Steps of a repertoire

As she turns 75, dancer Sudharani Raghupathy looks back at her artistic journey

Bharatanatyam ace Sudharani Raghupathy looks back at the long artistic journey as she turns 75. As you stand to admire the dancer, you are bewitched by her beauty, countenance, and kind eyes.

Sudha grew up in Bengaluru under the watchful eyes of her large family. She was encouraged to do well academically. But the child had a natural inclination towards music and dance. Dance was taboo in their household, so her dance classes began in a hushed manner. “How I learned to dance at the age of three-and-a-half, avoiding the eyes of my grandfather (the well-known late Lakshminarasappa, a government architect for Puttanna Chetty Town Hall) is another story!” says Sudha.

Her grandfather had to give in when the child was invited to perform for the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. He started acknowledging her talent.

As she continued dancing, she had the opportunity to perform before several dignitaries — Nikolai Bulganin, Nikita Khrushchev, Shah of Iran and many others. She learned to juggle academics — graduating from the University of Mysore, majoring in Sociology and Philosophy ­— and dance.

Parallel learning

Her training in dance began with U S Krishna Rao and continued under Kittappa Pillai. Her musical training began simultaneously, under violin maestro T Chowdiah.

Sudha then was invited to a seminar called The Unbroken Dialogue in New Delhi in 1962. It was here that a certain Quillian of Randolph-Macon College, impressed by her talent, invited her to pursue studies in the US on a scholarship. Two years later, when she joined the college, she had the distinction of being the first Indian to do so.

She continued dancing, and this saw her enrolling herself for ballet classes in the Martha Graham style of dance. Influenced by the yogic practices of India, Graham based her movements on the contraction and release of back muscles, combining them with breathing exercises. This exposure to the ballet technique inspired Sudha to look at the dancing body in a different light.

She drew out two techniques — one, the firm foot-stomping technique of bharatanatyam, and two, the soft movements of ballet dancing on the toes in a judicious manner. Upliptha adavu, where the dancer leaps and lands on the feet, seemed more aesthetic when she landed lightly on her toes.

A drastic move

Then, marriage happened and she had to move to a new city, Chennai. Here, she was also influenced by Mylapore Gowri Ammal, who was known for her prowess in abhinaya.  On the advice of Sundaraja Iyengar, the secretary of Music Academy then, she started performing again. He also introduced her to Vidwan Madurai N Krishnan, who supported her artistic journey.

Sudha was invited to perform in all the sabhas there. She travelled for performances. She was known for her grace in movements and subtlety in abhinaya. Her bonding and love for parrots were visualised in an artistic manner. She was besieged with requests to portray the kili (parrot).

Sudharani Raghupathy constantly stretched the frontiers of her art. Krishnam Vande Jagat Gurum, which she choreographed, was one of the earliest productions where dancers from different schools came together to perform.

The veteran has received many awards and accolades including the Padma Shri. Her desire to share her knowledge resulted in her bringing out the theory of natyam in little handy volumes, titled Lagu Bharatham.

The dignity and decorum with which she carries herself explain the regality of her bearing. At 75, she looks back with contentment at her fulfilling artistic journey.

 

 

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Steps of a repertoire

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