Dance like a Prince

AGAINST ALL ODDS

Dance like a Prince

From an obscure village in Orissa to the arc lights of television channels and headlines of newspapers, it has been like a roller-coaster ride for the 26-member dance group which stole the hearts of millions of television viewers with their mesmerising performance. Ever since the Prince Dance Group stormed into the finals of a talent hunt contest, ‘India’s Got Talent’ on Colors, most of their fans in Orissa had been waiting anxiously with fingers crossed, but there was one person who was hundred percent sure of winning the contest.

Teacher-cum-leader of the group Krishna Mohan Reddy, a shy 26-year-old self taught dancer, had an intuition that his moment of glory was at hand. “I was sure that we will win. Our kind of dance is totally different and the theme I had chosen (‘Dasavatar’) is timeless.”

Unwavering determination, hard work and an inborn talent for dance choreography are the reasons behind the group’s winning performance. Convinced that physical disability cannot be a barrier to dance, he has transformed two physically challenged boys into agile dancers. One of them happens to be his friend Padmanav Sahoo, who was struggling to find some work. Reddy motivated him to learn dance and be a part of his troupe.

The most fascinating aspect of the group is that none of them is a professional dancer. Instead, they are daily wage earners like agricultural workers, construction workers, brick kiln workers and a few students — mostly hailing from poor families. The common thread that binds them together is their passion for dance.

Viewers who watched the show found it difficult to believe that they were amateurs. Flawless movements, incredible swiftness, versatility and stage management stunned one and all. Well-known filmmaker Sekhar Kapoor, who was one of the judges of the contest, said that the group had stolen the hearts of the people even before the finals.
The simplicity and humility of the dancers moved the judges to tears during the selection round. For Reddy, who played the role of Krishna in the final piece, it was not a strange response at all. On many occasions, he would find people coming to touch his feet after the performance thinking that he was really Krishna. 

As a young boy, Reddy had always been fond of dancing and picked up the nuances from stage shows, televisions programmes and movies. About four years ago he started an informal dance school in his village, Ambapua, 12 kms from Berhampur. The group would meet in late evenings after work to practice. Once in a while, they would be invited to perform in some cultural programmes and paid a token amount. Although they have performed in most metros and major towns, real recognition eluded them.
The major show that came their way was the ‘Boogie-Woogie’ (another television contest) in 2006 and they earned a decent amount, Rs 75,000. Buoyed by this success, Reddy set his goals higher and when the audition for ‘India’s Got Talent’ was announced, he collected all his savings to book the tickets to Kolkata.

High on motivation

So far, the journey had been bereft of any encouragement or support from their families. “They were not aware of where we were going, except that we would be performing,” says Reddy. It was only when the group made it to the final rounds and the fervent appeals and campaign for SMS began, that Ambapua village woke up to the frenzy of anticipated glory.

For once, the state led by the chief minister Naveen Pattnaik himself united to give all support to the group. Even before the final contest got underway on August 22, a corporate group in Orissa announced a cash award of Rs 10 lakh irrespective of their winning or losing. And millions of viewers across the state sat glued to their television screens well past midnight waiting for the announcement of the results. And the Princes’ from Berhampur did not disappoint. They emerged as winners to bag a prize of Rs 50 lakhs and a Maruti Ritz car.

Overnight, the Prince Dance Group became the toast of the town. Victory celebrations, felicitations and a host of awards awaited their arrival in Orissa. Congratulating them on their spectacular performance, the chief minister announced that he would recommend them to perform at the forthcoming Commonwealth Games. Besides, he would facilitate their trip to New York and London to showcase their talent. Last, and not the least, the state government plans to donate four acres of land and Rs 1 crore to set up a dance and drama academy at Berhampur.

While the group savours its victory, Reddy has started planning for his own dance school. Today, he has the resources and the new found stardom will draw more students. Families who had until now discouraged their children or chided them for wasting time in dancing will now see the art in a new light. Certainly, the recognition has brought respect to their work. It has also brought added responsibility on Reddy’s creative abilities.
For instance, the theme of ‘Dasavatar’ is borrowed from mythology, but the background music was borrowed from a western film. Sanskrit chants, body painting and props added a totally new dimension to the dance form which is actually a fusion of modern and classical dance. It is indeed surprising to learn that the dancers take barely three to four days of practice to master a new composition.

A supporting hand

“Our state excels in art and culture and it is in our veins. But lack of patronage is our main impediment,” says Sudarsan Patnaik, another self-taught but internationally acclaimed artist (sand art sculptor). He understands the pains and travails behind Reddy’s success, as he too has traversed a similar path. In fact, he contributed his bit towards the group’s success by appealing for votes through his sand art campaign. He truly hopes the government lives up to its promise of the land and grant for the dance academy.

Has life changed for the group? Reddy says that his students are happy, but rather modest about this celebrity status. So far, they have had little time to talk about future plans, but certainly, the prize money will indeed make a difference to their lives and that of their near ones. For Srikant, who works as a construction worker, it will mean a better life for his aged parents.  For Sadanand, his share of the prize will go towards meeting the marriage expenses of his sister. As for the Maruti Ritz, Reddy has already decided to put it to good use — an ambulance for his village. Said like a true Krishna!

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