‘Classical art is like a designer piece, never for masses’ | The Financial Express

‘Classical art is like a designer piece, never for masses’

Kuchipudi maestra Kaushalya Reddy speaks about her love for the craft, how the dance form has changed over the years, and the financial hardships many artistes have to face

‘Classical art is like a designer piece, never for masses'
Kaushalya Reddy and Drs. Raja Radha Reddy Family

“We are responsible for bringing Kuchipudi to the cultural map of the world,” says Kaushalya Reddy of the Raja Radha and Kaushalya Reddy trio. And rightly so, the dancing trio is not just credited with popularising this classical dance form from Andhra Pradesh but also training scores under their guardianship at their Natya Tarangini dance school, which they have been running in the national capital region since 1976. Another Natya Tarangini school has been operating in Hyderabad since 2007. Kaushalya Reddy also spearheads the Parampara series in Delhi, which showcases different classical dance and music forms performed by maestros in their fields, attracting a sizeable audience.

In an interview with FE, the Kuchipudi exponent spoke about her love for the craft, how the dance form has changed over the years, and the financial hardships several classical artists have to go through in the quest for this art. Edited excerpts:

Kuchipudi is an ancient classical dance form. How has it transformed since you have been performing?

Kuchipudi has been evolving constantly and that is how it should be to keep up with time. Going abroad and performing internationally also help here. When we go out and see international artistes perform, their long warm-up sessions, the proper entry and exit, lighting, costumes, everything, there is a lot to learn. For example, lighting did not matter much in those days, but now its prominence has increased. The costumes, too, are now tailored such that they do not cause any hindrance while performing. Makeup, too, has changed over the years.

How does a classical art form change with time while retaining its original essence?

It is not that tough. Guruji often says, “Dance is like a river. The old water flows out for the newer one to take its place. The same holds true for us. But the thing that is important is to keep our banks intact, which includes the grammar, audibles, mudras, etc.” When you use different music mediums for the traditional Kuchipudi dance, it becomes far easier for the audience to connect. Once our daughter performed on English music, which the audience found great and far easier to connect with.

Also when Rajaji choreographs at Natya Tarangini, he involves his students. That helps understand how the newer generation thinks, and to keep up with time.

How do you make Kuchipudi, intrinsic to Andhra Pradesh, palatable to a global audience?

It totally depends on the artiste. You need to be smart and clever enough to know which items would work for what audience. For example, when we go to Madras, we perform heavy and intricate work to show our mastery of skills and intellectuality. But that won’t work everywhere.

When a performer steps on the stage, she is not just performing for herself. The idea is, through your performance, you elevate the audience to a level that you and they are one, so that they enjoy and so do you. So it is a two-way job, and cannot be one-way traffic.

Has Kuchipudi’s popularity changed over the years, in terms of audiences and people enrolling to learn?

Classical art is never for the masses. It can never be compared to, say, folk or Bollywood dance. Classical dance is like a designer piece and not a mass piece. It is a very exclusive art.

There are many people who come to us to learn saying they wish to enter Bollywood. The dancing skills of actresses like Vyjayanthimala and Hema Malini, both classical dancers, inspire here. But it is never a one or two years’ thing but needs consistent practice for years.

Choreographer Ashley Lobo once told Rajaji, “I want all my students who are learning Western dance to also learn classical dance as it is the mother of all arts.”

A problem that several classical dancers face is the lack of earning avenues. How do you look at it?

Yes, it is a problem. These days, many artistes even pay to perform. Many organisers also take undue advantage of the situation. Also, the dance in itself is an expensive proposition, given its costumes, jewellry, etc. All this is true. But, if you believe in yourself and are completely dedicated to the craft, you will make money at the end of the day. It is only in the initial period that you face that kind of hardship, which is prevalent in other professions, too. It is that initial grind that everyone has to go through irrespective of the field. But once you are an established artist, things will change for you, and then you command money. But till then, you have to be a bit patient, believe in yourself, and continue doing what you are passionate about.

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First published on: 29-01-2023 at 02:30 IST