Thirty-one-year-old dancer Sreelakshmy Govardhanan is known for her confidence, exquisite footwork, and abhinaya. Trained under various renowned gurus, though most would try to create a fusion of these styles to make it their own, Sreelakshmy prefers to stick to the traditional style of Kuchipudi. Artistic director of Avanthika Space of Dance, Irinjalakuda, Sreelakshmy was in Thiruvananthapuram in connection with the Mudra Dance Festival. Excerpts from an interview...

Dance in her soul

I have no definite answer to that. Dance never happened to me, it always existed in me.

A Malayali and Kuchipudi

I learned my first Kuchipudi item when I was in class eight. From then on I just loved to perform Kuchipudi. I felt this style suited me the best. I exist because of Kuchipudi. Being a Malayali, learning and performing Kuchipudi is not an easy task, and not a rosy life either. To be a better artiste we need to know the culture, literature, and lifestyle of the state; language is the first step. I am in the process of learning the language. Also, hailing from Kerala, being accepted by the Kuchipudi fraternity is difficult. If I were settled in Andhra, things would have been different and better I guess. Another issue is that I practise the old school of Kuchipudi, which is now a rarely seen style. I am not dancing to be in somebody's good books. I have found my style and my happiness in the style. The rest does not bother me. Hard work pays!

In search of the Guru

I was fortunate to have learnt the art form from Guru Pasumarthy Rattaiah Sarma, Vyjayanthi Kashi, Manju Bhargavi, Vasudevan Namboothiri, and Sunil Nellay. I started learning Kuchipudi from Sunil Nellay and continued under Vasudevan Namboothiri. Under Vasudevan master, I learned several Kuchipudi items. In 2001, I left Kerala to join Shambhavi School of Dance, Bangalore, to learn Kuchipudi from Vyjayanthi Kashi. In between I joined Manju Bhargavi's school and learned Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam's style of Kuchipudi. It gave me an opportunity to learn and experience two different styles of Kuchipudi. However, my journey in discovering Kuchipudi did not end there. The constant urge to learn more about the art form took me to ‘Kuchipudi Village' near Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh. Without knowing the language, people or the place I just went there looking for a Guru and my search ended there. My master Pasumarthy Rattaiah Sarma garu was the answer to my prayers. Through him I started learning the old style Kuchipudi, where drama is emphasised. I also learnt ‘Kuchipudi Yakshagana' in the traditional way. One has to be lucky to meet their Guru in their lifetime.

Purist at heart

I am a purist. I follow the old school of Kuchipudi. Whatever I choreograph, I do it rooted in the old style. Of course, my traits also get infused in it, especially in abhinaya. Concept of moksha, surrender to the Ultimate, inequality, surreal love, pain, nature...these concepts would invariably come into my choreography.

Psychology and the characters

Making a character sketch is important. A masters degree in psychological counselling and some experience of working with people comes in handy sometimes. The personality of the character just reveals itself to you. Observation is also important. Different possibilities of how a character could react should be calculated in mind. Keeping the sthayi is important.

Dance and art

Avanthika Space for Dance is a registered charitable trust to promote dance and art related to dance. I conduct dance festivals, intensive workshops and different activities to promote dance under the banner of Avanthika. With an objective to give specialised training in classical dance forms we have started a school named Salabhanjika Studio for Arts and Performances at Ayyanthol, Thrissur. Here we teach dance forms in the traditional and authentic way instead of just prepare children for youth festivals.

Rasikas today

Rasikas today are receptive. You can't cheat the stage and the audience. If you are sincere to your art form, you will never have a problem with the audience or rasikas. Only one habit worries me. The patience or interest to sit for more than one-and-a-half hours seems to be less these days. Even organisers ask for short performances.

Ambitions in dance

To practise and perform the art form that I love the most – Kuchipudi. The more you dwell in it, the more it opens to you and mesmerises you to focus in traditional Kuchipudi Yakshagana, which is almost a dying art form. It is rich in its text, composition, choreography and subject. I work towards learning and documenting the traditional dance dramas of Kuchipudi.

Choreographies

My present work is Rama Margam. It's a Kuchipudi margam with a fresh blend of tradition and innovation. The margam is set keeping all the nuances of Kuchipudi intact. The margam throws light into the life of many characters from the epic Ramayanam. I am also working on a project on ‘Navagrahas' and a multi-lingual solo work on ‘Chilapathikaram.'

Future of Kuchipudi

Kuchipudi will survive. I am only worried about the way it is going to survive. I am worried about the extra attention and importance given to the aharyam in Kuchipudi dance. Over-decked, under-practised performance takes the soul of the art form away. Kuchipudi is a sincere dance form by itself. We have got to preserve that. Learn the very basics and build on it.

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