Days of dancing & teaching

Days of dancing & teaching

One would think it is unlikely that a group of raucous, high-energy kids would actually look forward to learning odissi - a classical dance form that demands studied movements, grace, focus and a kind of discipline that is often alien to children of a certain age. "But they do," odissi exponent Vandana Kasaravalli, née Supriya, insists.

It's yet another implausible idea that Vandana has managed to bring to fruition. The young lady is not unfamiliar with far-fetched ideas. When she was all of seven, she decided she would learn dance in Nrityagram, near her home. So she took it upon herself to board a bus to the dance school alone! Vandana attributes her adventurous spirit and out-of-the-box thinking to her non-formal schooling at Sita School in Hesaraghatta. Her mother was a teacher there and Vandana spent her formative years with mentors who forged in her a spirit of independence and freethinking.

Going traditional

Eventually, she underwent formal training in dance at Nrityagram. "Initially, I was learning mohiniattam, but my teacher quit and I shifted to odissi," she recalls. Learning the dance under the traditional guru-shishya parampara method made a huge difference, believes Vandana. "We have forgotten what it means to immerse ourselves in something rich; how it changes our very persona and thinking. For me, dance became everything - it was in my mind-space day and night," she says.

Nrityagram not only ensured that dance was an integral part of her life, but also made her aware of how important it was for her to convey her passion for the art form to the world at large and help spread its wings as it were. "Bharatanatyam is everywhere in South India and I have nothing against the beautiful form, but it's time we let our children explore other art forms in a more wholesome manner," she says.

She started the Anandi Arts Foundation two years ago to do precisely that. The foundation hopes to make Odissi accessible to more people.

As part of the foundation's activities, Vandana decided to approach a government school near her home in north Bengaluru. Initially sceptical, the school later allowed her to conduct odissi classes for free for all its 150 students. "It has been the most rewarding experience of my life," says Vandana. She is planning to hold Anandi Arts Festival next year, where she intends to make all the 150 children perform on stage.

She says her intention is not to make them professional dancers but to just let them experience the joy of learning an art form. "I don't behave like a guru with them… I am like their friend. I play games and run around with them. They love it," she narrates. I wonder how such young children can be interested in a dance form that demands high-level concentration. "The trick is to make it look like a game - I narrate a story and tell them to dance it out for me. This way, they enjoy the process of learning."

In fact, Vandana believes learning has to be constant and organic. After her stint in Nrityagram, she pursued a diploma in choreography from the Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography. Her learning did not stop there. Vandana is also trained in kalaripayattu from the Kalari Grama in Puducherry. The danseuse has performed at several prestigious festivals in India and abroad including at the International Dance Festival in Malaysia and the Natya Mela in Kuwait. She has been honoured with several awards for her talent including 'Nritya Shiromani' and 'Odissi Jyothi' awards, which she received in Odisha, Natya Shree award in Kuwait, Sanskar Bharathi in New Delhi, among others.

Support system

But odissi continues to be her foremost passion. "It is a difficult art form no doubt, because it demands the dancer to move her torso, eyes and neck in opposite directions and sit in the same position for a long time. For me, though, it is like a spiritual journey," she says. She feels, despite how difficult the form is to learn, experimentation should rely more on thematic changes than anything else. "I have explored themes like gender equality and LGBT rights with odissi. I believe art has a social responsibility, too - artistes must send out a social message if they can."

Her passion for art finds resonance in her family, full of illustrious artistes and performers. "My father-in-law, Girish Kasaravalli, is most supportive of my ventures - he is happiest when I'm travelling or passionately exploring a new idea," shares Vandana, who is married to the director's son Apurva, a director himself. Not surprising, then, that Vandana is keen to explore her acting abilities. "I am up for the challenge if a good script comes along," she says.

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