CHATLINE OLYMPIA SHILPA GERALD grabs some breezy moments with dancer Charulatha Jayaraman, while she was in Tiruchi.
T here are two oceans and a 13-hour time difference between Irvine in Orange County, California, and Tiruchi. But for dancer Charulatha Jayaraman, transcending space to straddle two worlds has become a way of life. She represents a new tribe of artistes who revel in proving you can have your cake and eat it too.
Till marriage spelt change of plans, Tiruchi was her home. Her Shrishti School of Performing Arts, Irvine, is a replication of its mother institute, Shrishti School of Bharatanatyam, Tiruchi. But the Kalaimamani not the one to abandon her students at alien hands, and she found a way to connect her two worlds.
With a Masters in Information Technology, Charulatha has diligently harnessed her academic credentials to further the art she loves. She teaches five classes a week at her dance studio and the ‘Mandir' at Irvine, and she tutors her students in India, solely abetted by technology.
“We have fixed schedules for video conferencing. I have wireless cameras installed in the Tiruchi class that I can pan and tilt to monitor the student's steps and movements. I choreograph sequences and the seniors teach them to the younger kids. My mom is in complete charge of affairs here and it is with the help of my senior students and teachers that I keep the school going.”
This scheme finds the dancer up at wee hours demonstrating steps, reviewing students and doling out suggestions. “It is bizarre at times. I find myself staring at the computer at 3 a.m. and sounding off ideas. Of course, there are constraints too. At times I get so involved and try correcting a certain gesture, till it hits me that there are a thousand miles between us,” she chuckles.
This poised artiste, in her 30s, has always had her hands full. She took on the reins of the school at 21. “That was always a dream?to have my own dance school.” Now she has two, but she affirms it is far from cumbersome. “Thankfully, I have been blessed with the most wonderful students both here and in Irvine.”
Despite the crisp tones tinged with an American accent, Charulatha asserts that Tiruchi will always be home. “I never moved out of Tiruchi before marriage, though I was constantly told that it would help my career infinitely. This place has always been close to my heart.”
Incidentally, Shrishti was born when her Guru, Sangeet Nataka Academy Awardee Indira Rajan, visited the city weekly to teach dance to Charulatha and her friends. Later the young woman took on the school.
“I could not turn over 100-odd student to strangers. It was a commitment I had to honour. Neither could I close down the school just because I was getting married and going away. And that's how the current plan worked out.” Charulatha returns every six months, meets new entrants and coordinates her students' arangetrams. On her last trip, she says, “I had a whirlwind tour packed with rehearsals and arangetrams, with hardly any breathing space.”
Of late, the dancer has sought to bridge her two schools. “I believe exchange programmes are a wonderful cultural experience for students. Students in Tiruchi, unlike in metros, have to seek their own exposure and search for their own opportunities. Four of my senior students recently visited Orange County and interacted with students there. It was a great experience for all of them.”
Confluence of cultures
The ‘Mandir' where Charulatha teaches is a virtual melting pot of cultures, with students hailing from various parts of India. “It is more than a dance class. It is the place where students meet other Indian kids, bond and rediscover culture. Learning Bharatanatyam is their way of keeping in touch with their roots.”
The first batch of students will debut next year. Charulatha is keen that her students stay connected with their native traditions. “We have story telling sessions where students narrate Indian mythological tales using ‘hastas'. This not only enhances their knowledge of dance, but also of tradition.”
Charulatha has performed in stages all over the country and abroad. Now, she tours with her students in Las Vegas, Phoenix and cities in California, but misses live recitals. But as much as she loves the stage, it is teaching dance that leaves her more fulfilled. “Being a dance instructor is more challenging. After all these years, I still get butterflies in my stomach and spend sleepless nights before my students' arangetrams.”
Ask her what's she excited about at the moment and she replies with a bewitching smile, “I have just started classes in another American city on requests from the growing Indian community there. I fly there every Friday.” So, after Orange County, it's Viva Las Vegas now!
Spouse: Karthik Aravamudhan, product solutions sales executive. “An artiste needs a partner who can feel her passion, and not just not object to it but support it. Karthik is the Secretary of Shrishti and has been involved right from picking out the studio. "
Passion: Carnatic music, cooking and home décor. Has a collection of Buddhas, picked up from cities over the world.
Globetrotting: “I am a beach person. But I love the North East for its unspoiled beauty.” Favourite destinations: Turkey, Thailand and Mauritius.
Pet Peeve: Charulatha sets high standards that go beyond dance. Admits she is highly organised to the point of being finicky. “I am very systematic and anything out of place upsets me.”