‘Kalakshetra is my priority now. My personal career is on hold,’ says the institution’s new director Priyadarsini Govind.
How does one introduce a subject where the name speaks for itself? Priyadarsini Govind. True, the new Director of Kalakshetra needs no introduction. A Bharatanatyam dancer who has found a place her own in the artistic firmament, she is at present busy tackling new challenges and taking fresh steps. Excerpts from conversations with her in Chennai, where the cool Marghazi weather had the least effect on the cultural frenzy in town.
Give us your perspective of Kalakshetra - the institution, as you see it today.
Kalakshetra was conceived as Rukmini Devi Arundale’s vision of an ‘ideal reality.’ She wanted to seamlessly blend life, education and art so that they were not viewed as separate entities but were one and the same. Kalakshetra is a rarity in a fast moving, commercial world.
At the point of take over as director, Kalakshetra, how did it feel heading a prestigious institution?
I have been performing for nearly four decades, in every space – from small temple auditoriums to world stages. I love dancing and am thankful for the space that I have been able to create as an artist. But for some time now, I have wanted to give something back to this field, something that would be of use to artists. I have been meaning to create a space for artists to learn, perform and exchange ideas in an erudite environment. So when this directorship opportunity arose, I gladly accepted it.
What is a typical day at work like?
My day starts with a prayer under the Banyan tree. I cannot even begin to express how special it is to start my day this way with the students. These students are our future. When I see the aspirations on their faces, I feel I can tackle any and every challenge that comes my way to ensure that we create an environment that allows them to dream and work for it to come true. Every day is an interesting one. No two days are alike. Each day has its own set of challenges and solutions.
There are two prevalent opinions on your appointment -- anticipation of a fresh perspective that an artist of your capacity would bring to the institution and apprehension as you have not being actively involved with the institution or its philosophy all these years. What’s your response?
A healthy respect and appreciation for different styles and art forms is and should be ingrained in every artist. I look upon this as an opportunity to learn. Rukmini Devi Arundale’s vision is neither limiting nor limited. It’s a vision that I identify with wholeheartedly. In a way, it is every artist’s aspiration. The fact that I did not learn at Kalakshetra is immaterial. I believe that art is more important than the artist. This position, in my opinion, requires someone who is able to keep aside his/her personal agenda and works for the institution, to ensure the vision of its founder is carried forward.
What is your vision/plan for Kalakshetra and what are your immediate priorities?
As I said, Rukmini Devi’s vision was to embrace beauty through art in all its glory. Her vision was progressive and cannot and should not be shackled to the past. The past is our root, the foundation on which to build our future. Her vision was to nurture and create an environment for artistry to soar. Former director Leela Samson’s stature lent dignity and grace and was an inspiration to the students. After her, Karunakar Menon, as director in charge, contributed to the institution and continues to support me in my efforts to take Kalakshetra forward. There are many areas that have to be developed to their full potential. For example, Kalakshetra has a wonderful craft centre. There are master craftsmen and weavers whose work needs to be showcased and given the platform it deserves. We have two functioning schools that need to be realigned with the vision of the founder.
The alumni are spread the world over. We recently put forth a blueprint to ensure that they are more actively involved with the university. Also we are planning to put in place for the retired staff a scheme that will help with expenses regarding health.
Kalakshetra has a world-class faculty. We have incomparable teachers such as Janardhan, Sai Shankar, Anil Kumar and Vasundara Prasad,, to name just a few. People like Janardhan sir should have got a Padma Award by now. Since he has dedicated himself to this great institution, it is lamentable that he has not got individual recognition. Our younger faculty too is extremely talented. They each have their area of expertise and together they all form the whole that is Kalakshetra. They can easily match any of the world-class artists that I have met. I would like to ensure that these artists get the individual recognition they richly deserve.
From being a free thinking individual to having your opinions matter critically, how much of your perspective has changed?
I am a person who believes that we have to be responsible for every word we say in public. Hence, I have seldom made any public statements about my personal opinions. But now, I feel that it is my duty to voice an opinion whenever an issue arises that affects the institution and my role in it.
The cliché… How do you juggle your commitments?
Now, my priority is Kalakshetra. My personal career is on hold. So there is no question of juggling.
Your biggest take away from this honour?
Life is about having a vision and working towards it. One can’t be bogged down by pettiness and negativity. One can’t change other people but one can ensure that one doesn’t lose track of the vision when faced with hurdles. Honest intentions and well-executed plans will stand the test of time.