Sailaja, founder-director, Saila Sudha Academy of Excellence in Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam, teaches and performs both styles of dance. She has a good understanding of and flair for each, having been trained by stalwarts such as Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam (Kuchipudi) and Guru K.J. Sarasa (Bharatanatyam).

Sailaja's Kuchipudi DVD titled ‘A Dance in Divinity' is a good learning tool for those who are looking to become more familiar with the art form. It begins with a short historical perspective on Kuchipudi's origins at the time of the Bhakti Movement and its evolution from a male-dominated dance drama tradition to a female-dominated solo style.

Each piece is prefaced by a clear introduction, making it easy to learn and understand. While the traditional dance on a brass plate in the ragamalika Tarangam (Narayana Tirtha) finds a place here, most of the other compositions such as ‘Sankara Srigiri' (Hamsanandi, Swati Tirunal) describing Siva's cosmic dance, and ‘Mahishasura Mardini' stothram, the prayer to Durga who killed Mahishasura and the Ashtapadi (‘Chandana Charchitha,' Sumanesa Ranjani, Adi, Jayadeva) on Krishna's flirtations with the gopis, are part of a growing repertoire for the Kuchipudi tradition.

Sailaja's style is brisk, light-footed and graceful. Her choreographies are simple and free of frills; the accent is on correctness. Thus, the nritta in ‘Sankara' and Durga Stothram carry clarity and precision. The visualisation is however on the ‘tried and tested' lines -- an example being the fight between Durga and Mahisha.

While S. R. Veeraraghavan (vocal) is consistent, the artistry of his accompanists M.S. Kannan (violin) and P.V. Ramana (flute) was heard only in

spurts due to poor sound balancing. The percussionists Kishore Mosalikanti (nattuvangam) and B. P. Haribabu (mridangam) scored with brisk rhythmic support. The stage-setting (Haribabu and Sankara Narayanan) was aesthetic; it only needed the sound of bells to make the experience come alive. The pack comes with a DVD and an audio CD. A percentage of the sales proceeds has been earmarked for the cause of under-privileged children.

Symposium on dance

Sailaja is presenting the third edition of ‘Tradition, Transition and Transformation in Classical Dances' on September 18 and 19 at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. To further the cause of integrated learning, the proceedings are being documented.

A souvenir with articles from various artists will also be released. This year's symposium presents senior artists from varied classical dance styles who will present lec-dems in the morning and perform in the evening. The participating artists are: Sudharani Raghupathy with her students and the Kalakshetra Repertory (Bharatanatyam), Aruna Mohanty (Odissi), Sashidhar Acharya (Chhau), musicologist S.A.K. Durga, Tamil scholar and lyricist Dr. S. Raghuraman and Sailaja (Kuchipudi).

The symposium will honour 12 artists from various fields such as music (Rajkumar Bharati), stage decor (Nagarajan - Manohar Theatres), folk music (Anusuya Devi), literature (Dr. S. Raghuraman) and tambura artist (Ganeshan). The event is to be inaugurated by the Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting, S. Jagathrakshakan and will be presided over by mridangam vidwan Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman. Funding is from Sangeet Natak Akademi, the Ministry of Culture, Government of India and other corporate and personal sponsors, admission is free.