Bharatanatyam exponent Jayanthi Subramaniam’s Kala Darsana marked its silver jubilee with a grand show, honouring the dancer’s gurus — Adyar K Lakshman, Kalanidhi Narayanan and Bhagavatulu Seetarama Sarma, last weekend.
How often do you find a Western tale being translated on stage through a traditional dance form? So, when you hear that Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach is the subject for a bharatanatyam programme, you cannot help but ask if it is a contemporary dance show.
However, those who know the legacy of dancer Jayanthi Subramaniam would also know that she believes in maintaining the traditional features of the dance form. And possibly that’s what makes Jyotir Gamaya, set to music by Rajkumar Bharati, even more interesting. “First it is a tribute to my gurus. I first read the novel by Richard Bach when I was in school. It talks about how there is more to life more than just survival. The story of a seagull who wishes to break the barriers is inspiring as it also captures the essence of guru-sishya parampara,” she says, summarising the relevance of a non-Indian tale for her ode to her gurus. The event also saw the screening of a documentary on the dance school.
Subramaniam was introduced to dance when she was just five, after she was enrolled in Padma Subrahmanian’s classes. “All I remember is that I used to doze off during the classes. Later, Dr Subrahmanian asked my parents to hire a personal instructor for me,” she says.
After receiving initial lessons from S K Kameshwar from the Vazhvoor school, she began training under Adyar Lakshman of the Kalakshetra School. With rigorous and intense training under the tutelage of Lakshman, Subramaniam was gradually introduced to the demanding field of dance. “I spent most of the time at my guru’s place. I had my arangetram at the age of eight and with Lakshman Sir as my guru I was exposed to the wholesome experience of dance. He analysed every step and wanted his students to know every element and the mathematics of dance,” she adds. Later under Kalanidhi Narayanan she learnt the intricacies of abhinaya.
Following up with training and performances, however, Subramaniam took a break from dance after her marriage. When actor-dancer Vyjayanthimala was on the lookout for a teacher for her school, Subramaniam reconnected with the art.
Later in 1988, she established Kala Darsana with just two students. “I had morning classes for younger students and probably the only one in my area.
During Sathya Sai Baba’s birthday celebrations in Puttaparthi, my group of students were called to perform,” she says, talking about her school that today has more than fifty students.
Looking back at her journey as a teacher, she says that she is happy that all her students have kept in touch with the arts. “I believe that one shouldn’t get into the rat race when it comes to dance.
They should learn it out of passion for the art,” she says. She adds that though people are free to be creative with dance forms, it should be within boundaries.
“I am a tradition-bound artiste; I think people are free to experiment, but not beyond a point,” she signs off.