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Puja Allepalli: Trained in two banis of Bharatanatyam
- Lalitha Venkat, Chennai

September 28, 2007

Puja Allepalli gave a Bharatanatyam performance for Natyarangam, the dance wing of Narada Gana Sabha in April 2007.

The invocatory Thodayamangalam was followed by a Vasantha Jatiswaram in Rupaka talam. The ragamalika Sabdam 'Tillai Ambalathil' in Misra Chapu talam was next, followed by a lengthy Sitaramiah composition, Nitya Kalyani in ashtaragamalika. Puja finished her recital with 'Netrandi nerathile,' a padam by Ghanam Krishnaier, and a thillana by Madurai N Krishnan.

Puja's recital was neat, with impressive footwork and good timing and one could see how much effort and rehearsals had gone into her joyous presentation. Puja was accompanied by her guru Adyar Lakshman on the nattuvangam, Babu Prasad (mridangam), Rama Rao (vocal) and T K Padmanabhan (violin).

Having started learning dance from the age of four, Puja is one of the few exponents of Bharatanatyam who is proficient in both the Vazhuvoor and Kalakshetra styles, daring to journey across two completely opposite banis of Bharatanatyam. She took specialized training in abhinaya under the tutelage of guru Pushpa Shankar, a senior faculty of Kalakshetra in Chennai and now continues her abhinaya training under Bragha Bessell.

Settled in Denver, Colorado, Puja is an active promoter of performing arts and Indian culture in USA. Puja also dedicates a lot of her time performing and organizing fund raiser shows for charity events and promoting humanitarian causes.

Puja runs Shivanjali School of Indian Dance in Denver.

You were trained in the Vazhuvoor style. What made you switch to Kalakshetra style?
I believe that in any dance form there are only two basic styles, "Good" and "Bad," so it was not very drastic for me to embrace and learn another style. I was always fascinated by the Kalakshetra style of dance. The clean geometric lines displayed with vigour and perfection always left an impact on my mind. Also it had been my dream to learn from the legendary Adyar K Lakshman. I feel very fortunate to have been trained under the able guidance of this creative genius.

What have you particularly learnt from your gurus in both the styles?
I trained under guru Ratnam Janardhanan in Vazhuvoor style and guru Adyar K Lakshman in Kalakshetra style. Vazhuvoor and Kalakshetra styles are two complete opposite banis of Bharatanatyam. My journey across these two different lands has helped me make my dance complete. I derive the subtle abhinaya which is 'Lokadharmi' or the spontaneous expressions and the grace from Vazhuvoor style and brisk nritta from the Kalakshetra style.

You are based in Denver. What is the status of Indian dance in Colorado?
Denver has a low population of Indians compared to the east or west coast. For classical dancers it's tough to sustain as rasikas with classical taste are a handful. It is comparatively on the slow side.

You have given a few performances this visit. As a young, upcoming dancer, how important is it for you to perform in India?
India is home to me. It gives me immense joy to perform especially for a learned audience like in Chennai. It is in India that the dancer is challenged with criticism from other great artists and can embrace their appreciation. It is so fulfilling for an artist when the dance is appreciated by a bunch of culturally educated people. For me it's extremely important to perform in India as that is where my roots are.

There was a poor turnout at the Natyarangam program. What issues do you think need to be addressed with regard to dance in India?
Considering I do not know a single soul in Chennai except my teachers and that no advertisement was done, I think the turnout was fairly decent. Also we need to take into account that the audience had too many kutcheris to choose from on that day at the same time. I am myself so confused about which program to attend when I am in Chennai due to the abundant performances going on at the same time. There has been more than one instance when I wished I could be present at two places at the same time.

What advice do you have for other young dancers?
My only advice to other young dancers is to look beyond the limitations of dance style or any other superficial limitations into a deeper wealth, waiting to be discovered. A dancer's presentation should be a reflection of one's life experience, integrity, intellectual and physical capabilities all harnessed towards the objective of creating 'sheer joy' and an uplifting experience for the spectators.


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