Remembering a legend

The demise of Vempati Chinna Satyam who spread the art of Kuchipudi across the world through his students was shocking news for the entire world of Indian dance and art lovers. He was always aperehensive about whether the standards set by his Kuchipudi Art Academy would be sustainedin his absence.

This may be one reason why he launched the International ‘Federation of Kuchipudi Artistes’ (IFKA) at Ravindra Bharati, last year, with him as its Chairman. Akkineni Nageswara Rao inaugurated it and State Department of Culture gave Rs. two lakhs. He also converted his Kuchipudi Art Academy into a foundation under his name. At different stages in his life in Chennai, different artistes joined and gave shape to the academy but without much consistency.

Vempati had seen enough of what was happening around him right as a young student of Kuchipudi and self aggrandizement of his gurus in his village.

The guru he approached to learn dance simply said he was unfit for dance, like Ghantasala was once rejected as unfit to sing. Both rose as icons in their respective fields.

However, his training under legendary Vedantam Lakshminarayana Sastry imbibed in him some reformist thoughts, in streamlining the art of dance and its presentation.

If Lakshminarayana Sastry broke the tradition of only men playing female roles, by introducing women and creating solo presentations; Chinna Satyam made women take up even male roles in his ballets. In one way he was an extension Lakshinarayana Sastry. Vempati even broke tradition even in costume. He argued that “Tradition changes with times. We have to re-interpret it to suit the social changes.”

These progressive thoughts extended to giving finer touches to Kuchipudi art. But this happened only after he moved to Chennai, not by choice, but because of his circumstances. His stint in films as supporting choreographer to Pedda Satyam and Vedantam Raghavayya, did not last long. He was constantly haunted by the falling standards of the dance in his village Kuchipudi.

He believed that the art was not following principles of Bharata’s ‘Natya Sastra’ and ‘Abhinaya Darpana’ of Nandikeswara that he studied repeatedly. He believed that Yakshagana was the original form reflective of Natya Sastra and Kuchipudi dance fell short of it. He began polishing Kuchipudi dance with all the elements he picked up from Natya Sastra and Abhinaya Darpana. It yielded results.

In due course his incidental acquaintance with ballet writer S.V. Bhujangaraya Sarma and music composer Patrayayani Sangeetha Rao helped him to weave ballets that brought him name and fame. They were called ‘Trio’ of Kuchipudi dance art. Together they created and a number of ballets like Srirkishna Parijatham, Chandalika, Kalyana Sakunthalam, Srinivasa Kalyanam and so on.

Vempati was a good dancer and was seen presenting characters like Lord Siva. He polished rough edges of Kuchipudi and broadened its grammar. Most of the dancers are proud to say they were students of the Vempati School. His direct and indirect disciples are spread across the state and abroad. The loss of Vempati Chinna Satyam seems to have left a big vacuum.

His death is a great loss to Kuchipudi and its dance.

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Printable version | Jul 30, 2021 9:09:43 AM |

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