“Dance has been my companion at more than a personal level. It has given me strength to continue through sleepless nights. It has been my saviour. The love for dance was instilled in me by my teachers, especially the Late Vempatti Chinna Satyam. I hope I have done the same for all my students, the Australian Lingalayam Dancers. We are onto our third generation of Lingalayam Dancers now”.
Interview with Anandavalli, Founder and Director of Lingalayam Dance Academy
Q What does Lingalayam mean ?
A ‘Linga’ is my mother’s name and ‘Alayam’ means a School. The Lingalayam Dance Academy is dedicated to my mother. I owe all my dancing years talent and everything to my mother who ensured I got the best training in Indian Classical Dance dragging me from one teacher to another. I would practice 18 hours a day.
Q How did you get into teaching Dance ?
A I was never a teacher. I was recognized as a child prodigy at an early age. I had performed extensively in various parts of the world before coming to Australia. In Australia I had no plans of teaching. I was cornered and almost woed into teaching and started it initially in my garage with three students.
Q They tell me, you are extremely strict with your students ?
A Once I decided to teach I set a rule. The rule that I shall teach my students the way I was taught. My mother was a huge disciplinarian as were my teachers. In undertaking an Arangetram I insist that students demonstrate commitment to dance and promise to keep dancing after an Arangetram. I wanted my students to develop a love for the art and realise how much that art gives back to them. The School’s vision was therefore to give birth to a professional group of dancers. Hence the Lingalayam Dance Company was formed in 1996.
Q Tell me about your first show in Australia ?
A The first dance performance was ‘Andal’ at the Helensburgh Venkateswara Temple during the inaugurating festival, the Kumbhabhishekham. I danced as the sun was setting and it was an amazing experience.
A How did you take the Lingalayam Dance Company to mainstream Australians
Q In 1996 I became a committee member of the NSW Dance Board, Ministry for the Arts. I held that office for 5 years. Those five years I gained indepth knowledge of the Performing Arts scene in Australia.
Lingalayam was never recognised as a community organisation. We have had to compete with other mainstream dance companies, at the same level such as the Bangarra Dance Company, to obtain Government funding.
A What was Lingalayam Dance Company’s first production and you own first solo performance in Australia?
Q The first production of Lingalayam Dance Company was Shiva Stuthi which was held at the old NIDA.
My very first solo performance was under the banner of ‘Kavithanjali’ run by Dr Muthukrishnan which was held at the Seymour Centre. That is when I got my first professional break in Sydney.
Q Your vision for your productions?
A My vision for a perfect production is that there is a perfect marriage between music and dance with the aesthetics of lighting and costume to create the perfect theatre experience. My productions are not just a dance production.
Q Who are your original students
A My first students are Kavitha Balendra, Uma Shanmughapillai and Abhi Adhiswaran.
Aruna Sampath, Vinitha Daniels, Abhi Senthil and Kavitha Suthanthiraraj were the founding members of the Lingalayam Dance Company.
We are onto our third generation of Lingalayam dancers now.
Q Tell me about your story of becoming an Australian Citizen ?
A I was given honorary Australian Citizenship on stage. At a radio interview I was asked whether I was an Australian Citizen, given my love for Australia. Life in Australia in those days was very different. It felt like a barren uncultured country to me after having a very fulfilling career in dance in Europe. At this stage, I was performing internationally at least 4-5 times a year as a result I could not give up my Passport for six months, an immigration rule at that time.
In the evening of the performance, the officials of the Immigration Department presented me with the Australian Honorary Citizenship.
Q Your Teaching Style, is it different?
A I adopted and amalgamated teaching styles from all my Gurus. Adayar K Lakshman, who taught me the Kalakshetra style; for the Vazhavoor style which is resplendent with fluidity I adopted from Udupi Lakshmi Narayananan, whose rhythmical configurations, chollekatte, is simply brilliant, and for Kuchipudi, Vempatti Chinna Satyam. They never forced anything on me. They showered me with their love for dance their knowledge and skill.
To this day I believe that for all fundamentals the Kalakshetra Style is the best. It is the best for body experience that can take on another vocabulary. I do not throw students into various vocabularies at the same time. I bring them to a fundamental level of Kalakshetra repertoire before exposing them to another vocabulary.
Q You mean you do not fuse these different styles ?
A I hate the word fusion. This production, Planes of Devotion, will bring each dance vocabulary onto the same platform but will be presented respecting each style. There will be minimalistic literal translations bringing in a collective dance vocabulary to the choreography.
Q What other productions are you working on now ?
A I am presently concentrating on four other productions and organising my son’s wedding. One of my soon to come collaboration is with TaikOz; mostly a Japanese male percussion ensemble and all Lingalayam female dancers in a production called – Chi Udaka – Earth and Water – in October which is premiering in 2013; Then there is the collaboration with contemporary dancer, Narelle Benjamin and Parvathy Baul, the Baul singer from India next year.
Q The idea for Annamaya
A My brother Anandhakrishnan, who has been my stage manager from the beginning suggested Annamacharya to me. He has a great love for Annamacharya’s compositions. Annamacharya’s poetry, with its compelling lyrics in Telugu and Sanskrit, in praise of the manifestations of Lord Venkatesa and his consort Alamelumanga are layered with myriad hues. His poetry oscillates between the beauty of love and romance, the soulfulness of philosophical devotion to concern for social equality.
There are twenty four items showcasing all students of the Lingalayam Dance Academy and each child will maintain their own individuality.