Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi and Odissi exponent and practitioner Guru Swati Mahalakshmi, in conversation with Natyahasini, says that she is really very fortunate to have had the opportunity to sit at the feet of great Gurus and learn three different classical dance styles. “Right from Gurus like Padma Bhushan Dr. Rukmini Devi Arundale to Padma Shri Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai (Bharatanatyam), Padma Bhushan Dr. Vempati Chinna Satyam to Sangeet Natak Akadmi Awardee Uma Rama Rao (Kuchipudi), from Padma Shri Mayadhar Raut to Padma Vibhushan Kelucharan Mohapatra (Odissi), all of them had their unique style of teaching,” she says. The Praachya Bhaarati Center for Performing Arts founder says that all her Gurus were gentle, affectionate, patient but strict.
“They were totally concerned about the dedication of the student. In my case, I was studying in Nainital and could come down to Chennai or Delhi only in the winters to learn dance. Without any hesitation, they accommodated me and taught me as per my schedule. I used to take intensive course for six months and after that again returned to Nainital to pursue my studies for the rest of the year. Once they observed my dedication to learning, they had no qualms about adjusting their schedule and accommodating me,” she says with a smile.
Swati Mahalakshmi recalls that the one thing in common they all had was the immense care and compassion. “They adhered to strict class schedule, strict discipline, and placed high emphasis to perfect each movement and finally to the understanding of each aspect of dance. While at Kalakshetra, the focus was on having a strong base that formed the strong foundation of Bharatanatyam technique. From Guru Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai, I imbibed the virtuosity of footwork, brilliant and charismatic presentation of the Vazhuvoor School,” says the Hyderabad-based dancer.
An institution in himself: Speaking about Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam, she says that he was an institution in himself. “Kuchipudi as we see today, is largely due to his contribution in the field of refining and creating and Maargam from Poorva Rangam to Tarangam and including more female dancers in the performances. He taught me the basics of Kuchipudi style and a whole Maargam, from Poorva Rangam to Tarangam. His contribution in my life and as a Guru cannot be put in words,” she says. The multi-talented teacher gives credit to Guru Uma Rama Rao, who taught her “Bhaamaa Kalaapam”. “The way she explained and taught Abhinaya helped me understand the nuances of Kuchipudi Abhinaya and the emphasis of Vaachikaa Abhinaya unique to Kuchipudi style,” she says.
Remembering Guru Mayadhar Raut, who taught her the basics of Odissi style, Swati Mahalakshmi says that his teaching of “Astapadis” and Abhinaya of Odissi is matchless. “Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra was very keen that I learn Odissi and whenever he came to Delhi, I joined his classes and learnt a number of Pallavis and other items. Both of them had their own unique style. In my personal opinion, Guru Mayadhar Raut’s style is more slow-paced and his speciality are the “Ashtapadis”; while Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra’s style is rich in rhythm and virtuosity,” says Swati Mahalakshmi.
On special moments with her revered gurus, the dance teacher says that while they were all very strict where teaching the art form was concerned, however, they all were very kind and compassionate. “Very professional in their expertise and in teaching their art form, but humane and caring. They were Gurus in the true sense. Each one of them treated me like their daughter and whenever I was in a problem, they gave a patient hearing and even tried to solve my problems,” she says.