Kuchipudi workshop: A day with the maestro
Text & pics: Lalitha Venkat, Chennai
March 29, 2007 

Shoba Natarajan of Sanskriti Foundation based in Illinois, organised 'A day with the Maestro,' an interactive dance workshop with Vempati Ravishankar (son and disciple of Dr. Vempati Chinna Satyam) on March 18, 2007 at Chennai. 

About 42 students turned up for the morning session dwindling to around 32 in the afternoon. Guru MV Narasimhachari inaugurated the workshop by lighting the lamp. Like Abhai for Bharatanatyam, he felt Kuchipudi also needed an organization for promoting it and conducting workshops. Some basic adavus, an item on Ganesha "Vande Uma sutham" with lyrics and mettu by Ravi, and an item on Krishna "Venugana loluni pai," a Thygaraja keertana from Nauka Charitram were taught to the students who were divided into two batches. 

In Kuchipudi, vachika abhinayam is very important as it is a dance drama style, so it is important to know the meaning of the song, said Ravi, as he explained each line in Tamil and English that was demonstrated by his disciple Kalpana and the students followed her movements. Some of the dancers were only Bharatanatyam trained, while others were training in both Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi as well for 4 to 10 years. 

The Bharatanatyam students like Vijay, student of MV Narasimhachari, found the workshop interesting as it pointed out differences between Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi, but for him, it was very difficult to learn the Kuchipudi movements in just one day without knowing the basics. "It is very graceful and needs lots of flexibility, whereas in Bharatanatyam we do not need that much flexibility."

When Guru Dhananjayan made the announcement about this workshop at his students' program the earlier evening, Deepti from Kalakshetra was motivated to attend the workshop. She found it interesting but felt it was difficult for beginners. Hari Ganesh, a young student of Shobana Bhalchandra was all enthusiastic about learning the new steps and exercises that he found difficult but he did not get confused by the movements of the 2 styles. 

For Rucha, a disciple of Rama Ramanan, from Bangalore, "Such cross style workshops should be organized to make different styles aware of each other, because in the end, it is all Natya Shastra. All the styles should interact instead of being islands in themselves and also to be aware of the significance of each style." 
The dancers who were already learning Kuchipudi were enthusiastic that such workshops create awareness about existence of other dance forms in Chennai where Bharatanatyam rules supreme. For such a graceful dance form, thereís not much recognition for Kuchipudi in Chennai, and that was the precise reason why Shoba Natarajan felt motivated to organize this Kuchipudi workshop. The Kuchipudi dancers felt more such workshops are needed, at least one weekend of every month. They also wanted workshops in summer, but were stumped when asked who is to take the initiative to organize them. 
The workshop concluded with Ravi answering queries about the dance form. Since Kuchipudi is a drama oriented dance form, in theory it closely follows the Natya Shastra. There are stylistic variations in Kuchipudi. Earlier only males used to do female roles, but his fatherís guru introduced ladies performing in Kuchipudi and also developed a solo repertoire for them. "Go to the guru who teaches Kuchipudi in the right style. Just like you choose the right university to pursue your studies, you must choose your guru carefully. One has to learn how to balance a performance. That will not come from just what your teacher tells you. It has to come from oneís own self," advised Ravi as the students listened to him intently. 

It was very commendable that despite the oppressive heat and perspiration, the dancers did not lack in enthusiasm through out and Ravi continued his teaching with an ever present smile on his face. There was cheer when he announced that there could be a 2 week summer workshop planned for May on a daily basis. Shoba Natarajan was visibly happy that her initial effort to create awareness of Kuchipudi in Chennai through this workshop, could finally be leading somewhere!