From protest to acceptance to being a reputed dancer and the chairperson of Karnataka Sangeetha Nrithya Academy, Kuchipudi danseuse Vyjayanthi Kashi has come a long way. She believes that the present has to be built on the past

Vyjayanthi Kashi’s name is synonymous with Kuchipudi. With a clutch of awards in her kitty, the graceful dancer goes down memory lane to talk about her journey in dance. Grand daughter of Gubbi Veeranna, the patriarch of Kannada company drama, Vyjayanthi feels she was destined to be connected with art whether she intended it or not. “For me dance meant nothing but for my parents it was everything. In fact, the pressure to learn dance was so much that I remember running away from my dance teacher. Even today I can not resolve whether I was too young for the form or if the regiment was too stern for me,” she smiles. Her genetical inclination also took her to theatre, which she says, played a major role in her life.

“I felt that a dancer can only reach to a selective audience, and demands that they have some knowledge of the form. But theatre reached out to a larger audience. In dance, there are also too many don’ts. It was my search for freedom doubled with the need to do something different that led me to Kuchipudi, which is a beautiful combination of dance and theatre.”

After making an impact on the audience and making a name for herself in the field, came another feather in her crown -- she was the chairperson of the Karnataka Sangeetha Nrithya Academy. “The one-and-a half years that I was there, I lost a lot on my personal dance career. Yet, I gave it my best shot to make life better for many. But due to shortage of funds I was not able to accomplish much. Each day was like a battle for a better cause of the many artistes.”

During her tenure at the Academy, Vyjayanthi released a CD on the late dance teacher U.S. Krishnarao, on the occasion of his centenary. “It was the Maargam , the method that he followed. It was an attempt to make people familiar with his work. I even brought out a book with the notations, music accompanied with the text and articles by the great guru himself and other musicians. But when the work was finished I left the Academy and prayed that the next chairperson will release this book as it will help many dancers.”

Vyjayanthi is also known for using the works of Kannada writers and performing Kuchipudi to Kannada lyrics. “People in Andhra celebrate the works of Annamacharya and Swati Tirunal. Their works have been adapted by dancers to Kuchipudi. So I thought why not adapt the works of Jnanpith award winners from our State to the form? So I started using the works of Kuvempu and Bendre and used it in my dance. Through the Academy, I got in touch with musicians and have compiled a CD of 18 songs in the styles of Carnatic, Hindustani and for Odissi with the pakhawaj that can be used by dancers of these three forms to the works of Kannada writers. But, again, I left before this was released and I hope the work will hit the music stand for the benefit of dancers.”

About the awards she says that our State should be happy that she is the first “non-Andhra person who has won accolades in Kuchipudi. The Central Sangeet Natak award is important for me because I did not know Telugu and worked hard as a banker during the day and spent my evenings mastering this dance form.”

Nothing is permanent in a dancer’s life. “As a performer no one guaranteed me a performance, good musicians or a good stage when I started out. As a guru, which is the next stage, there is again no guarantee that you will have students. You may loose your best student abruptly to marriage or education. So what’s definite? Today everything is very easy – you can learn anything online, for instance the youtube. But my generation carries the values imbibed from our guru. So, there is always a constant battle in my mind – is shortcut good for the art and the artiste or is the traditional method of learning better? Today, you are also competing with young dancers who use so much technology in their dance.”

“Bala Sawarwati danced till she was 60, Vyjayanthi Mala Bali still does. But how many people want to see a seasoned dancer?” asks Vyjayanthi, who has started a residential school in Kengeri. Called the Shambhavi School Of Dance, it provides rigorous training for dancers with a passion for Kuchipudi. The dance form too has changed with times -- from being a male dance form, where men donned the roles of female to having women perform solo.

“Last year we lost many legends of Kuchipudi — Vempati Chinna Sathyam, Vedantam Satyanarayana Sharma (who donned female roles), PVG Krishna Sharma, and my guru Korada Narasimha Rao to name a few. It was due to Vedantam Lakshmi Narayana Shastry’s efforts that the form got recognised as a classical dance form and he was also responsible for bringing women into the dance. Dance is natural for a woman. It flows naturally in her body. But, out of 1,000 men, only one can dance. As a performer too, unless the man is extraordinarily good, the audience prefers to watch women dancers. Women too have excelled as performers. In spite of being tied down by the family and financial stress, they have emerged as great dancers, teachers and researchers.”

Vyjayanthi says that she has given her all to a chosen few, who she believes will take the legacy of Kuchipudi forward.

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