Bharatanatyam dancer G. Narendra on stepping into a women’s world

G. Narendra opens up about making the most of the few opportunities that come a male dancer’s way.

Updated - April 22, 2024 02:20 pm IST

Published - April 22, 2024 02:05 pm IST

G. Narendra looks back at his artistic journey

G. Narendra looks back at his artistic journey | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“My life has been like the sikku pulli kolam”, says Gundurao Narendra . I liked the imagery he had placed before me. A sikku kolam is a winding line, seemingly entangled, but not quite, for it journeys around the various dots in a sequence best known to the line, but somehow when it is over, a beautiful pattern has been created.

The phrase also to me was a preamble to the artiste’s journey and where it led him. Thanks to his father, who was extremely fond of the arts, Narendra found himself learning dance at the young age of eight. He trained under a few teachers and was 15 years into dance before he reached the portals of Kalakshetra, where he had to unlearn to re-learn all over again. He says, he was fortunate to have been chosen by Yamini Krishnamurthy when he was but a young man to be her dance partner and do the nattuvangam as well.

Narendra says Kalakshetra was the place where male dancers had a role to play in several of their home productions. But, once he left the institution, he suddenly found himself lost, if only briefly, in the vast world of art. But as luck would have it, the Dhananjayans were touring a production, and Narendra became Rama and here too, he grabbed attention. He calls it a “lucky break”. But there was a lull until he was invited by Uma Ganesan, this time to be the director of the Cleveland Cultural Alliance (CCA), which won him the nickname of ‘Cleveland’ Narendra. But after a few successful productions, he had a fall out out with CCA and once again was on his own.

G. Narendra on the challenge of finding one’s space in the art world

G. Narendra on the challenge of finding one’s space in the art world

He recalls the support of Mrs. YGP and Mr. Subramaniam in providing him opportunities. “ In an artiste’s journey, many people have a role to play — parents, teachers, and even journalists. Journalists I realised can either make or break you. I had performed the role of Duryodhana and the critic had to only write about my skinny built with ribs showing. This is all you saw in the performance, was my angst.”

He says there were very few male dancers then. People did not look kindly towards the profession and when they found he was a dancer, the remark would be: “That would make you appear effeminate. like a female then. Dancing is for girls.” Narendra says he had to live with this constant stereotyping.

While Kalakshetra was the perfect place which provided ample scope to the male dancer, he often found himself at wit’s end seeking solo opportunities. While there was never any dearth for group productions, being a soloist was a big challenge .

In 2018, Narendra presented four performances but was paid much lesser than the amount he actually spent. That is when he began to rethink spaces. He sought alternative venue such as temples, where he felt comfortable dancing.

Narendra says like most artistes, he too had many ambitions. He wanted to be one of the best dancers but soon was disillusioned because male dancers do not get opportunities as they should. Yet, in that period , there was never a moment when he did not dance. Whether there was a performance in the offing or not, he was in his studio each day practising. Of course group productions and corporate shows came his way. He also trained several young male dancers, creating opportunities for them too.

Narendra says in all these years never did he stop taking care of his body and diet, because together they contributed to his dance. His passion for cricket kept him going too. He got into acting in a bid to reinvent himself and keep the artiste in him alive.

When he was invited by the Music Academy for an evening slot in 2023 , he felt he had finally got his due. “For me, the icing was when I was voted the Best Dancer of the year.” It is definitely a validation for an artiste who is not really in his prime. He feels, there are miles to go…

Narendra had it all mapped out he thought when he started the journey and the dots represented the efforts he put in at various stages. Yet, it was destiny which drew the final kolam amidst the sikkal.

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