As a Kuchipudi Dancer in Sydney, it is a rare treat to get to see another Kuchipudi artist, especially one who has gotten in touch with the roots of Kuchipudi, in the village from which it hails. Sreelakshmy Govardhanan was a treat to all my senses – so much so that I didn’t want her performance to end, having experienced all the emotions she portrayed through her items as well as my own sense of awe which manifested through both tears and goosebumps, watching her dance.
Throughout her performance, I could see her technique true to the stylisation of the late Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam. I loved her thorough and delightful explanations before each item, through which she totally engaged with the audience, and her wonderful abhinaya, through which she enacted every character, every transition, and all of them coming through as totally genuine.
When she entered for the ‘Sita Pravesha Dharavu’ holding her own curtain, it was a delightful item, describing Sita; I just wished it had gone longer. Sreelakshmy is the epitome of Kuchipudi grace – her footwork firm when it needs to be, her Aramandi strong, yet her body supple and fluid as is typical for the Kuchipudi style.
The Mandodari Sabdam again was explained beautifully by Sreelakshmy, and executed exquisitely. The way she showed each of the forest animals was delightful; probably the best I have ever seen from a Kuchipudi artist. Her depiction of Ravana and Mandodari – especially the transitions between each character was outstanding. When she showed all 20 of Ravana’s hands reaching out and then coming together in respect to Mandodari, I could visualize all of the 20 arms – so well had she brought out the character through her dancing.
I was very excited to see her Siggayeno Dharavu – there are many stories that follow on after the ‘Bhamakalapam’ – one of the most famous items in Kuchipudi, about one of Kuchipudi’s favourite heroines, Satyabhama. As said by Sreelakshmy, Satyabhama is an arrogant and proud woman, well aware of her incomparable beauty. Yet the character we saw in the Siggayeno Dharavu was a different Bhama – one who wanted her friend to find her husband with whom she had fought; yet she was too shy to say his name. The beautiful way in which she portrayed that shy Satyabhama – it was a revelation. I found myself grinning along with her, as she covered her face and beseeched her friend to find ‘Him’ for her.
The final item, the Krishna Stuthi, in the Tarangam format, was well worth the wait. The story of Poothana was beautifully portrayed – the way she transitioned from Rakshashi to a beautiful Apsara; and then her enchantment with all that was in Vrindavan. But the most powerful part of this Sanchari episode was watching the agony going through Poothana’s body, once Krishna has suckled at her breast, and this action kills her. Sreelakshmy powerfully showed the pain coursing through different parts of the body; in fact at one point, the music stopped for a few seconds, and you could hear Sreelakshmy’s moan of agony in the silent theatre, as she fully immersed herself in the pain the body experienced, thus demonstrating that no abhinaya is convincing if the dancer is not involved and feeling the character all the way through. Her abhinaya was not on the surface; it was complete and from every pore of her being. And I felt every emotion, every transition, every story.
Her Thambalam or Brass Plate component was also well executed and she showed she had confidence in moving around the stage. She is a dancer I will be seeking out if she performs in Chennai in December, as her performance was for me, the highlight of the 2016 MAPA Sydney Dance Festival.
About the Author: Aruna Iyengar is a well respected Kuchipudi dancer and teacher in Sydney.
Artist’s response dated 20/04/2016
I read all the articles that are published here. Thank you so much, I am honored… Everyone has gone into the details and appreciated the efforts I made. I would attribute all that I received to my Guru, Pasumarthy Rattaiha Sarmagaru… If anything is good in me it’s all given and polished by him. What ever is not good is something that I need to work on, keeping my Gurus life and work in my mind intact….
I read the review written by Aruna ma’am as well… So nice of her to elaborate on every minute details of the recital. It was quite surprising when she wrote she found Vempati mastergarus style in my recital. Must be because of the lifts and leaps and general adavus thats common in traditional and Vempati masters style of Kuchipudi. Or it could be because, she identified so much with her own great learning experience under Vempati Mastergaru. Also our eyes are used to watching Vempati masters choreography, hardly anyone follows old style Kuchipudi… I follow the traditional style of Kuchipudi where abhinaya aspects gets more emphasise. I try my best to adhere to Rattaiha masters teaching…
Writer’s Response dated 20/04/16:
My observation that I could see similarities between Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam’s dance and the technique exhibited by Sreelakshmy were just in relation to the basic steps – the fundamental footwork; the theermanam steps and the flow of the body / bends of the body. I could definitely identify with the style as Kuchipudi but I did not mean to detract from Sreelakshmy’s choreography or her masters style in anyway. It was an exquisite pleasure to watch her dance and see such high caliber Kuchipudi in Sydney.