Gayatri Sriram enjoys every moment she practises and performs Bharatnatyam. “I adore dance, I enjoy the process,” says the graceful dancer. Gayatri, trained in the Kalakshetra tradition, was in the capital city to give her first ever performance in Kerala in connection with the 40th Dance and Music Festival organised by Regatta Cultural Society. Gayatri, who has her roots in Kerala, has been living in Singapore for the last 15 years, where she has a dance school called Shruti Laya School of Dance. She is a recipient of the Rukmini Devi Arundale endowment award 2012 instituted by Sri Krishna Gana Sabha Chennai. Excerpts from an interview with the dancer…
Although my parents are from Kerala (her father L.V.Subramaniam is from Palakkad and mother Nalini Subramaniam belongs to Thrissur), I was born and brought up in Mumbai, where they both worked as bankers. However, art and music were always around. In fact, my paternal grandfather, Lakshminarayanapuram Viswanatha Iyer, was Palakkad Mani Iyer’s first guru. I started learning dance at the age of five, from Vikraman. The turning point came when I met Minal Prabhu, an alumnus of Kalakshetra, when I was 12. Since then, she has been my guide and strength.
While in Mumbai I concentrated on my studies and dance didn’t take precedence as such. I graduated in Life Sciences. But once I got married to Raj Sriram, a banker, and moved to Singapore, things changed. My husband loves dance and loves to see me dance! He encouraged my passion and I even quit the job I had with a public relations agency to concentrate on dance. My parents-in-law too have been supportive.
The important factor is that the Singapore Government is incredible when it comes to supporting art, especially through the National Arts Council of Singapore. Thanks to the Singapore Indian Fine Arts Society (SIFAS), I could perform with many stalwarts when they came to Singapore. Also, when Esplanande, the country’s performing arts venue was opened, I performed with Balagurunathan in the production, ‘Purush Prakriti’.
It is important to balance family and dance. When my daughters, Laasya and Shloka, were very young, I didn’t want to leave them behind and go on performance tours abroad. So I didn’t travel much out of the country to perform. Now that they have grown up and have taken to dance, I regularly come to India for performances. Most of my productions are done in collaboration with Mudrika Foundation in Bangalore, which is my guru Minal's institution.
Challenge of choreography
I have choreographed a number of productions that have given me a lot of satisfaction. ‘Krishna’ takes one through the nine rasas of Krishna; ‘Panchkanya’ explores the strength of women from the Puranas – Ahalya, Draupadi, Sita, Tara and Mandodari while associating them with the five elements; ‘Sita Swagatham’ presents the Ramayana from Sita’s perspective. She recollects her life in a non-chronological order.
‘Trikon’ has been one of the biggest productions; it presented the Mahabharata from the perspective of Kunti, Draupadi and Gandhari. It blended English theatre and Bharatanatyam and had a cast of 50 people. That actually inspired my next production, ‘Yagyaseni’, which explored Draupadi’s relationship with her five husbands through her conversation with Krishna. It was based on various resources, including 12 sonnets from the book Yudhistir and Draupadi written by Pavan Varma, Indian Ambassador to Bhutan. People say that most of my productions are women-centric. It is true, but, I feel, that is quite natural.
Margam vs productions
I love the margam format, it is the bedrock of Bharatanatyam and is so beautiful. But productions are more challenging, it demands continuity and introspection. You have to work around a character. In fact, you are presenting your own perspective, which is a tough job.
Shruti Laya and Samarpana
I have 25 students learning Bharatanatyam at Shruti Laya. This year we started Samarpana – The Asian Festival of Classical Dance in Singapore. A three-day event, it is a platform for new productions and new perspectives. We started the fete with ‘Sayujya’, which blended Bharatanatyam by Priyadarshini Govind and Carnatic vocal by T.M.Krishna. This three-day festival brings together classically-trained international and Singaporean artistes. Up-and-coming artistes are also given an opportunity to showcase their productions.
Dance is life
My dream is to always dance well, be an honest dancer. The amount of satisfaction I get when I perform can’t be described.