Danseuse-scholar Methil Devika has a multi-pronged approach to dance. Trained in the classical dances of Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, and Mohiniyattam by outstanding gurus, she is one of the busiest performers in the country. Her ambition to be a member of the dance faculty in a university was realised when she joined Kerala Kalamandalam Deemed University in 2009. As a performer, her focus has been on her audience,and, as a result, her repertoire has grown immensely rich, thanks to innumerable opportunities that motivated her to address spectators from different walks of life. She has also successfully experimented with the application of dance in varied spaces, the last being in a film. She has a master's degree in business administration, with specialisation in marketing.
In a recent interview, Devika related her journey as a dancer. Excerpts:
Initiation and grooming
I was born and brought up in Dubai. For 11 years, from the age of four, I had the privilege of being groomed by S. Natarajan, a renowned guru who was also a disciple of Kittappa Pillai and Balu Bhagavathar. He belongs to an illustrious family that upholds the unbroken tradition of Melathur Bhagavatha Mela Natakam in Tanjavur. It was a formative period for me, as he opened up for me not only the Kacheri sampradaya typical of the Tanjavur style of Bharatanatyam, but also different forms such as Kuravanchy, Kurathy, and, of course, the Bhagavatha Mela.
Into the world of Mohiniyattam
Summer vacations brought me to Thiruvananthapuram, where I was exposed to Mohiniyattam at the Regatta Cultural Society. I studied under Kalamandalm Vijayalakshmi. The classes there were fruitful as they were engaged by teachers belonging to different styles. I remember Mani teacher, daughter of Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma, frequenting the institution. I presented a Mohiniyattam performance, perhaps for the first time, in West Asia.
Attracted by Kuchipudi
From class eight onwards, I studied in my hometown, Palakkad. Responding to my mother's request, Kalamandalam sent Kalamandalam Usha for my further training. Until I completed my graduation, she trained me in the three forms of dances. Kuchipudi attracted me, especially because of its strong background in theatre. So when I joined the MBA course in the University of Madras, I joined an intensive course of the dance form under Vempatti Chinna Sathyam. There, Sathyapriya Ramana took great care of me for almost five years.
Into the world of performances
Surya TV recruited me from the campus as a producer for their channel in Thiruvananthapuram. Dance festivals in the capital city provided enough opportunities for performances. I danced in the Nishagandhi and Soorya festivals. For Soorya, I think, I have performed more than 10 times consistently.
At Rabindra Bharathi
The academic inclination to pursue dance happened in the ninth standard when I chanced to listen to an audio cassette on Natyasastra produced by C.P. Unnikrishnan. The academic interest in dance continues. A Ph.D. and a lectureship in a university was the dream. My father took me to Rabindra Bharathi, but a master's degree in dance was a pre-requisite for research. As such, I joined the post-graduate course with specialisation in Kuchipudi. This was the most memorable period of my life as I could interact with great masters. My stay in Kolkata opened many doors for performances as well.
Anita Ratnam of Arangam Trust, Chennai, chose me as she was impressed by my ability to combine managerial skills with arts. Marketing the Contemporary Dance Festival organised by her was wholly and successfully executed by me. Thereafter, when I settled in Bangalore after my marriage, I did the same for Attakkalari.
Addressing different varied audiences
Addressing varied audiences posed a challenge to me as performances soared. Empanelment by Spic-Macay (Society for the Popularisation of Indian Classical Music Amongst Youth) contributed to this in no small measure. The end result was that my repertoire grew as I strove to communicate with a wide spectrum of viewers, raging from young children to elders, some of whom were discerning rasikas. I learnt how to capture an audience with a short performance of seven minutes. I developed modules to enable the mentally-challenged to express non-verbally. Choreographing for the song ‘Malar manchariyil vandineppol' in V.K. Prakash's film ‘Karmayogi' was another new experience.
Festivals and accolades
I have danced in all the major national festivals. I have performed in almost all the European countries and the United States. Among my choreographies ‘Chilapathikaram,' ‘Buyo, Buyo,' excerpted from the Krishna Leela Tharangani, ‘Abhisarika' of poetess Sugathakumari, and the one based on Bhramani pattu have won rave reviews. Sangeet Natak Akademi honoured me with the Bismillakhan Puraskaram. An award for Mohinyattam came from the Kerala Sangeeta Nataka Akademi last year. My work for a doctorate at the Bharathidasan University is nearing completion.
Kalari in Palakkad
‘Sripada' is a kalari that I am constructing in Palakkad to discover myself in an ambience that I create out of my experience. At present, there are four students who undergo systematic training. A lifetime is not needed to learn a dance form; but a lifetime is not enough to make substantial contributions in this area.
Keywords: Indian classical dance