Manjula Kannan, co-founder of Vantage Management Consulting, and Bharatanatyam dancer, returned to perform a perfect Margam, Nritya Samarpanam, at the fag-end of December 2022 after a gap of 25 years, at the Centre for Economic & Social Studies (CESS) Auditorium, Greenlands, Begumpet, Hyderabad. Speaking exclusively to Natyahasini, Manjula Kannan, reveals that she always had an urge to get back to dance. “My heart would dance whenever I heard a dance vocal or saw a performance. As soon as I got back home, I would start dancing and do a few steps,” she says.
As many years passed by, she felt that she would not be able to get back to dance, but fate had something else in store for her. “It was perhaps somewhere destined that I get back to dancing. One day, I heard the sound of nattuvangam and found that it was from the activity centre behind my house, Bharatanatyam was being taught. So, for a short period I enrolled there under the guidance of Smt. Meenakshi Ravinder, who is a student of Smt. Rajeshwari Sainath. This enabled me to get back to dancing,” she says joyously.
Manjula is grateful to Meenakshi Ravinder for helping her to return to the stage after 25 years. “In fact, I gave away all the dance costumes that I had. I didn’t imagine that I would actually dance again one day. It was a self-imposed thought. I felt that it would be too much of an ask physically. And where did I have the time to travel to class, practice, manage the kids, home, work and support parents-in-law and parents,” she questioned herself.
Full Family Support: After Manjula joined Guru Meenakshi Ravinder’s class, she found that she could dance still. “My stamina was pretty good, as good as the youngsters and also gave a couple of performances in class programmes. My kids, Kavya and Karun, husband Kannan, who works as an engineer in a Hyderabad-based public firm, and Late mother-in-law did not have any issues with me getting back to dance, which indeed was a big blessing. I am glad that I took the decision to get back to dance and thoroughly enjoy it.”
Mostly, one halts all extra-curricular activities, once they want to focus on their academics, but the Bharatanatyam dancer confesses that it was not true in her case. “While I would take a short break before exams, I continued to learn and perform right through my high school, graduation and post-graduation. I was able to balance my studies and dancing was not any problem,” she says.
Based in Bangalore, Manjula completed her MBA and immediately after that she tied the knot with Hyderabad-based Kannan and made the Pearl City her home. “It was because of this relocation, that there was a break in dance. I was adjusting to a different life after marriage and in a new city. Unfortunately, with my limited contacts, I was not able to find a Guru in Hyderabad in my early days here. Time passed and soon after, I started working. I, meanwhile also completed my cost accountancy (ICWA), now known as cost and management accountant (CMA). Working with ITC Ltd., Paperboards & Specialty Papers Division, my two kids were born and balanced home and work along with bringing up children. From my side, I can definitely say that I managed all without any major compromise in any side. After working with ITC for 18 years, co-founded a partnership firm, Vantage Management Consulting in 2008,” she says and adds that the 15-year-old consulting firm provides financial, business and management consulting, predominantly to the small & medium sector; and to start ups.
Dance, By Chance: Taking a peek into her initiation into dance, Manjula says it was perhaps by chance. “My father was working with ONGC and was posted in Dehra Dun. It was in 1974, when I was in the 3rd grade, my father’s colleague’s wife, Smt. Alamelu Dhanraj was teaching Bharatanatyam. Apart from being colleagues, they were very close family friends. The Dhanraj’s stayed at walking distance from our house. And my mother put me into her class. That’s how and where I started,” she says.
Speaking very fondly about all the Gurus under whom she learnt dance, Manjula says under the guidance of her first Guru Alamelu Dhanraj, she learnt dance for a year in 1974. “I have been blessed to be in touch with her over the years. She exudes so much warmth when I meet her as she now stays in Hyderabad,” the dancer says. After moving to Bangalore, she restarted training in Bharatanatyam with Gurus Sri. PV Chalapathy and Smt. Iravathy Chalapathy. “Both were students of ST Sharma of Chennai. The Chalapathy’s dance school, Sri Nataraja Natya Kalashala was already a 25-year-old institution when I performed my Arangetram at the age of 16 on 26th May, 1983. Their simplicity, sincerity and dedication were their hallmark,” she recalls.
After her Arangetram, to get deeper into the art form, Manjula began learning under Guru Late Smt. Padmini Ramachandran (Bangalore), a disciple of stalwarts Sri Pandanallur Chokkalingam Pillai and Sri Vazhuvoor Ramiah Pillai, for six years and then came a break of 25 years and later enrolled under Guru Smt. Meenakshi Ravinder.
Subsequently, Manjula moved to Guru Smt. Geetha Ganesan, Founder director of UCPA, and she has been learning under her for close to seven years now. “Guru Geetha Ganesan, who has been honoured with many titles like ‘Abhinaya Kala Ratna’, ’Best Natyacharya’, ‘Kala Tarangalu’, as a dancer is very graceful, exudes energy and perfection. She is also known for her melodious singing skills and one of the few Bharatanatyam Gurus who does Nattuvangam and provides vocal support simultaneously for the recitals of her students,” she says.
On getting connected with Guru Geetha Ganesan, Manjula says: “At the class of Guru Meenakshi Ravinder, I met Harini, who had also learnt dance in her younger days under Geetha ma’am, and both of us saw a couple of programs staged by her students and immediately connected with my classes of younger days and the switch happened,” she says.
Not Nervous: When quizzed whether, she was nervous, while performing her Arangetram, she says that she doesn’t remember being nervous before the programme. “Honestly, it didn’t feel like a very big effort. It felt good after the Arangetram. I trained for four years for my Arangetram under the Late Chalapathys. I did the entire Margam – Kouthvam, Alaripu, Jathiswaram, Shabdam, Varnam, Thyagaraja Krithi, Andal, Thillana, Devarnama (Krishna Ne Begane Baro), Natanam Adinar and Kurathi,” she states.
Manjula reveals that when she began learning Bharatanatyam, there were no televisions, computers, internet or mobiles. “Even telephones were not common. So, one would learn about anything only through direct physical exposure. But, looking back, I am extremely happy and grateful, that it was Bharatanatyam that I was initiated into. I am intrigued by the combination of nritta and abhinaya in Bharatanatyam and the extremely vast scope to express,” she says and adds that in addition to Bharatanatyam, she would have learnt Odissi because of the grace in the dance form.
The Bharatanatyam dancer confesses that she enjoys performing folk dances, though she hasn’t done a folk dance in years. “In earlier days, I have performed a lot of folks like fisherman dance, Kolattam, Karaga (Karnataka), Ghumar (Rajasthani), Kaikottikali (Kerala), Bhangra (Punjab) and when a kid, snake dance and peacock dance,” she says.
The co-founder of the Management firm has learnt Carnatic music from Music Triangle, Mumbai – Gurus Geeta Karkare and Padma and both have left a distinct mark on her. “Knowledge of Carnatic music is very helpful for dance. The sense of thalam, rhythm and speed one gets from Carnatic music, which is a basic sense that one needs for dance. It’s much easier to pick up dance, if you have this knowledge. For choreography, music is a must,” she tells.
Going into a sudden shell and breaking the silence, Manjula recalls that thinking about dancing on stage was not easy, after she was hit by a bacterial infection, and becoming immobilised overnight six years ago. “The pain in my entire body was debilitating. It was months before there was some normalcy in my movements, but not without pain. In fact, I literally had to learn how to walk again. Physio therapy and regular exercises brought me to a stage where I could manage a near normal life. Walking was difficult at one point, and dancing a big question,” she says.
Preparation For Prog: For the Nritya Samarpanam, apart from practising dance, Manjula had to work a lot on her leg muscles so that she could perform. “I went to a rehab centre and worked with them for six months to get more strength in my legs. I practised for about five months. Initially for short periods, then slowly stepped it up. For the last month or so, I used to practise about an hour and a half at home, practically every day. Apart from this had practice sessions in class.”
Manjula shares that none of her immediate family members are pursuing dance, and her daughter, who is married to Deepak, lives in Bangalore and her parents, who stay close by, are a tremendous support to her. She signs off saying that no program has been planned as of now, but is hopeful that something will come up soon.