Deepika Reddy talks about the importance of being a ‘thinking dancer’, Vishnupriya Bhandaram listens in

It’s hard to walk into danseuse Deepika Reddy’s residence in Film Nagar and not notice the mix of mid-modern and Victorian furniture in her house. It is perhaps reflective of the dancer’s dexterity in contemporising dance without delineating from grammar and tradition. Everything about Deepika Reddy evokes a sense of grace and this is exemplified as she walks into the room with an effervescent smile and a posture that speaks volumes about her years of training in Kuchipudi.

A claim that she is an accomplished dancer and choreographer is well supported when you look around and spot numerous awards adorning every available corner-table in the house. Deepika was conferred with the ‘Kala Ratna’, by the state of Andhra Pradesh in 2007. The ‘Akkineni Nageswara Rao Swarna Kankanam’ 2011, ‘Yagna Raman Award for Excellence 2009’ by Krishna Gana Sabha, ‘Natya Ilavarasi’, ‘Natya Visharada’, ‘Pancharatna Mahila Puraskar’, ‘Kalatarang’, ‘Rashtriya Vikas Shiromani’ and ‘Natya Mani’ are just few of the many feathers in her cap. Deepika Reddy has remained as a former member of the Regional Film Censor Board and a jury member of the Nandi State Film Awards.

Surely, the awards and the accolades didn’t come overnight; Deepika Reddy was initiated into learning Kuchipudi at the age of six by her mother, who was also a dancer. “My mother tells me that when I was born, the gynaecologist had predicted that I was going to become a dancer,” she laughs. Deepika took on to the stage unabashedly and without fear and gave her first performance at the age of 11. Growing up, did Deepika ever develop a lackadaisical attitude towards dancing? Au Contraire, says Deepika. “I never wanted to bunk dance classes and never missed a class. It was something I did from the bottom of my heart,” she says. Support from her family, especially her father led her to understand the dance in its purest form. “My father used to make sure that I watch and meet senior artistes from the field,” she adds.

On one such occasion, Deepika watched Vempati Chinna Sathyam and got inspired and decided to become his student. “I tried convincing my parents to let me to go Chennai to learn under him but I could do it only after I got married. It was easier for me to convince my husband to let me pursue my passion,” she smiles. Deepika believes that it is under her Guru Vempati’s guidance that she shone. “Hostel life taught me a lot more than I had imagined — the value of money, the importance of discipline. I have to rough it out, it was truly engaging experience and I had to immerse in and commit myself to dance completely,” says Deepika.

Ill health caused Deepika to refrain from dancing for over seven years. “It was a depressing time in my life. I stopped going to recitals because that made me feel worse. I was written off in the circles and nobody thought I’ll make a comeback,” recalls Deepika. It was only when her Guru Vempati wrote to her and asked her to come back and perform again under his aegis that Deepika decided to get back to dancing. “I still have the letter he wrote. I was rusted and he asked me to practice and get back into the groove,” she says. Deepika performed again in the year 2000 and there has been no looking back. Agreeing to teach two students was perhaps the beginning to her institute, within a year; she started Deepanjali School for Kuchipudi. “It is my ode to dance. Deepa is my nickname and so it’s like me paying anjali (homage) to dance,” beams Deepika. She shares that no student unable to pay fees has ever been turned away from the school. “It’s nice to give a little back to the community,” feels Deepika. Today over 160 students learn under Deepika. She confesses with a grin that she has become a better performer after having begun to teach. “Teaching has enriched the whole art for me. I have developed such a bond with my students,” she says. A strict teacher, she maintains discipline in class, but outside she reaches out.

While Deepika indulges in the repertoire and the margam for Sabhas, she is is unafraid of using technology to aid her dance as she uses audio visual presentations for her performances abroad and outside of Sabha recitals. “How can you expect foreign audiences to understand the elephant God, you explain it to them,” she says. Deepika engages a plethora of themes in her dance to enable better understanding of her dance from the audience. Recently Deepika produced a dance ballet with an environmental theme. “My husband and I watched Al Gore’s ‘An inconvenient truth’ and were deeply affected and decided to do something on those lines,” she mentions.

The creative process is such that, she sits with her husband and pens a story and then gets a scriptwriter to lay it out followed by inputs from the music director. The choreography is then planned carefully. Aesthetics, Deepika feels are extremely important for the success of any dance recital. “It’s not like films, but it is similar. A good dance comes from a collaboration of many,” she says. She uses naturally produced fabric. Deepika has performed in numerous countries and her attempt to globalise her dance has perhaps struck a chord with audiences from across the world. Deepika remembers an incident when it was cold she was standing barefoot and a man took off a coat and asked her to stand on it. “Moments like those are humbling and you realise that your work is valued,” she says.

Where there is art, there is criticism and that is what perhaps is so beautiful about it. On critics, Deepika quickly grabs the ‘my husband is my biggest critic card’. “My husband, Shyam Gopal is the one always going ‘chop chop’ on my productions. He really knows the pulse of the audience and helps me carry on a production that sticks to the audience,” she says. Criticism, she feels is extremely important and says, “I agree that it can be upsetting but it makes you stronger and better at what you do. Of course you have to take it in stride and not let it bog you down,” she signs off.

Guru and Shishya

Parents always want children to have a good back up with education. Deepika agrees and says that dance requires hard work, commitment, sacrifice and time management. If you want to dance, you ought to be able to make small sacrifices says Deepika. “But I believe children should be initiated into learning the classical art forms from a young age. It helps in developing their acumen,” she says. It’s important to keep our heritage alive feels Deepika and help in taking it to a global level.

Deepika’s twins are well versed in the classical art forms as well. Her daughter Shloka recently got a national scholarship in dance from Centre for Cultural resources and training (CCRT) and her son, Abhinav Reddy gives small concerts in Carnatic music.