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Padmabhushan Dr.

Vempati Chinna Satyam

KUCHIPUDI MAESTRO PAR EXCELLENCE


Ratna Kumar

All arts are innate in a human being. Of these, most importantly, movement, music and speech are like

the Triveni Sangam, and become the basis for human progress. Changes occur in this evolutionary process with the passage of time, and this inevitable growth is the basis for the progress of any art form. As a responsible member of the society at large, man has used his artistic skills to make the world a better place. One such person is Padma Bhushan Dr. Vempati Chinna Satyam. Though born in a little village, he had a big vision of one day making Kuchipudi a household name, and after a long and arduous journey fraught with many ups and downs, he succeeded in making his dream a reality. Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam, the Colossus of Kuchipudi dance form, has played a pivotal role in the rejuvenation and propagation of this art. His contributions are significant for they breathed a new life into a dance form that was on the verge of receding into oblivion. It was a time when the glamorous world of cinema had lured all the top Kuchipudi dancers and Gurus, and a young boy, inspired by his late Guru Vedantam Lakshminarayana Sastry, vowed to himself that he would do whatever it would take to spread the Kuchipudi dance form, his family tradition. His historical journey to Chennai, where he established the Kuchipudi Art Academy in 1963, has brought national exposure and recognition to Kuchipudi. The institutionalized and systematic method of teaching which he created was lauded all over the country, and proved to the world the tremendous potential of this great and beautiful dance form. Master Garu, as he is called by all his devoted students and their parents, was never the usual runof-the-mill artist. He did not blindly follow what he was taught but approached it with a spirit of inquiry. He crosschecked his practice with the tenets of the earliest text on dance, which he believed is the basis for Kuchipudi dance - the Natya Sastra. He made ardent efforts to analyze and meaningfully interpret what he was doing practically. His shrewdness in picking up the interpretations for different abhinaya by his Guru Vedantam Lakshminarayana Sastry, coupled with his observation and grasp of the subtle nuances of various dance forms from great dancers and teachers of his time, made Vempati Chinna Satyam blaze a new trail in Kuchipudi, bringing great success to the art in these past four decades. When we look at the training system followed by him, the difference is evident in the structure of the very fundamentals of Kuchipudi, the Adavu Saamu. When he started teaching this form (which was originally practiced only by men) to young girls in his institution, he took care to preserve the purity of its body kinetics, bringing in a finesse to each movement. He felt that the female body has an inherent grace, and the bouncy movements used in the basics needed to be curtailed, since they did not suit a female dancer. He also made an effort to formulate the basics in a standard format with logical groupings of the same. Besides choreographing new solo numbers, has also re-choreographed some of the traditional numbers by resetting them to accommodate the variations that he brought in innovative footwork and subtle facial expressions to further enhance the dances. He has widened the repertoire of Kuchipudi by choreographing more than 250 solo items and extensively

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taking up the compositions of Dikshitar, Oothukadu Venkata Subbaiyyer, Annamacharya, Tulsidas, and more contemporary composers too. His dance dramas have set a trend in the arena of dance in post independent India. His first dance drama, Ksheerasagara Madhanam, by the late great Padma Bhushan Devulapalli Krishna Sastry, was commissioned by the Andhra Pradesh Sangeetha Nataka Academy and included stalwarts of Kuchipudi like Yamini Krishnamurthi, Vedantam Satyanarayana Sarma and many others. Devulapallis Vipranarayana, also a commissioned choreography, had film hero of yesteryears Chandramohan and Rathna (papa) Kumar in the lead roles. An aesthetic approach to every aspect of movement, dcor, music and dance made his dance dramas different from the Yakshaganas of Kuchipudi. Greater importance to dance, choreographing it according to the mood, character and situation, and omission of dialogues which dominated the traditional Yakshaganas all these features made his dance dramas appeal equally to both the laity and the learned. Each of the dance dramas, which number more than ten, is a masterpiece. Their subjects range from social to mythological. Among the social, a special mention should be made of his Chandalika, based on Tagores work. These examples are merely the tip of the iceberg. Dr. Vempati Chinna Satyam has toured internationally with his dance company, presenting shows at Festivals of India in other countries, performing for dignitaries both in India and abroad, and winning accolades, honors and titles galore all over the world. His first visit to the US was in 1982, when he won the Rajyalakshmi Award for his contribution to the propagation of Kuchipudi Natyam. That first visit was an eye opener to US audiences, and it was the beginning of numerous successful tours, bringing several great dance dramas to US audiences Sri Krishna Parijatham, Srinivasa Kalyanam, Hara Vilasam, Kiraataarjuneeyam, Ardhanareeswaram, Ksheerasagara Madhanam, and Gopika Krishna, to name some. The Pittsburgh Temple invited him to teach workshops and students from the US became his devoted sishyas and spent many months at the Kuchipudi Art Academy hostel in Chennai, imbibing the rich tradition of Kuchipudi, and learning the meaning of Gurukulam, as it was practiced in the olden days. Over the past two and half decades, Master Garus popularity in the US has grown considerably, and many of his prime students

have moved to this country and set up schools in different cities, training students in the inimitable Vempati Chinna Satyam baani. My sishyarikam under Master garu started way back in 1961, even before the birth of the Kuchipudi Art Academy, and my Rangapravesam, which I did with my sister Seetha Ratnakar (Asst. Station Director, Doordarshan, Chennai Kendra) took place in 1967. As the first of Master garus disciples to come to the US, way back in 1975, seven years before Master Garus first visit here, it was harder at that time to make people understand and fully appreciate the subtle nuances of the Kuchipudi dance form, because most of them were more familiar with Bharatanatyam and some had never even heard of Kuchipudi! But, because of my Telugu background and my close link with Andhra Pradesh, I took it upon myself to do everything in my power to preserve, promote and propagate the art form in my new home country. Now, after thirty five years in this field, I can say, with satisfaction, that my tenacity and dedication have paid off, to the extent that recognition has come to me both here and in India, earning me an Honorary Doctorate in Performing Arts (Kuchipudi) from the Potti Sreeramulu Telugu University, and the latest, receiving the Government of Indias 2010 Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for Excellence in Kuchipudi. My lifelong love affair with Kuchipudi is because of Master Garus creative genius and the tremendous inspiration he has been to me. All of Master Garus students mention his name with pride, because for us, the fact that we have trained under him is our greatest asset. For this reason, celebrating his 75th birthday in Washington, DC was a very special event for the families of all his students living in the US and for others devoted to this great maestro and visionary. Guru Sri Vempati Chinna Satyam has been instrumental in paving a path for the younger generation to emulate, by showing the relationship between the textual tradition and practice of Kuchipudi. He has shown how one enriches the other, and how a performer can become a complete artiste by understanding this relationship and translating it into his performances. Kuchipudi owes its current status to the pioneering work of Dr. Chinna Satyam. He is a non-pareil among creators and innovators, and personally, I daily thank God and my mother for putting me into Master Garus hands to nurture me into the dancer, teacher and choreographer that I am, today.

Smt. Rathna Kumar is a world renowned dancer, choreographer, teacher, published author and arts educator with countless awards and recognitions to her credit. In 1975, Rathna Kumar established Texas' first Indian dance academy, the Anjali Center for Performing Arts. Rathna currently teaches Indian classical dance at Rice University, Texas.

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