“Dance is the melody of the body,” says Swapanasundari, this year’s Nrithya Choodamani awardee.
All dance leads to great abstraction, but beneath the abstraction is a strong structure, and within the abstraction is a methodology,” says Vilasini Natyam exponent Swapnasundari. Book lovers the world over will admit that there are certain books they read over and over again: and, in the process, discover newer and deeper meanings that they had not observed before. To me, Swapnasundari’s dance falls into this category - it is the unpredictability of each performance that teases the mind of a rasika.
When asked about how important it was for her to ‘feel the pulse’ of the audience, Swapnasundari, in an interview, explained that one cannot not really put the entire audience into one bracket; after all, they come from different walks of life and look for something different in art --- tourists, teachers, students, some seeking entertainment, and a small group of committed rasikas, who always look for more.
Every dancer loves herself. But it is essential to see what it is in her that she loves and then aspire to make the audience love that quality -- the translation of that idea can be defined as rasanubhooti. When the audience is not seen as separate from the performance, but becomes a participant in an artist’s creative process, the whole journey becomes an inclusive and spiritual exercise.
“I began learning dance because of the sheer joy it brought to me. But as I grew older, I realised the core of my dance was to keep the child-like joy in me alive at all times,”
And the she says, “The popularity index is directly proportional to the validation given by external forces (audience/ critic/ organisation, etc). People often equate popularity with greatness – more often than not, nothing can be farther from the truth. It is, of course, possible that popularity can have the potential to greatness.” Often, artists fall prey to the web of popularity and its greatness. There comes then the period of saturation that contentment in the art brings. Swapna found herself standing at a crossroads when she was riding high on the wave of fame that her dance had brought.
“The need to empty out myself and refill was so strong,” says Swapnasundari, who began to look inwards and understood the “need to bring out the something that was there inside waiting to be unleashed.” It was then that Swapna moved from comfort zone of Kuchipudi to an area that needed to be explored, defined, researched and codified – Vilasini Natyam.
While there arose the air of uncertainty from external agencies because of the unfamiliar terrain that she had dared to venture into, she continued with single minded steadfastness. She says, “They may be taken aback. But they will come back, because it is ‘your voice’ that they hear. They realised it was not a ‘borrowed’ voice, but my inner call.” She reveals that when the artist works with faith, sincerity, conviction and patience, it becomes the core of an artist’s being. And, the artist discovers that there is no need for validation, for “the artistic process validates itself.”
“Dance is the melody of the body,” reveals Swapna. “Dance and music flow on to the canvas of stage with the most un-self-conscious brush strokes.”
Talking about young dancers who venture into productions, she has a word of advice. In an era of specialisation, there is dire need to “internalise” the concept at every step in its totality before calling in the specialists and putting them into independent compartments. For a production to flow, the concept has to flow seamlessly through the different areas of production, with every actor being an active participant from inception. For this to work, the dancer has to participate actively through the different stages and areas of production.
Swapna’s foray into the writing world also happened because of her love of reading. For a long time, she found some things irksome in the dance books that she read both in English and the vernacular. Describing those different categories of books, she says there were three categories of writing. “Any kind of writing that mystified the subject to such an extent that it took the reader away from it seemed to defeat the very purpose for which it was written.” Secondly, “books that carried banal information and depended entirely on photographs” to dress up the book could perhaps serve the purpose of being picked up as a souvenir, but certainly not for the purpose of information. Says Swapna, “A third kind of book is the one written by a dancer – a complete exercise in self-indulgence. The reader may not love the dancer the way she loves herself.”
When she found that the existing books on Kuchupidi fell into one or the other category, she penned two books -- “World of Koochipudi Dance” and “Vilasini Natyam: Bharatam of Telugu Temple and Court Dancers” -- both of which are nuggets that every student of dance will treasure.