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Updated: June 1, 2012 17:40 IST

Hard work is the only way

MADHAVI RAMKUMAR
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No restrictions Gopika Varma Photo: S. Mahinsha
No restrictions Gopika Varma Photo: S. Mahinsha

Mohiniattam exponent Gopika Varma says that she wants to propagate Mohiniattam, the best that she has learnt for 30 long years

Prominent Mohiniattam exponent Gopika Varma is no stranger to Bangalore. The Chennai-based artiste visits the city often to perform, teach and conduct workshops, and now holds regular classes here as well. In a recent interview, she answered several questions on the form and content of the art, and on her own experiences as a performing artiste. “I want to propagate Mohiniattam to the maximum extent possible, the best that I learnt for 30 years. Today, no one can learn from Kalyanikutty amma. But I had the good fortune to learn from her,” she says. About the current repertoire and comparative rarity of varnams, jathiswarams and thillanas in performances today, she says, “I belong to the old school. Kalyanikutty amma and the Kalamandalam style followed the old school which had varnams lasting 35 to 40 minutes. Kalyanikutty amma was the oldest exponent of Mohiniattam we had seen. And she taught us jathiswaram, varnam and thillana. Then how can anyone say that these items are not part of Mohiniattam?”

Gopika Varma prefers to maintain the traditional structure, comprising “cholkettu and other items, because I have learnt them, and learning them was compulsory. Even in thematic presentations I would prefer to maintain that.” However, she cautions that the capacity to perform such items can be acquired only through rigorous training under a good guru. “You should study for at least ten to twelve years. Only then can you become an artiste. Students need to study more. They should learn the adavus perfectly. A strong base can come only through hard work.” About the significance of nritta in Mohiniattam, the dancer recalls: “In the old days it was there, but later it diminished. I do a lot of nritta with complicated calculations, for example in jathiswarams, and that is how I feel I can elevate Mohiniattam to a different level. I want abhinaya and nritta equally. Abhinaya should be very deep and strong and will stand apart, but nritta is equally important. I incorporate a lot of intricacies and the pancha nadais.” She is categorical that there is no need to borrow from other genres, “because it has always been a part of Mohiniattam.”

“The repertoire has to be improved and that is the only way the art can grow,” states Gopika Varma, touching on the need for new choreographic works and the use of Sopana Sangeetham by today's artistes. Having presented a significant number of Swathi Thirunal and Irayimman Tampi compositions, she says, “When I do varnams, jathiswarams and thillanas, it is purely Carnatic. I do use a lot of Sopanam music and thalams like marma thalam, and definitely we should use them. I don't mix both. For an artiste, there is no need to use either exclusively and I don't want to be a creature of just one school.”

“When I started performing I used to braid my hair, following my teacher Kalyanikutty amma,” the dancer recollects, touching upon the hairstyle and costume of Mohiniattam. “But somewhere in my journey I felt, seeing Ravi Varma paintings, murals and sculptures, that the Kerala style is identified by the hair tied at the top and side of the head. What I find convincing I do, and follow my heart. That is why I follow Sopanam also. I don't restrict myself because I belong to one school. I use a lot of colour in costumes, and when all other dance forms have modified costumes and travelled so far why shouldn't Mohiniattam do it? When I do characters like Sathyabhama, Kunti and Ahalya I change the hairstyle. ” Gopika Varma reveals that she intends to choreograph pieces in Kannada by Purandaradasa, Akka Mahadevi, Swathi Thirunal and other great poets and composers for her students and audiences in Bangalore. Though not averse to the use of contemporary issues for new choreography, she chooses, as of now, to draw on traditional lore and themes, interpreting and connecting them to current topics. Having performed extensively in India and abroad, she is the recipient of many titles and awards including the ‘Kalaimamani' from the Tamil Nadu Government, and the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Academy Award. The fact that Mohiniattam is slowly gaining the attention it deserves, is for her a matter of immense gratification, and she concludes thus: “Apart from me, a lot of dancers perform Mohiniattam in Chennai and other parts of Tamil Nadu, and I have a lot of happiness in having been able to contribute to that in a small way.”

There is a fine balance between innovation and tradition... It seems that this artiste has achieved it. Also, I agree very much with her view on students learning more, as a dance student myself.

from:  Parimala Rajan
Posted on: Jun 5, 2012 at 23:43 IST

If she wants to propagate Mohiniattam, Gopika Varma should expand the outdated technique created by Vadivelu less than two centuries ago.
Swathi Thirunal is no longer in charge, so the new realities have emerged. Gopika Varma should start conducting her best performing students' (e.g. Vipina Ramachandran's) ticketed programmes and get the feedback from the audience.

from:  Rachana
Posted on: Jun 3, 2012 at 09:44 IST
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