Character and Characterization
- B Venkat, Visakhapatnam

December 8, 2011

Eight senior Kuchipudi dancers participated in the Kuchipudi dance workshop held at Kuchipudi Kalaa Kendra,Visakhapatnam, by Guru AB Balakondala Rao. Four of the eight participant run Kuchipudi dance schools of their own. Selected students of Kuchipudi Kalaa Kendra were also present as Balakka felt they would benefit from attending the sessions.

Session 1
Participants introduced themselves and spoke about their expectations from the workshop and about the topic.  Balakaa introduced the topic and detailed the process and other finer aspects of ‘Character and Characterization.’ Some incidents from her learning days at Kuchipudi Art Academy were cited to point the importance attached to characterization. She explained how days and weeks were spent in the process of composing ‘Srinivasa Kalaynam’ and the attention to minute details of each and every character that are part of the timeless Kuchipudi dance drama. That the drama element is an essential and integral part of the Kuchipudi dance presentation was reiterated.

Session 2
With the help of her son Aditya, Balakka provided inputs to the assignment given to each participant.  The dancers were given total freedom to choose the theme of their presentation, performance. Navarasas were chosen by the teacher as the broader theme of the assignment. So we had Lanka Dhahanam, Kannappa's Devotion, Little Krishna's pranks etc.

Session 3
The dancers planned their presentation and help was abundant. As per the guidelines provided for the “project,” participants were encouraged to help each other. The exchange of ideas and the valuable inputs provided in the opening sessions helped in the creativity of the final product. Episodes from Puranas were then composed into solo presentations.

Session 4
After introducing and speaking briefly about the creative work, actual presentations were made by each participant with music in the background. Balakka reviewed all the presentations and suggested improvements and once again the finer points of ‘Character and Characterizations’ were explained and taught. The inputs were provided after she probed the dancers about their creative process and by seeking explanations for depicting abhinaya in a particular manner. After the improvements they were told to be prepared for a third party assessment of their finished work.

Session 5
The dancers confidently made the presentation in front of the Chief Guest in the evening. Gouri Rammohan, Head of the Department, Andhra University, Department of Dance, a Ph.d in Music, viewed all the performances. She shared her views about the workshop. Young students of the institute enjoyed her affectionate talk when she revealed that she too had learnt dance (Bharatanatyam) in her childhood. She informed the gathering that Andhra University started dance classes under the Department of Music inspired by people like Balakka. Finally, certificates were handed over to all the dancers.

The author of this report also participated in the workshop.