KOCHI: “An Indian dance form has an emotional catharsis, as compared to western art,” says Kuchipudi dancer Dr. Madhavi Namboodiri. “You can purge your emotions. In real life, I cannot go out on the streets and show love, anger, hate or irritation. Society has taught us to suppress these emotions. About 70 per cent of our ailments occur because of the bottling up of our feelings.”
But dance can counter that. In fact, it has healing attributes. “I have noticed that women look and feel younger once they start practising dance,” says Madhavi. “The body language becomes confident. It influences the way you carry yourself. Your sensuality comes to the surface. And there is an upsurge of energy.”
As for Madhavi, to rejuvenate herself, every summer, she, along with her daughters, Chinmayee, 13, and Sreekaree, six-and-a-half, come to Tripunithara, to spend a few weeks with her in-laws.
An Andhra Brahmin, and the daughter of famed Telugu actor Chandra Mohan, Madhavi fell in love with a Malayali, Dr. Nambi Namboodiri, when they were classmates at the Venkataramana Ayurveda College at Chennai. They got married in 2000. Both post-graduates, Dr. Nambi and Dr. Madhavi are directors of the Nagarjuna Ayurveda Centre, Kalady.
Madhavi is also a professor at the Sri Sairam Ayurveda Medical College in Tambaram. “But dance is my first love,” says Madhavi. “You might be riding high in your profession, but in your heart, you will miss your art.”
So, after an eight-year hiatus, Madhavi returned to dance under the able guidance of her Guru, Sathyapriya Ramana, one of the foremost pupils of Padmabhushan Sri Vempati Chinna Sathyam. “Those years away honed my appetite,” she says. “You have to find out what your dreams and passions are, and what occupies your mind and heart.”
Today, she has performed in dance festivals at Chidambaram, Thanjavur, Mamallapuram, Khajuraho, and almost all the Sabhas of Chennai. In end April, she gave a performance at Kochi, during a programme, organised by the Sathyanjali Academy of Kuchipudi dance, and was conferred the ‘Natya Pragnya’ award. She has also won the Kala Ratna, Rose of Ridwan and Kalamrithavarshini awards from the Baha’i faith, as well as the Best Performer of the Year, (2014) award conferred by the Parthasarathy Swamy Sabha.
Asked the charms of Kuchipudi, Madhavi says, “There is a lot of grace and naturalness in the facial expressions. In Kuchipudi, we use a lot of lokadharmi (life-oriented gestures), which are used by ordinary people. So, you can connect easily with the audience.”
And she is doing her bit to spread the reach of Kuchipudi. In July, 2010, she set up the Madhura Kala Niketan. There are around 45 students, of which, there are a few males. “Kuchipudi is not part of the devadasi culture,” says Madhavi, a graded artiste of Doordarshan. “In fact, it is a male Brahmin dance. Only four families were taught by [founder] Siddhendra Yogi, five hundred years ago, when he converted a street story-telling art into a classical form and named it after his village of Kuchelapuram. But women became a part of it in the past 50 years.”