s Geeta Govinda was a treat to watch.  Gentle hand movements and magnificent expressions made the audience thirsty for more. The grand feast had just begun and the rasikas’ appetite barely whetted, when Kshama Rao, Odissi exponent and disciple of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra occupied the stage. A bewitching, mischievous smile, beautiful bhavas and excellent rendition of an ashtapadi, where the nayika goes in search of her lord in the dark of the night, were only some of the things which the performance boasted of. Her beautiful footwork and precise rhythm spoke of years of continuous practice and well-learnt art from her guru.

If Kshama Rao’s performance was a tantalizing appetizer, then the performances which followed, first by Padma Murali and then by Gayathri Kesavan of the Pandanallur school, were the lip-smacking main courses of the grand feast. The former portrayed stories from Lord Shiva’s Thiruvilayadal, wondering how the Lord’s life would have been different had he had parents to guide and watch over him! The abhinaya, rhythm, footwork and grace were wonderful and kept the audience glued to the stage. Gayathri Kesavan belied her age when she took on some amazing postures. Her energy was by far the best and her footwork impeccable. She performed about Lord Badrinath who has his abode in the Himalayas. She got numerous encores and thunderous applause from the young crowd.

Padma Murali

Gayathri Kesavan

Nayana Moray

Last but not the least was Nayana Moray from Mysore. She is a scholar and a renowned Kathak, Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi exponent.  She performed a lovely Kathak piece and the audience was treated to a refreshing dessert in this feast for the eyes. Delicate footwork alternating between fast and slow further enhanced the celebratory mood of the piece and the event. Her gentle undulations and graceful pirouettes would put many a young dancer to shame. The audience was truly treated to a wonderful ensemble of great gurus par excellence in their disciplines, performing with unmatched enthusiasm, talent, passion and energy. Each of these gurus, with the exception of Gayathri Kesavan, was returning to the stage after three long decades! Each performance highlighted and proved that it takes years of passion, dedication and hard work to become a dancer and more to sustain as one.

The icing on the cake was the surprise of the evening! Kashi invited all gurus on the stage to “spot choreograph” a tillana which they were hearing impromptu. Sportive as they are, they agreed and yet again proved why they are the best in the business.  Audience indeed ran out of adjectives to describe this wonderful and passionate amalgamation of experience, talent and passion.

After the tillana, whilst the gurus were still on stage, there was a very enjoyable and interactive question – answer session, where each guru was posed a single question and they had to answer “from their heart.” As Sreedevi Unni said, “Kashi has succeeded in making us dance to her tunes today and what’s more we enjoyed being on stage and under the arc lights again.” Usha Venkateswaran, director of Natyalakshana Academy, Bangalore, stressed on the importance of mothers exposing their kids to all kinds of dances and then for the kids to choose the dance style best suited to their personality. She congratulated Kashi and said this kind of event needs to be replicated and encouraged by other gurus and performers as well. She said that each dance has its own special nuances which can be imbibed and incorporated into other styles by various gurus.

Congratulations are in order for The Shambhavi School of Dance and Vyjayanthi Kashi who dedicated this year’s World Dance Day to bring back the renowned gurus of Bengaluru to the stage and to celebrate the spirit of these gurus, who have gone on to prove that age is no barrier to achieve and to contribute. Their service to the field of dance is unmatched and the experience that they encompass is something that the audience of Bengaluru, should witness and learn from.