Just like doctors and lawyers’ children follow the footsteps of their parents, even children of dancers are doing the same. Hyderabad-based Rajeswari Sainath’s daughter Vyshnavie Sainath, Sobha Naidu’s daughter Sivaranjani Naidu, Delhi-based Radha & Raja Reddy’s daughter, Yamini Reddy & Bhavana Reddy, and so on. To this list adds another name Abhinaya Nagajothy, daughter of Delhi-based Kuchipudi artists Seetha and P Nagajothy.
Abhinaya Nagajothy without mincing any words in a chat with Natyahasini reveals that in a bid to protect our cultural heritage, there must be a sustainable model for dancers to practice and perform. “It is very difficult for young artists with several opportunities to earn other than dance, to take up Kuchipudi as career if we are unable to earn through performance,” she says. The artist says that more and more organisers are organising events in the name of giving exposure to dancers, but sadly exposure does not buy food. “It is absolutely necessary for event organisers to pay dance performers. We have to come up with a model that sustains their career,” Abhinaya stresses.
The young Kuchipudi artist emphasises that traditional art forms sustained for the longest time due to the patronage of temple and its relationship with those who ruled the state. “Early 20th century saw the crumbling of this balance. There is always a question that remained what happened to its practitioners? I think every voice in this matter must be heard be it the researchers about temple dances and the actual descendants of this tradition,” she says.
Telugu States Tour: Abhinaya, who was touring the two Telugu states with her star parents and Gurus, Seetha & P Nagajothy, along with other students recently performed in mana Hyderabad and at Srisailam. “We had first performed at Srisailam during the Kartika Masam utsavalu. They have an everyday feature of dance groups performing inside the Devasthanam. We also performed in the Pushkarni inside the pranganam of the Temple. It was divine to be dedicating emotions though your body to the Linga in front of you coming out of the water in the midst of Koti Deepaalankarana. Something, I never imagined I would be witnessing,” she says.
The Kuchipudi dancer and Acharya acknowledges that Hyderabad has a very knowledgeable and seasoned audience. “They have watched few lakhs of Kuchipudi artists before me. Moreover, I was fortunate to have Prof. Anuradha Jonalagadda whose ground-breaking research turned the tables of academia towards Kuchipudi and V. Sheshadri, IAS, who witnessed our performance at Shilparamam,” she says. The artist says that the ambience of Shilparamam is unlike any other place. “I remember I had performed at Shilparamam in 2003-2004 when I attend a workshop conducted for young scholarship recipients of CCRT. It was nostalgic yet new experience as the place has elevated in beauty and aesthetics. Hyderabad has welcomed us with open arms and made us feel at home,” says the Delhi-based artist.
Abhinaya reveals watching Dadasaheb Phalke awardee Director K Viswanath movie ‘Sankarabharanam’ was like ‘Paon tale zameen khisakna (Ground slipping below your feet)’ feeling. “I was in Class 2nd or 3rd, when I watched it in on our old small TV with a shutter. When I saw Manju aunty next time, she was never the same for me. It just blew my mind at that age. After few years I saw ‘Saptapadi’ and I couldn’t stop dancing to ‘Nemaliki nrepana nadaka’ song. It was always running in my mind no matter what I did. I realised the importance of revolutionary social changes Viswanath sir stood for through his films much later,” she says.
Danced Before Master Garu: With Padma Bhushan Late Dr. Vempati Chinna Satyam garu training her parents, Abhinaya shares that she was fortunate to have danced in front of him. “Also, Master garu took a class during our visit to Chennai for IFKA. His words: ‘Don’t bend both sides for taihi tahi dattam step’ that we do with pataka in both hands, one held above the head and other stretched ahead, across the chest with one leg stretched ahead across,” she remembers. Also, she says that when she was very young, she remembers Master garu’s ‘Rukmini Kalyanam’, ‘Shakuntalam’ and ‘Ksheerasagara Madanam’ very vividly being performed in Delhi. I had the privilege of actually being behind the stage as well. I looked forward to their arrival at the railway station. In one of their trips, I remember carrying the make-up box of Kalpalathika ji and Master garu commenting that the make-up box looked bigger than me how will I be able to carry it? Such precious moments I will never forget,” she says.
With Madras, now Chennai known as the Mecca of Dance, Abhinaya shares that she has performed at the Kalakshetra Foundation in 2019 for its monthly feature at Rukmini Arangam. Sri VAK Ranga Rao garu spoke very kindly towards me and praised the entire team. It is very humbling to present before a seasoned audience. I also received a review letter by post several months after the performance. They are very observant and reactive audience. I feel that most of us dancers have a sense of fear to be performing in South, be it Hyderabad or Chennai. What I have realised is that if you have well practiced and researched your work, then that is the audience all us dancers would want to perform over and over again for,” says Abhinaya.
Seeds Sown Young: The daughter of Kuchipudi dancers was fortunate to grow up surrounded by bells and music. Abhinaya says that the seed of dance was sown when she was in her mother’s womb. “My mother was dancing or teaching her students when she was carrying me. My first recollection of dance was when I saw my parents perform in an open-air theatre in Delhi, a duet of ‘Kouvaithiva Rangasai’ and other items. There was a rush in me to join them but was too scared to do so in the middle. I was five-years-old then and my parents were conducting a lecture demonstration at the British Embassy when I too did first three steps of First-half steps along with another of their young disciples. That’s when the madness to dance started intensely for me,” she says.
Abhinaya acknowledges that as time progressed, she realised that despite passion for dance and practicing for long hours for ourselves or for a show are completely different. “The sweat and pain is real for each and every one no matter if you are a daughter or first-time learner in the family. Both my Gurus have always been tough task masters and there were no moments in class where they went soft on me than others,” she says. The young dancer says that she never felt something was forced on her or like a punishment on the body or mind. “My mom is known for ‘taamta tadhinda’ as a teacher and dad wouldn’t let me drink water immediately after class. I could in each class feel a sense of satisfaction and achievement when I danced. I still feel that and it is the real dance for me,” she says, quickly adding: “Performances are like motivations and perks for my practice I believe.”
Parents Equally Strict: When prodded whether her parents were strict, Abhinaya says, she has cried many times because of their strictness, but never resisted going to class. “I always looked forward and couldn’t get enough of it. I would go to dance class of other batches to avoid tuitions for Maths etc., but never the other way around. Both were equally strict. The only advantage was I could attend more classes than usual. Others would come and leave at their class timings. But I was a constant. Either I was dancing or was watching my seniors dance,” she says. The Kuchipudi dancer says that she would also do homework in class in a corner when it was absolutely required. “In my growing years, I don’t remember any favours but they were stricter with me than others of the same batch,” she says.
Apart from learning Kuchipudi, Abhinaya learnt Carnatic music from Smt. Vasanta Krishnan and currently she is training under Sri G Elango. She just wishes that she had started and continued learning music since childhood. Her dream is also to learn Veena. The artist’s first love is to perform solos. “The body and mind in tandem have to sync with percussion and speak the choreography and concept. This is very challenging as most of my parents’ first works have been mostly on me. After which, they teach other students. This allows me to take in the essence first hand, but have to be careful not to mess it when it goes to another disciple,” she says. Abhinaya states performing for an audience gives a sense of freedom and expression that makes her feel this is what can keep me alive from within. “I am incomplete without it,” she says.
Ballets Challenging: For the dancer, ballets are challenging and different. “When I played Shiva for ‘Ayyappa Jananam’, the extremes of body were tested which I later applied to my solos. There were chakrasanas, one leg raised above the head towards the front, rotating on the knees on the ground etc. Gender reversal not just in dance but also in Aharya was challenging and interesting,” she says.
Abhinaya clearly says, she is not a Guru, but trying to be Acharya. “I think I am both strict at times and lenient at times. Today’s kids are burdened with too much studies that doesn’t let them explore their creative, artistic sides as much as we would have the freedom to. So, I understand when they take break from dance class during exams etc. But otherwise, I make them work to learn a lot. There is no leniency. I think they look up to me not only as a teacher but also as a performer. This doubles my responsibility in both the areas. I am super careful and conscience while speaking to young minds,” says the artist.
The Kuchipudi star met her life partner during her study in Delhi’s prestigious JNU. Speaking about her hubby, Dr. Deepak Yadav, Founder and President, Foundation for Developed India (Regd.), Abhinaya says, “He is my rock. He also writes scripts in Hindi for my performances. He helped me build a wooden stage and create a studio for my work. My in-laws and the extended family are in love with Kuchipudi and don’t leave a leaf unturned when I need something,” she says and proudly confirms that her sister-in-law’s daughter, who is just 18 months old, already taps her foot and probably might be the next Kuchipudi artist in the making in the family.