Bharatanatyam dancers, Valiveti Sisters – Srujana and Sree Keerthi, disciples of Gurus Dr. Rajeswari Sainath and Dr. Vyshnavie Sainath are here to rock. Speaking exclusively to Natyahasini, the Valiveti sisters say that their exciting dance journey has just started. Recently, the Valiveti sisters presented an event called Manasaa at Shilparamam Madhapur with their students. The elder sister Srujana shares that the event Manasaa was resonating with fact that the mind is the creative and enthralling play-game of the arts, the portal to feeling the awestruck aesthetics of life. “It was the first time along with my students. I was a little nervous to bring the little ones on stage. I just hoped no one panicked and cried on stage seeing the people around. But fortunately, it went very smoothly and everyone liked it as well,” Srujana says.
Sree Keerthi says that it was the first time they performed as Valiveti sisters along with Srujana’s students at Shilparamam. “It is definitely going to be very memorable in a long time, as we performed for an hour after two years of the pandemic; and it was the first time we experienced training students online for the programme all by ourselves. There’s so much we’ve learnt from the show- the do’s and don’ts, and the musts. We look forward to doing more events like Manasaa in future,” she says with poise.
Great To Perform Together: On sharing the stage with sibling and parents’ reaction, Sree Keerthi says, it’s a great feeling to be practicing and performing together. “Not everyone gets a chance to share the stage with their sibling with whom we fight for silly things at home but smile and dance to different roles on stage. I’m sure my parents were very proud and they are always a full-on support for all our performances. They would smile widely whenever our relatives or their colleagues mentioned our solo,” says the younger sister.
On the other hand, Srujana hopes that parents would have been extremely happy and proud. “Yeah, performing together has its own pros and cons. We have a lot of our silent fights on stage too, but the best part is not everyone will have an opportunity to perform with their sibling. So indeed, it’s great to perform together,” she says with a smile.
Srujana opens up to share that she has not started any full-fledged dance school at the moment, but she teaches beginners and intermediate students online majorly. “And for performance practices I call them offline. I have around 10 students,” she says. Sree Keerthi points out that her sister Srujana began taking online dance classes during the first lockdown and she assists her sometimes, whenever she’s held up with other works.
Arangetram Debut: The Valivetti sisters performed their arangetram on the same day – 2 February 2020. Reliving the arangetram experience, Srujana says, “It was a great experience. Because we had quite a bit of prior stage experience, Rajeswari akka chose some difficult items for us, she composed some intricate laya (rhythmic) patterns in the items, ‘Jagadananda Karaka’ (one of Saint Tyagaraja’s Pancharatna Kritis) being one of the main items was presented in a Varnam format. Then, ‘Mahadeva Shiva Shambho’, where I staged my first headstand and we had a lot of Kalari elements that Vyshnavie also added into. These two items were really special amongst all others. It was a beautiful experience that was worth all the efforts.”
Sree Keerthi says that arangetram was a major step the sisters took together in dance. “I personally feel it elevated our performing abilities as soloists and a duo. Although it was not like any competition, I had this sense of achievement that I could feel the two of us as one. More than seeing it as a one-day event, we see it as a phase right from the first day’s practice till the performance. It had connected us to our Gurus stronger than ever,” she says.
Challenging Items: The younger sister also adds that Rajeswari akka had chosen particularly challenging items for them. “We also used poses like seershasana (headstand) for an item in praise of Lord Shiva. Rajeswari akka had even composed new jathis for the items right before us and explained the calculations of the particular rhythms. All the effort, time and dedication that not just us, but also our Gurus had put in, for the practices, compositions and choreographies, had paid off! It took us nearly weeks to overcome the hangover,” Sree Keerthi says.
Speaking about their Gurus Dr. Rajeswari Sainath and Dr. Vyshnavie Sainath, Srujana confesses that there is so much learning when she is with them. “The very fact of being by their side teaches you a lot of things. They expose you to wide variety of things that happen. Both Akka and Vyshnavie have a lot of patience, they make sure to get you the technicalities and theories right in dance. Even apart from dance, you see them handle multiple things very gracefully,” she says admiringly.
Sree Keerthi discloses that Rajeswari akka and Vyshnavie have been her biggest inspirations since she was a child. “Initially, a lot of focus went into habituating our bodies to the intense classes. I would often dread going to class, anticipating how tough the practice is going to be. We would almost crawl our way back home,” she says, quickly adding that in every class, there was always something more interesting to learn, be it from the pep talks of experience they got from Akka during breaks, or be it from the various techniques of dancing they had observed from their seniors or fellow dancers. “We were always encouraged to do well in our academics/professions along with dance. We are more like a family, and dance class eventually became our second home for years now. Apart from dance class practices, there was much to learn from every performance, travel and fun adventures that Vyshnavie had exposed us to. Learning under Akka and Vyshnavie forms a huge part of what we are today,” she says with happiness writ large on her face.
Travelling, Performing Fun: The younger sister reveals that travelling and performing at different places is always fun. “However, challenging concerts usually happen during the December season in Chennai, and I can literally see how I evolved from being a timid little girl 10 years ago, performing for a 30 seconds bit in the ballet, Sri Lalitha Vaibhavam (I had played the role of the young demon, Bhandaputra), to performing almost 70% in the same ballet as Sutradhars (narrators) in recent times. I really enjoy performing, not at any place in particular, but irrespective of where I am performing; to even know that the audience connect with what we’re dancing gives me a great feeling,” says Sree Keerthi.
For Srujana every performance is fun and challenging either in terms of the auditoria or the places they visit. “Of course, most enjoyable ones I’ve had would be Chennai season performances in Music academy /Narada Gana Sabha, for the kind of standard it requires. Also places like Delhi, Bhopal when you literally freeze in winters while performing are equally fun. We had one at Guruvayur when the crowd kept increasing at 11.30pm. So, every performance gives you a new experience,” she says.
Prodding on Dr. Vyshnavie’s energy, Srujana says that she keeps us on toes all the time and there’s never a dull moment with her. Both the sisters in unison says: “There’s so much we learnt from her growing up be it in Kalari, yoga, new choreographies, classes or even casual meet-ups. She’s also a very adventures person so she exposes us to a lot of that. She plays multiple roles for us actually like a guru, a mentor, a friend, a sister. Literally our go to for anything.” Srujana gives credit to Dr. Vyshnavie for pushing her to start her classes, while Sree Keerthi reaffirms that she is in fact a huge example for them when it comes to multitasking.
Dance Steps: Recalling their dance journey, Sree Keerthi says that she was initiated into dance at the age of six, when they were living in Bangalore. “My parents had a great inclination towards classical arts and music. Srujana and I grew up listening to Annamacharya and Purandaradas krithis that they sang and played on cassettes, and they would take us to concerts of eminent artistes in Carnatic music. They wanted us to learn classical music and dance as well. So, despite their professional work schedules, they had us enrolled in Bharatanatyam. They were not specific about a particular style of dance, Bharatanatyam classes were closer to where we lived, hence it was convenient for them to pick and drop us on time,” she says.
Srujana also reaffirms that because of her parents love for Carnatic music and classical dance, they were enrolled into a vocal and dance class while in Bangalore. “After moving back to Hyderabad, coincidently we moved to the same colony where Rajeswari Akka stayed and where classes happened. Immediately my parents enrolled us there. That was a turning point, we got a little serious into dance after seeing seniors dancing in class, attending group performances regularly,” says the elder sister. She also adds that as her parents were into transferable jobs, they thought Bharatanatyam classes were more prominent and easier to find in most of the cities, unlike rare styles.
Academics & Dance Balance: Srujana, an electrical engineering graduate and currently working as a Strategy Analyst with a start-up, VNC Artha, on managing academics and Dance, says: “Academics and dance always went simultaneously for me since childhood. It was never an effort because I wanted to do both. My parents always said no matter what you are doing give in your 100 percent, do not think of something else while doing one thing. They also said doing both is better than one because you always need some kind of physical activity even for your brain to be alert and focus. And that’s what I followed.”
Sree Keerthi, who is a final year fashion design student from FDDI, Hyderabad, says: “Well, I only consider which to prioritise when given an opportunity. That way, I believe everyone can do well in academics and pursue their passions if they’re enough committed.”
Revealing what her normal day is like, Sree Keerthi says that being in final year of fashion designing, there is lot of work on projects. “The day usually starts with me going through all the tasks, showing work progress in college and market exploration or coordinating with friends, until evening, when I try something interesting in dance like trying some rhythmic patterns, for example. I also practice singing Carnatic music,” she says. Srujana usually starts her day by doing pranayama and yoga, followed by taking a few classes on some days. “Later, I slowly slip into my office work. My evenings are generally not fixed sometimes I may have office meetings or dance show practices or performances or taking classes,” says the busy bee.
Playing Flute: On weekends, Sree Keerthi and Srujana spend time with family and play the flute. Sree Keerthi reads books, majorly, watches a movie or a few episodes of a series. Before signing off, Srujana says: “I just feel grateful and blessed for all I have and I’m looking forward to what dance offers me for exploring and performing.” Sree Keerthi says that she is very grateful to her Gurus and parents because of whom she got the opportunity to explore this little in the field of dance, and to Srujana who is always by her side. “I look forward to continuing my passion alongside my profession,” she says.