Among the dance fraternity of the country, Vyjayanti Kashi stands out as a singular combination of a thespian, dancer, and a bureaucrat. She is a scion of the family of Dr. Gubbi Veeranna, who is considered looked upon as a legend in Karnataka theatre, and is the granddaughter of the first IAS officer of Karnataka, J. B. Mallaradhya, who also became the education minister. Her terpsichorean talents were moulded by revered gurus, and nowadays she has evolved graduated herself into a venerated guru, performer, and choreographer.
‘Dance Jathre,' an exposition on the art of dance that was held in Bangalore last year, speaks for her innovative mind and organisational skills. The fete hogged international publicity, being the only one of its kind to be held in the country so far. Even as the Government of Karnataka showered encomiums on her many times, a few months ago she was appointed as the Chairperson of the Karnataka State Sangeetha Nrithya Akademi.
Vyjayanti was in Thrissur recently as a resource person for a national workshop on dance. Vyjayanti spoke at length about her career that spans 30 years. Excerpts from an interview…
Taking up dance
I was born in Bangalore. My father, J. N. Viswanath, was a fan of Vyjayanthimala Bali. He had decided that his daughter would become as famous a dancer as her. So I was named after the danseuse. Naturally, I began learning dance as a child. Guru Ramanna, the Bharatanatyam exponent, stayed at home and taught me. In the school where I studied, though, I was attracted towards sports and athletics. Still I learnt under him without really knowing what I was doing. Very often I would hide from him to avoid classes! He was very strict. In between, my parents shifted me to a Kannada school that taught the State syllabus, which enabled me to familiarise myself with my mother tongue. Now I realise how beneficial that move was in discharging my duties as Chairperson of the Akademi.
Into the world of theatre
I was not at all fascinated by Bharatanatyam and I finally quit learning it. For the next 15 years, I was drawn to theatre. Fortunately for me, a theatre group was looking for a girl with a dance background. I had the fortune of working with an illustrious group of directors that includes T.S. Nagabharana, R. Nagesh, C.G. Krishnaswamy, Girish Karnad, and my husband, Vijay Kashi. I did lead roles in Dr. Chandrashekar Kambar's ‘Sangya Balya,' ‘Sannevesha,' ‘Yayathi,' ‘Goodu,' and ‘Savvu.' While in college, I had skipped the final examination so that I could don a prominent role in a play.
Tryst with Kuchipudi
In those days Kuchipudi guru C.R. Acharyalu used to come to Bangalore. Kuchipudi was a dance form that I had only heard about. On meeting him, he said: “You will be my dancing daughter.” What he taught was the margam of the classical dance form. My background in Bharatanatyam stood me in good stead here too. The lessons were easy to grasp. He taught me numbers such as ‘Mayura kaouthuam,' ‘Balagopala tarangam,' ‘Ranga puja,' and so on. Now, having experience in all styles of Kuchipudi, I can say that Acharyalu's style belonged to the old tradition that has a lot of rustic feel of the Kuchipudi Yakshagana, which I still love. Under him performances were also aplenty. I danced in Mumbai, Kashmir, and Delhi. He also promoted me considerably. In those days there were no such festivals like the ‘Young Dancers festival' that we have everywhere nowadays. So it was only because of a guru's insistence that performances were accepted.
During those days, I was fortunate to get a scholarship to learn Kuchipudi under Vedantam Prahlada Sarma. This was a turning point. At the very first sight he commented: “You are like Satyabhama – Swathina pathika.” It was now that I was introduced to the basics such as adavus (dance units). This gave me enough strength and confidence to delve deep into the dance form. I had to divide my days between Eluru, Andhra Pradesh (where he lived), and Bangalore where I was working in a bank. Still I enjoyed those five years that I was under his tutelage. Later I also learnt under Vedantam Satyanarayana Sharma to keep myself abreast in all the styles.
Having undergone systematic training under all these veterans, I feel that you have to work with a guru for at least 10 years in order to understand the grammar of his school. They teach you the physical part of dancing, but mental preparation is equally important. For this a lot of initiative and training is imperative on the part of the dancer.
In 1993, Guru Acharyalu suggested that I start an institution to bring up young talents. And the Sambhavi School of Dance was born. I think that before she is 30 years old, a dancer must be exposed to all dance forms, including folk, so that she can realise which form suits her body more. This is very important. At Sambhavi, we provide facilities for interaction with exponents belonging to all disciplines. We also hold three major festivals every year to promote young talent.
I have travelled to more than 16 countries not only for performances but also for seminars, workshops, and so on. My choreographies have been mainly based on mythological characters but secular ones are also many. The Karnataka Government's awards apart, I must add that I am the first dancer from Karnataka to be honoured by the Sangeet Natak Akademi, Delhi.