Gender empowerment modernised kuchipudi, says maestro (With Image)

August 9th, 2011 - 2:57 pm ICT by IANS  

Govinda New Delhi, Aug 9 (IANS) Gender empowerment brought Andhra Pradesh’s traditional kuchipudi dance out of its rural confines to the national stage, says noted guru Jayarama Rao, who is transforming the language of the ancient dance with pan-Indian themes and elements of fusion.

“For the last 40 years, women have been driving the genre to explore new strands of creativity since the all-male genre opened itself to women in the 1960s. Bulk of the kuchipudi dancers now are women,” Rao, who partners with his wife Vanashree on the stage, told IANS.

The maestro said the recognition of kuchipudi as a classical dance by the government in 1960 paved the way for “women like Yamini Krishamurthy and Indrani Rehman to storm the male bastion”.

“The women gave greater push to the genre outside Andhra Pradesh,” he contended.

Around the same time, the kuchipudi dance ballets of the 19th century introduced “solo acts” to carve a niche in the classical mainstream.

“It has been a late dance form to become popular because the genre was confined to the Kuchipudi village in Andhra Pradesh where it was born. Those days, male dancers staged dance dramas and dance ballets in groups. It was more of a rural folk performing art; the only classical aspect being its mythological themes,” Rao said.

As a student, Rao enacted the historical characters of Satyabhama, Usha and Leelavathy in dance dramas at the Sidhendra Kalashetram in Kuchipudi village (Kuchelakulam), 65 km from Vijaywada.

The enactment of female characters helped Rao master both the “tandava” - manly vigour - and “lasya”- the feminine grace - in his style.

Rao, who was conferred the Padma Shri in 2004, is one of the early pioneers to promote the southern dance in northern India. He set up the Kuchipudi Dance Academy in the capital in 1973 and has taught several generations of illustrious students, including Bollywood actress Meenakshi Sheshadri and Swapna Sundari.

“When I came to Delhi in 1970 from Andhra Pradesh where I trained under masters Chinta Krishnamurti and Vempati Chinna Satyam at the Kuchipudi village, I realised that kuchipudi did not have a platform in the capital. Bharatnatyam was very popular. I decided to stay back in Delhi and popularise the dance form among different communities,” he contended.

Rao said changed “the style of the dance to make it identifiable to northern India”.

“I did not introduce the traditional south Indian ‘natyashashtra’ that I learnt from my guru Vempaty Chinna Satyam; instead I choreographed ‘Krishnaleela’ and Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Chitrangada’ in kuchipudi for my north Indian students. I brought changes in the content of kuchipudi,” he said.

The maestro staged episodes from Jayadev’s “Geeta Govinda”, the lore of love between Radha and Krishna and Lord Krishna’s slaying of the demon Kaalia at the Azad Bhavan in the capital last week. He was accompanied by his wife and other women dancers.

“Both are unusual themes for traditional kuchipudi ballets,” Rao noted.

The content of Rao’s dance is still evolving. “I perform all over the world. I want to choreograph in different languages within the style for foreign audiences,” he said.

Rao’s new creative project is a fusion choreography between kuchipudi and Russian ballet inspired by Russian composer Tchaikovsky’s “The Swan Lake”. “I will begin work on it in a few months,” he said.

One of the most popular Indian classical genres abroad, kuchipudi strikes an instant chord with the audience for its “fast rhythm, simplicity and attractive costumes, which is more fashionable than bharatnatyam”, the guru said.

The dance, which was supported by the rulers of Deccan has a Vedic origin. It was conceived and made popular in the villages of Andhra Pradesh by Vedic Brahmin scholar Sidhendra Yogi, who instructed boys in the devotional dance dramas.

The early Brahmin dancers spoke of social issues like oppression of common people and endemic poverty in the region to make their art meaningful to their royal patrons in the 15th and 16th century.

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