To be given a Kerala Sangeeta Nataka Akademi award for their art, despite them being Non-resident Keralites (NRKs), is an honour that is more than the fame a recognition of this stature brings.

To them, the award bears a unique sweetness, and coming home to receive tremendously boosts their efforts in teaching and practicing art in another State.

Most of the NRKs, selected for the awards honouring the work of ‘Pravasi Malayali’ artistes, were at a loss for words to express their gratitude when they gathered at the residence of Soorya Krishnamoorthy, the Chairman of the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi, on Wednesday. The informal meeting was held ahead of the ceremony in the evening that saw close to 20 artistes receiving an honour that has never before been instituted by any State government. The artistes were overwhelmed at the creation of the award. “All Malayalis, irrespective of when they left the State, has a piece of Kerala in them. Along with them goes a ‘pravasi Mahabali’,” says Lata Surendran, a Mumbai-based Bharatanatyam dancer who has been chosen as one of the awardees from the West zone.

Aiswarya Warrier, a Mohiniyattam performer settled in Baroda in Gujarat, speaks of the struggles she initially went through in conveying the more elegant moves that define this traditional dance.

“In Gujarat, the people are exposed to more fast-paced performances such as Bharathanatyam and Kathak, and it took a while to cultivate people’s tastes,” says Ms. Warrier, underlining that it is imperative that the performer is also able to creatively modify the art.

‘Rich tradition’

“The cultural scene in Kerala is historically so rich and every time an artiste considers performing here my only advice to them is that they better work hard because I am yet to find viewership that is more critical and culturally inclined,” she says, being a dancer who visits the State frequently.

Treading the fine line between adhering to purely traditional norms and going overboard with original additions is a challenge that many artistes have faced. Rema Shrikant, a Bharatanatyam dancer from Baroda, feels that dance has grown universal. “There is no pressure of having to introduce to the audiences something new as all forms are now well-received,” she says.

Ms. Surendran, who runs a dance academy in Mumbai, has created special varnams or the dance’s centre piece, for her students in different languages. “You use the syntax of the dance and sheath it in different languages so that the audience can connect to them better,” she says.

“This new wave is bound to reap benefits for the State as well and prompt other governments to support their ‘pravasi’ artistes as well,” say Kalamandalam Sankaranarayanan, an exponent of Kathakali, from Kolkata, and Kuchipudi dancer, P. Remadevi, from Hyderabad.