Karishma: dance is in her genes  
- Sunil Kothari 
e-mail: sunilkothari1933@yahoo.com  

October 27, 2006  

Dance critic Dr Sunil Kothari visits The Payal Dance Academy of Dance at Raleigh, North Carolina, USA and waxes eloquent on the achievements of the Banglorean exponent Surpiya Desai. 

Supriya Desai and her husband Surendra Desai migrated to Raleigh, North Carolina, USA, some fifteen years ago. There is the highest concentration of Ph. Ds. In 'the Triangle area of North Carolina.' Like many of their generation, the couple after settling down, started looking for the opportunities to start an academy to teach Bharatanatyam to young children residing in the neighbourhood. 

Supriya had the good fortune of having studied at Bangalore, Bharatanatyam from a very young age, under guru Narmada, who had her training under guru Kittappa Pillai, and Kuchipudi under guru B S Sunanda Devi, who had trained under guru Prahlad Sharma and also Dr Nataraj Ramakrishna, who has tirelessly propagated Andhra Natyam, as the classical dance form of Andhra. 

This has equipped Surpiya with a sound foundation in the classical traditions of Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi. She judiciously employs these forms in her choreography, for which she has received acclaim both in India and abroad. A Bangalorean, she has carried the art of classical dance, with an incredible zeal to this part of USA, winning complete support from Indian community and also Americans interested in Indian classical dance forms. 

To date she has successfully conducted twelve arangetrams, training young dancers, keeping in view their upbringing in the American surroundings and with an uncanny ability to identify the strengths and weaknesses of her students. This has won the confidence of her students, who have never failed her in either a solo or a group presentation. She admits with humility that since her students have worked hard to master the basics, she has won critical appreciation from the lay and cognoscenti. 

She began tentatively teaching the daughters of their neighbors in a specially designed and constructed studio above the garage of her residence with a solid wooden floor. Soon the word spread and the Indians, in particular, the Gujaratis sent their daughters to study from 'Supriya auntie.' 

As the years rolled by, her daughter Karishma, started imitating the other children, from the age of three, attending the classes. Soon she got interested into learning the dance seriously. Supriya used to give performances regularly, on various occasions in Raleigh, creating interest amongst the immigrants in classical dance. The Indian community looked up to her for Indian cultural heritage and its presentation in a land where soon Bharatanatyam found sure footing. Her training under the great gurus paid off dividends. Her own choreography of various dance-drams received due recognition in Bangalore and she has never looked back since then, performing, composing and teaching. 

She established The Payal Academy of Dance and within a short span of 12 years she had more than 11 arangetrams of young dancers to her credit. The parents encouraged by the interest amongst the daughters wanting to learn dance, saw the importance of Indian cultural values Supriya was transmitting through dance to the generation, which was being raised in a foreign land. 

Of her two daughters, Karishma, 15, and Ridhima, 9,who is studying Odissi and plays drums, the time was ripe when the elder daughter Kariishma, wished to have her arangetram. This was of course a test for Supriya and Surendra Desai. However, they need not have worried at all. Karishma is 'a chip off the old block,' as the saying goes. When I attended her Bharatanatyam recital (October 7, 2006), I at once realized that she has no stage fright, nor any inhibitions. She danced with natural abundance and confidence, without slightest flaw and did her parents proud. 

Right from the Pushpanjali set to Ragamalika and Adi tala, by none else than the musical genius of our times, Dr M Balamurali Krishna to the final Tillana in Brindabani raga, also by him, Karishma walked through her paces like one born to the manner. Dance is in her genes. If any proof was needed to applaud her for her talent, one had only to watch her performing Swati Tirunal's "Raama neeve na Rakshakudu" composition in Varnam, set to Kharaharapriya raga and Adi tala.  

Impersonating various characters from the Ramayana story, she at one point somersaulted with amazing ease in the battle scene that literally brought down the house. Alternating between pure dance sequences and abhinaya passages, Karishma was in her element and it looked to me that she was determined 'to show off' her command over both the nritta , the pure and the nritya, the expressional dance. Her sound training under the affectionate but watchful and strict gaze of her mother was quite evident. 

The imaginative and arresting choreography by Supriya gained an extra dimension, as a team of musicians from Bangalore further embellished it. The mridangist vidwan N G Ravi, a disciple of Umayalpuram K Sivaraman, the young flautist B Rajkamal, a disciple of S A Sridhar and Neela Ramanuja, veena player Chitra Lingam, who has won a prize at the Music Academy in Chennai, and the well known jazz drummer Arun Kumar, trained under S V Girdhar and currently studying further under Anoor Ananathakrishna Sharma and the living legend of Kathak dancer Sitara Devi's son Ranjit Barot, also accompanied in playing electronic and hand percussions supporting nattuvangam by Supriya. 

In a Kriti "Adi Kondar" composed by Muthuthandavar in Mayamalava Gowla raga and Adi tala, Karishma displayed commendable control, taking difficult poses seen in the karana sculptures, depicting Lord Shiva's dance. Whereas in Purandara Dasa's Devarnama in Bhairavi raga and Adi tala, "Odi Baarayya" in praise of Lord Vishnu, she transported the audience into a mood of devotion with her complete involvement of what she was depicting. 

The Mangalam using verses from Shyamala Dandakam ascribed to Kalidasa, evoked the memories of similar renderings I had seen in the late fifties by none else than the inimitable Yamini Krishnamurti. 

Karishma has, what her name means, 'charm.' She is bound to go places and with the legacy she has inherited from her mother Supriya. I have no doubt that Karishma, like Krithika Rajagopalan, the daughter of the senior Bharatanatyam exponent Hema Rajagopalan, who runs her academy Natya Dance Theatre in Chicago for the past 30 years, would look after the Payal Academy of Dance, training a new and young generation of dancers in this land of opportunity where Bharatanatyam is now no more 'an ethnic dance' form, but a dance form on par with the American dance heritage. In that direction the contribution of Supriya Desai and her contemporaries, including another Bangalorean Asha Gopal, based in Arizona, Phoenix, who has to her credit over the past 25 years, 100 arangetrams, is noteworthy.