Dance

Alekhya’s passion for tradition

Alekhya Punjala.  

Alekhya Punjala is a big name now in the field of Kuchipudi dance art, a name that she earned by sheer hard work and dedication to the art. The latest sample to mirror her achievements was the production of her magnum opus ‘Rudrama’, a production that needed multiple inputs right from stage design to depicting war scenes. It is also a rare production in the history of Kuchipudi drama. No wonder she now wants to take it across the state in events like the Kakatiya festival.

It’s been a long journey of 40 years for Alekhya in the field of Kuchipudi. “It was a childhood dream,” recalls Alekhya who learnt dance from her Montessori days. She began learning from noted guru Dayal Saran who is said to have taught the legendary Kelucharan Mahapatra at one stage. Dayal Saran initiated child Alekhya into learning Odissi and Kathak. But realising her passion to learn Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam, he helped her find a guru. “I was extremely fortunate that I found Uma Rama Rao, as my guru who groomed me in the art,” she says. She went on to become a professor and head of the department of dance in Telugu University after her guru’s retirement. She has also bagged the highest honour of the state ‘Hamsa Award’ and central Government’s ‘Sangeetha Nataka Academy’ award.

“For me dance is everything. I want to turn a score of my students into top class dancers,” she says. . She then narrates how her Arangetram was performed. “My father passed away in 1976 just before I was to give my arangetram. He was my biggest support, and his death shattered my dreams. But my mother stood by me and sought the services of a friend of my father who was in Indian National Theatre, which was about to celebrate its Silver Jubilee. My dance became part of that event, thus completing the ritual of Arangetram,” she says.

Academically Alekhya is a double graduate in English literature and in Bharatanatyam as well. “Even during my studies I never stopped pursuing dance. My ambition is to revive the art of Yakshagana, the hallmark of Kuchipudi dance. At one time I made an attempt to produce ‘Usha Parinayam’ with the help of a well-known artiste of Kuchipudi clan. But I could not. At the University , we also teach Yakshagana. The syllabus was prepared by stalwart gurus of Kuchipudi. We teach choreography and Nattuvangam right from holding and handling cymbals to using them the right way. We even teach them classical music,” she says. She rues that well-trained students who come out of the university fail to find opportunities to pursue the art. “Some of the students are so ambitious that they start running their own schools, for survival,” she says.

“We are fighting to ensure that art becomes a medium for their survival, not just an extra-curricular activity. Some of my students did post-graduation and some did Ph.Ds too. It is necessary the government provide opportunities to continue practice or teach the art or in the least appoint them as part time teachers,” she argues.

Speaking of the dilution in dance standards, Alekhya laments, “Quality is a victim because some of the teachers who run their own schools are poor in theoretical knowledge. Even the scripts provided by some casual writers are absolutely poor in quality and lack a Kuchipudi idiom.” She complains that those who did not have systematized learning are going for You Tubes and download music and imitate dances. That is the reason why the repertoire of these gurus contains assorted songs of different vocalists. They do not need an orchestra or a nattuvanar or the presence of a guru; a CD would do suffice for everything . More and more children are seeking such short cut methods, not knowing such dances lack quality and grammar. She is also amused by the emergence of the ‘Event Manager’ system for the benefit of dancers who come from abroad.

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2021 10:58:44 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/dance/alekhyas-passion-for-tradition/article7633331.ece

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