Making the world her stage: Bhavana Reddy
Yamuna tataaka tunga tarangam, Himakara sthimita ramita subhangam itas tataschara karunapangam, Yadivara hrudaya saroruhabhrungam
“Yamuna tataaka tunga tarangam, Himakara sthimita ramita subhangam itas tataschara karunapangam, Yadivara hrudaya saroruhabhrungam”
In the waves of the Yamuna River, Krishna’s graceful limbs are soaked in the moonlight. His compassionate glance is all-encompassing, and he is the honey bee to the lotus-like hearts of the great sages. The Kalinga (Kaliya) Narthana thillana penned by Oothakadu Venkatasubbaiyer describing the dance of the young Krishna on the hoods of the serpent Kaliya unfolds in all its glory as fluid hand movements, adroit swings, cadenced footwork and gleaming eyes capture the dance of the Lord out to tame the five-hooded serpent (representing the five senses) poisoning the Yamuna river (symbolising the world). The dance ends with the dancer’s foot on the serpent’s hood, one hand in Abhaya mudra (offering protection) and the other holding its tail.
The dancer who captivated the audience is back on stage, minutes after the applause ends looking every bit a diva in a flowing gown and swaying to the rhythm of the orchestra. Her sonorous voice fills the auditorium taking them through a soulful musical journey. The artiste, who straddled the world of traditional dance and western music with equal ease at the Global Education and Leadership Forum, a few years ago, however, decided to let her love for music enhance her journey as a Kuchipudi dancer, an art form that holds her in thrall.
Bhavana Reddy, recipient of this year’s Sangeet Natak Akademi Yuva Puraskar and the youngest member of the famous family of Kuchipudi dancers Radha, Raja, Kaushalya and Yamini Reddy says the “stage is her home” and dancing her life breath. “I am honoured to receive this award, which opens up many doors for me as a performer wanting to reach out to audiences all over the world,” she avers.
Influences and preferences
Dancing for her began literally with toddler steps under the tutelage of parents and Gurus Raja, Radha and Kaushalya Reddy. Accompanying them on dance tours as a child and portraying characters like little Krishna and Prahlada in dance ballets made her aware of the power of the stage and the magnetic attraction that held audiences riveted to it. Undaunted by the legacy that she carries or comparisons with the rest of the family, the dancer with a distinct individuality declares that she idolises qualities but has a style and personality all her own.
“There are reflections of Radhakka amma in me. She is graceful and feminine and yet conveys immense strength and resolve. Her movements and expressions are subtle and classy, and her on-stage improvisations are outstanding,” she states stressing the fact that her dance items like ‘Krishna Shabdam’ and portrayal of male characters like Arjuna and Markandeya are heavily influenced by her style.
Off-stage, the dancer joining the ranks of remarkable achievers under thirty is just another young girl dressed casually and chilling out with friends. Her love for music especially rock music, blossomed during her growing years when she was introduced to it through an older sister and confidante Yamini leading her to pursue Western music in America. Her musical contributions include a performance at an after-Grammy party in Los Angeles, a track for a movie ‘Joyride 3’ and an EP, titled ‘Tangled in Emotions’. Good music remains inherent to her performance on stage and she firmly believes that lyrics, music and dance complement each other making the viewing experience wholesome and lasting.
Essaying different beautifully sketched characters is a challenge that fascinates Bhavana who loves performing to powerful and energy packed themes like “Mahapranadeepam” and “Ardhanaareshwara’. The resounding applause after the end of each segment where the audience followed every little nuance and movement while she performed the ‘Krishna Shabdam’ at Ujjain is an experience she cherishes.
Another unforgettable experience pertains to ‘Natyarasanubhuti’, where she portrayed two emotions of Hasyam (humour) and Bhayam (fear). Her father had fixed the rhythm where she was to convey the two emotions to the audience. Entering the stage at Delhi’s Kamani Auditorium in “clown-like” fashion she tried to make the audience repeat a complicated dance phrase (tajam... takadham…takadha) to which they remained mute spectators. After trying one more time she turned to her mother Kaushalya doing the “Nattuvangam”.
In an exasperated gesture with her hand touching her forehead she pleaded through her actions “At least you repeat the phrase and get these people to respond”. The manner in which she executed the act had both her mother and the audience respond with laughter and applause which was music to her ears.
Improvisation that comes naturally lends a sparkle to her dance bringing out different facets of the same character. For instance, the comic character of Shandilya, the disciple of a Buddhist monk in a ballet based on Bodhayana’s 12th century Sanskrit work “Bhagavadajjukam” brings this quality in her to the fore, with every performance eliciting a portrayal different from the previous one.
Torchbearer of tradition
Impeccable timing, Bhangimas or poses that are precise, nimble feet and eyes that speak make dance ballets choreographed by the Raja Reddy family renowned as doyens of the Kuchipudi tradition, a delightful experience transporting audiences to the times and settings of the themes depicted. The resounding success of “Bhamakalapalam” staged to a packed audience that included people of different ages and nationalities in New Delhi last August is cited by Bhavana as a perfect example of a traditional ballet embellished by improvisation.
“Kuchipudi gives you the freedom to improvise with the ‘Lokadharmis’ but you cannot change the basic, grain, the grammar of the art. Nobody dilutes an opera or a ballet. There is simply no need to do so. Why should they do that to Kuchipudi? Adding depth without destroying the purity of Kuchipudi is what I endeavour to do as I go forward,” says Bhavana, who is currently in the United States giving performances at prestigious venues in Washington DC, New York and San Francisco. The versatile dancer, who believes that the stage is set for full-length Kuchipudi ballets rightfully seeks to make the world her stage with applause setting the rhythm.