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Bharathanatyam has awakened me, says
Nithya Nagarajan
When she is happy, it helps her to celebrate. When she is sad, it helps her to move on. When she is angry, it comforts her. When she is excited, it helps her to rejoice. When she is stressed out, it helps her to meditate. When she is slacking, it helps her to concentrate. In this e-mail interview with, Nithya Nagarajan reveals that Bharathanatyam has helped her to fall in love with religion, spirituality, aesthetic, art and life itself. Read on

How long have you been learning dance? Why Bharathanatyam?
I have been learning dance for the past 13 years. I was initiated into Bharathanatyam at a tender age when I did not understand the depth, verve and variety of this divine art form. As I progressed, Bharathanatyam became my lifeblood. No other dance form could complete me the way Bharathanatyam does. Art is long and life is short, they say. The same goes for any form of classical dance. I believe that my entire lifetime will be a learning process and at the end I would have but mastered a portion of what our ancestors have left us with. Hence, there is no other form of dance that appeals to me as strongly as Bharathanatyam.

Who is your guru? What kind of a teacher is he/she?
I started this journey in foreign shores under Smt. Sujatha Rajendran, who runs the ‘Nritta Dhyana School of Dance’ in Kuwait. She is a senior disciple of Kalamandalam, Calcutta and The Dhananjayans. It is she who instilled upon us the love for performance and strengthened our basics with utmost devotion and discipline. A testimony to this fact is that three of her students have moved to Chennai to establish them in the arena of professional dancing. I also trained for a short period under Smt. Rangashree Shrinivas of Kinkini fame. She is a performing artiste-cum-teacher, who handles both the tasks with efficiency.

On returning to India, I completed my arangetram and continued this form of dance under Smt. Lalitha Ganapathy, a senior disciple of Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, who runs ‘Sri Noopurlaya Dance Academy in Velachery. I owe a lot to Smt. Lalitha Ganapathy as it is she who thrust the absolute passion for dance in me. It is she who believed in me when I was in doubt. When I spoke to her about taking up dance professionally, at a time when I wasn’t sure if I believed in myself, she had that blind faith in me. I will forever be grateful to her.

I currently undergoing senior classes from Smt. Krishnakumari Narendran, who runs Abhinaya Natyalaya in Abhiramapuram. She is more than a teacher to me. She is a living legend. When I go to dance class, there is something or the other I learn from her. Not just her excellence in the Pandanallur tradition of dance, but also her passion, spirit and extensive knowledge of ancient literature. Her choreography is absolutely out of the world. It literally transcends beyond the physical boundaries and transports your soul to the heavens. Her work is so well-researched and beautifully crafted that it is a visual treat. I also learn the importance of taking care of every minute detail, right from the lighting, sound, costumes, sets and you name it! She is also a guru who, in spite of having a large number of students, gives a lot of individual attention and hones the skill in every disciple to bring out the best in them. Every item she teaches a student is personalised to the extent where the dancer and the dance merge to become one.

Dance class is my happy place! I also learn the nuances of abhinaya from Smt. Bragha Bessell. Her undying care for her students and the methodology which she adopts to help us bloom is truly inspiring! I have started looking at Padams and Javalis with an insider insight that I lacked before.

What has been your biggest learning from your guru?
My guru Smt. Krishnakumari Narendran always says that even a layman should be able to understand and enjoy your dance. I think that is my biggest learning from my guru. My guru achieves that through her work. She makes her students connect with each member of the audience, convey our message or portrayal, entertain and inspire while strictly confining to the boundaries of classicism. She can captivate the audience in a way that I believed was impossible till I came across her choreography. She is a creative genius. Every teaching of hers is a learning I treasure.

Why do you learn dance?
If I had to name a single reason, it would be for sheer existence. I know no life without dance.

Are you also learning vocal music?
As a child, I did learn vocal music for a brief period in Kuwait. However, I would now like to continue learning vocal music. Not with the objective of entering the professional arena but to understand the lyrical aspects and rhythmic patterns of dance better. As I heard Alarmel Valli once say, ‘When I dance, I sing with my body.’

What is your academic background?
I am currently pursuing my final year of B.Com (Accounting and Finance) from MOP Vaishnav College for Women. Simultaneously, I am studying for my diploma in Bharathanatyam from the Kalai Kaviri College of Arts, Trichy. I will be leaving to the U.K. next year to do a post-graduate course in cultural and creative industries.

How do you strike a balance between your studies and dance?
I think it calls for a lot of dedication. With deadlines for college submissions and hectic rehearsals, things can get a little tiring at times. However, having said that, my college timings are extremely comfortable. I attend college from 8.00 a.m. to 1.00 p.m. Therefore, I have ample time left in the day to pursue dance.

Are you learning dance by choice or compulsion?
I do not really think it is a matter of choice or compulsion. I learn dance out of necessity for sustaining. It is equivalent to the air I breathe.

How does it (learning dance) help you in day-to-day life?
I experience the emotions I exhibit on stage and it has given everyday life a new meaning. When I am happy, dance helps me to celebrate. When I am sad, dance helps me to move on. When I am angry, dance comforts me. When I am excited, dance helps me to rejoice. When I am stressed out, dance helps me to meditate. When I am slacking, dance helps me to concentrate. To put things in perspective, I think it would be apt to say that dance has helped me to all in love with religion, spirituality, aesthetic, art and life itself.

Are you learning it as a hobby or planning to be a professional dancer?
I am learning to become a professional dancer.

Learning dance – has it helped you to change your personality? If yes, how?
Dance has awakened me. I see beauty everywhere. I think being a dancer makes one more alert in general. It has opened a world of possibilities to me. It has added colour to my personality and inculcated a sense of discipline in me.

What is your aim as dancer?
To learn it, feel it, love it, perform it, practice it, preach it and, ultimately, propagate it. I think the time has come for me to move forward to learn, to work for, innovate and spread this form of art that I have been blessed with. Somewhere down the line, I also envision a dance company through which I will be able to choreograph and culminate artistes and art forms of diverse backgrounds to come up with innovative productions, to establish a troupe of well-known artistes to perform the world over, to teach and evolve artistes for a better tomorrow and, finally, to host festivals and bring out hidden talent.

What is the key to be a disciplined dancer?
Look around, learn, observe, grasp and, above all, work relentlessly, not in pursuit of fame but as a way of uniting the jeevathma (the mortal) with the parmaathma (the immortal).

What does take to be a long haul player in this art form?
As Anita Ratnam rightly pointed out, ``to turn your passion into your profession is the most fulfilling thing to do’’. I believe if you can achieve that with enormous sincerity, success will find its way to you to be a long haul player.

Do you think that dance is getting adequate encouragement?
I think the scenario is good, but it could be much better. Upcoming dancers deserve more support. The classical arts are not as publicized in the media as the contemporary arts. Being in the hub of culture, more funding and support from the Government should be available to keep our tradition burning alive. Newspapers should recognize and cover younger artistes as they will be the messengers of dance tomorrow. Collaborations should be encouraged. Dance, in my opinion, should not be commercialized, but it definitely has to be sensationalized. Art appreciation campaigns should be held for the general public to increase their awareness of the classical arts.

December season in Chennai - what thought crosses your mind?
The best time of the year – rehearsals, choreography, performing, watching stalwarts, the Naya Kala conference, The Hindu music season supplement, Mylapore, the faces of younger generation artistes and what not!

Deepa -
Nithya's answers are matured. May God bless her with success in every step she walks in life.

Shantha -
Smart interview. The answers are very clear, even to a layman like me. Keep up the good work, Nithya.

Deepa Pant -
The interview reads very well! Look forward to attending her performance soon. Best of Luck!.

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