Born into a family of theatre artistes and named after a dance and cinema icon, there was no way Vyjayanthi Kashi could escape the arts.
“My maternal grandfather (Gubbi Veranna) and my parents wanted to have a girl child, just so that they could name her after Vyjayanthimala Bali and she too could be a dancer. Such was the impact of art in my family. So I was already dancing in their dreams even before I was born,” says the Kuchipudi exponent and founder of Shambhavi School of Dance.
So her training in dance began as a little girl of six in Bharatanatyam. “Someone from the Gubbi Veranna Nataka Company came to teach me,” she shares. But Vyjayanthi found her teacher’s gratitude for her grandfather daunting. “Because, in his loyalty to his employer, he forced the art form upon me more than he should. And six is the age to be running around outside with your friends.
“At school too - I went to a convent, where the Indian classical dance forms were looked down upon and I didn’t have any friends. I was looking for a chance to stop dance,” she recalls.
So, when she plucked up enough courage at the age of 13, she told her parents that she wanted to quit dance, citing academics as the first priority. “But what I didn’t realise then was, once a dancer, you’re always a dancer,” she adds.
Transition into the theatrical
To cater to her creative side, she took up theatre next. “I enjoyed it thoroughly, and it expanded my horizons further,” says the actress, whose day is chock-a-block with shooting schedules for TV shows.
When she was 24, she found her calling, in Kuchipudi. “I felt that here all my interests converged. It’s a dance form, yet it’s more theatrical than Bharatnatyam,” she says.
Diving into Kuchipudi
Though she delved deep into the dance form in Andhra Pradesh, the state of it’s origin, she was initiated in Bangalore by C R Acharya.
“He was the only one at the time who specialised in Kauthwams, going back to temples of the Nuzvid regions during those years. In a Kauthwam, the dancer, through her footwork, draws images, like a peacock or a lotus. “After about a year or two, I took the art seriously, pursued it with more dedication.”
Dancing with daughter
When asked whom she draws inspiration from, Vyjayanthi says, “I think if you’re looking to be inspired, anyone can inspire you.” However, press her more, and she names her daughter, Prateeksha, to whom she has passed on her love for dance in general and Kuchipudi in particular.
“She’s 22, and she can multi-task, which fascinates many from our generation. She bagged a gold medal for engineering,” she adds with a touch of pride.
So mother and daughter have often shared the stage, in performances where they play roles like Kubja and Krishna, Kunti and Draupadi respectively. “We choose roles so that we can juxtapose my experience and her vitality, “ says the Kuchipudi exponent.
Dance - it’s meaning
On what dance means to her, her response is little short of disarming.
“I know nothing beyond dance. If I’m typing, I’m typing about dance and my fingers are dancing on the keyboard; if I’m gardening - which I do as a hobby - I’m looking at the subtle movements of leaves and flowers and thinking of choreography. So whatever I’m doing, I’m dancing,” is her last word.
After three decades of dedication to dance as an artiste, guru and facilitator for dance programmes and festivals, she felt that she had a greater social responsibility. “A dancer does more than just perform; she retells stories of the past,” she says. “So what better way to reconnect to one’s cultural heritage than through dance in the days of mall culture, when people are forgetting their roots.
“Jathres and santhes, or flea markets as they are called now, was where people from different walks of life met. I thought, that’s what dance needs,” she says.
In it’s fifth edition, this year’s Dancejathre is to be held on November 16 and 17 at Freedom Park and is themed on ‘Dance and Health’. “A lot of people are interested in health, so I thought why not link the two,” she says and adds that this is also an opportunity to educate people about the health benefits of dance.
She adds that most people are puzzled when they hear the term ‘Dancejathre’. “What do dancers have to sell on stalls, is the first reaction I get,” she says. “But if they have a space to showcase their form and style, then maybe some day, even if not immediately, they’ll sell something.”
The free-entry event, with performances and workshops throughout the day, will also offer visitors everything from dance videos to make-up and jewellery.