Bharatanatya artistes Chetan and Akhila draw universal appeal to their art form
At the Cleveland Tyagaraja Festival in the U.S. this year, the young dance couple Chetan and Akhila performed an unusual set of Dasa Sahitya - a thematic Bharatanatya dance production. For the connoisseurs gathered there “it felt refreshing to see a novel assemblage,” said media reports, even as the potent sahitya and the philosophy ingrained in the devaranamas, were left for the audiences to be contemplated upon.
Chetan, a student of Prof. Uma Rao and Akhila, student of Revathi Narasimhan, were in Bangalore recently in connection with their performances that followed at Mysore and New Delhi.
Chetan says, “Dasa Sahitya has universal appeal. The spirituality, righteousness and morals preached in them are intrinsic to the works of all the 13th Century musical saints of Karnataka. In that the down-to-earth simplicity of language and thought is a striking feature. The Daasa Koota has to be taken forward for propagation in dance too in a big way.”
Chetan rues that the blindly-followed patterns in dance presentations seem repetitive and dreary while the item inclusions seem monotonous after a point.
“We want to bring in more thought in dance wherein the vast oceanic reserves of our classical mediums get mutually benefited. The commentaries of our Dasas and other Vaggeyakaras offer a rich backdrop to explore newer perspectives in presentation. We are trying to consciously bring in a new wave and change in thinking when we work with our co-artistes and students at our dance school Kalagangothri in the U.S.,” he says.
The couple who are settled in U.S. bagged the Purandara Anugraha Prashasti - 2014 instituted by the Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanams in India for their Dasa Sahitya propagation. The couple also performed at Tirumala’s Asthana Mantapa taking up various Dasara Padagalu. The two hold the honour of being the Asthana Kalavidaru of the Puttige Mutt too.
For the duo who started dancing from the age of five, dance brought them closer and even fetched them scholarships for research. They are working on a study of the introduction of Hindu mythology in mainstream entertainment with a fellowship from the Ministry of Culture. Their focus is also to initiate Bhavageethe (light music) as an alternative to Padams in dance.
“Not that we are opposed to these time-honoured traditional inclusions, but having studied the content of Kshetrayya Padams that are packed with vast stretches of deliberation for Abhinaya, our choice of Bhavageethe for the integral packaging in performances came up more because we are from Karnataka. For the classical dancer it can help bring in the navarasas, as each Bhavageethe has a different flow of emotive elements into it.”
“As practitioners of dance, the last decade has seen us integrate our persona into becoming choreographers that help our thematic productions,” pitches in Akhila. Bharatanatya has never remained frozen as we have noticed, she says.
“Fresh, polished interpretations from time to time have given sheen to the traditional repertoire. Changes in audience mix and environment (social context) are also forces that have helped us bring in a minty freshness to an established understanding. We are exploring innovative elucidations within the framework of tradition to include contemporary themes,” says Akhila.
The two have choreographed thematic presentations that include ‘Krishnaya Thubyam Namaha, Sridevi Darshanam, Nruthya Vaibhava, Purandara Namana, Samarpan & Nruthyothsava. They conceptualised a 12-hour non-stop devotional classical dance festival in New Jersey where more than 30 dance schools participated.
Chetan has an MBA in Finance and is a lead Business Consultant with Infosys. Akhila is armed with a PG Diploma in HR. Dance rose from being a passion to an addiction, even after the couple settled in the U.S. since 2010.
Beyond all the bracing observations enriching their presentations, Akhila and Chetan want to bring in a perceptible change for dancers and musicians to have a dignified existence even after their performing days are done. “I am floored by the kind of support and grants artistes in America receive from the New York Musical Guild. We have to take a leaf from the book of such institutions and enrich our culture,” feels Chetan.