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Vijay Palaparty's A Letter to My Teacher
- Aporup Acharya
Photo credit: Shalini Jain

January 25, 2019

In the presentation of Indian art and craft, the tradition of the relationship between teacher and pupil is by turns mentioned in hushed tones, spoken of reverentially, or merely nodded at. It is never passed over. Nor, as it happens, is it delved into with any depth or meaning, leaving the spectator informed, but never richer by insight into the true nature of this uniquely osmotic spiritual-artistic bond.

Vijay Palaparty's A Letter to My Teacher, a Kuchipudi performance at Atta Galatta in Bangalore on December 20, 2018 was different in that regard. Conceived with the express purpose of shining a light on his connection with his guru, Dr. Uma Rama Rao, Vijay's four part performance comprised of him reading out his letters with feeling and truth and then dancing them to ethereally beautiful music. In so doing, Vijay established himself a complete performer of sorts; one who could narrate text and interpret that text by marrying it to its mythical archetypes in the vast lexicon of Kuchipudi grammar and libretto. For the first time, we, as urban audiences, were seeing a traditional dancer make current and relevant an almost fossilised concept, giving us more than a mere glimpse of what it means to live, love and learn from a teacher. His performance, replete with formal purity and near physical perfection, not only paid obeisance, but lamented losses, and wondered about the future. Making a traditional Kuchipudi recital come as close to modern theatrical communication as has been attempted anywhere in recent times.

While he had his share of lament, we had ours, for a performance of such rigor and richness, by a performer of such consummation and craft, should have been showcased in a venue both larger and more attuned to professional performance than the one tucked away in an IT suburb of Bangalore. That is to say, Vijay's celebration of the wonderfully graceful Kuchipudi art form needs a larger audience. That said, maybe the situating of the performance in an amateur experimental performance venue possibly indicates another of his efforts; to de-mystify traditional Indian dance.

The Rigveda says that the world as we see it is akin to the impression left after the telling of a tale. The reality of an event is the feeling residual after the experience, and Vijay surely left us experiencing his deep devotion to his teacher, next only to god in Indian tradition, an ineffable joy that comes from being kinaesthetically empathic to a dancer, and an overall sense of poetry - something that is born from a coming together of text, movement, music and dance.

Vijay's A Letter to My Teacher will be on tour over ensuing weeks, and will not cease to both inform and delight audiences, making them privy to a relationship that is as secret as it is spiritual - the guru shishya parampara.

Aporup Acharya is a writer, performing artist and independent media professional based in Bangalore. He has published and performed nationally and internationally. Most notably, he has played Nick Bottom in Tim Supple's multilingual production of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.