Ever imagined Japanese dancers showcasing Indian classical styles like Bharathanatyam and Odissi? If that impress you, this certainly will. Each of the five dancers who will take the stage at Bharatiya Vidya
Bhavan, Mylapore, this Friday are gurus in their own right, with over 20 years of performing at sabhas all over the country and abroad. And the dance forms they will cover include — Odissi, Kathak, Mohiniyattam, Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam.
A Night of Jasmine put together by the Japanese Consulate of Chennai and ABK-AOTS Dosokai is the brainchild of Kuchipudi master Keiko Watanabe, and took a whole year to organise. City Express caught up with Keiko during one of her rehearsals in the city. Clad in a sari and jhumkis with a thaayathu (talisman) around her neck, Keiko seems to have embraced our culture, and moves like a dream on the mosaic practice floor. Excerpts from the interview:
How did you find Kuchipudi? We hear you used to be a lead guitarist in a rock band before this?
I was backpacking through India when I happened to attend a Kuchipudi performance at the Mamallapuram dance festival. That’s when I decided that this is what I wanted to do with my life. I’ve been living in India for 25 years and pursuing my passion. I’ve had five teachers so far. I stayed with my first guru, Satya Priya Ramana, in her home for seven years. Back then, it was only dance — day and night for 10 hours straight. When I was not practising, I was watching dance...it was very much like the gurukulam system I have heard so much about.
And now you shuttle between Chennai and Tokyo to teach in your own Kuchipudi school?
Yes! Work for me is always dance. I’ve been teaching for almost 10 years, and I’ve even had some Indian students learn from me.
You seem to be very much at ease in a sari. Was that something that took time in the beginning?
(Laughs) I’ve always had a fascination for India. Long before I came here to learn dance, I was working in an Indian crafts store, and there I would teach foreigners how to wear a sari — so it’s nothing new for me. Even back home in Tokyo, I live in a kurta and jeans.
What got you so interested in India?
It’s hard to say. For me, that question is like asking — what’s the reason you fall in love with someone? I am constantly doing research on Bhagavad Gita and Ramayana to get a better understanding of each episode I portray. My husband is a chef specialising in Indian cuisine. We love sambar rice, rasam and poriyal. A Night of Jasmine will be held at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan on February 26 at 6 pm.