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A picture of grace

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CREATIVE VOCABULARY Deepika believes there is a certain language of dance that is universally understood that of hand gestures
CREATIVE VOCABULARY Deepika believes there is a certain language of dance that is universally understood that of hand gestures

ARUNA CHANDARAJU

Deepika Reddy, among the most talented students of the legendary Vempatti Chinna Satyam, believes in constant learning

It's easy to see the reasons for Kuchipudi dancer Deepika Reddy's success a statuesque figure; classic good looks complete with large expressive eyes; a natural grace; a legendary guru; and relentless hard work. Kuchipudi maestro Vempati Chinna Satyam has groomed a long line of famous dancers and Deepika is the youngest among them. Watching her dance is a real pleasure, given her flawless footwork, richly expressive abhinaya with its remarkable spontaneity, perfect sense of laya, and fluidity of movement. With hundreds of performances in India and abroad ; rave reviews from discerning critics; and a string of honours including honorary citizenship of Japan, you would think Deepika is satisfied with her laurels. Yet, she tells you that though she's happy and grateful she's never really satisfied and believes in constant learning. From day one at Vempati's gurukulam, to the time she's become a teacher herself, it's been constant education. Among the most valuable lessons she learnt from "Vempatigaru" was about abhinaya and that it comes from the dancer's imagination and not imitation of his/her teacher. "It's a mistake to think that imitating a guru's expression perfectly makes for an abhinaya lesson learnt perfectly," Vempati would say. Rather, it comes from the dancer imagining himself in that same time, place, and mood, and experiencing oneness with the character being portrayed, and then emoting. This makes abhinaya natural and spontaneous and a delight for the audience. This training was especially helpful for abhinaya-rich items such as padams and javalis, explains Deepika. Also, a dancer who only and solely imitates his/her guru would soon become predictable and audiences would tire of a repetitive performer. "So by training us to tap our own creativity and imagination, Vempati has ensured that our performances are always fresh and our abhinaya and sancharis unique and different and thus interesting for audiences." For the same reason, he would also urge them to watch dance performances of other artists, even of other dance forms. "Don't be a frog in the well," he would say. Continuing in this vein, Deepika has learnt to be what she describes as a "thinking dancer, which is so essential for success". For instance, an ancient art form like classical dance, rooted in our unique culture and traditions, would be hard to appreciate for a foreigner. Yet, unless the audience can relate to a performance in some way at least, the best performance will be without impact. So, for instance, when she performed in Japan, keeping in mind their love of nature especially the principles of Shintoism she presented an item called Panchabhuta using a composition of Ravi Shankar. For Hiroshima, she aptly chose a piece on World Peace, and to much acclaim. The Shanta Mudra she used is now being used by their local museum in their promotional materials on the theme of peace! To explain the Kuchipudi concept of female impersonation to Japanese audiences, she connected it to their Kabuki theatre, which has a similar tradition. Before foreign audiences, she avoids prolonged sancharis and items involving complex concepts from Indian epics/mythology. Back home and before knowledgeable audiences, she chooses more traditional items, including long-duration ones complete with prolonged sancharis and deep bhava. However, she has realised there is a certain language of dance that is universally understood that of hand gestures (since it was one of the earliest forms of communication); the navarasas - the nine emotions; and nritta-rhythm. Choreography is another area where the attitude of constant learning and drawing on one's creativity have helped her. Her recent success was for a UNESCO presentation on natural dyes. It required much ideation and brainstorming with colleagues before she came up with the piece where the Panchabhutas and other aspects of nature were interwoven with creative displays of handloom and handicraft traditions using natural dyes like Pochampalli weaves and Kondapalli toys. In another innovation, she has introduced aaharya into many originally-solo-items to make them more visually appealing and interesting. Staying faithful to pure classical tradition while constantly innovating, keeps a performer ever-watchable, she says. "Also needed are relentless practice without which fluidity and completion of movements are affected. One has to watch one's figure too."


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