Moves & music

Bhavana Reddy loves kuchipudi and Western music in equal measure. She explains her embrace of both

There was no time for jet lag,” says Bhavana Reddy, the younger daughter of Raja (the one half of the dance duo Raja-Radha) and Kaushalya Reddy.

The 28-year-old had to get down to rehearsals for a show immediately after touching down in Delhi from the US. Performing and conducting workshops in four cities — Washington DC, Maryland, New York and San Francisco — as part of her month-long tour, Reddy says, “It’s always great to see how our Indian culture and its classical dance forms always leave everyone spellbound.”

Standing ovations were par for the course for the youngster with people coming up to her to say they had watched her parents perform decades ago and were “equally blown away” by her performance. Remembering Raja Reddy’s Shiva dance in the 1980s, Jeffery Steingarten, the food critic for Vogue, told Reddy that she was truly her father’s daughter. “He told me that my recital would remain etched on his mind for a long time,” she smiles. “It was so humbling...” says Reddy who has another reason to be on a high this year, being the recipient of the Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puruskar 2017 for kuchipudi, awarded by the Sangeet Natak Akademi.

Proficient in both the kuchipudi style of Indian classical dance and Western music, Reddy speaks, among other things, about her love for both. And of the choice she had to make of the two...

You are among the few classical dancers who are equally passionate about Western music. How do you balance the two?

I enjoy both, but have realised that due to my inherent nature, I like to dedicate myself and excel in one field, and study it inside out. So I hadto choose one of the two.

Classical disciplines require a lot of riyaaz (practice), and have an ocean of knowledge to be explored. I want to now find time to study dance in depth and possibly enter the field of choreography from a knowledgeable and meaningful point of view. It’s one thing to be a practitioner, another to be a performer, and a completely different thing to enter the realm of creativity. Dance is a full-time profession and I do not wish to give it any less time and dedication than that.

Was there a clash at home when you decided to pursue Western music in the US? 

Yes, there was, but being a young-and-driven blood, I was keen to pursue music as it was a passion of mine. I had to see for myself what it was all about and then make a choice. But a decision had to be made because it was not possible to do both at a time. However, I’m glad I dipped my fingers in the field of dance.

You released your first solo EP, ‘Tangled in Emotions’, and have also sung for a Hollywood movie ‘Joyride 3’. What was it like in the world of showbiz there?

I loved it. When you love doing something, all walls, space and time disappear. It didn’t matter to me who I performed for, the what and where of it, I was just happy doing it. But here, I must also tell you that singing for Joyride was a different experience because I had to imagine the scene, emote and sing exclamations on cue, which was a fun thing to do. As for Tangled In Emotions, recording it was invigorating. I was proud of it every moment of the way. The skeleton of the tracks (drums bass guitar) for the four songs was recorded in just five hours. The rest was done in short sessions, and everyone’s quirks in the studio while recording made for great moments.

You also performed at the 2012 Grammy after-party ...

Yes, it was quite nerve-wracking as I expected my throat to dry up the minute I stepped on-stage. But it went off well. I was in a room full of producers and engineers and now, as I recall, the songs that got a roaring response were Smells Like Rain and a song on my bonus EP Why Do We Do Love.

You started performing kuchipudi from an early age...

I was too small when I started performing on stage, but I do recall the feeling that I loved being there, the pulsating physical energy, the speed of nritta and of course, I loved the dance classes with my friends.

Was it always kuchipudi for you? 

Yes. I love the style, the demands it makes of me. I’m still not done fulfilling its demands, a lifetime will not be enough. 

Which role/performance in the dance form has been the most challenging for you? (You played Satyabhama early in life, a role that dancers attempt after years of experience, is it true?)

In fact, Satyabhama was indeed the toughest I have ever performed. It took me two reviews that pointed out my flaws to really get it right! By nature, I don’t like obnoxious, self-absorbed characters, and although this is shown as desirable attributes in Satyabhama, it was hard for me to adopt them even for a performance. It was not until last year that I could redeem myself as the character of Satyabhama that was familiar to the connoisseurs of dance. 

Do you think children of classical dancers have an advantage because they grow up in an environment that is seeped in dance?

Everyone has their struggles. It is just as hard to come out of one’s parents’ shadows as it is for a dancer from a non-dance background to make a mark in the field. In the end, talent wins. 

Hythothetically speaking, what if you were not interested in kuchipudi, would your parents still have wanted you to pursue the form?

My parents wanted me to pursue an MBA after I finished with my B Com (Hons) from Lady Shri Ram College in Delhi. So, it’s hard to say, but I would certainly add that they have come to really support all my decisions.

Also, as children of stalwarts in the field of dance, do you and your sister Yamini face a task with comparisons always being made with them?

Not really, I have mostly got positive comments, maybe because I have always sought to be my own self. I also do not think of myself as a certain person, of a certain lineage. I think of myself as an ever-growing, ever-evolving dancer. So I do not seek absolution or results in the now. Iam a student of life. And dance.

How do you react to fusion  performances?

Personally, I am not a great fan of fusion performances when the borders are blurred. I am more of a purist in that sense and do not believe in
diluting the actual grammar of any dance style. I have, however,experimented with different languages, particularly English when I choreographed dance to my own songs from the album ‘Tangled In Emotions’. Natya Sastra also states that the language may change according to the place you perform in, and I feel this may also apply to time. Also, I think a change of language, for all to draw parallels in meaning and understand the treatment of kuchipudi, is harmless. 

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