Kuchipudi danseuse Yashoda Thakore is currently involved in an effort to revive Vilasini Natyam, a vibrant art form that was passing into oblivion. One of the few disciples of Guru Swapna Sundari, Yashoda learns and performs Vilasini Natyam with utmost passion like her guru. Yashoda was in Thiruvananthapuram to perform at the Nishagandhi Festival.
Even as a child I would tell my parents to enrol me in dance class. My parents, however, decided to wait as most kids that age demand the same. They wanted to see if I was really interested. I started learning Kuchipudi at the age of six at Kuchipudi Art Academy run by Vempatty Chinna Satyam. Guru Shobha Naidu was my first guru. My studies at the Academy continued for almost 14 years and I was exposed to only Kuchipudi. I was part of the ballets presented by the academy during that time.
Moving to Vilasini Natyam
I attended a seminar on Vilasini Natyan by maestro Swapnasundari in which Maduralaxmi Narayanan, an 80-year-old Kalavanthalu (Devadasi), performed the abhinaya part for four hours without repeating ideas. Swapnakka was interpreting her actions all through the presentation. Watching this extraordinary event, I realised that Kuchipudi is not the end of the day. Inspired by it, I immediately wrote to Swapnakka but there was no reply. Later I went to watch a Vilasini Natyam performance by Swapnakka at the Rangnath Mandir on the outskirts of Andhra Pradesh. This 500-year-old temple was once a platform for Kalavantalus. Swapnakka was invited to present Vilasini Natyam there at the Brhamostav and that was the first time I saw her performing this mind-blowing dance form. I wrote to her again and that time too, there was no response. In 2005, I got a message from her asking whether I was still interested in learning Vilasini Natyam as she was planning to start giving lessons to five select students. My entry to the world of Vilasini Natyam started there. Later Swapnakka showed me all the letters that I had written to her. She was waiting to see whether I would stick to my decision to learn Vilasini Natyam.
Kuchipudi and Vilasini Natyam
Kuchipudi is a result of many art forms such as street play, Yakshagana and Kalavantalu dance. As this was initially performed by men, all movements were set in a masculine tone. When women started doing it, the style was toned down for them. It is now a polished art form. Vilasini Natyam is a tradition followed by Kalavantalus. In its glorious period, the Kings used to invite Kalvantalus to perform when there were guests at the court. This was to impress the guests with the art form. Vilasini Natyam is a demanding art form. The dancers of Vilasini Natyam have to sing on stage while performing, regardless of whether they have a good voice or not. As most of the librettos are in Telegu, the danseuse must have a thorough knowledge of the language. For doing the slokabhinaya, the danseuse must learn Sanskrit. Finally they should know a third common language to communicate with the audience. There is a lot of practise involved in the learning process as it is a wide area. We have learned only 200 aduvus since now and there are many more to explore.
Socially relevant themes in Vilasini Natyam
The padams or javalis that we present in Vilasini Natyam have a contemporary relevance. Though the themes focus on traditional characters, it still holds relevance today. The times may change, but the emotions remains the same.
Learning with masters
My first guru was a direct disciple of Vempatty Chinna Satyam. She was very supportive and made us participate in all ballets presented by the academy. I got a chance to attend a 40-day workshop by Guru Vempatty Chinna Satyam and the session was very inspiring. I also learned under Guru Bala Kondala Rao. Coming to Swapnakka, being her student is an incomparable experience. She is a strict teacher in the class but that does not mean that she scolds us all the time. If we don't deliver, she changes her tone. She is very particular about how sincere you are in learning the art form.
I got the opportunity to perform at a few prestigious venues abroad and the feedback was interesting as the audience would ask me questions regarding the performance. After watching the expressions of the naayika, they told me that they could identify with the character. In Kerala, I danced for the Mudra festival and also performed at Kalamandalam.
I have a dance school called Rinda Saranya Kuchipudi Art Academy. I teach only a few who are really passionate about learning the art form. I send my students to other places to perform and make sure that they themselves do the arrangements for the journey. I will support them in everything but I want to avoid spoon feeding.