Dance

Steady steps to success

Parvathi Ravi Ghantasala.  

To belong to an illustrious family such as that of genius musician-composer Ghantasala Venkateswara Rao is indeed an privilege. At the same time, expectations are quite high, and it can be overwhelming at times. But not for Parvathi Ravi Ghantasala. The Bharatanatyam dancer-teacher has created a space that is her own in the artistic realm, and is content experimenting within that realm.

Interestingly, Bharatanatyam was not Parvathi’s first career choice… it was a path chosen by her singer-mother. “I hail from a conservative family where learning dance was considered blasphemous,” she laughs during a freewheeling chat. “But my mother loved classical dance. When she stumbled upon my rhythmic side, she made up her mind to train me as a dancer.” Guru Krishnakumari Narendran, the family’s neighbour, was only too willing to teach the six-year-old.

Parvathi had to get past her strict father. “Initially, my father did not know I was attending dance classes. I would sneak out for an hour or so and return before he suspected anything. When it was time for my salangai pooja, we needs funds and had to approach him. That time, I told him learning Bharatanatyam was compulsory in school! He agreed. Of course, once he discovered my passion for dance, he gave in. By the time of my arangetram, he was a great support and even helped organise the event.”

Parvathi’s stage debut was in 1978. She continued to hone her skills by participating in her guru’s productions, in the process getting noticed and slowly but surely making a name for herself. Studying the nuances of abhinaya under Kalanidhi Narayanan lent a fresh dimension to her art.

At 25, her marriage was arranged with Ravi Ghantasala, the son the legendary playback singer, composer and writer. Quiz her about her family connections and Parvathi replies, “To be honest, when I got married to Ravi Ghantasala, I had no clue about what my new surname meant. But things changed dramatically for me. Once I discovered the stature of my father-in-law, I took off on a new journey … into the world of Telugu music and the magnetic voice of Ghantasala.”

In fact, it was her son Mohinder who gave Parvathi the idea of choreographing Ghantasala’s tunes. “Initially, I was sceptical. My father-in-law is an icon and worshipped for his music even today in Andhra Pradesh. To dance to his tunes, literally, was daunting, to say the least. But with my mother-in-law Sarala’s approval and my husband’s silent but solid support, I took up that project.” The venture proved to be a great hit.

Parvathi recalls her first attempt at choreography. She says, “I wanted to pay tribute to Tyagaraja. So I decided to express the Pancharatna kritis through adavu and abhinaya. The production had the blessing of Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer.” This became an annual feature, into its 15 year now.

The dancer has been lucky to be associated with many Carnatic greats over the years. “MS amma launched ‘Annamayya’ at Tirumala. K.J. Yesudas sang the title song for ‘Utchi Tilakam’. I feel blessed.”

Having choreographed several artistically satisfying productions such as ‘Utchi Thilagam’, ‘Annamayya’, ‘Aindhamudhu’, ‘Ambalavananum Aranganum’ and ‘Krsna Madhuryam,’ Parvathi has now invested her energies into her latest ‘Samarpanam.’ “Here, I have incorporated six classical styles.” She recently took the ballet to Singapore to a rousing reception.

Stepping into new arenas is what keeps Parvathi on her toes. Be it designing costume or choosing the sets or coming up with novel ensembles, Parvathi finds every aspect challenging, and creatively fulfilling.

It is to take forward her vision and promote Bharatanatyam that she started her dance school, Kala Pradarshini, in 1998 with Justice K.S. Bakthavatsalam, as its patron and mentor.

Today, Parvathi is contented teaching and watching her students blossom into talented dancers. “They are the future.” As for herself, “Well, Bharatanatyam is my life. I want to keep at it for as long as I can.”

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Printable version | Mar 4, 2021 8:45:30 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/dance/steady-steps-to-success/article2853554.ece

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