Dance

Blazing her own path

Breaking into new realms of movement L.Murugasankari Photo: S James

Breaking into new realms of movement L.Murugasankari Photo: S James

On the terrace of her modest home in Mahatma Gandhi Nagar, L.Murugasankari takes a leap in the air with an artistic control. Her expressive doe eyes and aesthetically pleasing emotive face break into new realms of movement with her agile body. Effortlessly she lands on the ground and breaks into a warm smile. “Dance integrates the mind, body and the soul,” she says as we sit for a breezy chat on a day she is packed with activities – a TV interview, regular classes with her new set of students in Madurai and finishing touches to her five years of research on Kuravanci dance dramas. She submitted her Ph.D thesis on Thursday in Madras University.

It doesn’t take long to sense she is not the kind of person you encounter every day. There is an element of liveliness in anything she does. It is her spirit and her determination that set her apart whether she is dancing, teaching, talking, singing or acting.

“Today, I am in a happy space after years of inner challenge,” she says. The challenge of chasing her dream – learning, teaching and performing bharatanatyam. “But”, she quickly adds, “my interest never subdued even during financial difficulties my family underwent.”

Normally people don’t see you until you have made it. But Tamil playwright and actor Leo Prabhu always saw the passion in his daughter. Murugasankari only ever wanted to dance even though it seemed like an extravagance as her parents could not afford the fee and expensive costumes. But the young dreamer did not succumb to her circumstances. Her father let her not.

Breaking into new realms of movement L.Murugasankari Photo: Special Arrangement

Breaking into new realms of movement L.Murugasankari Photo: Special Arrangement

“He always told me self-pity and brooding is futile. Life will change,” she says. And it did because she chose not from fear but commitment. Self-discipline and commitment to her venture to the point of obsession saw her through the years of struggle from the time when she discontinued her training in bharatanatyam and also had to delayed her plans of arangetram due to lack of money.

“Though my father acted in two-dozen odd films, theatre was his forte. When his films did not click, payments did not come by and opportunities waned, we were thrown into difficult times,” recalls Murugasankari, who emerged University ranker in chemical engineering and took up a corporate job to support her parents.

As a child, she trained under K.J. Sarasa, disciple of Vazhavoor Ramappa Pillai, and a close friend of her father, and later resumed her training under Kalaimamani Parvathy Ravi Ghantasala, of the Pandanallur style. But it was only after six years of corporate job and savings that she could take up dance full time. “Everyone has his/her share of struggles but only you can think about what you can do to change that and even do something inconvenient when it comes down to making that choice,” she says. And she made that choice.

“I quit my job and enrolled into Masters programme in bharatanatyam and later earned the UGC Fellowship, while also taking training in Carnatic music and nattuvangam, essential for any dancer to take to teaching the art form,” she says. Things started rolling as she could fund her arangetram at the age of 23 and established Kalai Koodam, a centre for learning arts with four students. Today, it has two centres in Chennai and one in Madurai with over 75 students under its fold.

“It is your job to work hard and become a master,” says Murugasankari and finds teaching to be an enriching experience. Nearly 20 of her students have performed their arangetrams and she feels dance should be part of every child’s curriculum or extra-curricular activity. “It helps to develop sensitivity and when you appreciate art forms, it improves your quality of life and imagination,” she asserts.

She says sometimes she gets shocked when students ask her what would they get by learning traditional dance forms. “I never thought like that and I do not promote myself as an artiste or a teacher,” she says, adding, “I only want Bharatanatyam to reach out to more people as a versatile dance form. The traditional art forms are our identity and with music and rhythm, children can be easily made attentive to them.” Murugasankari loves to innovate without over-stepping the boundaries of tradition.

The drive to be different has earned her innumerable opportunities to perform within and outside the country. “Bharatanatyam is the highest form of yoga and when you master the art of telling jatis you can do your steps to Rabindra sangeet to Italian music effortlessly,” she says. She wants to inspire passion in people through dance and is planning to launch a dance festival in Madurai this winter.

Murugasankari splits her time between Chennai and Madurai teaching classes and travelling worldwide for performances. But it is not just dance that connects her to Madurai. Her industrialist husband, Vivekh, whom she married last year after a decade’s courting, belongs to the Temple Town. “He is an excellent photographer and has dedicatedly followed me to each of my performances ever since we met 10 years ago,” she says, confident of the beautiful journey the two have embarked upon.

“We need to point our minds and resources in the right direction because the real investment is in the idea,” says Murugasankari, who clearly loved dance enough to stick to it.

A recipient of several awards and titles, she says the recognitions have only filled her with more humility because dance doesn’t offer you anything permanent like a painting or a poem. “But,” she asserts, “it is that single fleeting moment when you feel alive during a solo performance and are able to hold on to the audience.” “The connection is divine.”

QUOTE:

A career in dance comes easy to the privileged. But I never gave up on my dreams, they only got bigger

Awards

Murugasankari L has received the Natya Kala Vipanchee; Naattiya Thilagam, Malaysia; Nritya Shiromani, Cuttack; Narthana Shiromani, Chennai; World dance day Puraskar, UNESCO international Dance Council Vishakapatnam; and National Excellency Award -2012

Classes

Kalai Koodam offers weekend classes in Madurai at No.5, Vijayalakshmi Theatre Road, Vishwanathapuram. Only for girl students above five years. For details contact 8098219801


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Printable version | May 18, 2022 12:52:58 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/dance/dance-is-lmurugasankaris-first-love-she-tells-her-story-about-how-her-father-leo-prabhu-the-renowned-dramatist-kept-her-motivated-against-all-odds/article19270933.ece