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Poornima Ashok: A lot is there to be done
- Vijay Shanker

April 8, 2021

One of the foremost Bharatanatyam exponents, teacher and choreographer, Bangalore based Poornima Ashok talks about her experiences that has spanned more than four decades, her recent performance at the Khajuraho Festival and much more.

How was your experience performing for Khajuraho festival along with your disciple?
I was invited to perform there in 2011. Unfortunately my father passed away and I had to cancel the program. But now in 2021, we were overwhelmed, indeed it was a dream come true. The joy we experienced is something that cannot be described in words. Since the festival was conducted inside the premises for the first time, with the temple as backdrop, the ambience was heavenly and we felt like apsaras.

You have performed for various festivals both in India and abroad; which performance do you rate the best and why?
All of them are memorable for one reason or the other. Special moment was when I performed at Vladivostok (Russia) sponsored by ICCR . Though the audience could not follow the language, when I performed Meera bhajan, they felt the impact of the bhakti and had tears in their eyes.

When did you establish your dance academy and which role of yours do you consider most important and why?
I established Nrithyanjali in 1989. I believe that if you are passionate and honest with your work, God leads you. He holds your hand, which I realized quite later. I sometimes wonder how I managed to multi-task and do justice to so many roles of teacher, dancer, mother... I think I have managed it pretty efficiently. Each role I played at different stages has made me grow as a better person, therefore I enjoyed playing all the roles and am still doing it."

How and what can a dancer contribute to society?
I believe, by teaching this beautiful art, imparting whatever knowledge one has, is the best contribution to the society/world. I realise this when my students tell me, "Ma'am, we feel we are special because you have not only taught us dance but also discipline, love for life, perspective towards life and above all you have also been a second mother to us." So this is the kind of bond I have shared with my students. They are not my students, they are my children. This way I believe by teaching hundreds of students for the past 35 years, I must have done my bit to the world of dance as well as to society.

Did you plan to become a professional dancer?
Well, I always aspired to become a doctor but I guess it's all predestined.

Your most memorable experience in life?
My Rangapravesham in 1986. My advanced training under The Dhananjayans at Chennai way back in 1987. When I performed RADHARANI at Vrindavan on the eve of Radhashtami. Every time I perform at Chidambaram, I feel blessed.

How did you cope with the lockdown period?
I felt jobless for some time but when situation became serious we had to accept that it's a worldwide problem, so let's face it. I started online classes and I used my free time revisiting a few choreographies with new perception and ideas. I am happy I could do that. Now I have a lot of them ready and waiting to perform.

Is dance your personal choice?
I was interested in dancing from childhood. I was a natural and spontaneous dancer and would imitate very well. Eventually as I mentioned earlier, it became my passion and profession.

What inspires you to choreograph and how do you select themes?
I think and observe a lot and I am a quick learner with a good memory , but you know sometimes the idea just strikes from nowhere and I start working around it. I draw my inspiration from other artists' work, sculptures are my favourite, and themes related to human emotions is what interests me which I like to portray in my dance making it more contemporary.

What is the best aspect of becoming a classical dancer?
The joy of becoming one with the art form itself is a blessing. Every performance has taught me a new experience and taken me to another level of understanding dance and life which inspires me to bounce back with more passion.

Would you mind if your students seek guidance from other mentors as well?
No, not at all. In fact many of my students have done that. I believe one should not hold anybody. I give them the independence to explore dance and themselves as well.

What advice would you like to give to youngsters who want to become professional dancers?
I see a lot of young upcoming dancers with brilliant and out of the box ideas, but I also find them impatient and want a lot of things instantly. So I guess I can only suggest that they be more patient and keep working diligently.

Your future aspirations?
A lot is there to be done. Especially after revisiting my previous choreographies of 35 years, there is so much to be redone. To be honest, many ideas have accumulated in my mind and for it to take form, this lifetime may not be enough. So I have to prioritize them and take them one by one. I wish to perform for few more years and of course teaching, that will continue.


Vijay Shankar is a Kuchipudi and Kathakali exponent, teacher, bilingual journalist, arts critic and actor.

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