Tuesday, 24 November 2015

The Making of MANJARI - Mystique Fragrances

I still don't recall how it all started, but I do know that the desire to to stretch beyond limitations has always fascinated me. What ensued was an idea that I will cherish forever.
MANJARI - Mystique Fragrances, my dream project, my debut solo production, my baby. Pillared by some of the most fabulous and wonderful human beings on the face of earth, MANJARI is really not mine, but Ours.

And this is how it all happened : 

September & October 2014 - The idea germinated, omnipresent but unexplored. I kept wondering whether it even made sense, because if its that simple, someone ought to have worked on it already.
And then I learnt, sometimes the simplest of things are the most overlooked.

November 2014 - In 30 days, the entire research was done. At that point, I didn't even have the slightest idea that I would make a presentation of it. The theme was intriguing enough for me to pursue learning about it, without the slightest thought of how it would turn out. 
29th November - In a serendipitous meeting with acclaimed danseuse Ramaa Bharadvaj, I happened to share with her the idea behind MANJARI, and she took an immediate liking for it. She told me "Do it before anyone else does". That and of course her inspiring solo feature MITRA, set the tone for what would be the most exciting year of my life thus far. The decision to stage MANJARI was taken. 

December 2014 - In the first 15 days we had the first draft of the script for MANJARI ready. The ever critical-thinking and creative - Sharan Subramanian was constantly adding,removing and modifying content from my preliminary research, resulting in a final draft towards Christmas. Both of us being music lovers, even took the liberty to courageously pen down the choice of Ragas (musical modes / melodic tunes) for each segment.
The final document was convincing enough for me to take to the musical genius,vocalist and composer - Karnataka Kalashree DS Srivathsa for his inputs. A preliminary discussion with him, reinforced my belief in MANJARI, for he approved not just of the script, but the Ragas as well. I then brought it back to work on the loopholes, and tighten the loose threads. We figured we would be in a position to stage it after September 2015.

March 2015 - After waiting a good two months working on the script over and over again, the much awaited day dawned - the very first composing session with Vathsa Sir. Three hours, and the biggest composition of MANJARI was done. In awe I sat, while listening to the very first draft recording. 

April 2015 - I would like to believe this was the toughest part of the entire process - getting a common date from all my musicians for the performance. After a good number of phonecalls, I figured everyone was available on the 28th November, a convenient Saturday. The auditorium was available too, and I was warded off from my biggest worry.
We also worked on the promotional material, since the vocalist, Sharan and the guitarist, Bharad (for the promo videos) and the Caption Writer, Karthik Shyam (for the promo posters) all accomplished Doctors would start getting busy June onward. Hasty photo shoots, video shoots, jamming sessions, recording sessions and a big long YouTube tutorial on video-editing resulted in Teaser and Promo videos as well as posters being ready. Basically, we had all our promotional material ready way back in Mid-2015, with a detailed plan on when to insinuate what. (Hence I smile at any accusations of imitating PR or SMM strategies)

May 2015 - Towards the end of May two more compositions were done in yet another fabulous composing session with Vathsa Sir, one in Kannada and one in Telugu. Linguistic and artistic prowess at the peak !
Another highlight was the discussion with the Rhythmic Genius - Srihari Rangaswamy Sir. In a quick half an hour briefing session, I explained everything about MANJARI, and in the next week he had all the rhythmic interludes sent to me. 

June to August 2015 - The most interesting phase of MANJARI - putting all those months of planning and thoughts into action, into dance, into choreography. I've always loved experimenting on choreography while keeping intact the structure and form of what I've learnt over my learning tenure, which continues to this day. The new theme and brand new compositions gave me ample scope to explore, and unleash the creativity.
The plan was to work on one composition per month over 4 months, and cram two smaller segments in one month, so as to wind up by October (Yes, you're allowed to say that I have an OCD). Considering I worked my full-time corporate job through the day, it seemed a fair deal. The plan did materialize until August. The structure of four compositions was more or less final.
A long catch up with the mystical flautist - Mahesh Swamy Sir furthered my belief in MANJARI. It is a blessing to be associated with and have your project pillared by some of the most generous and warm people. Mahesh Sir patiently listened to my script and gave all his inputs not just with respect to music/dance but even the stage, lighting and ambiance. 
By August end, the last two segments were also composed by Vathsa Sir - one in Tamil (which is one of his masterpiece creations) and another abstract piece.

September & October 2015 - The month of performances. What I thought would be just one outstation trip ended up becoming four (Mumbai, Pune, Mysore and Udupi), on four consecutive weekends, with a follow up by the blessed Dengue virus. I say blessed, for it debilitated me only for 2 weeks, and not the usual 2 months. Naturally no work was done on MANJARI. With two more segments remaining, panic had well and truly struck. However, the bed-ridden time was effectively utilized to design the invites and handouts which were still pending on me.
An additional Doordarshan recording and a performance at Bangalore brought the Dengue affected body back to form. I say this with certainty - 'the spirit most definitely over powers the bodily limitations'. 

November 2015 : 
Week 1 - Crammed and choreographed the last two compositions.
Week 2 - Showed all of them to Soundarya akka, who patiently mentored me throughout with her keen eye for detail, and gave all her corrections, approvals, disapproval even.
Week 3 - Introspection. What started of as a dream was actually materializing before my eyes, and I can't believe MANJARI came this far. When I printed out the handouts for 28th, there was that mixed feeling of tension, satisfaction, anxiety and everything else one would feel if they were doing something for the first time. 
Week 4 - Rehearsals in progress........

MANJARI is extremely special to me, literally my baby, happening because of a lot of love, affection, care, concern and support from a lot of people. 
Be there not just to witness a magnificent concept (and all those associated words in my invite), but to see something crafted with a whole lot of love - for Dance, for Life and for the Lord.

28th November 2015, Saturday, 6 pm at Seva Sadan, Malleshwaram, Bangalore

Thursday, 20 August 2015

KALA SAMVADA - Conversations

Rama Vaidyanathan is a name that needs no introduction in the dance circles. A top performing artiste of international repute, an intelligent choreographer and a doting Guru and Mentor, she has won the hearts of Rasikas and students world over for her perfect dancing and aesthetic approach to choreography.
Excerpts from my tete-a-tete with her on a rainy Saturday evening, while she was in Bangalore for a Workshop (As appearing the August 2015 issue of Ananya Kalasinchana, a monthly magazine published by ANANYA, a Bangalore based organization for the promotion of the Arts) :

Please share with us how it all started - Your days as a student of dance and the stepping stones that aided the metamorphosis into the performer that you are today.
My early learning began under Guru Yamini Krishnamurthy in Delhi. We would  board two DTC buses and an auto to reach the dance class, and it was my mother who diligently escorted me to the class twice a week or sometimes more. The commute was never a difficulty as learning was a very joyous experience and my Guru was a stern yet a very warm person. When I was 10 years old, she said I was ready to do my Arangetram. I was her first student to do the Arangetram, and thereafter it was only more and more dancing.
I got married at the age of 19 into a family where the platform was ready for me to take up dancing seriously. My mother-in-law, a Bharatanatyam Guru herself wanted a daughter-in-law who would dance, and take forward her institute. So I wouldn't say that I had to make the decision to be a dancer , I think that decision was already made. Though I went on to do my B.Com Honors at Delhi University, Dance is what was meant to be.

Those who have watched you dance will vouch that there is a breath of freshness, and a very unique thought-process that goes into the choreography and presentation. You have moved beyond the realms of a conventional storytelling. How do u approach a piece when you choreograph it ?
My approach to choreography is non-conformist. I don't conform to any particular rules such as a Margam mandatorily including a Kshetrayya Padam or a Javali and so on. I take up what my heart tells me to do. The intent was not to be different from the rest. I was brought up all my life in Delhi and I would visit Chennai only during 'the season' and so wasn't really aware of the trend in Chennai. In hindsight I'm quite thankful that I was unaware, as that gave me the opportunity and the freedom to process by myself what Bharatanatyam should be. So it was a personal dialogue with Bharatanatyam in my own pace and way and the outcome was through my dance. It is very important to have conviction in what one does. If one is not comfortable with a particular piece or movement - emotionally as well as physically, I don't think they should do it. In my case, I had the conviction in what I was doing.
With regard to approaching an individual piece, I like to portray it in a way which does justice to the poets vision. I try to look at layers in between the Sahitya rather than following it word-to-word typically, and if there aren't any layers I just make my own layers. When I have to portray a particular episode or theme, I do a lot of reading about it. A distilled product of all the material collected through this reading is what goes into the dance. Normally such intensive research is done for productions, but I ensure I do this for every piece that I choreograph, be it a Varnam or Padam.
Among all your choreographies, your most favorite / profound creative work would be :
Definitely the Mayura Alaripu ranks on top. Every piece is definitely special, but among the productions I think the most special would be "Mad and Divine" a feature on Janabai's Marathi Abhangs and Lalded's Kashmiri poetry which I premiered for the Natya Darshan Festival in Kartik Fine Arts.

You belong to the league of performers who effortlessly move people with a piece as complex as a Varnam or as simple as an Alaripu - something only deep conviction to our roots can bring about. Your thoughts on adherence to the Margam, and reinventing within its scope.
Adherence to Margam is absolutely necessary. I for one propagate solo dancing. There are only handful who are taking it forward because it is difficult to be a soloist, in every way. For a soloist, the best format to perform is the Margam.
Reinventing or relooking at the Margam is a dancer's personal choice. Margam doesn't essentially have to be Alaripu, Jathiswaram, Shabdam, Varnam etc upto the Thillana. That's the broader version of the margam but there are workarounds within that. A Margam as I see is a performance that begins at a base note, goes upto a crescendo and comes back. The emotions felt by the audience as well as the performer has to rise gradually, comes to a height at point of the Varnam and then slowly cools down. This experience can be given by any combination of items within the Margam.

A good part of your year is spent in travelling and performing all over the world. Please share with us your experiences of performing in the global dance scene.
Though I've been performing outside the country for many years, it has been 10 years or so since I've started performing in mainstream dance venues of the world. It is great to take our dance to the Indian audience abroad, but we are truly erasing borders when we present Bharatanatyam in a mainstream dance festival outside the country for audiences from varied backgrounds.
Dance intrigues me  every time I present it to an alien audience who enjoy our classical dances despite being possibly unaware about our mythology and the Gods and Goddesses. I don't think one needs to understand Bharatanatyam, they just need to connect with it, which they do and that is because of the profound nature of dance form itself.
The challenge is that I like speaking about my pieces before I perform them, and this becomes very difficult in a non English speaking country. Despite giving programme notes , having a translator etc. I don't think it does justice and I always wish I am able to speak the language of the country I'm performing in. To that extent, I think the language barrier challenges me, but only with respect to explaining the items, not in terms of dance.

Your tips and tricks to maintaining fitness, physique and stamina.
No tricks. Only tips. Balanced diet is the key. I don't go to a gym, or do yoga or Pilates. Truth is that I only dance. Before my practice sessions or performances, I have a routine which I strictly adhere to. It is a self developed warm up routine which is a  combination of Yoga, Pilates and basic Bharatanatyam adavus. This routine is something I'm conscious about, a good routine which I teach my students as well, and they've all found it magical. This maybe the trick !

How does a typical day on Rama Vaidyanathan's calendar look like ? What do you engage yourself in when you're not dancing ?
A typical day in Delhi begins with my rehearsals at 8 am, starting with a warm up routine, and reading up on what I intend to practice with the musicians. The musicians come in by 9 am. Most of my rehearsals are always with the musicians as we are either working on new productions or new pieces that I'm composing, or rehearsing for a performance. We go on till 1 pm. After lunch I take classes and teach the students of our institute - Ganesha Natyalaya. Following this is reading, doing research work and planning for the pieces. A lot of my choreography happens in my room when I'm sitting on my bed, I don't need to be in the studio for that. I work out the piece in the studio only after I've thought about it for a while. I also watch performances in the evening. But when I'm in Delhi I try to stay at home as I'm otherwise travelling all the time.
Cooking is a big stress buster and a therapeutic activity for me and I do cook sometimes in the evenings. I also enjoy reading, and tend to read specifically on the lines of what I'm working on, sticking to spirituality, mythology, philosophy, biography etc.
I don't like to clutter my life with too many activities or engagements. I'm not as busy as I am thought to be, because I purposely keep open spaces of time for myself where I'm just sitting and ruminating, watching my videos, reading, spending time with family and introspecting.

Your mother has been a constant source of support to your dance, evident from how she continues to accompany you on many tours and workshops. Your mother-in-law on the other hand is a Bharatanatyam Guru of international repute and a Padmashri, Padmabhushan awardee. How have the two of them influenced you as a person?
My mother Smt. Madhavi Gopalakrishnan is an immensely learned person. She does discourses on the Bhagavadgeeta, Narayaneeyam and Upanishads. When I have the dance residency workshops, I get her to talk to the students to give them an insight into philosophical topics. Philosophy is an important topic of study for dancers as it really helps in many ways. My mother nurtured my initial learning and continues to inspire me.
It was my mother-in-law, Smt. Saroja Vaidyanathan who gave me the support system. She would say, "I will take care of your child, go and practice", which is a huge thing for a dancer-mother. She's the one who molded me by teaching me how to be a professional performer and  how to create that impact and aura of a dancer.
When I went on stage to received the 'Young Woman Achievers Award' from the FICCI in New Delhi, I got both my mother and mother-in-law on stage as this was a Woman Achiever's award, and I was able to receive it only because of these two women who have helped me.

Your opinion on organizations that promote arts, how they have changed over the years, and their relevance today.
Organizations that promote the arts are SO Important, in fact more important than the dancers themselves. I say this because there are so many artistes and very few organizations. The need is for more organizations with adequate funding, as only those organizations with good funding are able to present good work.
I also think that it is very important for these organizations to realize that they have a huge responsibility on their shoulders. They cannot present mediocrity. There is an opportunity for the mediocrity to excel only if mediocrity doesn't get opportunities easily. But if mediocrity is getting an opportunity already, they will NEVER run that extra mile to perfect their technique and excel. Art Organizations need to be watchful of whom they showcase because in bigger picture these organizations are shaping the cultural evolution of this country.

And finally, your suggestions to young dancers who look up to you as their role model / inspiration.
Just spend your time perfecting your technique rather than complaining and thinking of the opportunities that you don't have. Everyone doesn't get equal opportunities, that is the way of life. Instead, focus on blossoming with the opportunities at hand.
Once the decision to take up dance as a full-time profession is made, one can say Good-bye to the bank balance, at least for the first ten years. One has to invest their time and money in dance, but then, don't we invest in any profession ? There is no point complaining. One has to walk the path, which everyone else has taken. Today if seasoned artistes are able to demand their price, it is because they have earned it after treading the same path. Success is bound to come if one works on perfecting technique and giving their all to dance.
My suggestion to young dancers is : Give to Dance. Dance will give you back ONLY whatever you have given it. Never more, never less. I always say - have a convex vision towards dance - the dance is a huge, limitless entity and we dancers are extremely small entities in perspective. When one has this vision, I think Dance can take them places.
My only goal has always been to continue widening this convex vision for dance !

The Samvada was crystal clear as is her persona. Rama Vaidyanathan's quest for perfection is an inspiration to all dancers, evident from her training which reflected in the recital by her students from Karnataka - Ashtabhavika, later that week.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015



Considering my wonderful memory, I should have started a travelogue way back in time to document my innumerable memorable travel escapades - dance related and otherwise. Since I didn't take to writing so seriously back then, I'll have to settle with photo-album memories of Singapore, Switzerland, Hong Kong, London and China, and a host of Indian cities and towns, should the desire to reminisce them arise. Here is an account of the wonderful five days spent in Malaysia, with anecdotes and instances specific to the travel.

"The most blessed country - Mutli-religious, Multi-cultural Malaysia", came the remark, once every 15 minutes from our tour guide Mr.Ben Soo. Ben was in charge of taking us through our three-hour city tour in Kuala Lumpur, the capital city. After spending our first day in Malaysia snoozing away our alarms (thanks to the midnight flight), and shopping away at the Sungei Wang Plaza the entire evening (three women together results in either an estrogen overdose or a buying spree. We were naive to think otherwise !) , we figured we would do our trip costs some justice and do the traditional "sight seeing". What ensued was a City Tour and a Country Side Tour and some Local flavor absorbing (read roaming close to the hotel at the centrally located Bukit Bintang).


From our rooms we could see the conspicuous mono-tower, known as the Menara. Not far away was the Petronas, something we itched to see for as long as we could remember. The City Tour with our guide Ben Soo began at the Petronas (well, somewhere close we could say). Amid the photography sessions, I couldn't help pondering over Ben's rantings. He was so proud about his country. Of course he is a tour guide and he is supposed to speak high of his nation that thrives on tourism as a main source of income. But beneath all those layers of duties towards his country, I saw pride, I saw a sense of belonging, and it was unconditional. 
Lesson 1 !

The next two stops were shoppers' paradise. A Crafts Emporium and a Chocolate Factory. How smart of the tour operators ! They just know the game. But on hindsight, it is a no-brainer. Who wouldn't want to take back some really beautiful souvenirs and specially crafted chocolates ? After an hour of picking up classy souvenirs and gifts and of course tasting and buying the boutique chocolates, we hopped back onto the car to do more sight seeing. 

A quick delve into the history of Malaysia at the Museum showed the metamorphosis of the way of life in Malaysia and neighboring regions. Ranging from utensils used in the stone age equivalent, to the throne of the King, myriad phases of existence were conveyed through actual artifacts as well as imitations and panels. But  what caught my attention was articulate shadow puppets of Sita, Ram and Ravan. It was time for me to feel proud of our Indian culture. The pride lasted just a second. After all, the South-east Asian countries and India share common roots, so our Gods and Goddesses are as much theirs as ours. Ben Soo did mention Multi-cultural after all. 
Lesson 2!

Shadow puppets of Lord Ram, Sita, Ravana and Hanuman

"Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy", he remarked. I quickly checked - A constitutional monarchy is a form of monarchy where the governing powers of the monarch are restricted by the terms of a constitution. In the case of Malaysia, the King/Prime Minister holds office only for a period of 5 years. He is ably assisted by a cabinet of ministers, who should be qualified in the respective field. For instance the present health minister Dr.Subramanian is a qualified dermatologist. All other ministers are equally well-qualified.
So many thoughts crossed my mind while Ben Soo stopped at the Prime Minister's residence, which I guess in some sense is a Palace as the King resides in it. "Istana Negara". Palatial, Lavish, Earned ! Lesson 3 !
Istana Negara- The residence of the Prime Minister /Monarch

In the remaining time spent at the two attractions within the city - the War Memorial and the Independence Day Square, Ben's account of the "Rukunegara" or the Five Principles of Nationhood kept ringing in my ears.
    1. Belief in God
    2. Loyalty to the King and the Country
    3. Uphold the values of the Constitution
    4. Follow rules of Law
    5. Good moral and social behavior
And he was extremely proud to flaunt all of them. He vouched for every fellow Malaysian as well. How lovely, I thought ! If only ..... Well ..... Enough said.
Lesson 4 ! 

Ben Soo dropped us off at Saravana Bhavan (an Indian chain of restaurants that is extremely popular globally). He offered to take our chocolates and  other souvenirs back to the hotel lobby, as they would melt in the tropical heat if left in the car during our Countryside Tour. We happily packed it in a parcel, name tagged it and sent it with him. I'm not sure if I'd ever trust a tour guide or a taxi driver here with something as precious as chocolates :) 
Lesson 5 !


Hand impressions of the workers who helped establish the Pewter Factory
After a brief South Indian Lunch session, we began the Countryside Tour at the Pewter factory. Pewter is an alloy of Tin with Copper and Antimony being secondary components. It was quite amusing that having lived in Bangalore all my life, I never had the chance to visit the famous Tin Factory in KR Puram (famous..well for obvious reasons of a never ending Traffic Jam at all times of the day), but I had the chance to visit a Tin factory in KL. How good are they at marketing their stuff I thought. An internal guide took us through the history of the factory, the family members of the founder , the process of making the products out of Pewter, and finally landing in a Pewter Retail Store (of course it had to end in a shop !). The way out had a wall with the hand impressions of all the workers who helped establish this Pewter Factory, and that was the winning note for me. Everyone's contribution is recognized
Lesson 6 !

Batik WIP

After another visit to a Batik (wax-resist dyeing of cloth) boutique, we headed up north to the famous Batu caves. The naturally occurring wonder is flanked by a man-made towering golden statue of the Tamil God Kartikeya/Muruga. Naturally the place was a little poorly maintained (Lesson 7 - Part 1) in contrast to the rest of KL, nonetheless we managed to have a great time climbing 272 stairs with prying monkeys hoping to pounce on us at the sight of food / anything that interested them. The dark damp caves were beautiful and had two Sannidhis (Sanctum sanctorums) of Lord kartikeya - Velayudhar and Valli Daivanai Naathar. The climb down proved to be a tad bit disappointing. To see an Indian stand right in front of the massive statue of the Lord and smoke was disgusting and it spoke so much about value systems. (Lesson 7 - Part 2)

Of course, what followed was more roaming and more shopping, before we hopped onto a flight to Langkawi, an archipelago of 99 islands in the northern part of Malaysia.

More to follow in the next post !!!

Sunday, 12 July 2015


I am always intrigued by Padams and Javalis in the Bharatanatyam repertoire. I couldn't possibly complete a recital without either one of them , as is the case with most other performing artistes (except of course in temples, where we would prefer sticking to Bhakti as the main Rasa, and for good reason).
To my knowledge, and in my words, Padams are Abhinaya pieces where the dignified heroine is in a rather heavy mood due to reasons ranging over a wide spectrum - intense pangs of separation from her beloved to infidelity of her spouse/lover. Myriad emotions of pain, distress, sweet sorrow, and deceit all come alive in these slow paced numbers composed in weighted Ragas. Javalis on the other hand can be defined as an antonym to the Padam - a young, playful heroine forms the protagonist, usually in a light mood with a sense of humor, displaying forthright emotions of joy, love and sometimes lust all coming together in a fast paced, foot tapping number.

The portrayal of these pieces is quite an interesting moot point. While some portray the content as is, without any aberration (which would sometimes be termed as a bold, ostentatious attempts) , many choose to take a neutral stand and subtly bring out the expressions while not taking away the essence of the lyrics.

A while ago, I heard someone say - what is the relevance of these Padams and Javalis today anyway ? After all, today where does one find a pining woman asking her friend to bring her beloved back to her (one who left her months ago for some not-so-convincing reason), or how does a woman so easily forgive her husband for cheating on her and even worse, how does a woman with ailing in-laws and who's husband is away on tour have the courage to invite another man home ?
That got me deeply thinking because I couldn't ever imagine a performance without performing an Abhinaya piece, and here a fundamental lesson in Bharatanatyam was being questioned. Was everything I learnt and worked upon all these years suddenly an irrelevant piece of entertainment? After much contemplation and keen observation, I think I found my answer, not because I wanted to refute another's viewpoint, but because I wanted deeper meaning to a conviction that I've believed in since forever. 
Yes, the content of these Abhinaya pieces may / may not be relevant.  The situation of the protagonist is probably not relevant at all. But isn't the context something we can all relate to ? There are women suffering pangs of separation, whose husband's have gone away on long tours and haven't returned for months. And there are happy love stories. And then there is infidelity all around. 
Despite the content being so-called-outdated, the context and the emotions are absolutely relevant and ubiquitous. Emotions that are oft felt by most but seldom expressed. 

A believer in tough love and true love myself, I would love to hear about the obsolete nature of these multi-shade, multi-purpose and multi-partner love stories, but sadly the world is far from ideal. And till we do move to a planet called Idealistica, Padams and Javalis and Ashtapadis and every other Abhinaya piece exploring emotions is bound to be pertinent. 
And so I did the happy dance ... my love affair with Abhinaya pieces will continue forever !!!

Here's a Padam which I have been intoxicated by for a long time now. I'm not sure if its the Raga Huseni or the vocalist's rendition, or just the Abhinaya itself. But this one will be one of my top favourites for a long time to come.

     Padam - Netrandhi Nerathile

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

KALA SAMVADA - Conversations

Ramaa Bharadvaj is a dancer, teacher, movement designer and writer. A recipient of international awards and recognition, Ramaa lived and worked in the US for 31 years. In 2009 she returned to India and currently leads the dance division at Chinmaya Naada Bindu Gurukul for Performing Arts. She lives in Bangalore, works in Pune, bonds in Chennai and vacations in California.
I had the chance to interact with her and watch her perform her acclaimed feature "MITRA" at Ananya Nritya Neerajana, an Arts festival in November 2014. Her charismatic persona instantly drew me, and the depth of her presentation made me want to take a sneak-peak into her dancing career.
Excerpts from the interview (as appearing in the feature : Kala Samvada in the June edition of ANANYA KALASINCHANA, a Monthly Magazine for the Arts) :

A question that I often ask Artistes is : "How did dance happen?" for the answers drawn from this question are always very inspiring. Snippets from her initial experiences and early training.
An artist does not choose the Art. It’s the Art that chooses the artist. My story goes thus … 
When my twin sister Uma & I were 3 years old, a dancer named Jaya lived a few houses away.  We would run off there to watch her rehearse. Jaya taught us a couple of dances to songs by Arunachala Kavi and had us perform in her shows during her dress-change breaks. 
During one of those performances, Padmashree Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai saw us. What they say about the guru finding the student is true because it was he who approached my parents about teaching us. This was a Divine marvel because at that time he was a most sought after guru with many celebrated disciples. Vadyar, as everyone called him, and his son Samraj were loving teachers. Our first performance was at age 4 in their dance drama “Kapilai Natakam”. I was a baby calf and my sister was Ganapati. 
At age 6 we presented our Arangetram with 13 dances lasting 3 hours, at the Rasika Ranjani Sabha in Chennai. My uncle Sengalipuram Anantharama Dikshitar who was an eminent religious raconteur, had arranged for the whole thing. So, the glitterati from the political, religious and arts fields were all there. Both Vadyar and Samraj conducted the Nattuvangam with Rajaratnam Pillai and Nattarasankottai Krishnan on the vocal. Clarinet used to be part of the orchestra back then.  
At age 8, we received the touring scholarship of the Tamil Nadu Sangeeta Nataka Sangam – the youngest dancers ever to get that honor to-date. 
However, at the verge of entering our teenage years Vadyar had not been teaching and there was irregularity in classes. At that time Padmabushan Dr. T.N.Ramachandran, the Director General of Archaeology, had just moved into a house in the next street. He became a family friend and began teaching dance theory to us. Many of the prominent dancers came to him to study about Karanas. He convinced my mom to let us continue our training under Kamala (Kumari Kamala). He felt she that she was a sincere person with no diva attitudes.  
 Kamala turned out to be the most magnanimous guru anyone can ask for. She taught us without any fees; gave us her own costumes to wear because my parents couldn’t afford new ones; encouraged us to create movements; took us on national performance tours; even paid us for performances. 
Her faith and trust in me instilled the confidence to believe in myself. One such test came during our trip to New Delhi in 1975. We got news that due to a train strike, the nattuvanar would not arrive on time for the performance. Kamala called me into the dressing room and placing the talam in my hand, simply said, “Ramaa, you do the nattuvangam today.  Raji (S. Rajeswari) will help you with reciting the jathis.”  A quick lesson on how to hold the talam and beat the di-di-tai followed.  That has been my only nattuvangam lesson ever.  The famous critic Subbudu was in the audience and wrote a glowing review of my rhythm keeping skill. Today, when I encounter the obsession to attend workshops for everything from breathing to winking, I cannot help but wonder, whatever happened to the valuable tenet of “Watch, Listen and Learn.” On weekends, we would spend the entire day with Kamala, partly in class but mostly just watching her teach and choreograph. 
A sabha secretary once told my father, “Dance is for those from wealthy families.  People like you should not bother with it.”  This prevalent attitude would have ended our dance career, had it not been for the blessed entry of Kamala into our lives.  She knew our family could use the money and arranged for a regular performance stint for us at the Taj Coromandel in Chennai. We danced with a live orchestra for 15 days in a month and it paid well. We would come home from college, get into make-up, and go to “work”. It was great fun. We taught her junior classes when she was away on tours. She taught us the entire choreography of her Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam production and appointed us as her assistants to teach the roles to the dancers from Colgate University. We also received the JS Magazine’s Youth scholarship for dance. We were barely 15 when all this was happening. 
Even my Kuchipudi training was a gift from Kamala. One day she took us to Vempatti Chinna Sathyam and requested him to teach us. He had great admiration for her and accepted us immediately. We never paid any fees for that either. Maybe she took take care of that too. I don’t know to this day.

Ramaa Bharadvaj has lived in the USA for over 30 years and has gathered a world of experiences. On being asked to describe her journey as a performer/teacher/choreographer in USA....
When I went to the US in 1978, I first began teaching because the immigrant families asked me to. But later, I began to integrate into the larger community through lecture demonstrations in community centers. It was that stepping out that kindled the desire to learn more in depth about our culture, its symbolisms and philosophy. 
But in 1981, when we were living in Boston, a viral infection left me partially disabled waist below. Neurologists said I will never dance again. My daughter Swetha was just an infant at that time.  We had travelled to India and a wonder-incident happened at the Chidambaram temple involving her. My recovery was very quick after that and Swetha became my precious dance partner from then on.
When we moved to California I got an offer to teach at Orange Coast College, which had a great dance department. I started the Indian dance division there, and that academic association expanded to other universities and colleges.  
I served on the advisory panel for state and national government grant agencies and developed my own grant-writing skills.  It was a blessing that in the US there was no need for playing “political” games or to have a sugar daddy. With skill and hard work one can succeed. So, performances and choreographic commissions were plenty. Accolades included being featured on the cover of the prestigious Dance Magazine, receiving the Lester Horton Dance Awards and our work getting nationally telecast on PBS. I also worked with Educational Division of major arts Centres and took Indian dance into schools and underserved communities, as well as into prestigious venues like the Hollywood Bowl, Grand Performances, and Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.  It was not just the dance anymore, but the culture itself that I was representing.

She is the first Indian Dancer to win multiple Lester-Horton Awards for dance in the USA. I was unaware of these awards and was inquisitive to know more about them.
It is an award that is given by the dance community – not by a panel of judges. Dancers nominate you and vote for you. So it was very special. I received 3 Horton Awards for both choreography and performance between 1993 and 2002.  Awards create a platform to be heard. For me it was an opportunity to bring attention to an issue that faces the dance community everywhere – the fact that dancers are asked to dance for free at the excuse of being given “exposure”. 

Her feature "MITRA" was one of the most beautiful, aesthetic and invigorating presentations I have seen. One that connected deeply with the audience owing to its universally relevant, yet simple theme. She had just completed a USA tour with MITRA. I was very eager to know about the creative process that she employs in her internationally acclaimed choreography. The questions I had were : How does an idea germinate? How does she convert it to a presentation ? What are the challenges she faces in the course of creating a feature ? Her thoughts :  
I consider the choreographic process to have 4 parts: Spiritual, Intellectual, Physical and Emotional.
Spiritual: This is the inspiration that descends on the artist, and it can come from anything or at anytime – it could be a title, a painting or photo, a story, or even a piece of fabric and the way it moves. Through dance we give a 3-dimensional moving form to that inspiration. My 4-year old son inspired me to create “Panchatantra-Animal Fables of India”, which became very popular both in India and the US. For 18 years it was active in my repertoire.
Intellectual: This is the research part. Then comes creating a storyline like a screen-play. Every step must be documented – especially when you are working on your own and have no one to discuss ideas with. Writing is like having a discussion with your creative self. In this process you also might have visions of scene, sets, costumes.
Physical: Developing the physical elements of the dance includes deciding what style will be employed, is it solo or group, use or non-use of lyrics, music composition etc and of course budgeting. You also think about who your audience is and what the venue would be. For eg, if you create a highly tech-based piece, then the theatres that will present you might be limited.  
Emotional: This involves fine-tuning the aesthetic part of presentation - costuming, lighting, and all those embellishment elements. It is crucial to focus on the rasa that you wish to invoke. This brings something to mind. Traditionally there was a practice of every character making their entry with a jathi. So, when the character of an ascetic entered, they too would automatically follow the same entry format. Even when I was young I used to find it comical to see a character in beard, dancing adavus! The rasa of the character or theme should not be disturbed.

The production should emotionally touch the audience, not through melodrama, but by drawing people into the story. Intellectualizing a dance, although appropriate during concept forming stage, cannot be carried to the stage. An uncle of mine who was a renowned chef, used to say that an appetizing meal must contain all 6 tastes. A successful choreographic work is also like that. It must be balanced in its bhavas. Adding humor is a very important part of that recipe.
And also the use of silent spaces! In print design they call it “white space”. We need “white spaces” in dance and its accompanying music also for the eyes and mind to rest.
Finally the editing! Knowing what to keep and what to let go. Therein lies the success.

That led me to my next question - whether she believes that crisp features are a better way of connecting to the audience as opposed to a traditional repertoire. 
Both can be enjoyable. Some Margam pieces are constructed with such perfection and performed with such mastery – like my guru Kamala’s Dasavataram varnam or Raja & Radha Reddy’s “Adenamma” - that you never get tired of watching them. They are eternally fresh. 
Personally though, I do question the way vipralamba sringara varnams (love in separation) are performed. In the midst of all the sad pining-for-love, suddenly the dancer starts prancing about with a smiley face into long jathis. Where is the “rasa” here?  Only “virasa”! It will be nice if choreographers think about this a little. 

Even in a thematic presentation, many dancers seem to veer towards that Margam format of invocation, Varnam, Padam and Thillana because the structure of a Margam is intelligent. But I would like to encourage dancers to step out of this safety net, and approach their theme as if it were a continuous drama.  

Ramaa Bharadvaj is an avid follower of Chinmaya Mission, and heads the Dance Department at Chinmaya Naada Bindu, Kolwan, Pune."Dance Intensives" are a major facet of CNB which have long intrigued me. I wondered - What would the agenda in each Dance Intensive be? What could a student expect from these workshops?
My family has been with the Chinmaya Mission for over 35 years. Chinmaya Naada Bindu was conceived as a residential Gurukul by Swami Tejomayananda. Being part of an Ashram, it provides a spiritually charged environment in which to experience art.
The Intensives are designed like a dance lab with interactions based on discussions, creativity and engaging the imagination. Our students come from all over the world. It is not just about learning a dance, but understanding the “how and why” of creating a dance.  
We have 7-day intensives twice a year. Our highly successful 21-day intensive happens in July during the monsoon. I bring in scholars and guest teachers for music, Sanskrit and dance enrichment sessions. Our workday begins at 7am with meditative movement or strength training followed by almost 3 hours of class, and then again another 4 hours of evening class/discussions/theory.  There are also spiritual discourses and performance evenings.  We have 2 private temples on campus and temple prayers are a part of the daily activities.  

Another opinion I repeatedly ask Artistes for is their take on the role of organizations in promoting art and culture. Ramaa Bharadvaj herself is an organizer of a major arts festival at CNB, showcasing some of the top names in the Music and Dance fraternity. Her thoughts on how a festival should be organized and the challenges that organizers face. 
In the globally interactive society connected by the web, there is a trend towards mimicking Western culture and it starts with mimicking their music and their dance.  This is not natural thing at all. The classical arts of our country represent our culture consummately. Arts Festivals such as ours are a way to re-introduce these to our people.
Now in its 5th year, the Naada Bindu Festival (NBF) is designed as a 3-day performing arts retreat.  It is like a refreshing weekend-vacation - natural surrounding, fresh air and expansive areas surrounded by hills. Guests stay in this serenity of our ashram and enjoy performances and lecture demonstrations by superstars in the field of classical arts.  We call it an Arts-as-a-Lifestyle experience.  Spiritual satsang with Swami Tejomayananda is also part of this holistic experience.
Our challenge? Raising funds. It somehow all comes together with the work of our small staff and volunteers, and private donations, but mostly because of the blessings of Swami Tejomayananda.

Advice/suggestions from an acclaimed creative choreographer like her, would go a long way in inspiring young talent, brimming with potential. On behalf of all young dancers, I thought I should put this question to her. She responds....
Just keep your creative juice flowing by exercising the “creative muscle” consistently. There seems to be this desperation to create an “original work”. But what the word original really means is, to return to the OriginsSo, creativity is not about innovating new things (for after all there is nothing new under the sun) but linking thoughts, things and experiences and harmonizing them into an avatar of your own. The Arts are about re-imagining the inherited traditions from which we draw our inspiration and techniques. 
Young dancers can work with mentors and a dramaturge. You know, when sage Bharata created the first drama he actually had a dramaturge – Brahma! It was Brahma who advised him to add dance to his production. When you are immersed in your own work you tend to get enmeshed in it. So, a knowledgeable external eye is useful. 
My general viewpoints for success in art (and life) are: 
1)  Be neutral to both praise and criticism.  Otherwise it will be a roller coaster ride of elation and depression. 
2)  Do not let your work define who you are.  Instead, you define your work.  When you grow and change, your work will also grow with you. 
3)  Listen to your heart. What is important is what inspires YOU.  Many trendsetters have all been waved aside in the beginning by the public and the critics. Never ignore that “aha” moment, that will visit you when you are creatively engaged.    
4)  Feel free to make mistakes.

Artists must cultivate the spirit of Artivism at heart (activist + artist).  We cannot survive in our own cucoon.  We must first look at the arts community as a whole to find our role in it. Here I will share a personal experience that illustrates what one artist can initiate. 
In 2003, the California Arts Council, a governmental arts support agency, was laid on the butcher block by the politicians. When I got the news, I called Lewis Segal, the dance critic of Los Angeles Times and asked him for a story to raise awareness. He shot back with "You artists whine all the time. Why don't you DO something first, and then I will write about it?"  He was right. So I approached influential advocacy groups to ask for ideas. But they sort of laughed in my face.
There was only 2 weeks before the matter went to the state legislature. Then I decided to mobilize the power of the people at the grassroots level. In just 10 days I created the Arts-Alive Rally in Santa Monica. It brought together hundreds of dancers, musicians, theater people, painters, arts educators, administrators, and of course the media. I hand-designed a logo, which became the State symbol for supporting the Arts. I drafted petition letters for artists to sign and we bombarded the Capitol with them. I had no resources and no experience in anything like this.  But I became the spokesperson for the entire arts community in California. I gathered statistical data about the impact of arts, went on interviews on the National Public Radio and television to speak about the role of arts as a life saving resource.  Our voices reached the Capitol and the Arts Council was saved. Later, I received the Director’s Award from the California Arts Council for outstanding contributions to the Arts in California.

We all have the inner capacity to be spokespeople for causes that are larger than our puny personal agendas.  We must develop a mindset for it. It is not enough to present our art-form, we must also constantly represent it through writing, speaking, teaching and involvement.             

On that extremely inspiring note, the Kala Samvada with Ramaa Bharadvaj paused. I say "paused" because her infectious persona and motivating presence give me some beautiful perspectives, and I hope to interact with her very soon.
Ramaa can be contacted at:  

* Photo of Ramaa Bharadvaj in Mitra by Sreekumar Krishnan

Sunday, 17 May 2015


I've enjoyed talking ever since I could utter syllables.
I'm no voracious reader, but I enjoy writing and constructively critiquing language.
My knowledge of words and vocabulary is not vast, but I write from my heart.
I've been dancing ever since I could spell the word, and I've been told that my "Expressions" are really good (I hope for it to be true). I'm sure the situation with most other dancers is similar, they always hear the words "What lovely expressions !!". Ironically, the ones who say "Lovely Expressions" are the ones who also say "I don't really understand what you were depicting". 

The crux - Communication is such a vital aspect of human civilization. 

The ancient texts argue that the sole purpose of Dance is to Educate the Illiterate, Enlighten the Literate and Entertain the Enlightened. But do we realize that none of this is possible if Dance is not regarded as a form of communication by itself ? 
I often wonder why the language of Dance is not so easily understood by the lay person. Lyrics are intended to aid the communication process. To simplify matters, nowadays there are elaborate narratives before a piece starts. And yet, more often than not the message doesn't get across to common people. I'm not sure if this is an issue with the performer, or the audience. However, I'm absolutely certain that it is not an issue with the Art form. 

The expressive part of Dance is known as "Abhinaya". Considered a cakewalk by some, and a nightmare by others, Abhinaya is the most challenging, yet most fundamental element of Dance, for it is the primary mode of Communication. Abhinaya IS Communication.

I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a week-long workshop in Abhinaya, conducted by one of the most renowned names in Bharatanatyam today - Guru Bragha Bessel. The sessions with her empowered me in many ways and yet left me humbled and debilitated in many more ways. A bundle of energy, Bragha Akka intensively trained us in the Art of Expressing. Her teaching methodology involved understanding the character in the song, writing down the dialogues that are to be expressed, mentally saying those dialogues while dancing and fine-tuning nuances that are to be brought out through the song. Yes, there is a lot more to the dance that comes alive on stage - a story, a character, sometimes multiple characters, a flow of thought and yes a lot of "Expressions". Not just mechanical movements a with a smile on the face.
The workshop empowered me because I was at total Freedom those seven days. Free to think, free to react, free to express without the fear of going wrong and thus, free to communicate. A reiteration of the freedom I already have and would love to have forever. I say I was left debilitated because, at one point I was just about to give up. I didn't want to dance or practice what was being taught. I wanted to stop everything else and just watch her. Bragha Akka does the job of communicating so effectively and so crisply, there's just no point trying to replicate that, I thought ! Rather watch, learn and experience the joy of  seeing someone communicate so efficiently and effortlessly.
Getting 0.001% close to her level of expertise in Abhinaya is every dancer's dream.... but for me, just being able to communicate like her is enough - where communicating is a way of reaching into the consciousness within oneself and then reaching out to the rest of the world. 

Dance is indeed a language, a form of storytelling. But it is seldom looked at that way by the lay person. My optimistic self always hopes and believes that there will come a day when Dance is Understood and not just Watched. 

Dance Communicates ! 
Within, with oneself and then to the world ! 

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

KALA SAMVADA - Conversations

Savitha Sastry and her writer husband AK Srikanth are out to revolutionize the present format of Bharatanatyam and are creating waves in the performing arena. I chanced to have a tête-à-tête with them over breakfast. Excerpts from the interview (as appearing in the feature : Kala Samvada in ANANYA KALASINCHANA, a Monthly Magazine for the Arts) :

How did dance happen ? Please share with us snippets from your initial experiences and early training.
My initiation into the world of dance happened because of my television icons like Hemamalini and Vyjayanti Mala. Back then, when a Tamil Brahmin girl tells her mother she wants to learn dance, the assumption is that it is Bharatanatyam. Living in front of the Shanmukhananda Sabha in Mumbai and seeing stalwarts like Sanjukta Panigrahi, Padma Subramanyam and the likes shaped my destiny very deeply, in ways that I would not realize then. When I told my parents that I wanted to learn dance, my father took the initiative and soon enough a dance teacher appeared at our door step. My mother was a bit apprehensive about it as she had various concerns about dance back then, and so she put down some firm rules for me to follow - academics would come first, followed by Carnatic music (which I was a student of) and dance would not really be a priority. My training began with a wonderful teacher, Mohana who was affiliated to Rajarajeshwari Kalamandir in Mumbai. She let me outgrow everything I had learnt and put me on to Mahalingam Pillai. After my father retired, we moved to Chennai. My Aunt, Padmasini who was an iconic figure in Kalakshetra suggested I get tutored by Adyar Lakshman Sir, and my classes began. Subsequently I also had the opportunity to learn from the Dhananjayans.

You have lived in the USA for many years. You were also a neuroscientist back there. Was dance an integral part of your life through the years abroad ? Please describe your journey shuttling between a career as a neuroscientist and as a dancer.
I had never gone away from first love which was Dance. Perhaps it took a backseat, given that I was raising a son, and I had an alternate career, but I enjoyed the different shades to my personality, and I don't think I would go back and change any of it. I tried my best to not juggle. But once the child was a teenager and at an age when being with mom was not cool, that was when I began investing in dance beyond just dabbling in it. I was teaching and performing here and there, all through my time in the USA, but the year 2007 changed things for me. I was chosen to perform for the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival, and just after a tech rehearsal the entire artistic director's team walked up to me and said that they had a question to ask. I naturally assumed there was something horrible about my dance, but they just asked me "Where have you been ?" And I looked at my son (who is a photographer and was present at the theatre that day) and said "raising him of course". That's when my family made a conscious decision that I should get back to performing a lot more and I started coming back to Chennai to perform in the seasons.
As for my career as a neuroscientist , my research was on Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases and the neurodegenerative process of the brain. I did my graduate studies in the USA, and had an opportunity to work in the pharmaceutical industry developing models for testing drugs which were considered useful to treat these diseases.

When , how and why did the decision to create an alternate form of a Bharatanatyam presentation and to do away with the traditional Margam format happen ?
It was around 2009, when it came to a situation where I figured that either I changed what I was doing or just continue the same old traditional way I was pursuing it and not make it in any big way. There was no point in those trips from America to Chennai to present the Margam, as there were no takers for the Margam. I thought that if I was good enough as a product, people would come to watch irrespective of where I came from. But when there are just 10 persons in the audience, you start reflecting on why this is happening, and what is lacking. When one constantly looks to other dancers or critics for validation, it is better to take the traditional path, same as that of the Gurus who have already been validated in their journey. That is a journey by itself. In my case, I had departed from my Gurus in a search for evolution and I wasn't in a position to go back to them and re-establish. I had lived in America for too long, and had gained that independence as a natural process. And when I didn't receive that validation from the audience, since they were never there, I knew I had to do some serious thinking. Srikanth was always a part of the audience and would say that even the few people that come in were not interested in what I was doing. He himself was not interested and he was there just to support me.
Intuition tells you to listen to the voices of the lay audience members, which many of us dancers tend to ignore. We latch on to opinions that other dancers and Gurus give us and we almost forget that we dance for the lay audience too. And that's when we (Srikanth and I) decided to change what we were doing. We looked to cinema for that, since cinema has lived through the ages and transitions and is still the largest medium of entertainment that captures audiences. Why couldn't we do the same with Bharatanatyam and take its emphasis away from just showcasing a dancer's abilities ? The process started with baby steps and finally came together with Soul Cages in 2010.

Do you still believe in the concept of a traditional Margam, considering it has been the codified, structured format in vogue for decades ?
If we are given the audience of the 70s and 80s , then yes, I would say traditional Margams are great. But now that the audience has changed, if the dance form fails to evolve, it will lose its relevance in the masses, which is something we already see. Any college going student who isn't learning the art form shies away from classical arts. It is not important to them.
To that degree I feel that having stepped out and having found success in a niche, where dance becomes a medium of storytelling and stories told are relevant to the current times, is a much better approach to keeping the art form alive.

Your thematic productions are all authored by your husband, and these are said to have deep significance to our present day lives. How do you pick up these themes, nourish them and enhance them to be presented to and received so well by an audience comprising people from various walks of life ?
The biggest change one has to make is to understand that "Customer is King" and try and sequester that change. The audience wants an interesting, relevant story that is thought-provoking and has the ability to touch them. What better way to touch them than to find connections with human emotions, which Bharatanatyam can do extremely well anyway ? The dance form has the universality to reach out to all ages without any limitations.
Given that Srikanth writes from his life, with episodes that have touched him (masked in a way that nobody can tell how they are reflective of his journey), there is that element of honesty to the story. This is an important element that need to go into a production. How we connect with the audience and how the audience wants to see live entertainment are other parameters we must consider. The biggest change that has to be made is to step back as a dancer and not showcase yourself and your artistic abilities over and above your story. The same needs to happen with musicians, lighting director, costume designer. Everyone involved needs to acknowledge that they are telling one cohesive story which takes precedence over showcasing individual capabilities.  

Your productions are state of the art, utilizing original content, original music scores and technologically advanced delivery. We hear you have a dedicated team of collaborators who work with you on all your creations. Please give us an insight into your creative process which you have employed in over 5 of your critically acclaimed features.
(Srikanth says) : The whole process takes between 9 - 14 months per production. It all starts with the story. I write a lot, some of the stories can be made into a dance production, and some can't, but I've never written for her to be able to dance. If we both agree that a particular story can be put on stage for dance, we 'Dance Board' it, which is like writing the screenplay.
(Savitha says) : A character is introduced through a dance or a passage that establishes or highlights the emotional state of a character. The key decisions are all made on the dance board. Each scene is put in place, duration, narrations, everything is timed to the last detail.
After the dance boarding, we take it to Rajkumar Bharati for the music. We send him inspirational music bits for every scene/passage, because what inspires him is the mood of the song. Words don't speak to Rajkumar Bharati as music does, and his genius captures the mood immediately. He sets the Swaras and the tune, and then decides what the raga is (if it is a pre-exisiting identifiable one, or something he's newly created, or just a melodic tune). The process is sort of a reverse engineering, quite different from the usual mindset of Mukhari for sadness, Kalyani or Shankarabharanam for happiness and so on. The music is thus created.
I simultaneously work with my costume designers and lighting designer, keeping in mind the storyline. For instance, in Chains, the costume and the lights have a Retro chic flavor as the story has a sense of throwback and is yet modern, traversing through time and highlighting three characters in Srikanth's life - his Grandmother, Mother and parts of Me.
Once all this is in place, I take it for the choreography. Rajkumar's music is so layered in itself, that we don't need to over-think the choreography. The dance just goes with the flow of the music. Unnecessary, redundant steps and mathematical calculations which the story doesn't call for are done away with.

How do you generate funds which goes into the pre-production phase ?  In India, normally shows aren't ticketed, so are you able to recover your investments after a performance tour ?
(Srikanth annswers) : We've reached a stage in life where our disposable income is slightly higher than what it was when we were in our 20s. I've traversed my corporate journey, she has traversed hers, our kids have grown up and now we're in a stage where we can afford such productions. Having said this, I'd like to clarify that the lack of money should not be a cause for creativity not coming through. If one is creative enough, they could still work with limited budgets and present a raw version which may still be received very well.
Putting it in perspective, we don't take sponsorships, primarily because we are on to something that is genre defining, and we don't want that genre to be redefined and controlled by people who are putting money into it. For Savitha this is a passion and a hobby, it's not her livelihood. To me, it is a matter of keeping her happy because she has given me and my family her all, and it's time we gave her back some.
(Savitha adds) : When I dance in India, there is a very clear goal of making a change here in bringing the art form to people that would never consider going to it. If my work is limited by issues of finance, constrained budgets etc, it will be just another reason for the art form to languish. Believing in the change that we are set to bring, Srikanth and I are very clear of not expecting money out of this. Having said which, it's entirely upto an individual what they expect out of a performance and whether they seek a remuneration for it or not.

You are based in Mumbai. Do you find that to be an advantage/disadvantage as opposed to living in a hub for Bharatanatyam like Chennai or Bangalore. Do you teach/mentor passionate dancers in Mumbai on a regular basis ?
The geography doesn't essentially make a difference. I am travelling almost every weekend, performing in different cities, and I've taken away that feeling of having to make it big in a particular place. I'm not sure what significance "making it in a city" has today.
I mentor students in a very small way. I don't have a school per say, but when a student comes to me I try to point them towards the right direction. I tend to do more workshops in the cities I visit and keep my side where I interact with students alive.

What is your take on the role of organizations  in promoting art and culture ?
SABHAS ?!?!?! (They question, with a laugh)
Organizations are people at the end of the day. People have preferences and mandates. Most times the people making the decision aren't artistes and are influenced by many things. One could wait for the right influence in getting through to the right person and try to achieve, but when eventually the doors don't open, one gives up. This process may be out of one's due diligence but one can't give up just because they haven't had an opportunity from an organization , and one can't hold them accountable for it as well. It becomes a frustrating part of the artistic journey. Why is there a constant expectation that someone has to do something for us ? If we need something, we got to go and get it ourselves.

You are actively into Yoga and pilates. A must for dancers ? Or yet another way to stay fit and healthy ?
The whole process of dance is a repetitive stress for the body, something that most bodies weren't designed for. At some point of time, for an average person, repetitive stress starts to trickle into the body either due to bad posture, or just the act of dancing for years. Finding cross training that will allow one to balance out is essential.
For me Yoga is the medium for flexibility and balance, and I go to Pilates for strength. Between these two dimensions I am covered for any injuries that I might experience.
I would encourage dancers to listen to what your body is telling you, take notice of it and accordingly take up a form of exercise that would address the concerns.

Have you had the opportunity to watch youngsters present their choreographies ? Your suggestions and advice to passionate performers who are waiting to come out of their cocoon and attempt something different, but are struggling due to the lack of support or funding.
No. I have not had the chance to see any new choreographies that have stepped out of the realm of being completely out of the traditional box of mythology or spirituality. But I would be more than happy to watch something that comes up if I am around.
As for performers who are waiting to come out of their cocoon,  one needs to examine the reasons if they need to step out, and why they need to step out. For some it is not important to move beyond. For others who wish to, it is the probably the fear of not finding the right support, whether it will be accepted, whether the Gurus would support through it etc. This fear can only be overcome by your introspection of whether the status quo is acceptable. One formula doesn't need to apply for everyone. But I do believe that the niche I have created can grow explosively where people can find tremendous artistic freedom and don't have to be limited to doing the same Shankarabharanam Varnam  in ten different ways when really there was only one story to tell ! 
Anything else that I have not asked which you might like to mention ?
(Srikanth says) Failure is inevitable. After five successful productions, our sixth one could perhaps fall flat. But that will not stop us from doing another. The process should be enjoyed. And if one isn't enjoying it, there's no point.
(Savitha adds) Complaining is futile. You've chosen your path, so it's your responsibility to take it forward. Many dancers have outlined that even if there are 10 members in the audience, they are happy dancing for them, and if that is their target audience. There is no scope for complaining here. That is perfectly fine. But if one expects that there be a wider outreach, one has to cater to the audience, and hence has to reinvent. 

The thought provoking conversation left me inspired in many ways. Later that evening I had a chance to watch their production "CHAINS - Love Stories of Shadows", at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.