Age is the acceptance of a term of years. But maturity is the glory of years. -- Martha Graham

T hey are the flavour of all seasons. Their performances are a ready-reckoner for technique and reconnect with the past. Cultural cross-currents and commercial ills have not made them go out of step. Unlike today's stage-managed entries into the art world, they have danced their way through decades to the centre stage. Their creativity does not smack of borrowed sensibilities; choreography for them is about inward search, deep study and philosophy of aesthetics. Sustained sadhana and keenness to learn are the USP of these classicists.

As the city is on the threshold of another Margazhi fete, CHITRA SWAMINATHAN speaks to five dancing aces on what it takes to put your best foot forward…

Vyjayanthimala Bali

In my more than 50 years of dancing, I have never let disheartening views such as ‘classical is passé' and ‘lack of patronage' come between me and my art. I do not understand the need to uproot the art from its traditional moorings or resort to sensationalism to seek attention. Rasikas know what to expect when they come for my performances. I take immense pains to ensure they go back with visuals of this art as handed down by its legendary practitioners. I staunchly believe Bharatanatyam's beauty is in its subtlety. Purity of form and spirituality are integral. A composition takes on a fresh hue every time I perform it because of better understanding and deeper exploration. The process of learning never stops. The day you feel you have learnt it all will mark the beginning of your end. Innovation to me means reinventing the past. And believe me it's not easy to dig out something from our ancient treasures. There's so much; take a peek.

Padma Subrahmanyam

For 53 years, the stage has been my world. Hard training led to a rock-solid foundation. I gradually discovered my own ways of unravelling nuances. And have experienced the joy of coming up with my vision of the art. The interaction is so personal that any external factor or issue never occupies my mind space. After years of hectic solo performances across the globe, I now wish to encourage many of my talented disciples. Hence, this Margazhi I am focussing totally on group performances. I think youngsters should be

given an orientation on how one could introduce novelty in every aspect of the dance -- make-up, costume, music -- without deviating from aesthetics. Also, they need to be taught to respect heritage. It's nice to appreciate and be inspired by everything around you, but it is essential to maintain the identity and sanctity of your art.

V. P. Dhananjayan

When art becomes life, you experience divinity. You are at peace with yourself and the world around. After years of romancing this beautiful art form and travelling around the world as an ambassador of Indian heritage, I wanted to make space for Gen Next. For 15 years, I have hardly performed during Margazhi and requested sabhas to offer the platform to young professionals. Sadly it did not happen. Commercial compulsions brought in mediocrity. And I thought it was better to get back to the Margazhi circuit rather than witness a poor show. Future tense? No, if we set right the system, there is enough young talent waiting in the wings.

Rhadha

After 60 years of creative involvement, I have learnt to ignore worldly matters. Those moments when you had the privilege of interacting with masters in the field are enough to cherish. Though I have no solo or group recitals lined up this December festival, I am looking forward to the tribute performance to Vazhuvoor Ramiah Pillai at Hamsadhwani. Such shows help me do my bit to preserve my hoary lineage. Another redeeming feature is that despite advancing years, my body has been able to take on the rigours of performances and teaching. So, I still lead an artistically fulfilling life.

C. V. Chandrasekhar

I began my training at 11 and in 1950 I performed my arangetram. After almost a six-decade association, I still don't feel like resting my feet. With each passing year, the passion to present something for the rasikas grows further. But it has not been easy to win critical acclaim and awards for my dancing and choreographic skills. Of course, the tears and sweat story is common to most artistes but I think my being away from Madras (he was in Benaras and Baroda) for a long time and being a male performer impacted my artistic journey in a negative way. It does hurt when opportunities are denied and things don't happen as you would like them to. This year, for instance, none of the sabhas have invited me to perform. Yet I will keep dancing and teaching as long as my body allows me to for I know no other joy in life.