When two genres of dance are simultaneously in progress on stage, what makes it truly wonderful are the perceptible differences noticed in the movement and emotive styles (bhava) intrinsic to each school, bringing about a feast of aesthetics.
The Bharatanatya (Sathyanarayana Raju) and Kuchipudi (Ajay Kumar) dance was one such eye-catching experience at the Dance Festival Jugalbandi, Gayana Samaja brought in association with Usha R.K. recently. The three-day fest featured a mélange of Indian dance styles gloriously coursing through our own cultural traditions in art and mythology.
Ajay Kumar, the Kuchipudi dancer taking up his part with the Bharatanatya ace Sathyanarayana Raju on the first day offered something unique. This artiste from Vijayawada, trained in Kuchipudi from a tender age of four, has mastered the art of portraying ‘Stree Vesha’ (female character - Roopanu Roopam). Ajay brought out the story of Satyabhama (Lord Krishna’s consort) with Sathyanarayana taking up the role of the Lord.
Ajay’s entry, draped in a white and red sari in the garb of Satyabhama set a graceful beginning, his gestures, movement and expression bringing out the best of the female persona, truly mirroring her longing, but never making it feel like an impersonation.
Taking up strands from the renowned Bhama Kalapam of Andhra Pradesh, a collection of songs in various meters depicting the moods of Bhama,
Ajay dwelt on the lovers’ quarrels with her Lord followed by the agony of separation.
Ajay excelled in representing the changing psychological moods (sattvika abhinaya) of Bhama, widely regarded as one of the most artistic challenges of Bhama Kalapam.
Ajay not just mimicked the female longing in bhava and rhythm, the fine distinctions he tinged his expressions with for his abhinaya (acting) was worth noting. How the dancer adapted to these soft, gentle and fluid feminine movements is a story in itself.
In 1997, as a 16-year-old, Ajay was trained and initiated into taking up the finer nuances of the female distinctive characters as Mohini, Lalitha, Padmavathy, Rati etc., in traditional Kuchipudi Yakshagana portrayals.
Ajay wanted to hold on to this unique feature as there are barely five or six Kuchipudi exponents today left with this talent.
“I was trained by my guru K.V. Satyanarayana to acclimatise myself with Roopanu Roopam, styled to be divine and sacred in itself, as mythology has it that Lord Mahavishnu had portrayed himself as a female in his Mohini Avatara. I do take up all roles, male and female and my solo productions are a blend of all these,” he says.
Ajay’s entry into dance is a story that any movie director could grab. As a three-year-old he was afflicted with polio and while his doctor-father treated him with physiotherapy, dance, his father thought, would be the best way to revitalise his legs to get them back into action.
For Ajay, it was godsend, as his classes at Kuchipudi Kalakshetra near Vijayawada proved a turning point. Nothing stopped the boy until he learnt more and more from his aunt Srilakshmi Devi. He honed his talent further from the legend Sathyanarayana Sharma. He rose further to do his post-graduation in Kuchipudi from Potti Sriramulu Telugu University.
Performances and recognitions soon became a part of his persona. “Kuchipudi in the early days was Bhagavatha Mela Natakam where only men took up both the roles, and over the years all this drastically changed. Even now the holy texts of Kuchipudi say at least once in a lifetime an artist has to take up the female role,” says Ajay.
Ajay Kumar has taken upon the responsibility of propagating the art form and is now running his Hamsa Dwani Kuchipudi Nrityalaya at Vijayawada.
He has received a Honorary Doctorate from one of the U.K. Universities for his deep involvement in the genre.