Danseuse Purvadhanashree says it is hard to choose between Bharatanatyam and Vilasini Natyam

Purvadhanashree is just finishing an interview as we walk in to the lobby of Hotel South Park. The danseuse, a picture of grace, settled down for a quick chat so that she could take some rest and get ready for her Vilasini Natyam performance that evening, for the Mudra national dance festival in the city.

Happy to be a practitioner of this dance tradition of the temple dancers of Andhra Pradesh, Purvadhanashree is often asked why she took to the dance form, even though she has been an Bharatanatyam dancer for long.

It was her mother, Kamalini Dutt, a Bharatanatyam dancer and her first guru, who took her to Swapna Sundari to learn abhinaya. She was also a disciple of Radhika Shurajit then. “Swapna akka auditioned me and told me that I should learn Vilasini Natyam to learn abhinaya. I was fine with it. I had neither heard much about it nor watched any performance till then. And learning from Swapna akka changed my approach towards abhinaya. Before I knew it I fell for the dance form,” she says with utmost regard for her guru who revived Vilasini Natyam from the verge of extinction.

In a dance form, she says, after a point the dancer has to go beyond nritta and explore abhinaya. She feels that one has to be guided into this intense aspect of performance because abhinaya helps the dancer to go into the nuances of the text, and explore new contexts and meanings. It has been a journey where she intuitively followed her guru.

“She just put me in the water and I swam with the flow. I hardly analysed how it differed from Bharatanatyam. In fact, even Bharatanatyam has changed over the years. It all depends on the audience and the space you are given to perform. As you perform for a wider audience, you tend to expand your horizon, which eventually brings about a change in the nritta,” she says.

Purvadhanashree has been regularly performing Vilasini Natyam at the 400-year-old Sri Ranganatha Swamy Mandir in Hyderabad where the dance is performed as a ritual during the Brahmotsavam festival.

She explains that Vilasini Natyam has three aspects – the temple tradition or Alaya Sampradaya, which includes rituals connected with worship in temples, the court tradition or Kacheyri aata, which includes presentations such as pallavi, varnams, kirtans and javalis, and theatrical presentation or Aata bhagavatham, where the dancer presents the parijatams based on the story of Lord Krishna and his consort Satyabhama.

When quizzed about whether the dance is reaching out to the masses in the desired way, she says: “How do you define popularity? Yes, it is definitely making inroads. It is performed at all the major dance festivals in the country and Sahitya Kala Parishad has recognised it. More people are learning it. Well, the Indian Council of Cultural Research is yet to recognise it. It still hasn’t got the visibility you associate with Bharatanatyam or Kuchipudi which are ingrained in the minds of dance lovers. It will take time.”

So, does she now prefer Vilasini Natyam to Bharatanatyam? “It is an unfair question. I don’t analyse them differently. Both are unique in its own way. I’d say I love dance and I am blessed to be learning dance in two different ways. My mother has always told me that one should be a thinking dancer and express the text more beautifully than what is written…,” she signs off.

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