‘Dancing came as naturally to me as eating and sleeping’

‘Dancing came as naturally to me as eating and sleeping’

By SWATI SINGH | | 14 October, 2017
culture, Kuchipudi dancer Bhavana Reddy, Kuchipudi dancer,  Bhavana Reddy, Dr Raja Radha Reddy, classical dance, Carnatic music, dance
Bhavana Reddy.
Renowned Kuchipudi dancer Bhavana Reddy speaks to Swati Singh about performing shows internationally, and her attempts to make the classical dance form popular among India’s youth.

Q. How did your journey in classical dance begin?

A. Like walking and talking, I had been dancing before I even knew it! It was always, and it remains, a part of me. My mom and dad would be dancing all day, and when I was done with school I would watch them or join the class. For me, dancing was like eating and sleeping—very natural.

Q. How would you describe Kuchipudi, the from you have mastered, to a layperson?

A. Kuchipudi is a living link to our temple traditions and to dance drama (Yakshagana) traditions of the Telugu land. It is a beautiful combination of dance and theatre that involves life-like movements, giving the dancer freedom to really expand their horizons and fill in the shoes of the character they are playing without any limitations. Kuchipudi is a fluid classical dance style and displays a beautiful array of abhinaya.

Q. You have been trained under your parents, the legendary dancing couple Dr Raja Radha Reddy and Dr Kaushalya Reddy. How did it feel learning from them? Was there any pressure?

A. No. Their status as dancers and choreographers was never, and has not been of any consequence to me. 

Q. What kinds of challenges did you face as a beginner in this field?

A. I don’t quite remember, since I started at such a tender age. I was quite an energetic child with all the energy in the world to dance, play and study, as well as to do everything else.

Q. You played the part of Satyabhama in your recent dance-drama, Bhama Kalāpam. Tell us about your experience.

A. I think the most challenging part was the vachika abhinaya (expressing through dialogues), considering that I was playing a character from our mythology. I was playing a period role and had to recreate the body language (angika abhinaya, tone and accent of a Telugu-speaking nayika from way back. Also, it was not easy for me to recreate a lady who has an air about her. I think it has taken me a couple of shows and bad criticisms to be able to do that bit to the capacity that I did.

Q. You have performed at various international festivals, including at the Grammys after-party. How would you compare your experiences of performing in India with those of your international shows?

A. Foreigners are in awe of classical music and dance. They are swept away, to the say the least, by the ethereal, exotic and deep history that is displayed in our audio-visuals of the classical disciplines. They are very receptive and have great respect for it all. It›s a pleasure performing both within and outside the country.

Q. How did you decide to choose Kuchipudi? Why not any other classical dance form?

A. Kuchipudi chose me, and I am grateful for it.

Q. Have you ever performed a fusion piece, that is Kuchipudi mixed with some other dance or musical form? What are your views on dance fusion in general?

A. I have done my very own production, called Faces, fusing both of my passions, namely Western music and Kuchipudi dance, where I performed the two with dancers and live music that I had written. However, I do not like to experiment with the true nature and identity of Kuchipudi itself. As for fusion, it’s fine so long as there is no dumbing-down and diluting of the style/identity of the kind of music a dance is set to. Any language is acceptable as long as it is respectable.

Q. Besides Kuchipudi, you have acquired intensive training in Carnatic music as well as in Western music. Tell us more about your life in music.
A. I have been learning Carnatic vocals since I was four, just like Kuchipudi. Earlier, I used to learn from Guru Durgaprasad and now from Dr K. Vageesh. I believe Carnatic music requires a high level of skill, which prepares you to sing anything you desire, provided you have a good exposure and understanding of the other styles you are experimenting with. While learning Carnatic, I have always loved listening to and mimicking all the popular artists in Western contemporary music. From a very tender age, I used to emulate the vocal style of Christina Aguilera, Chris Cornell, Shakira, and Robert Plant etc. I then went on to pursue an AA degree with a dual emphasis in vocal performance and independent artistry at the Musicians Institute, Hollywood, California. I worked on my own music and released an EP named Tangled In Emotions, which was very well received internationally.

Q. You have also done a song for the Hollywood film, Joy Ride 3. Are you planning to take up more such projects?

A. The whole world is a canvas and I am an artist. So why not?

Q. What qualities does one require to become a good Kuchipudi dancer?
 
A. Rhythm sense, dedication, passion, consistency, discipline... so much. But I am not one to list minimum requirements. Anyone can acquire any of these at any stage in life. However, rhythm sense is a gift that only God can give you.

Q. What goes through your mind when you’re performing on stage?

A. Nothing. It’s fully engaged in whatever it is that I am performing. I think it is the closest to what happens when you have attained a meditative state. It›s incomparable. I cannot explain it... It is all consuming. 

Q. What can be done to promote Kuchipudi on the world stage?

A. Quality training and performances are of the utmost importance. And only if good performers and productions are showcased, will the form be able to engulf everyone in its magic. Of course, other factors include the language, music, and presentation—which can be modified to make it accessible and/or relatable to all.

Q. What about engaging with the youth? Are the new generations willing to learn Kuchipudi?

A. Yes, of course. We have an institute, having five branches, with hundreds of children enrolled nationally. And there are many who are interested internationally as well.

 

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