Alekhya Punjala who bridges the world of academe and abhinaya, takes a walk down the memory lane with Serish Nanisetti about her choreography, students and the future of Kuchipudi
Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes, And she shall have music wherever she goes
These are the lines that come to mind when you first see Kuchipudi danseuse Alekhya Punjala at her Himayatnagar home.
“My first guru taught me Kathak and Odissi at the Taraporewalla Montessori which used to be in Chirag Ali Lane. But I was fascinated by Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam. Perhaps it got to do with the costumes, the jewellery that made me veer towards Kuchipudi. Probably I understood the themes that were done in the drama form,” says Alekhya sitting at her home, her kohl-lined eyes twinkling with laughter with her gold rings on her fingers showing that she still is fascinated by the bright and sparkling things of the world. And as she walks, her gajjelu send out a message that you are in the midst of a dancer.
What began as a childhood fascination in Montessori, where Kathak and Odissi guru Dayal Sharan groomed students, veered into Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam for Alekhya. “Dayal Sharan (he taught Kelucharan Mohapatra and at one time was part of Uday Shankar's dance troupe which travelled extensively) wanted me to continue Kathak and Odissi as he could see that I was interested in dance and wanted to continue. But I was fascinated with Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam and I remained adamant about learning them,” says Alekhya who considers luck as one of the factors that decides which dancer is highly visible and successful and which dancer fades into oblivion.
“I was lucky to have a guru like Uma Rama Rao. I was keen to have a guru, who would not just be a guru but also a friend. With whom I could interact as well as have guidance. Uma was a great guru who understood my persona and allowed me to blossom at my own pace. Abhinaya is my passion she allowed it to blossom, help and direct,” she says.
Alekhya is a rarity among dance gurus in the city as someone who is not grooming her own children and as someone who is not having her wards do five-star arangetrams. “I am teaching at the Telugu University, so most of my students are senior artists. Arangetram or rangapravesam is when a student tells the audience about maturing and reaching a certain stage of mastery over the dance form. It need not be an expensive thing where lakhs of rupees are spent,” she says dismissively.
Despite living in the academia, Alekhya continued to perform in the city and across the world and work as an ambassador of Kuchipudi.
Aren't the dancers tired of performing the same old dances of Radha, Krishna and Gopika. The same old expressions of surprise, anger and sadness emoted by legions of dancers? “These dances evolved from temples, so naturally mythology is the driving force and they reflect the richness of our culture. Most people rarely get bored by this and the range and variety that is available in our mythology which has one of the richest bodies of stories about human beings and their experiences. Tell me which mythology has the range of emotions that are available in our civilisation?” asks Alekhya, choosing her words carefully in a dangerous territory.
“As an artist innumerable times you don't feel up to it. But as you have made a commitment, you have to perform. And as a performance is in progress you feel that you are not meeting your standards, then you try to salvage the performance. You try to do better and hope the audience forgets the earlier mis-steps, you try to tap into inner recess of your self and save the performance. That is the real test of a good dancer,” says Alekhya who has experimented matching her dance steps and abhinaya with Urdu poetry of Maqdoom Mohiuddin, Jalageetham, a format where she tried to communicate the message of scarcity of water and bringing alive the 14th century tragic love story of Lakuma .
What happens when a dancer grows old? “Nobody is eternally young, I cannot do dance items that I did when I was 16, so I choose items that suit me now. Artists have to be graceful.
They should perform items that suit their age, their dance should become a parody,” says Alekhya who has seen the dance sabhas getting more filled up than when she started and more parents bringing their young ones to dance gurus for making them shisyas. Alekhya is married to a surgical-gastroenterologist and has two sons who are not into dance.