Mrinalini Sadananda, a seasoned Kuchipudi dancer from the U.S. and one of the senior disciples of Dr. Vempati Chinna Satyam, lives in Washington and runs a dance school there. Her school, Kalamadapam, follows the gurukula style of imparting artistic knowledge to people through kuchipudi, carnatic music, violin and yoga. Mrinalini Sadananda hails from a family of artistes. Her father, Vinjamuri Parthasarathy Iyengar, and mother, Kamala Devi, nurtured each of their seven children into one art form or another. Her uncle is the famous and distinguished composer Vinjamuri Varadaraja Iyengar.
Mrinalini was introduced to dance at a very young age. Her gurus include, among others, her own sister Hemalatha, Burra Subramanya Sastry, Chinta Raddha Krishnamurty, Adinarayana Sarma, Mahankali Surya Narayana, Sathyapriya Ramana and Dr. Vempati Chinna Sathyam. In addition, her drama teacher, Mandapati Ramalingeswara Rao, helped her understand the importance of facial expressions for which she is very well known. Mallika Jayanti engages Mrinalini Sadananda in a brief conversation.
What is your opinion on so many ever-emerging styles in kuchipudi?
Answer: The more the merrier.
How do the Americans react to Kuchipudi?
Answer: They are fascinated by our discipline. They consider our art as one of the finest forms of dance.
Of late, there have been discussions on the commercialization of classical dance by the NRIs in the U.S. What have you witnessed in this regard?
Answer: People are people, NRIs or not. I follow gurukaula style. I do not do these big arangetrams. We do nrithya sambhavana. Here the teacher will not receive any money. The student’s dance is the gift to the teacher. In January 2007, I performed nrithya sambhavanain at Music Academy, Chennai. Money given was donated to Dr. Ambika Kameswari’s organization for mentally challenged children.
How important is a formal degree or an arangetram for a Bhartanatyam dancer?
Answer: Arangetram has become a big fashion. I am not for spending so much. If this money is spent to help poor students, that will be fabulous.
The audiences are demanding short, crisp and fast items, if at all they want to watch a classical dance. Due to this, performing even a shabdam has become a rarity. What is your comment on this? How relevant is it to continue learning padams and bhamakalapam (especially) for the present day performer?
Answer: One must learn all the intricate items. However, one need not perform these if the audience is not for it; after all we have an obligation to please them within certain guidelines.
Have you done any experiments with music, costume, colours or margam of kuchipudi? What changes do you want to see in the future of Kuchipudi?
Answer: Certain imagination is welcome. Costumes have to be modest. Yet, they can be modern. If we are doing a ballet, imagination is necessary. I am an advocate of creativity. I do mix both south Indian and north Indian carnatic and Hindustani ragas in my ballets.
Many Bharatanatyam dancers are trained in other dance forms. Is it necessary to learn odissi or kathak or kathakali or kuchipudi simultaneously to gain competitive edge?
Answer: I have learnt kuchipudi and also bharathanatyam. It is nice to know other styles. This will enhance our appreciation of other art forms. We will be more open while choreographing.
Tell us about your productions and the inception of the idea. How difficult or easy is to find suitable artists?
Answer: My first production was Sarvam Vishumayam. Our local S.S V.T asked me to do a ballet. I was knave about the difficulties and said yes. Most of my students at that time were in their teens and not ready for any big challenges. So, I had to get creative to cast all these kids in the ballet. I did not have costumes and required props for this show. The lyrics and the music needed to be set. Humongous tasks were left in front of me. My sister Nalini Ram took the responsibility of writing the play. My brother Subhash Vinjamuri, a violinist and a disciple of Brahmanand Naidu, took up this challenge. The kids’ parents began to paint on canvasses. I had to sit and create the dance part. The impossible gained a shape. The ballet was ready. The standing applause gave me the courage to take this show to S.V.T. temple in Pittsburg. We received the same kind of response. Before I know, I started working on the next show, Andal Kalyanam. We staged this in Bridgewater N.J and in Maryland. The show was very well received. Thereafter, we started producing show after show – Ramayanam, Venkateswara Vaibhavam, Sambhavami yuge Yuge, Sharanam Ayappa. Then, we were given an opportunity to perform at the most prestigious Kennedy Centre. People loved our productions. We staged Bharatha Sambhavam, the birth and the glory of India. Things began to fall in place. We will be performing Andal kalynam this January in Virginia and Maryland during the Pongal time.
Mrinalini Sadananda can be contacted at Cell. 703 – 332 – 9360 or 703 – 879 – 6090 and her website address is: www.kalamadapam.org
I think it is Dr. Ambika Kameswar’s “RASA” that is being spoken about here. I would like to share a thought here. While a `grand’ arangetram itself may not be a requirement, a proper exposure to the stage craft is necessary for a dancer, who aims to be a performer. Arangetram today is viewed more in terms of the money spent. It should rather be looked at as a graduation process of a student, wherein she learns not only to train herself to present a 2-21/2 hour recital but also to help her polish all aspects of the art that have been learned under the eyes of a trained guru. The arangetram training with good gurus is like 3-4 hours of rigorous training for 5-6 months, around 5 days a week. This definitely cannot be slighted. The process, if rightly done, does mature the student in terms of her performance skills. This experience in itself is of great value to a dancer.
Lalita Srinivas – firstname.lastname@example.org
Learning dance – be it through gurukula style or otherwise – has never been inexpensive as Ms. Sadananda states, especially in the U.S. Many teachers say gurukula. What does gurukula mean? From what I see, talent and promotion of the student go hand in hand with what one can bring to the table. Parents needs to join together and set up a forum to see classical art is not misused by teachers, and the sacredness to learning our art is maintained.
Please note that this interview has already been published in http://www.carnaticdarbar.com.
Please take a good look at the picture beside you. This is the kind of face one would want to see often given the present cultural scenario in India. Here I am being very specific to the plight of classical dances, in general, and upcoming classical dancers in India/abroad, in particular. Why is the face in the picture so special? This is the picture of man on a mission to uplift the sad face of the classical dancers.
Let me start the story by first giving a name to the man in the picture. Meet Mr. B. Vikram Gaud. In the quiet streets of Seetammadhara in Vishakhapatnam there is one Shirdi Marg that boasts of quite a few land marks – a huge and popular Sai Baba temple to start with, and then the house of a mayor. What actually adds beauty to that street is the Natraj Music and Dance Academy. This music and dance school is the brain child of Vikram.
Basically having a theatrical background, one cannot help gaping at the huge collage on the side wall of his office that is crowded with photographs of his achievements. One also cannot help wondering about his unwavering commitment to other arts too.
When I put that question to him, he just smiles and reasons it with destiny. “God has just ordered me, so I walk this path. I love art, both as a connoisseur/rasika and as an artiste. Yes, I am from theatre. In theatre, one learns to appreciate all forms of art,” says he.
At this point, one remembers the much-talked about cultural even of Vishakhapatnam in the past year, 2008. Vikram was the brain and body behind the Vysaki Nrutyotsav. This enormous all-India classical dance festival was single handedly organized by Vikram. “I have to thank God, the participants, my friends and all those who were involved,” says he. This is very humble of him. That is another quality of a complete gentleman and a true artiste. Personally, I have seen him run from pillar to post to get sponsors. I have also seen him get nervous when the chief guest did not arrive on time. I have also seen him put hefty sum of money out of his own pocket while the sponsors backed off the last minute. Well, I have also seen him handle deftly handle the problems that go with organizing such a mega event. He pulled it off wonderfully, keeping his cool all the time. It is indeed a greater challenge to present such a festival to a highly unmotivated audience. Most of the audience did not understand Kathak but enjoyed it nevertheless. The media gave rave reviews for the festival and each artiste was happy. Ask him how and Vikram smiles again! “I am just honest to art and to people.’’ He explains.
Vikram also organized a dance festival again with the disabled artistes on the World Disability Day. Vikram Goud is convinced that there should be someone to preserve the classical arts. He feels responsible for this task. He feels for the great gurus who are finding it difficult to get a square meal in a day. Once, he sent me to one such great Guru to learn Kuchipudi. That is all it took him to make me his team member.
“I am not against Bollywood dances or any type of dancing. All such dancers and teachers are doing well. I feel all forms of art are difficult. But most of the gurus of classical art are suffering. Most of the ones who are doing well are because of their greediness and not due to their generosity in teaching.” Do I disagree? NO.
What makes Vikram Goud and the like stand out is the fact that they are not only performing artistes but also great rasikas. They do not just sit and complain about lack of opportunities but create them for many.
Vikram loves to give opportunity to the talented than the reputed. He is one of those few people who practice what they preach when they say that ‘it’s not all about money’. Bring in a child who is interested, let alone talented, in dance or music and Vikram and his Natraj Music and Dance Academy will not even talk of fees. The author is a living witness to this commitment. This is one more reason why Natraj Music and Dance Academy is the right place for learning. It has not only some of the finest teachers and books on art to learn from, but one ends up being a very good and complete human being and an artist amongst such committed and passionate people.
This country needs youth like Vikram Goud, especially when there are so many not so motivated audience, unwilling sponsors, greedy artistes and uninterested organizers.
I am happy as a rasika and as an artiste. As long as there are Vikram Gouds, there is hope. One is assured that ‘it is not all about money’.
Vikram can be contacted at email@example.com
Mobile : 0-9848137445
Please note that this article is already published in http://www.carnaticdarbar.com
Still thinking of what would be the appropriate title for these personal musings.
Why doest it take Vatican to recognise our belief in a Nun?
Why a nun, hardly known outside a fixed radius is cheered for her sainthood, while our own Sai babas are eyed with a lot of suspicion?
Why the dead hold more importance and sanctity than the alive?
Why do we have more trust on the doings of the one who is dead and gone and no faith in the ability and words of the one in flesh and blood?
The Upanishads say, “Devo Bhutva Devam Yajet” meaning – “Become a God in order to worship God.” India has always embodied this eternal principle in its culture and has spread it across the seas. Dancing was considered the religious ceremony most pleasing to the Gods and dedication of all activity to the Divine was the highest form of worship.
According to the Natya Shastra, “There is no wisdom, nor knowledge; no art nor craft; no device, nor action that is not to be found in Natya”.
Brahma, created the fifth Scripture, Natya Veda, the scripture of the Dance, presenting moral and spiritual truths in a form, which is easy to understand, even for the masses. Brahma then said to the people, “This art is not merely for your pleasure, but exhibits Bhava (emotion) for all the three worlds. I made this art to reflect this world, whether in work or play, profit, peace, laughter, battle or slaughter. This art shall teach men that the fruit of righteousness will be given to those who follow Dharma, the Moral Law. The spirituality of this art shall be a restraint for the unruly, a discipline for the followers of rule. It will create wisdom in the ignorant, learning in scholars, afford sport to kings and endurance to the sorrow-stricken. Replete with the diverse moods, informed with varying passions of the soul, linked to the deeds of all mankind, the best, the middling and the low, affording excellent counsel, and all else, this great art shall console and elevate the world”.
A distinctive feature of the Bharatanatyam is the fact that it conceives of movement is space mostly along either straight lines or in triangles or in circles, by which we gain a lot of energy. These movements are in actual act, moving lines, which come together in discernible patterns. These patterns reflect or mirror the Mandalas (mystic shapes or forms), which are associated with the six Chakras of the human psychic energy body (Sukshma Sharira, as it is termed in Yoga).
Bharatanatyam is no less a spiritual search than the Sanyasi’s way of renunciation. Yoga and Bharatanatyam are both a means by which “with body, mind and soul we may pray to the Divine.” These great arts help us to divinize ourselves, to develop spiritual qualities of loyalty, fidelity, a sense of Dharma, discipline, awareness, sensitivity, strength, courage, skill, cooperation, diligence, health, happiness and well being, serenity and peacefulness of mind.
May the artistic community of this great nation of Bharat strive to keep the purity of its great cultural heritage intact, inspiring people in all times to follow the advice of the great Rishi Veda Vyasa, who exclaimed at the end of his great epic, the Mahabharatha:
“Oh man know this! Do your Dharma (Ordained virtuous duty)! Then Artha (wealth) and Kama (fulfillment of desire) shall automatically come to you. Having fulfilled yourself in Artha and Kama, you will then seek and obtain Moksha! Hence I say, “Do your Dharma and all else shall come automatically to you.”
The great art of Bharat Natyam surely shows us how we may fulfill our Dharma in a most refined, pleasing, enjoyable, dignified, beautiful and joyful manner and attain that final union with the Supreme Self.
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Please note that the whole series is just a reproduction of the material at http://www.dhdi.free.fr/recherches/horizonsinterculturels/articles/bharatanatyamyoga.htm