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"Classical dance can be a tool to spread social message" - say dance couple Narasimhachari
& Vasanthalakshmi
CHENNAI, January 12: "Dance is a representation of beauty. It’s a powerful tool. We may not have a huge fan following. Yet, we can use dance to take up social causes." That is M.V. Narasimhachari and Vasanthalakshmi Narasimhachari for you. They are convinced that it is the responsibility of artistes, sabhas and the media to ensure that quality performances happen often. "Criticism has to be constructive. It should promote the art and artistes. Artistes too should be open-minded and truthful in their art. Sabhas should choose the right kind of artistes to perform," they argue.

The couple has spent a good part of their life in learning every subtle nuances of the classical art. They have invested much of their time and energy in learning. They do both Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam. A disciple of his father (Sathyanarayanachari), Narasimhachari was just five years old when he gave his maiden performance. He has also learnt music from M.D. Ramanathan and S.R. Janakiraman. Narasimhachari also plays mridangam. He learnt mridangam from Shanmuganandam Pillai. He is a complete artiste.

"We can educate people on social issues by driving home the point in a subtle and beautiful manner so that it stays in their mind," points out Vasanthalakshmi. She is convinced that classical dancers can use mythological stories subtly to deliver socially-relevant messages to masses. “Varaha avathar” is a mythological story. It is about Hiranyaksha, a demon, who terrorized the world. It goes on to narrate how Lord Vishnu comes to the rescue of the world by destroying Hiranyaksha. One can drive the message home by equating people polluting the world to demons, they point out. “What is not there in the dance?" he quotes Bharatha from Natya sastra.

Work, work and work always
For them, the art itself is their PR (public relations officer). They have done 28 dance-dramas. Manimegalai, Bharathi Kannamma, Bharathi Kanda Bharatham and Kambha Ramayana are among them. "We have worked a lot to conceive these themes," they say. It is work, work and work always for them even now. The duo does every thing. From composing music to choreography, they do all these themselves. They have also created a work titled `Subashitham”, (meaning eternal words of wisdom) from the Jathaka tales, Panchatantra and Indian folk tales. "There is an underlying message in projecting all these tales to the audience. The response to the conventional dance is also good," points out Vasanthalakshmi. "Sugar is the base for any sweet. Art is classified into 64. The 65th art is to read the pulse of the audience," she quips. According to Narasimhachari, a dancer should also be a musician and know the laya, so as to help him introduce appropriate sangatis.

They are a divine couple. They practice a divine art and pursue it religiously. For them, it’s kind of yoga. It’s not a means to an end. It’s an end in itself. Trials and tribulations notwithstanding, this dancing duo, parents of two lovely children – stand cheek by jowl and speak in perfect harmony. Today, the art they practice has given them name, fame and what not. Yet, this couple remains simple and follows an uncompromising approach to the art.

The husband-wife dance duo shared moments of ups and downs in their continuing journey with classical dance. Hurdles are aplenty in their dance odyssey. Problems, however, pale into insignificance every time they ascended a stage to give a dance recital. "You forget everything when you get on to the stage," he says.

Natya Yoga
This curious rasika - a foreign lady – is keen to know from the couple how they remember everything – from music, laya, abhinaya, mudra et al – and play perfectly. “We invite you to learn dance for six months. It’s a process of training, a long-drawn out one at that. It requires practice, we call it `Sadhana’ in India," explains Vasanthalakshmi. Western ballets, she elaborates, are mostly body-oriented. “In India, we call it as Natya Yoga,” Narasimhachari butts in to clarify. "It’s (dance) all things put together – mind, body, emotions and concentration," he avers. “Our dance is spiritual. Union or communication with the divine is the core," she points out. All our Gods and Goddesses - from Nataraja to Krishna - are artistes themselves. So saying, Narasimhachari points out that “Lord Nataraja is the king of dancers”. Narasimhachari is convinced that the Indian music and dance have come from Gods. "They are given to humanity to understand life and its purpose. The Divine art is the only solution to bring peace and harmony," he feels.

According to Vasanthalakshmi, there are two ways of looking at dance.

It can be a means to an end or it can be an end in itself. When the art is used to earn name, fame and money, “you may dilute it", she reasons. For this dancing life partners, India is the best country to live in. Within India, Chennai is the best city. Mylapore is the best place to perform as it has "discerning persons" who can appreciate the art. “To be accepted here is like passing a test,” they aver.

In former times, kings and patrons supported dancers. The king’s court of Thanjavur used to witness music and dance performance on all 365 days of a year. It had 365 musicians. Each artiste would get a chance once in a year to perform in the king’s court. They would sing only one raga. Dipping a bit into the past, the couple explains how an artiste got raga name prefixed to his name as a result of his singing always a single raga in the court of kings!

Dance is everything
"The artistes of today are capable of handling the art in its pristine form in spite of so many hazards in our life," points out Vasanthalakshmi. At the moment, the supply is more than the demand, they feel. Young artiste these days are somehow lucky to manage their expenses. Seniors, however, "live on teaching and performances at prestigious places," they point out. In the absence of kings and patrons, they feel Corporate India should step in to promote the classical art in a major way.

Narasimhachari has composed a first-of-its kind padvarnam on Rukmini Devi in suladi sapta talas.” It starts like this: "Kalakshetra Nayak, Kalavathy, Saraswathi Ulagam pugazhum". It is composed in three ragas. It brings out the entire life and achievements of Rukmini athai (aunt, as they called her). This idea came just as a flash to me, he points out. Even now he sticks to this one advice of his maternal uncle: “Do things differently”. "God brings people together for some purpose," says Narasimhachari, who has received awards from five Presidents of India, starting from Rajendra Prasad.

An M.Sc in yoga, he has wide knowledge on assorted subjects - from ayurveda to reiki and pranic healing, among many others. He is now currently engaged in writing a south Indian music book with western notations for sarali varisai, swarajathis and others. “God is always with us. Whenever I need him, he is there with me,” says he. "If God is not with me. I am with him,” he adds.

For this couple, there is no holiday in life. Dance is everything. "What are we without dance?" they ask. "Dance relaxes us very much," they point out. "If art does not make a person a good human being, the artiste has then lost the wonderful opportunity that God has given him/her," says Vasanthalakshmi. It is indeed fulfilling to have a wonderful chat with this divine dancing duo at the Rasam Restaurant here on the lovely morning of January 12, 2011.