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Updated: August 1, 2013 19:37 IST

In service of art

Tapati Chowdhurie
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Guru Thankamani Kutty.
Special Arrangement Guru Thankamani Kutty.

Bharatanatyam Guru Kalamandalam Thankamani Kutty on her dream project, the Performing Arts and Research Centre in Kolkata, all set to open soon

Bharatanatyam and Mohiniattam guru Kalamandalam Thankamani Kutty made Kolkata her home as a young bride in 1958. She married well-known Kathakali guru, late Kalamandalam Govindan Kutty. Thankamani, an alumna of Kerala Kalamandalam, began teaching dance in the city with just one student, a Mrs. George, who was much older to her. Gradually, the numbers grew and there came a time when every aspiring Bharatanatyam dancer in the region enrolled in her school, Kalamandalam Calcutta, which she started along with her husband in 1968.

Over the years, Thankamani has trained a large number of students who are now gurus in their own right besides training performers and rasikas, who are spread all around the globe. It won’t be wrong to say that Thankamani has become a household name in West Bengal today because she helped those who love the form to turn it into a profession. She has a plethora of original compositions in her collection and has choreographed some impressive tillanas. Excerpts from an interview:

What prompted you to take up dancing?

My father, who was a Communist Party member, decided to be in-charge of me and my brother though he had very little time to spare from party work. Vasanthi, who was the daughter of Vallathol, the founder of Kerala Kalamandalam, was a fellow Communist Party member who thought that if my brother and I joined Kalamandalam, my father would get some relief and this small incident is responsible for what I am today.

Why are you a teacher and not a performer?

Very early in life, the realisation came to me that teaching is my vocation. I, therefore, have always tried to teach my students to the best of my ability so that they may blossom beautifully and culturally.

How do you see the relationship between our dance forms and the society we live in?

Dance is the mirror of society and therefore, it says much about the times and hence, dance is a source of history. Besides, dance is ennobling and gives both the dancer and the viewer an aesthetic experience. By teaching Indian classical dance, I am giving back to society by way of bringing up well-rounded citizens.

Do you see dance performances losing their its audience? How does one measure check it?

I would say dance performances are not really losing their audience. It is actually the solo classical form of dance that is losing its audience. Today, due to the advent of television and the Internet, people have access to all forms of entertainment on their finger tips. So improvisations have become necessary to sustain the audience. Initially, a classical dance performance was enjoyed only by the elite and they formed a small percentage. But today, it is enjoyed and practised by the masses. So one has to keep them also in mind and improve the quality of presentation.

What is your dream project?

I had seen a dream with my late husband Guru Govindan Kutty to build an institution on the lines of Kerala Kalamandalam where we both have been alumni. We had always felt that many talented artistes due to lack of opportunities and fundshad left their dance practice and taken up academic pursuits in the hope of getting secured jobs. There was always a lack of infrastructure to showcase an artiste. Keeping all these factors in mind, I have begun the Herculean task of setting up a Performing Arts and Research Centre which will have spacious classrooms, waiting area for parents, students’ hostel, accommodation for visiting artistes, resident teachers’ accommodation, a sound studio, an art gallery, a library for both books and audio visuals, a museum, a seminar hall, a room for music and instruments auditorium with lift facility. I intend to promote deserving talent. I am also happy to say that the structural work of the performing centre of 22000 sq. ft. has been completed and hopefully, it will be fit for use from this September.

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