Sri Durga Sai Nruthyaniketan (SDSN) Founder and Artistic Director, Kuchipudi dancer Sita Lakshmi Prasad has carved her name in Golden Letters after beginning her dance journey alongside her marital journey in the year 1996. Sita Lakshmi Prasad is not only a versatile dancer, but also a good artist, who can draw rangolis of stalwarts like SP Balasubramaniam. For this art, she doesn’t need any pencil sketches, but is an expert who can bring any artist to life with her Rangoli colours.
In Conversation with Natyahasini, Kuchipudi dancer Sita Lakshmi Prasad says that she grew up in Delhi with her Uncle and Aunt, and moved to Ramagundam in the year 1994 and to Kothagudam in 2005 after her wedding to M. G. Prasad, who is employed in Singareni Collieries Company Limited. She reveals: “In the year 1996, at Ramagundam, there were no Gurus to teach the Kuchipudi style of dance form. So, I learnt Andhra Natyam from Guru Ratan Kumar for four years.”
Turning Point: Sita Lakshmi developed the strong desire to learn classical dance after watching Kalatapaswi K Viswanath’s ‘Swarna Kamalam’. Though not hailing from an artist’s family, Sita’s inherent passion and strong inclination towards dance made her walk the tight path and earn national honours for her dance school Sri Durga Sai Nruthyaniketan (SDSN), when 10 students belonging to her dance school walked the Rajpath as part of the 450-strong dance contingent. “I could get the opportunity to learn classical dance only after my marriage and the birth of my son,” she says.
The Kothagudem dance Guru has the full support of her family in her dance endeavours. She teaches, choreographs and also performs solos to quench her dance thirst. “It is a difficult task for a woman to learn dance after marriage and look after the household work. But my husband always helped me and shared the work. Learning dance after marriage was not encouraged in the society at that time. But my husband encouraged me in all aspects and supported me during hard times also,” says the dancer.
Andhra Natyam, Stepping Stone: A Kuchipudi practitioner, Sita Lakshmi Prasad, who has learnt Andhra Natyam to begin with, if given a chance would love to learn the Odissi dance form. “Odissi is a beautiful dance form with sculpturesque movements and subtle Abhinaya and I specially love the dance costume and jewellery of this art form,” she says.
Being aware that she stepped into the dance world very late, and will not survive as a performer for a longer period due to age restrictions and physical fitness, she thought it was better to share and develop her art with young budding artists and established SDSN. According to her, it is not essential for a Guru to be a performer, but if the teacher is a performer too, it helps the teacher/ artist to understand the art more. “As I believe that every performance is a new experience and a pathway to new choreographies. And hence given an opportunity to perform, I shall happily accept it,” states the artist.
On the recent National recognition of being among the five finalists of Vandebharatham, a dance contest organised by the Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Defence, Sita Lakshmi Prasad says the National honour means a lot to her. “A proud moment for me and my team to win in the Vandebharatham competition and become a part of the prestigious Rajpath event. It is always a dream for many artists, living in small towns like us, to participate in Republic Day parade. It would have remained a dream if this process of selection of artists from every nook and corner of the country would not have been done, feeling proud to represent our Telangana State and our dance form Kuchipudi in the Republic Day parade 2022.”
Challenging Task: The Kothagudem-based Kuchipudi Guru confesses that it was really a challenging task for them to go to Delhi and perform there in severe winter conditions as they are not used to such cold climate. “But it is the zeal to exhibit our culture and patriotism which had driven our team to utilise this great opportunity,” she says.
Revealing the selection process of picking students for the National dance contest, Sita Prasad says: “I had to choose students above 16 years and below 35 years of age. As Kothagudem is a small town and students move to big cities like Hyderabad for higher studies, I had to call them back and give training for this competition. I selected those students who were quick in grasping and reproducing choreography. All the students were attending regular classes and we spent an hour daily for this competition.” The 10 students who did Sita Prasad proud at Rajpath included Ankitha Tatapuri, Indrani Anisetti, Geethika Bangari, Korukonda Srisai Sumasmitha, Dasari Sri Sravya, Ragula Manisha, Srinija Sriramula, Tatapuri Anjali and Swarna Yamini. Make-up and Properties designer Arcot Chandrashekar played a great role in helping the dancers reach their goal.
The Kothagudem dance guru proudly shares that some of her students have won prizes in National and International competitions such as Balakalaustav in Delhi, Balotsav in Kothagudem and Guntur, Andela Ravali conducted by TANA, youth festivals and many more. “Apart from these, 10 of my students are also receiving CCRT Scholarship from the Central government,” she says, quickly adding that she trains students in certificate and diploma courses too. “Forty of my students have acquired certifications in Kuchipudi Dance till date,” she says.
Technology Aiding Dancers: Learning dance during her times and now, Sita Prasad says that during her time there was no technology support. “We had to depend purely on our memory and skills, but now the students have support of technology like cell phone cameras and audios,” she says. The dance instructor also adds that earlier they performed to live orchestra which sometimes was a financial burden, but now they have pre-recorded audio for the performance and for rehearsals too. The teacher further says that earlier students depended and learnt from a single Guru, but now the students have the tendency to change their Gurus frequently.
“We used to learn a single choreography for more than three to four months, depending upon the depth of the choreography, but now the students insist to learn in three to four days and are interested more on stage performances rather than understanding the essence of the choreography,” she states. But she quickly adds that the positive note of this generation students is that they are quicker in grasping and try to explore the art form through social media.
The dance guru reveals that Kothaguden has a mixed culture with people liking both classical and folk. “In Kothagudem, different industries are situated hence multi-lingual people with different tastes live here. As it is an industrial area, the people here are more inclined towards folk music and semi-classical rather than pure classical,” she says.
Life Performance Livelier: Sita Prasad loves performing on both live and recorded orchestra depending on the budget and availability of the orchestra. “But anyway, my preference is always to dance on live music which is livelier,” she says. The dance guru is open to learning different choreographies of the legendry Gurus. “Each choreography in itself is a different school of thought and knowledge,” the dancer says. The SDSN Artistic director acknowledges that Art is always a never-ending learning process and there is always much more to explore. “I would always love to be a student forever and learn new things along with my students,” the dance guru says before signing off.