Interview Shantha and V.P. Dhananjayan stay committed to dance and to each other with more verve than ever. RANEE KUMAR

Years have not made a mark on their glowing countenance radiating a charm and joy that comes with true love and togetherness. Shantha and V.P. Dhananjayan are both artistes; their Bharatanatyam is the foundation of their marital life which got merged with their artistic pursuit. They were one the prime dancing duo of their times. And Kalakshetra was the temple that nurtured their art and united them in wedlock.

“We were fortunate to be the direct disciples of Rukmini Devi Arundale (who was fondly called attai by her students). And it was the golden period at Kalakshetra during our time there. Ours was perhaps the best batch in more than one sense. We imbibed her ideals, her dance, her discipline, her principles and took forward to propagate and promote dance in the way she desired. The best creations of Rukmini Devi took place around this time when we were Kalakshetra's second batch. Her prime disciples in turn taught us and since there wasn't much of an age gap, we looked upon them as seniors who were our teachers and co-dancers when it came to stage performances.What more could a disciple ask for?” their face lights up with sweet memories.

Kalakshetra teaching was something the couple are proud of. Says Dhananjayan, “fundamentals practice took us three years. So within a set time our repertoire obviously turns out to be a limited one. But perfect, it was. The depth of knowledge we assimilated was a long-standing one. Further, it was an integrated art education where apart from dance, we learnt music, literature, painting, sculpture, dramaturgy, stage management, costume-making and what not. The teachers, though specialised in their field of art were very forthcoming in imparting it to all students irrespective of their particular subject.”

Shantha is proud, even to this day, to have been a part of the present Kalakshetra construction activity then. “The present campus is the fruit of our labour. As students we remember laying out unruly land to facilitate building a classroom there, or give a hand in clearing the debris. It was great fun; we felt like the real architects of this new campus which would be ours one day.”

Dhananjayan, is a crusader for many a justified cause, as his better half sees him. He doesn't believe in tampering with traditional arts. The younger set of dancers are off to gyms and yoga to keep up their staying power on stage. Did they do this in their heyday? A vehement ‘no' is the answer with an add-on sampurna yogam idam natyam . If you are a true practicing dancer, then you have covered all the subjects, under the sun. Natyam is science; it is math as every move is calculated as per the time beat viz. tala; it is music; it is physical and mental exercise. Natya is real education in the highest form. No wonder it is called the Panchama Veda.”

He laments the present day education system which has no value system ingrained in it. “Education without character is like a trunk (body) without the head, as Tagore said. An art-integrated approach to academics would have ensured discipline in mind, principles and a sense of right and wrong. Sadly, that is missing in today's generation. It is sad,” he throws up his hands in despair at the pace with which we are ready to lose our unique identity in the name of ‘contemporary'.