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Continuing threads of tradition

Preethi Tatambhotla

Culture is a sum total of manmade attitudes, arts, traditions and values acquired through living in society. ‘Art’, in culture, encompasses the visual arts, the literary arts and the performing arts - music, theatre, dance - the spoken word, and film & architecture, the last two, which amongst other things, include elements of the visual, literary and theatrical.In traditional classical Indian dance, Kuchipudi, unites music, dance and theatre. Kuchipudi is a dance form telling stories that reach out to the audience. It is a dance discipline that requires dancers to use their whole ‘being’ to tell a story, using the body, hand gestures, rhythmic footwork, facial expressions and the eyes to communicate a story.

In this contemporary age of self-obsession and crass consumerism in which ignorance and a lack of cultural understanding prevails; where beauty, love, creativity, awareness, and cultural consciousness live a very fragile coexistence, it was a pleasure to see a young dancer perform and raise hope for the future.The dancer was Preethi Tatambhotla presenting a solo Kuchipudi recital for the very renowned platform of Kalasagaram Annual Youth Festival of Dance. A student/disciple of the redoubtable Dr. Shobha Naidu, herself the most renowned exponent of Kuchipudi - choreographer and educationist.

In the performance that I witnessed, Preethi, danced with joy and grace, and from her first high stepping entry to the stage in a garnet red blouse and amber orange sari, her stage presence commanded attention, and she lived her dance. The distinguishing feature about the whole evening’s performance was the imaginative and interesting choreography. The choreographer for all the pieces in the evening’s performance was Dr Shobha Naidu. The selection of music and poetry was outstanding, innovative and coupled with empathetic choreography. In the notes I had made during the performance, I had written that she had ‘dismissed sameness’ and that she had made the dances look ‘traditional and contemporary’ at the same time.

The ensemble of musicians that accompanied Preethi were a pleasure to listen to, for a music lover such as I am, the music at a dance recital is heard with as much absorption as the dance performance. This music ensemble, veterans that they are, give off their best each time they perform, did so even today, especially in the composition ‘Vachenu alamelumanga’- an Annamacharya Keerthana,. The item is a tour de force for a Kuchipudi dancer to depict nine different rasa’s with requisite music changes for each of the navarasa - Sringara, Hasya, Karuna, Roudra, Veera, Bhayanaka, Bheebatsa, Adbhutha, Shantha. Swetha Prasad on Vocal, Nattuvanar (wielder of cymbals) N. Ch. Raghunandan, Sridharacharya on Mridangam and violin by Kolanka Sai Kumar were very soothing especially in this item.

Music Ensemble
And the dancer lived up to the superb music, the narrative drama and the choreography. Preethi’s footwork was agile and vigorous where it needed to be, and delicate at times when needed. Her body language was energetic and languid in turns, and her hand movements and facial expressions were animated and yet subtle and nuanced. She communicated the narrative in each piece, mouthing the words that is unique to Kuchipudi, in dance that was theatrical, and in a manner that was compelling and absorbing.

She chose the Javali – a quick, often erotic, love composition with catchy tunes as one of her next items. Her presentation of Pattabhiramayya’s Javali ‘Apaduruku Lonaithine’ was impressive. Showcasing a fickle young woman who doesn’t know how to deal with her attraction to men, it needed the dancer to use her acting skills in combination with creative choreography to depict the dilemma of the confused and flirtatious girl. The Mohana Kalyani Thillana composed by the brilliant violinist, Lalgudi Sri Jayaraman was the finale. Preethi’s performance was exceedingly good by any standards, but no little credit must go to the choreographer, Dr. Shobha Naidu, who lifted the dance performance out of the realms of the ordinary, and to the truly wonderful ensemble of musicians.

Getting back to the idea of culture, tradition and the classical arts, it is a good sign that young dancers like Preethi Tatambhotla are continuing traditions and being standard bearers for Kuchipudi, and classical dance performance in this age of instant gratification and pop culture. It was truly a pleasurable evening. And Preethi made it so with a joyful presentation of energy, cheer and warmth.