Narayani Anoop simplifies classical dance without diluting its essence so that her students can enjoy it

A rhythmic patter of feet indicates that class is on. Soon, there is a lull and Narayani Anoop’s voice becomes clear. She is explaining a romantic episode in the piece being choreographed. Every week, at the Ladies Club at Panampilly Nagar, a group of women gets together to learn and practise Bharathanatyam. Egged on by teacher and “friend” Narayani, they discover the joys of dance.

Narayani’s students are homemakers and professionals, many of whom have no foundation in classical dance. “But their interest and love for dance amazes me,” says Narayani, a trained Bharatanatyam dancer. A performer, Narayani withdrew from the stage after marriage and its numerous commitments consumed her. “I was also a bit lazy,” she says. It was when daughter Niranjana began taking dance seriously that Narayani’s interest was rekindled. Today, Niranjana, a class IX student at Choice School, is learning Kuchipudi under Geeta Padmakumar and recently performed with actor Manju Warrier.

'Punarjani'

Family, friends and well wishers are behind Punarjani, her dance class she formed six years ago, Narayani says. “It was sort of a rebirth for me too. It helped me rediscover the joy of dance,” she says. Punarjani, meaning rebirth, was suggested by family friend and film director Jayaraj. Though her initial batch of students was Niranjana’s friends’ mothers, people began seeking her out. Today, Narayani has 35 students, mostly women between 30 and 50 years of age. “But there is no such strict age bracket. I have a young student as well as someone who is 60,” Narayani says. She conducts classes at her house in Panampilly Nagar, too.

For those who do not have a foundation in classical dance, learning it well past their “youth” might be a task. But for those who are genuinely interested in the art form, it is not difficult. However, Narayani does not call her classes or her method of instruction hardcore “professional”.

A simple blend

“It is not performance-oriented. I teach them the basic tenets of the Natyashashtra and then let them adapt to it in their own way. Flexibility is a problem and simplifying is important so that a common person, who has had no formal base in dance, can enjoy Bharatanatyam,” she says. But that does not mean a dilution of values, she asserts. “What I teach is a blend of Bharatanatyam, Mohiniyattam and Kuchipudi.”

Narayani says she owes it all to the rigorous training she received from Kalamandalam Saraswathy in Kozhikode. “One needs to keep oneself updated,” she says and makes it a point to watch performances by others. “Even among my own students, I feel every one has something new to offer. There is something to learn from everybody.” This quality, Narayani believes, comes from her father Mullasery Rajagopal, on whom director and family friend Ranjith modelled the iconic character Mangalassery Neelakantan for Devasuram.

Some of Narayani’s students have been learning from her for as long as six years and some of them, out of their own interest, have performed on various stages, too. Narayani is planning a dance ballet based on the combined theme of woman power and religious oneness. “But that is not anytime now,” she says. “Maybe in three years,” she smiles.