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Destiny with dance
- Ranee Kumar

November 24, 2023

Kuchipudi as a dance form has always been in the eye of the storm with as many advocates to swear by its authenticity and antiquity and equal or a greater number of detractors condemning its classicality and its lack of sophistication. Both are justified to a certain extent. And whatever Kuchipudi we tend to appreciate today is either from the disciples of Vempati Chinna Satyam stable in southern India or Guru Radha and Raja Reddy in the North. In such a milieu, it is refreshing to note that the present generation dancer Arunima Kumar has placed Kuchipudi on the flag post in the United Kingdom with pride and dignity. With no godfathers in a foreign soil, she rose to commendable heights by sheer dint of merit and now she has landed with her Kuchipudi at 10 Downing Street on invitation!

Arunima Kumar

Little did her mother Mala Kumar realise that her dreams would not only come true but that her daughter would be the rising star of Kuchipudi. "I just love classical dance and ever since I watched a performance by Swapna Sundari, it became my dream that I should have a daughter like her to whom she should teach dance. I started nurturing the idea of Kuchipudi even before Arunima was born. And as soon as she was fit to learn dance, I took my child to Swapna Sundari who was gracious enough to accept my little one as her student. But not before long, she got busy and I had to put my daughter under Kuchipudi guru Jayarama Rao and Vanashree. To my luck, Arunima took to dance like fish to water. The rest is history."

Arunima's rise to success and fame rests simply on the fact that she has matured into an artiste with creativity in abundance from a mere performer which is what most of our younger lot are. They get their 'items' by rote and in the name of traditional margam, they dish out hackneyed stuff that has been going on in more or less the same manner for generations. For the traditional repertoire to hold good, it requires a striking individuality from the performing artiste and not spotlessly perfect repetitive drill. The audience, one should understand, has evolved with greater exposure and accessibility to varied performances across the globe. It is for the artiste to make the best use of the techniques in her/his arsenal and present something that is classical yet unique. Creativity is the sine-qua-non of a real artiste. Arunima is creativity personified from a very young age.

Her USP is her capacity to keep the traditional Kuchipudi format intact and work within its parameters to dish out a relevant and meaningful fare. She gets the pulse of the audience and the venue at which she is to perform and creates her pieces accordingly. The Arunima Dance Company which she runs in London is a cosmopolitan cohort of diverse cultures and countries being trained in Kuchipudi by Arunima. Perfect sync in expression, footwork and movements are the sterling qualities of her group productions. There is absolutely no scope for lackadaisical dance.

She is an ace solo dancer as well as an expert choreographer in group productions. Her recent performance this month at Jashn-e-Rekhta, London, where she chose to present the eloquence of Urdu as an enchanting language and its influence on various art forms, brought laurels home. Her versatility came to the fore in blending soulful Urdu poetry and classical Kuchipudi lending a new dimension to the art form. Her dance to the Rekhta Tarana penned by poet Farhat Ehsas had the audience eating out of her hand. Her productions Ekam and Rajya presented at Buckingham Palace for Queen Elizabeth, Asatoma Sadgamaya for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Jyotirmay Bharat at Commonwealth games, Khajuraho festival back home, Sydney Opera, Rio festival and many more in Europe are testimonials to her creative skills.

Arunima Kumar

She heads Kuchipudi at Bhavan's, London, besides producing an intergenerational festival of Kuchipudi in London annually. A socially responsible artiste, Arunima worked extensively with women inmates of Tihar jail in India, Britain's care homes and disability centres, Chelsea hospitals and the specially abled artistes with whom she collaborated and performed in various countries. Accolades and awards were not far for a versatile dancer like Arunima. Sangeet Natak Akademi Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar, Ficci FLO award, Global Icon award, Woman of the Year 2018 and several others; the list is really long.

'The road was definitely an uphill task but dedication, diligence and devotion to Kuchipudi have been the guiding stars' through this arduous journey in dance which has now become her life.

Ranee Kumar
Ranee Kumar is a freelancer who worked as journalist with mainstream newspapers for two and half decades with numerous contributions in the form of critical reviews on dance, music and drama, interviews, articles on art, etc.

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