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Dedicated to dance

Dance is an ongoing process for Dr. Uma Rama Rao, recipient Sangeet Natak Akademi Award

OCTOBER 26 will remain a memorable day in the life of Dr Uma Rama Rao - she was honoured by the President of India with the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for her devotion to classical dance in the Kuchipudi genre. Dance is not just a career for Uma; it is her way of life. Awards in the past have come her way in reams but this national recognition and the reverence that goes with it "indeed is something to cherish," she admits. Dignified demeanour, astute articulation, and above all devotion to dance place her on a different pedestal. She does not vie for limelight, "so far things have come to me without asking. I am content for myself about this recognition, but as an artist I do feel there are many such deserving artists who have devoted a lifetime to their artistic pursuits and still remain unsung and untold about,"says Uma .

"Everyone of us were treated to the best of hospitality," she says. Uma's dance career spans across 50 years where she performed, choreographed, studied and instructed. She struck a fine balance between her housewifely chores and the demands of her art."My early learning of dance was in Visakhapatnam under P.V. Narasimha Rao who introduced me to the basics of classical dance. My sister Sumathi Kaushal soon followed me and we moved to the tutelage of guru Nataraja Ramakrishna. It was under Vedantam Lakshminarayana Sastri that I was formally initiated into the Kuchipudi system. The Sixties saw me emerge as a performing artiste, the Seventies and Eighties as a teacher armed with rising academic (dance) qualifications, the Nineties as research scholar and a full fledged doctorate. By the end of the millennium I was heading the department of dance at Potti Sriramulu Telugu University . Today I remain a guru to my endless train of pupils, a companion to my beloved husband and an advisor to my sons abroad," she narrates in a nutshell. On her substantial contribution to Kuchipudi, Uma says her extensive research on the 17th Century Maratha ruler of Thanjavoor-Shahaji's Yakshagana Prabhandhaalu (a highly descriptive form of literature) had opened new vistas of ancient art form and given a different dimension to her dance. Armed with a vision, she started solo choreography and slowly graduated to thematic productions.

" `Surya Stuti' was the foremost and `Nauka Charitra' (Saint Thyagaraja's musical opera) was the first matured effort using the techniques of Kuchipudi," she explains. Her `Pallaki Seva Prabhandham' (Shiva-Parvathi lore) is an aesthetic milestone in group choreographies. She changed the raw ruggedness of Kuchipudi into a suave and urbane stage presentation.

"I have a healthy respect for the original form of art. It has a vigour and liveliness in its footwork that no other dance form can boast of. But the first person narrative as in the characterisation of Satyabhama (Bhama Kalapam) sounds too grotesque to the sophisticated audience of today. It is in such places that I replaced this oddity with a third person narrative that preserves the dignity of the principal character as well as extols the attributes through a spokesperson following the Kuchipudi style of depiction", she adds.

"I attach a lot of importance to aesthetics in all aspects of dance. Dance being a visual art, physical assets obviously come to the fore. I believed in holding the stage as long as I was in good form structurally."

"I bowed out gracefully and today I see myself in my children (pupils) and that makes me proud. There is no retirement for the guru (notwithstanding governmental rules). That is the reason I am able to appreciate and value this award at this age."

Her dance school is aptly named Lasya Priya after the modified feminine form of Kuchipudi she advocates and imparts.

"Theoretically the study and learning of dance has a prescribed, time-bound period, but for a performing artiste as well as a teacher it is an ongoing process of assimilating the modern, preserving the ancient and producing an amalgamation in perfection."


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