The thrills of Kuchipudi
- Shruthi Mohankumar
February 4, 2024
During the dance season in the culturally rich city Chennai, it is very easy to find Bharatanatyam performances of great quality in a lot of Sabhas. A pleasant change and welcome addition this year was seeing more Kuchipudi and Odissi performances at Krishna Gana Sabha's festival. It is quite nice to have the flavor and versatility that Kuchipudi performances bring to the Season. The speed, the pauses, the fluid movements, and the dancers' individual style shining through the grammar are thoroughly enjoyable. The nritta patterns and the jathi renditions are ever so exciting to watch and experience as an audience.
The current torchbearers of the Kuchipudi scene in India are Jaikishore Mosalikanti and Padmavani Mosalikanti, whose work speaks for itself. The years of soaking in the art and the volume of work they've done is truly remarkable. They've developed a wonderful structure akin to prominent Bharatanatyam schools where certain compositions are a must-learn for its students almost like a set curriculum, so much so that you can see the bani's stamp passed on to all of them along with the repertoire. Archana Raja practicing Vempati Ravishankar's style, is boisterous, unrestrained, and vulnerable all at once. The different styles of Kuchipudi, both equally enjoyable, are extremely different in terms of the movements and sanchari explorations. Just like how there are different dialects of the same language, the medium of communication is the same in both cases, while they differ in thought, approach and ultimately, aesthetics.
What sets Kuchipudi apart from Bharatanatyam besides the unique qualities of Kuchipudi like Vachika Abhinayam and Angika Abhinayam, are the travelling on the toes more than the heels and the deeper and longer lunges and leans. Something else that is truly very beautiful to see is the difference in the walks in Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi. In Bharatnatyam, the dancer kicks their rear side before striking the ground, whereas in Kuchipudi, the dancers bend and bring the knee upward. In the coming years, Sabhas should provide space for Kuchipudi and other classical dance forms to thrive by presenting more dancers from different schools, new and old. This would not just make the audiences more aware and open, but also encourage the artistes to keep exploring and present noteworthy work that further enriches our culture.
Kasi Aysola & Archana Raja
There was a superior level of skill and precision that was clearly visible when she took to the stage (on Jan 13, 2024) to present her second piece, Bhama Pravesha Daruvu. Archana's uniqueness is her creativity and ability to bring in a surprise element in every item she presents. Here, she surprised the audience by breaking the fourth wall by not only singing live on stage while dancing, but by also having a dialogue with her guru, Kasi Aysola who stepped on stage to play the role of Bhama's confidante, Madhavi. In the next verse Siggayanoyamma, Archana (Bhama) with subtle remarks from Kasi (Madhavi), took the audience through a very amusing account of Madhavi trying to guess who Bhama was pining for, as Bhama was too shy to utter the name of her lover. Archana explored the dance-drama pattern which is one of the prominent features of yesteryear Kuchipudi performances.
This segued into the Balagopala tarangam for the evening, in Ragamalika which proved Archana's mastery over all the padha bedhas and techniques of a traditional Kuchipudi repertoire. What set her apart on that evening was not just her tarangam, but her last two items that she danced with such vigor and certainty. Devaki polambal was the penultimate item, where her emotive laments catapulted the audience into the remorseful scene. Archana sang the starting line of each verse and that made the experience more intense and personal for everyone watching her.
The last item was Ka Vaa Vaa, in ragam Varali in which she took the audience on a very thrilling and humbling ride. One could sense the calm during the storm as she danced with such speed and power. Archana's intent reverberated through the auditorium as she ended the item depicting the devotee of Lord Muruga pierced with multiple alagu/vels or spears, completely surrendering to a superior power. Sure, she may have surrendered to Lord Muruga with all her religious devotion, but there was a layer that was more important. There was honesty and truth in her surrender to her art and that was visible to everyone present there. She was in a search before the program and as she ended her kutcheri, it felt like she got some answers from a very deep-rooted seeking in the journey of practice and performance.
Archana was supported on stage by her guru Kasi Aysola on nattuvangam, Bhagyalakshmi on vocal, Guru Bharadwaj on mridangam, Anjani Srinivasan on veena and Sujith Naik on flute. Her whole musical ensemble deserves a special mention as they truly supported her vision and aided in delivering everything she wanted with such ease. Kasi deserves extra praise for effectively playing multiple roles that evening as a guru, a vocalist, a nattuvanar, a makeup artist and many more.
Shruthi Mohankumar is a Houston-based Bharatanatyam dancer. Professionally, she is an R&D engineer at Powell Industries.