One life is not enough to learn one Art form, but danseuse Achutamanasa is proficient in many classical dance forms – Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Kathak, Mohiniyattam, Manipuri, Odissi, Prenkhini Natyam- and how she has managed to learn and practice is a wonder. Natyahasini catches up with the multi-talented dancer Achutamanasa to unravel the secrets and her passion for dance. “True, that one life is not enough… and also One Yugam is also not enough… It’s like ever evolving, expanding Universe…. That thirst for knowledge will be there forever until the world, universe ceases. I also believe in “this one life, this moment” that’s it. As I haven’t realized yet there will be life after life, multiple lives for us to become the same or take the birth of human being again and again, I have decided to pursue “all my passions” in this ONE LIFE. And yes, I have multiple passions which I have been pursuing one by one since childhood balancing Arts and Education,” says Achutamanasa.
The pretty dancer, who is a practitioner of several classical dance forms and temple ritual dance, Prenkhini Natyam – in which a classical dancer paints a picture with footwork, while performing classical dance, says that she is also a Certificate holder in Carnatic Vocal, Painter, Yoga Practitioner (M. Sc Yoga, Certified Yoga Therapist), Photographer. “My Major is in Kuchipudi (Masters of Performing Arts) as I hail from the Telugu land and totally believe in protecting the land’s culture, and then the country’s culture. As a proud Indian, protecting my country’s culture is my responsibility equally and so I’m trying to excel in all traditional art forms of India that I have been pursuing as I have gained wisdom through knowledge like the education system,” she says. The dancer further says that as a human being, she is curious to learn, explore, share, discuss, experience and enjoy each and every moment of life, is her Life Cycle mantra.
Dance Gurus: Achutamanasa points out that most Indians are moving towards western influences and she has been pondering about it. “There is so much to learn from our own ancient roots, the strongest of all that liberates us and realizes ‘Who we are?’ And each and every art form I started has a story to say,” she says, avoiding detailing. Achutamanasa was introduced to Kuchipudi by Smt. Madhu Nirmala garu and Sri Narasaih garu. “Basic Strong foundation (for three years) was laid by Mahankali Surya Narayana Sarma master garu for whom I still perform as part of his Yakshaganams and ballets. I am a disciple of Guru Dr. Kaza Venkata Subrahamanyam master garu in Kuchipudi. Dr. Devendra Pillai garu – Bharatanatyam (Pandhanallur), Kathak – Guru Sri Anju Babu garu. Currently under Guru Pandit Birju Maharaj ji’s Kalashram Saswati didi, Odissi – Dr. Sharon Lowen ji, Mohiniyattam – Kalamandalam Sugandhi teacher and Smt. Roshni Ajith, Manipuri – Dr. Sohini Ray ji, Prenkhini Natyam- Dr. Voleti Rangamani garu,” she says.
The dancer who can draw all the three formats – Lion, Lotus & Peacock in Prenkhini Natyam, says her Guru Voleti Rangamani garu is the daughter of legendary Guru Sri C R Acharya garu, who is the torchbearer and person behind discovering this beautiful ancient form. “When I was in Class 3, I saw Simhanandini in Kuchipudi Village when I went to perform there. It was a visual treat for me and my mother. She motivated me to learn reminding me how much we enjoyed watching it back then. During my study of engineering, we searched for a Guru, but could not learn due to hectic schedule. After a wait of four years, I began learning and blessed to learn all the three formats, although I enrolled for only one format. Being a classical dancer and painter, I felt I could combine both the Arts. With the blessings of my Guru, I could perform all the three at a solo performance. The only other person to do so in India was Mrinalini Sarabhai ji, who performed Simhanandini, Mayurakaoutvam and Ganesh – which doesn’t exist now,” she says. The dancer shares that learning the drawing wasn’t tough, but equally challenging. “I’m that kind of person who loves challenges for the thrilling experience in achievements and I underwent rigorous and meticulous training in 2015 at Vizag.”
Driving Force: Achutamanasa’s ‘Passion for Life’ is her great driving force. “Without passion, I don’t think anyone can achieve and stay longer for a lifetime, with lifetime pursuits. Apart from that I totally believe in two things – Versatility and Compassion. I feel being versatile is living life to the fullest. And that can happen only when we are passionate with compassion,” she says. As a child, the dancer has sung on stage, but continues her vocals training. She has picked up colours and brushes and has won prizes & awards in painting, but has never held any exhibitions because of frequent travelling. The dancer discloses that her first exhibition will be coming soon and her favourite subject is Nature and she dabbles in Oil Painting, Pencil Portraits and others.
The multi-art forms specialist fulfilled her mother’s dreams of learning art forms. “As my grandmother passed away when my mother was young, she couldn’t pursue her passion. My grandmother was a harmonium player. My grandfather is an internationally acclaimed photographer, and I consider them artists. My mother introduced me to Carnatic vocal, and the divine sounds of ghungroos (bells) led me to Kuchipudi and other art forms. According to my Gurus, Laya and Abhinaya are my hallmark,” admits the dancer.
Changing Scenario: After witnessing the Independence Day celebrations in 2010, Achutamanasa launched her initiative ‘Kuchipudi – My Life’, to empower children in Government schools and hostels. “At the Independence Day celebrations, I saw Govt. school children from every school perform to Vandematram and that too not original. It looked like a last-minute job, having no respect for roots. It’s not the fault of children. I felt we were deceiving our own children by not sharing original roots.” The dancer when she met the girl children in a Govt. home, they were unable to name India’s classical dance forms. “But they definitely knew ‘’Chandramukhi’, which itself they were thinking a dance form (power of movies). Recalling my mother’s childhood passion and inability, I decided to share my knowledge with these children,” she says.
Through the one-woman initiative, 60 students in general and 25 in specific have benefitted. “One of my students got the children’s Highest Award – President Award, Balasri and State award, Balaratna, for consecutive years. Apart from many prizes, awards, many have grown physically, mentally, emotionally fit along with spiritual upliftment that helped them get away from pilfering, dropping out of school and enmity in the last eight years of association with them,” says the artist.
Efforts During Pandemic: Achutamanasa says that currently, she has 10 students in her academy, and teaching during the Pandemic has helped her to connect with more students overseas. “The pandemic has taught me that it is easy to organize a live programme, instead of coordinating group performance, combining all of them at one space is such a herculean task which we have been nailing effortlessly as people are saying, but I know how much it takes to make a small production go on screens without any professional support. New challenges in terms of group performances, choreographing online are something we are very much getting used to of late after almost two years. But the pedagogy I have been developing with all the experiences in various fields I have had so far, is definitely helping all the students to become physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually balanced. Many who have health issues are getting rectified which is so really motivating to take steps forward to excel further,” she says, adding: “On the whole, teaching in pandemic is quite challenging yet quite thrilling as well.”
The dancer denies accepting any online programmes, but has been learning a lot, and exploring. “I have been choreographing several themes to keep my students motivated. We have presented a thematic presentation comparing “Plava Ugadi” tastes to the tastes of life during the pandemic (motivating to get vaccinated), Guru Ashtakam, Hare Krishna etc songs which have been enjoyed both by performers and the audiences,” she says.
UNESCO IDC Member: Achutamanasa, who has been a member of the UNESCO International Dance Council since 2011, says that during the pandemic nothing happened. “I have been more active in the IDC from 2018, when I was selected for performance, workshop and exhibition, as Kuchipudi classical dancer. Representing India gave me greater insights into the world with various dance forms. Had a very good discussion with the IDC president himself who inquired why Kuchipudi was not popular like Bharatanatyam or Kathak. We were also informed that Dances will be part of Olympics very soon and they are working on it. We are expecting more productive things from IDC,” says the dancer.
The multi-talented artist has represented Andhra Pradesh at International Partnership Summit, Lepakshi festival, Govt officials and top-level executives gathering, High Court inauguration and has curated confluence of five classical dance forms with her friends, senior artists, and Natya Kalpa ensemble which she started in 2018, apart from solos and groups in the Kuchipudi format as well. Performing during Brahmotsavams and at Nadaneerajanam programmes is blissfully soulful moments connecting souls via Kuchipudi, (Bharatanatyam thrice) through only Annamaya Keerthanas is a challenge there and have successfully executed since 1996. “I have witnessed Goddess Padmavati in couple of audiences too who hugged and kissed me and made me emotional at the end of a programme or a particular song that touched them. All credits to Annamacharya for soulful writings that connects the human-being in many ways. I’m blessed to perform at Padmavati Karthika Brahmotsavams from 1996 to 2018 consecutively without any break like a divine call.”
Performance Before The Lord: She likens her performance at the Karthika Brahmotsavams for over 20 years like that of an Asthana Narthaki. “Sometimes when other artists cancelled their programmes, I utilised that opportunity while living in Tirupati. I was invited to Naadaneerajanam only because I performed at Karthika Padmavati Brahmotsavam as the producer of Naadaneerajanam happened to watch and telecast Padmavati Kalapam and approached us back stage for a performance.” The A graded Doordarshan artist performed solo for 90 minutes at Tirumala in front of the sanctorum of Lord Balaji, in 2015, which was telecast live. “In 2018, performed Godha Kalynam with the blessings of my Guru Kaza Venkata Subrahmanyam master garu as Sita in Sita Kalyanam – Yakshaganam under Guru Kalaratna Mahankali Suryanarayana Sarma garu in 2011. Both experiences have been beautiful,” says the dancing beauty.
In the 27 years of her dance journey, performing in front of Apara Sidhendra yogi Padma Bhushan Dr. Vempati Chinna Satyam Master garu for an hour on his 80th birthday celebration in the premises of Bala Tirupura Sundari Ammavaru temple was a dream come true and memorable. “As he was getting older, I thought I should reach Chennai, perform at least two minutes in front of him and seek his blessings. Kesava Prasad master garu recognised my talent during a performance on Lord Hanuman song and invited me to perform. It was not just my dream, but dream of my guru to show his choreographies to his Guru and it was a heart-warming experience.”
Achutamanasa says that learning new classical dance form is challenging. “Like enacting a character, I thought I can become that particular dance form artist. It is in a way true but not that easy like living the characters. I become Kuchipudi artist when I perform-learn Kuchipudi and same likewise. Probably, I’m slowly trying to achieve that flexibility of switching art forms back-to-back in no time like in Kuchipudi how one switches various vibrant characters in solo repertoires. Everything is possible because human being itself by anatomy and physiology is so versatile and compassionate by nature,” she says, with a smile.