Bharatanatyam dancer and founder of the Maya Dance Company, Bhavana Gowri Penubolu, speaking exclusively to Natyahasini states that the Maya Dance Company was born with a vision to create choreographies which are contemporary in content, inclusive in nature, breaking social barriers, through the tradition of Indian dance and movement forms. “We wish to preserve Indian classical movement forms and make our audience experience the joy of dance. Our Indian dance forms are so vast and beautiful. Yet these performances get very minimal viewership from the younger generation. Since our art forms need to thrive, it is important that the youth take interest in our Indian art forms,” she says.
Bhavana reveals: “The Maya Dance Company is working on traditional choreographies at the same time on relevant social matters through which we wish to relate with our audience. I hope that Maya’s performances inspire the youth to learn more and more Indian Dance forms.” The dance artist and lover teaches many different movement art forms both online and offline. “At present, I am teaching Bharatanatyam at Yogaranya Studio in Secunderabad, Yoga and Dance fitness online. I am going to set up my own cultural space along with my sister Indira Penubolu in the City of Hyderabad which is intended to be a confluence of cultures,” the dancer says.
First Dance Classes: The Dance Company founder was prompted to sign up for Shiamak Davar’s dance classes at the age of 11 years and there has been no looking back since then. “When I was in Senior School, I used to tag along with my sister to her Kuchipudi class. I was really inspired to learn while I used to sit and watch. That’s how I enrolled into Kuchipudi classes. After a brief period of learning Kuchipudi, I had switched to Bharatanatyam when I joined a college in Bangalore as it was a part of my Degree. Dancing was a hobby during school but by the time I came to college I decided that this is going to be my profession,” she says.
Bhavana, who learnt Bharatanatyam under Guru Prabin Villareesh in Bengaluru and Guru Smt. Rajeshwari Sainath in Hyderabad, acknowledges that Bharatanatyam happened to her. “I was never very specific about a certain dance form. I loved dance and the form didn’t matter in my school days. Later, I did my Bachelors in Literature, Psychology & Performing Arts. Bharatanatyam was one of the subjects in my triple major course. I chose to do this degree because I knew I’d get to dance all through my college life and at that point it was all that mattered,” she says on her motivation to learn dance.
The founder of Maya Dance Company says that after finishing her graduation, she proceeded to Kerala to learn the ancient Indian martial art form Kalaripayattu and then to Mysore to learn Yoga. Bhavana says that she studied a one-year diploma in Movement Arts from Attakalari in Bangalore and this proved a turning point in her dancing career. Also, Bhavana has trained in a variety of Dance forms like Ballet, Contemporary Dance Techniques, Chau, Koodiyattam, etc. For Bhavana, any day Bharatanatyam is her first love, but acknowledges keen interest in Oddisi and Kuchipudi. “If time permits, I’d love to learn these two beautiful dance forms,” she says.
Learning With Gurus: Bhavana sharing her learning experiences under her Gurus Prabin Villareesh and Smt. Rajeshwari Sainath, says: “Prabin sir is a strict teacher in class, but once class is over, he is a super fun person. Rajeshwari akka is a task master. I hope that I can dance like her, with the same charm, grace, and energy that she has today at the age of 61. I am lucky to have two exponents of the field as my Gurus, who I can go back to when in doubt. Both of them always have and continue to guide me.”
Armed with MFA in Bharatanatyam, from Tamil University and Diploma in Contemporary Dance from Attakalari, Bangalore, Bhavana says her college life was quite happening in terms of Dance. “I would go to college at 6am to practice with my team for competitions. We would have our psychology and literature class during the morning hours followed by Performing Arts class in the afternoon. I chose dance as my Major in performing arts so every day from 2-4pm, I would have Bharatanatyam class. Post college hours I would continue with practice with my team. I used to spend at least six hours a day dancing during my three years in college. My class had a diverse group of students. Some of them were keen on pursuing psychology, some on literature, same way for me it was dance. So, dance itself was academics for me,” she says.
Recalling an unforgettable memory with Prabin sir, the dancer says that it was when she wasn’t sitting in proper Araimandi. “Prabin sir flung the ‘tatte’ at my thigh. It was a spur of the moment reaction without any harmful intent and funny at the same time, but that one whack still reminds and pushes me to sit properly in Araimandi,” she says, quickly adding that she spent the whole of 2013-2014 prepping for her Arangetram under the tutelage of Guru Smt. Rajeshwari Sainath. “Every single moment of that year remains etched in my mind. While prepping for my Arangetram, I built a special bond with her and learnt so many valuable lessons which I cherish. I’ve had very memorable times when I had the opportunity to dance on stage along with my Guru for her productions – ‘Lalitha Vaibhavam’, ‘Krishna Darshan’, ‘Neuro biology of dance’, ‘Vishnu Sahasranamam’ and so on at several venues across India,” says the dancer.
Favourite Compositions: Quizzed on her favourite compositions, Bhavana reveals that there are way too many favourites. “I think what I would like to dance to is also dependent on my state of mind. Sometimes it also depends on the audience. For example, ‘Adum Mayilmel Varnam’ in Shudha Dhanyasi Raagam is one of my favourite compositions to perform to because of the sheer amount of time, persistence, and effort I put into learning this varnam wholeheartedly. It brings to my mind the times I spent with my teacher when I was learning it and every time, I perform it nostalgia hits me,” the artist says.
Speaking about her parents, Bhavana says her family is very knowledgeable and are connoisseurs of Indian classical music and dance. Her mother Subhadra Suri Penubolu, being a cricketer, has been her backbone in pursuing a career in dance, while her father Suri Penubolu is an ardent music lover and established Tarang – an initiative to promote upcoming musicians and vocalists. “From its inception in 2010 till date, Tarang has hosted 25 concerts across Hyderabad city,” says the dancer.
Bhavana believes Dance is much more than a performing art and it is that knowledge which assists in the holistic development of a person. “My Guru Smt. Rajeswari Sainath, always says that Bharatanatyam encompasses Mathematics, Geometry, Psychology, History… and the list is immeasurable. Dance is an entire system of education and I urge everyone irrespective of gender, religion, age and so on to learn any form of dance or Movement art that interests them,” she says.
To aspiring Dancers and Artists, Bhavana says: “Performing arts has a long way to go to be at the same level as other professions like Medicine, Law, Engineering, Science, and so forth. However, don’t let society dictate your decision over your career. Make that choice from your heart.” In the same breath she also urges people to be supportive of artists and go an extra mile to understand what kind of preparation and support system the artist needs to thrive in this competitive world. “What goes behind the curtain goes unnoticed. But the hard work that goes in leaves behind footprints that many a time fades away to the blind world that we live in today. True beauty is in fact a culmination of what goes on the stage and what goes behind the stage,” she states before taking leave.