Swaying grace

contemporary dancer

Swaying grace

She stands out in a crowded room, probably because she is easily the most graceful woman around. A dancer personified, Mayuri Upadhya draws admiring glances wherever she goes. Fans throng around her for a photograph and she happily indulges them without any airs of a celebrity. During a tête-à-tête, Mayuri sounded like a true artiste professing her love for dance.

Dancer, choreographer, reality dance show judge and co-founder of the dance company Nritarutya, Mayuri carries off each of these roles with elan. “I express myself through my dance,” says the artiste, who has pushed the boundaries of contemporary dance in India. Interestingly, her fate as a dancer was decided even before she was born. “My mother actually wanted my sister and me to pursue dance as a profession, which is also the reason why she named me Mayuri. Whenever we would have guests over, we would perform for them, whether they liked it or not,” Mayuri says.

Early steps

Having started her formal training in Bharatnatyam at the age of six, Mayuri later explored different forms of dancing. “Frankly, the classical training was arduous and disciplined. As a child at that age, I just wanted to break free. I started exploring other genres by the time I was 11 or 12. I started participating in workshops and learning new mediums like contemporary dance, martial art forms, yoga and so on. The ability to learn these mediums and the versatility that one required to do so kind of inspired me,” she recalls as the reason for deviating from classical dance.

As an artiste, Mayuri believes that freedom is of utmost importance. “The challenge of learning the different requirements of each dance form excited me and gave me creative satisfaction. Which is why I work in this genre of contemporary dance. I have always been curious about what is Indian. Our heritage for me has always been opulent, grand and exotic. So the ability to combine modern techniques to the classical idiom came to me naturally.”

With a strong foundation, Mayuri headed abroad where she explored international dance companies and worked with them. She has also worked with prominent names in the genre including Shobana Jeyasingh, in London, Bharat Sharma and Tripura Kashyap.

Eager to design her own dance vocabulary and to teach all that she had learnt, at 20, Mayuri started her own dance company Nritarutya with her sister Madhuri. “Nritarutya is a channel through which we create out-of-the-box, quirky Indian dance experiments,” she explains.

So, are the sisters a dream team or do they have their creative differences? Mayuri laughingly says, “We do have a lot of differences. And over the years, we have different departments that we work for. Madhuri deals with more of education and builds on everything that is academic for the organisation. And I build on everything that is commercial and involves investments for the company. We work with a fantastic team of dancers and differences of opinions are bound to arise, and are a part of the creative process.”

Mayuri manages to present the fluid union of various forms beautifully in her productions including Make in India, Madhur Milan, Katha Parva, Madhushala, Mangalyam, Nav Durga, the Prayog experimental series and works like Kaali.

Speaking about some of her productions, Mayuri doesn’t want to see the day when she feels that she has done it all. “Having said that, there have been some memorable milestones that we have achieved as a young dance company. Madushala, which I did for Amitabh Bachchan; performing for the Queen of England; creating Make In India production for Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Germany; a Bollywood film directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra coming out later this year; performing Katha Parva at the Dharmasthala Temple, simply because it is a temple and a contemporary dance company like us got to perform there.” Mayuri recently performed at the 53rd edition of the Bengaluru Ganesh Utsava.

With several dance theatre productions being churned out, what makes Mayuri’s shows stand out is the fact that she doesn’t follow one particular trend and doesn’t stick to one type of project. “We have reached that point where we are not only doing artistic work in festivals but also getting involved in commercial and corporate events. This year we will be doing a television show, performing at a festival, a temple procession, and a grand television musical. We balance the commercial and the artistic well,” she says with pride.

While most dancers are not popular in the public domain, Mayuri has managed to become a household name, thanks to her presence on television in the show Dancing Stars on ETV Kannada. “When the makers of the show approached me, I was a little apprehensive. Like many viewers, even I felt that these shows are rigged, and I hate the pressure an artiste is put through to compete. But I wanted to try something new, take a risk, and learn something. With this one television show, I am now recognised by people and they have come to know the amount of work we have done. As a dance company, we never sought media attention, but with this we have got visibility.”

For the punctual artiste, sincerity and passion are the key ingredients for the making of a good dancer, and the audience is the king. According to her, for any performance the kind of audience one is catering to must be considered. “If it’s an artistic fest, then the audience is more culturally informed, so you can go into more abstract mediums. Your technique has to be strong so that they can study you at a deeper level. However, when you are performing with a mass audience, who don’t have a lot of knowledge about art, you should figure out a balance between what is entertaining and what is artistic.”

“For example, for Make In India, it was not about putting up a good dance performance, it was about projecting Indian culture, and the end goal was to induce a patriotic feeling. It was beyond the dance form. It was about the entire spirit that we carry with us in our everyday life. Hence, we put together yoga, some chants, art, architecture, classical dance, ganga aarti, technology etc.”

While doling out advice to upcoming artistes, she says, “Dance not for money or fame. Dance from your heart.”

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