• Atul Prasad

The Dancing Stars

We had a chance to have a chat with India's foremost classical dancers Mrs. Nirupama Rajendra and Mr. T. Rajendra and their journey with Abhinava Dance Company

When did you start learning dance? Were you interested in it since the beginning itself?.

Rajendra comes from a family of Harikatha Vidwans - Traditional Story tellers of Karnataka state belonging to the tradition of Purandarasa Dasa. He has been onstage since he was 4 years old as he was to taking characters in  the traditional dance dramas created by his family production house Prabhath Kalavidaru. He formally learnt Bharathanatyam under Guru.U.S.Krishna Rao & Chandrabhagadevi when he was much older & then went onto learn Kathak with Dr.Maya Rao , Padmabhushan Kumudini Lakhia , Pundit Arjun Misra & Nahid Siddique of Pakistan.

I, Nirupama ,started with Bharathanatyam when I was 5 yrs old and met Rajendra when I was 16 when I joined their traditional dance drama unit. I learnt Bharathanatyam with several masters including Kalamandalam Radhika Guru Narmada, Padmabhushan Kalanidhi Narayan, Smt. Sundari Santhanam & Dr.Padma Subramanyam. My training in Kathak was same as Rajendras.I graduated in dance Choreography in 1991 at NIKC. Both of us have studied all major works of Kalidasa & other Sanskrit literary works for 7 years under the guidance of Shatavadhani Dr.R.Ganesh.Both of us have learnt Carnatic music & I learnt the Vedas from a Vedic Scholar. All our learning’s are integral part of dance.

If not a dancer, what would you be career-wise?

We have been dancing individually for over 40 years and together last 30 years. Our Abhinava Dance Company is celebrating 25th year of service to Arts. Cannot even imagine how life would be in any other field.

What is the best part about dancing?

Like the saying in Sanskrit goes:

“Prekshkaanaam Pramodaaya Preethaye Paramaathmanaha Kurmasva Chitta Shuddhyartham Chidrasaabhinayam Vayam”

We dance to entertain the world,  we dance so that the Gods may be pleased and we dance to share the JOY WITHIN by which process our Chitt ( self ) keeps getting purified.

Dancing is the most humbling experience for us....We love the  creative process & the value of SHARING involved.

When people go home with a smile on their faces & joy in their heart that is the BEST gift we cherish.

Tell us about your first experience of dancing.

I grabbed the mike & sang & danced when I was 3.Rajendra when he was a little calf in the Dance Drama Punyakoti.

How was your childhood like? Was there any early influence of dancing?

Both our childhood has been culturally rich. In my house there was constantly music played , my mother used to sing and father used to write poems and sing too. Rajendra grew up listening to Harikatha by his uncles Father used to play tabla and legendary artists used to visit the house like Pundit Ravishankar M.S.Subbalakshmy S.Balachandar ,Bheemsen Joshi,Amjad Ali Khan ,Pt Vijayaraghava Rao , Ilayaraja & others.

You believe dance is more than just a co-curricular activity. Do you think it is lucrative enough to be taken up as a profession?

Dance is a phenomenon that enhances ones being ness in several layers. In terms of knowledge enhancement it connects us with our deep-rooted culture, our stories, study of philosophy , values, at the physical level it strengthens the body, at the intellectual level it tremendously works on imaginative & cognitive faculties, At the psychological level it balances the emotions it boots the spirit and at the spiritual level it shows us who we are and who we are NOT as well ( when we lose our identity & become characters on stage ) Dance is not just a medium of communication but of COMMUNION.

Although originated in India, a lot of Indians don’t prefer classical dance. How do you want to bring about a change?

There’re so many who don’t like sports too , its OK. Those who like peace , Joy & aesthetic beauty will connect naturally.

Any change you have seen in the classical dance scene throughout the years?

Yes , More beautiful dancers have emerged , more creative work is happening , more awareness is happening both on stage through films & specially through social media which is very good.

In our dance institution in the last 5 years many adults between 25 to 60 years have joined classical dance classes. Women & men are stepping forward in trying out classical dance which earlier only children would join.They find peace & harmony learning classical. This is a good sign. Colleges are introducing classical solo & group competitions which encourages youngsters.

Which is your favourite performance of yours till date and why?

Many performances are very very very special to us. One performance for a group of Afghans in Switzerland was different. After 3 hrs concert they asked for encore we were going to miss our train to Geneva we said we shall do encore only if they would drop us by road , they agreed and when we danced , they all had tears as something had touched them. They felt a sense of belonging. On seeing our dance musical on

The Wonders of Rama “ a child ( as said by the mother) that was reading Harry Potter asked mother to open the book of Ramayana. Dancing in remote villages specially Maneri village at the foothills of Himalayas for school children , to see their thrill, their abilities to  identify characters & enjoy the  story telling through dance was another fulfilling experience to us.

How long do you rehearse in a day or what is a discipline that you follow?

We wake up early go for a walk, exercise, Rajendra goes to Gym while I dance my Natyashastra Charis & Karanas as a routine. When we were students we practiced 6 hrs a day other the classes that we used to attend. Now we dance for about 2 hours , we eat healthy food , our choreography sessions goes for 6 hours a day , however we soak ourselves with dance related activities for 16 - 18 hrs a day :) No exaggeration. This is our LIFE. We have friends circle who are also mad like us, they are artists - musicians poets & young scholars. We enjoy watching movies/discussing art.We keep ourselves busy usefully.

Any advice to the upcoming dancers?

If you pursue dance as a hobby learn well & enjoy , if you want to make it a profession  be creative & work hard. If you want to make dance your full time activity enrich yourself constantly through learning, sharing & celebrate life.