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Leaps of discovery

Vyjayanthi Kashi started as a reluctant dancer but is now merged with it. She tells SHILPA SEBASTIAN R.that Kuchipudi gels with her personality

Photo: Murali Kumar K.

GRADUAL ACCEPTANCE Vyjayanthi Kashi: ‘For me it’s a complete art form’

“My father was so charmed by actor-dancer, Vyjayanthimala Bali that he decided to name me after her. My parents even decided to make me a dancer before I was born,” starts Kuchipudi dancer Vyjayanthi Kashi, whose name is synonymous with Kuchipudi today.

She gives complete credit to her parents – the late J.M.Vishwanth and G.V. Girijamma — also the daughter of Gubbi Veeranna for her fame. Vyjayanthi started learning Bharatanatya from Ramanna of Tumkur at the age of six. “I was immature and it was hard on me. I did not understand the seriousness of art. I would pinch my guru or run away and hide. Some days I would climb a tree and hide in the branches and watch him leave after a long wait. But he was so patient that he would teach me in spite of this. My advice to parents is not to pressurise their children.”

Eventually, she topped the State with a first rank and also won a golden chain. In spite of all the support, she says, she waited for a chance to get rid of her dance. “In college I took to theatre and worked with Nagabharana, which was a good change. It was in the evenings and there was no dance. That’s also where I met my husband Vijay Kashi,” recalls Vyjayanthi, who then went on to take up a job with a bank.

“During this time Vijay got busy with art films and theatre and I felt lonely. Vijay asked me to do something in my free time. At that point Kuchipudi guru C.R. Acharya was in town. It became the turning point in my life. I started dancing again,” she recalls. “I wrote a letter to Vyjayanthimala Bali and she came as the chief guest to my first performance after my father’s death. When I met C.R. Acharya, I was mature and also had the urge to be creative and learn. If you are trained in one art form, it’s easy to take to another. My first teacher carved me, and this teacher polished me,” she says.

Her second innings in dance started with a negative review. “A famous critic at that time passed me off as a ‘bad dancer’. I spent a lot of time in wallowing in self pity. However, I pulled up my sleeves and took it up as a challenge. Today, I thank that critic for I believe that it was his negative remark that made me. I went and met every living legend – Yamini Krishnamurthy, Narasimha Rao, Vedantam Prahalada Sarma – to learn what Kuchipudi is and trained myself in every aspect of dance and abinaya. I tell all my students to take their negative aspects and make it their strong point.”

Vyjayanthi adds that she started dancing again at the age of 30. Coming from a family of theatre people, she “fell totally in love with Kuchipudi, for I have theatre in my blood. I need to create something all the time and this classical art form gives me all this. Kuchipudi has gelled with my personality. For me it’s a complete art form,” says this dancer, who has done varied innovations. “I have used Kannada lyrics for my dance so that people here can understand it better. It’s important to reach out to the local audience.”

She started the Shambhavi School of Dance in ’93, and believes choreography is also important and has to be taught. As a teacher she says: “We not only teach dance but also organise workshops and seminars, take the best from everything and give it to our students. Why look at everything commercially? There are so many parents who send their children to school even when they are not sure if the education will fetch them a job. So why not encourage dance? Look what dance has given me – I am well-versed with the epics, travel extensively and have students all over the world.”

About audience reaction to the classical art forms, she says: “Some feel that the epics are boring. Tell me how many Sitas we have in today’s society? Aren’t the so-called modern men suspicious of their wives? How can we say that Kunti and Karna are no longer relevant today when we have so many unwed mothers and orphanages? They are eternal stories which are happening today too. Classical dance recreates the past and connects it to the future. An artiste is responsible because she is communicating all this.”

Vyjayanthi is so passionate about teaching, she says: “I may not live but my work can live. If, in my lifetime, I train at least five good dancers, they will continue the tradition. You will have hurdles in life but to conquer them is your strength. On stage one can be all that one wants to be. Art gives you the freedom to voice out anything,” says this creative artiste, who encourages parent-teacher meetings at her dance school to helps avoid clashes between art and education. “One has to also be a psychologist and understand the psyche of your student. Every dancer should have an education; and should balance between the modern and traditional.”

Vyjayanthi has started the Shambhavi Dance Theatre, a residential school, which teaches everything from yoga, music, dance (Kuchipudi), spirituality and philosophy. The school takes on six students but as of now has only three. “Most don’t have the courage to take to dance. But we assure you that in two years time they will be professional dancers. We only look for students with passion and dedication. There is no age bar but one has to be physically and mentally strong,” she says.

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Zee Astitva Award by Zee Network

State Award, Kalashree, by Sangeetha Nrithya Academy, Bangalore

Vocational Excellence Award from Rotary International

Aryabhata Award from Aryabhata Organisation

Top Ranking Artist from Doordarshan

Outstanding Artist from the Indian Council for Cultural Relations

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