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Telugu Natyotsavam
- Sudha Sridhar
Photos: Murali

February 7, 2019

The quaint Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao Kala Vedika, Potti Sreeramulu Telugu University, Hyderabad, an auditorium that has witnessed numerous dance programs was a befitting venue for the vibrant extravaganza showcasing the rich cultural heritage of the Telugu speaking populace from 16th January to 18th January 2019.

M. Nagabhushana Sarma
Telugu University and Central University, Hyderabad, and Yakshagana Kendra of National Centre for Research & Training, Hyderabad, with the support of Department of Culture, Government of Andhra Pradesh, Department of Culture, Government of Telangana, Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) put together a memorable program which was both a visual treat as well as food for thought, direction, dissemination of knowledge and update for the Telugu dance connoisseurs.

The proceedings started with paying rich tribute to M. Nagabhushana Sarma, who departed on 15th January to the brighter world, the night before the first day of the Utsav. M.N. Sarma was a Tagore Fellow of Sangeet Natak Akademi, who earned recognition for his rich contribution to the Indian Performing Arts under different dimension, magnitude and stature especially for Kuchipudi. Almost all the speakers emotionally recalled their experiences with the departed soul giving a glimpse of what a giant of a personality he was in the art world. Once the Vice Chancellor, Potti Sreeramulu Telugu University, declared Telugu Natyotsavam open, the atmosphere palpably changed for the next three days and made indelible impressions on all those involved in the utsav.

The program was craftily designed with the morning sessions dishing out in depth analysis, thoughts and deliberations by way of paper presentations, lecture demonstrations, panel discussion on interesting, intriguing and more relevant current topics enlivened with the whole hearted participation of the almost entire who's who of both the universities. The post lunch sessions saw a unique production every day - thanks to D.S.V. Sastry, bringing out the life story of the path breaking contributors from the Kuchipudi traditional families namely, Vedantam Raghavaiah, Vempati Pedda Satyam and Pasumarthi Krishnamurthy who have the honour of taking the classical art form of Kuchipudi to celluloid and by that enabling even the commoners to appreciate and pursue finer and subtle aspects of life, like performing arts.

The evenings catered to the need for digesting the knowledge gained during the day, saw varied dance performances which included the breathtaking Kuchipudi Yakshaganams and Kalapams at its best in live environs, increasing the appetite for more such enchanting evenings. What was striking about the Utsav was the major coup in getting together the stalwarts of both the universities to discuss at length the various issues that are currently engaging their attention academically. The three panel discussions by star studded panelists and the ably guided discussions, deliberations and moderation made one wonder why the time was so much restricted for such vital issues.

The first panel discussion was on 'Telugu dance forms - Evolution of Performances' under the stewardship of Alekhya Punjala and Aruna Bhikshu. One of the Kuchipudi Yakshaganam experts, Chinta Ravi Balakrishna stressed the need for discerning students to be proactively holistic in their learning process without looking for any shortcuts and how important it was to understand the lyrics and compositions in entirety to perform with deep understanding and appreciation. Dr. Yamini Yasoda spoke in length about the changes over the years in presentation techniques particularly in respect to the Chaturvidhabhinayas.

Panel discussion

The next panel discussion was on an interesting and contemporary topic, namely 'Telugu dance forms - Learning process and teaching methods'. Moderated by Anuradha Jonnalagadda and Bhagavathula Sethuram, the crisp yet power packed presentations kept everyone on the edge of their seats. Bhagavathula Sethuram spoke about the Gurukula system where there was literally no time limit, no class room, no hierarchy and no systematic time based syllabus yet they learnt all the aspects and dimensions of not only the dance form but also all things connected to dance, though in an unstructured fashion. Importantly the disciples took everything on face value with no qualms and no questions to the guru. The words of the guru were final in all aspects of the art form in Gurukula.

Anuradha Jonnalagadda in her initial remarks brought out the teaching methodologies starting from the Gurukula system to the present day institutionalization of dance teaching. Anuradha traced the genesis of institutionalization very subtly and also how the trend to move from total acceptance of what the gurus had to say shifted to evidence based learning. She also further dissected institutionalization into two types, one wherein a teacher or guru teaches to the students in their own institute almost akin to the earlier Gurukula system with face to face personalized teaching but the students don't stay with the guru like yesteryears and it was more or less a modified Gurukula type of training. Later with the introduction of syllabus and courses in universities, the institutionalization moved to teaching larger numbers with a codified time bound syllabus with all the students put on a same pedestal and uniformly taught and tested with a common exam at the end of the course, year wise initially paving way to semester based and later to 'choice based credit system' of evaluation. The panel also introduced to the participants the present initiative of UGC - MOOCS - Massive Open Online Courses - with the view to take leverage of leading edge technology and offer online courses to the benefit of the students to pursue the learning process of art at their own place and pace.

This was easily the most talked about panel discussion and the audience was led to the impending changes in teaching process with a view to reach out to a much larger section of the populace with absolutely no borders or restrictions. How much it will enable the students to imbibe what they learn is to be seen.

The final panel discussion was on 'Telugu dance forms - Research and Methodology' chaired by Acharya M.S. Sivaraj and Guru Kalakrishna. The deliberations covered the process of research and the issues and difficulties faced by the scholars in their research journey. The three panel discussions traced and dissected the learning, teaching and the perpetuity of interest in the art forms.

Lec-dem by D.S.V. Sastry

The Utsav saw paper presentation on wide range of topics on all the days. One of the most informative was that of D.S.V. Sastry, a specialist in Kuchipudi dance music apart from being a Carnatic musician, who brought out in lucid terms the intricacies involved in composing music for Kuchipudi Yakshaganam and dance. He shared that just like how Kuchipudi dance had changed over the past few centuries from Samskrutha Rupakam to the present day solo presentation, music for Kuchipudi dance also has changed over a period of time. The songs based on Carnatic music matches the raga's basic structure to that of the structure of the literature while keeping the mood of each raga intact to suit not only the literature but also the character that was portraying that. Rendering style was different in Yakshaganam, daruvus for Kalapams, choornikas, padyams, Kandhaaratham from the original ragas with unique specifications. Further he added that singing for dance drama tradition, his forte, required a lot of voice culture too since one has to sing according to the character, mood, situation, as well as the literature content to have a lasting impact on the audience.

One was awe struck listening to his presentation as well as demonstration and looking at the intricacies and challenges involved in singing for dance, it is really very sad to note that the Carnatic vocalists who sing for dance are literally looked down upon by the traditional Carnatic musicians and they are not given their due share of recognition.

Perini Shiva Tandavam

Lakshmana Rekha

The evenings were packed with captivating performances right from the Perini Natyam, Andhra Natyam to Kuchipudi dance dramas, group performances, Yakshaganam and Kalapams. Perini Natyam by Perini Kumar and team which was vibrant and Andhra Natyam by Perini Srinivas and team brought to fore the other art forms of Telugu speaking populace.

The dance productions from the universities, 'Lakshmana Rekha' by Bhagavatula Sethuram and 'Namosthu Naari' by Anuradha Jonnalagadda with the senior students performing were refreshingly different. 'Lakshmana Rekha' was a dance drama on a social theme about a woman who has to live with social restrictions around her right through her existence starting with parents, then with spouse and later with children, yet how she has evolved, grown and excelled in spite of the restrictions. It was captivating and it is no wonder this has been performed in over 250 shows in India and abroad.

The utsav also saw the choreography prowess of Vempati Ravi Shankar to the fore, through the energetic male performers from the team of Vijaya Sekhar and Pasumarthy Mrthumjaya Sarma who were simply outstanding and were a treat to watch for their symmetrical, aesthetic excellence and nonchalant perfection.

Chinta Ravi Balakrishna in Bhaktha Prahalad

Bhama Kalapam

The three traditional Yakshagana and Kalapam by the stalwarts of Kuchipudi was definitely the pick of the lot. Starting with Kuchipudi Yakshaganam 'Bhaktha Prahalad' by Chinta Ravi Balakrishna and team, Kuchipudi nritya rupakam 'Virata Parvam' by Pasumarthi Venkateswara Sarma and team, the most popular 'Bhama Kalapam' by Alekhya Punjala were rich in content, exquisite flair and showcased art at its best for the fortunate audience of the utsav who attended all the evening performances in large numbers.

The utsav was a welcome initiative and the perfection with which it was organized leaves one with a desire to have a follow up of such utsavs at more frequent basis for the mutual benefit of art, artists and connoisseurs of the art form.

Sudha Sridhar, a double graduate in Law & Dance is a cultural activist working on advocacy efforts to preserve, promote and propagate art forms and for the cultural rights and welfare measures for artists. Her main focus is on Kuchipudi heritage village and promotion of all the three streams of South Indian Yakshagana - Karnataka Yakshaganam, Kuchipudi Yakshaganam and Melattur Bhagavathamela