CHITRA SWAMINATHAN

After four decades as a Bharatanatyam dancer, Srekala Bharat looks back.

The stage is set for sibling revelry. On October 1, former Indian opener Krishnamachari Srikkanth will welcome you to the celebrations of his sister Srekala Bharat’s completion of 40 years as a dancer and 10 years as a teacher.

The sprightly brother-sister duo was caught young by their respective passions and both have had a fine innings. “It was a democratic set-up in our house; we had the freedom to chase our dreams. But, my father C.R. Krishnamachari, a businessman, was particular that academics did not take the backseat. I was seven when I began learning Bharatanatyam while Srikkanth pursued cricket right from his school days. Though I am not a cricket buff and Srikkanth does not follow dance much, we have stood by each other all through,” smiles Srekala.

Combination of tradition

Trained by well-known dance guru K.J. Sarasa, Srekala’s personality and performances reflect the vibrancy of the Vazhuvoor bani.

Dance recitals no longer bear the stamp of different schools of dance. They are more a combination of tradition, imagination and influence.

Students are not necessarily trained and initiated into a style. But, Srekala, who started Thejas to keep her bani alive, says: “Learning the art in a traditional style helps one understand the technique better. The discipline of form and structure lends honesty to the dance. Over a period of time, it also gives you the maturity to absorb the finer aspects of other styles of the art form and other genres.”

This affable and cheerful artist trained under a guru, who is “both a taskmaster and an affectionate person.”

Says the fond sishya: “If you are a keen learner, you can count on Sarasa teacher to be always there for you. It may sound clichéd, but only her blessings and guidance have brought me this far.”

Of course, there is also the staunch family support. “Feminism, liberation, equal rights… are mere literary jargons. The truth is that it’s not easy for a girl to step out and seek success without solid family backing. Forty years after I began dancing, it’s time for a thanksgiving speech,” she laughs.

And, on a serious note adds: “My husband, in-laws and son have not only encouraged me but also adjusted, without complaining, to my erratic rehearsal and performance schedules. Since my mother-in-law, Jaya Krishnan, is a Carnatic musician, she could relate to my artistic aspirations.”

Battling odds with success

But Srekala also had patience and tolerance to wait for opportunities and appreciation to come her way long after she began training in the art. On the personal front, too, she battled serious medical traumas. “It’s definitely the passion for my art that gives me the strength to go on… like Celine Dion sang in ‘Titanic.’ I don’t buckle under criticism; I see them as opportunities to pause, contemplate and progress,” she says.

From solo to group presentations, from traditional repertoire to thematic recitals, from sabhas to overseas sojourns and from mythological tales to social issues… Srekala has widened the range, space and expression of her art.

“The margam’s appeal is magical. During my performances abroad, be it in Japan, Germany, England, France, Turkey, Korea, Egypt, Mauritius, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka or South Africa (she has travelled to 24 countries) people have appreciated and enjoyed its balanced appeal of emotion and rhythm.

“At the same time, thematic presentations are fascinating. They motivate you to read, research and look around. They add new dimensions to your understanding of the art. Staging ‘Mahila Mahima,’ ‘Bhakta Meera,’ ‘Annamayya Bhakta Manjari,’ ‘Sakhi,’ ‘Swathi Smriti,’ ‘Arupadai Veedu,’ ‘Jai Santhoshi Maa’ and ‘Devi Mahima’ have been creatively challenging and fulfilling experiences,” explains Srekala.

The past decade has also made her realise the significance of teaching.

“It is not only about giving; it is also about enriching yourself. Most of these youngsters are extremely talented, aware and brimming with ideas. They make you feel younger and energetic. Thejas is like an extended family,” she says hugging a cute 10-year-old student.

Bharatanatyam medley

On October 1 at Sivagami Pethachi Auditorium, 5.45 p.m., Srekala’s guru, seniors, family and friends will join her in celebrating her four-decade association with Bharatanatyam and her dance school Thejas’ tenth anniversary.

The dancer and her students will present a Bharatanatyam medley (margam in a concise 28-minute format).

Also a short audio-visual tracking her artistic journey will be screened.

Those present will be K. Srikkanth, chairman, National Cricket Selection Committee, guru K.J. Sarasa, Bharatanrityam exponent Padma Subrahmanyam, secretary of Narada Gana Sabha R. Krishnaswami, Bharatanatyam dancer, teacher and choreographer M.V. Narasimhachari, founder-director of Sivan Arts Academy Rukmani Ramani, veteran Bharatanatyam artist and guru Nandini Ramani, assistant station director, Doordarshan Kendra (Chennai) Seetha Ratnakar and consultant neurologist Dr. B Biswakumar.