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 – email@example.com
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.