My Constellation of Gurus that made me an IIT-ian Mohini

I first went to Kshemavathy teacher’s class at the age of six, along with my father, and at the time, I used to be in fear of teacher who would be strict with our Aramandalam and Adavus! Sitting in Aramandalam for ten minutes straight was a regular punishment. I also cannot forget that my first dance costume was given to me by Kshemavathy teacher – she gave me her daughter Eva’s dance costume for my fist stage performance at Regional Theatre, Thrissur at a time when my father had to struggle to buy a new silk costume. Teacher readily made time to teach me online and I have been able to learn several of her beautiful and crisp choreographies, including Omanathingal Kidavo, Kanakamayam, Varnams and other dance pieces. I also admire how she subtly introduces new twists in the traditional Adavus and brings in complexity and variations in the usual or regular patterns of Jathis. 

Mythili with Kshemavathy

Although I enjoyed dancing, I never committed myself to Mohiniyattam, until saw Gopika Chechi’s (Gopika Varma) dance in Ramalayam Palace in Adyar, Chennai, where she lived then. It was probably one of her rehearsals when she performed the Ashtapadi, ‘Dheera Sameere’ to Sudev Warier’s divine rendering, and the aura of the place, all put together left a lasting impression on me. It was an image I had to pursue and make my own. After my training in her school while I pursued my Post Graduate studies, I went back to her while I lived in Bangalore- travelling back and forth and performing in her group productions. I also gave my first full-length recitals during the time at Padmanabhaswamy Temple, for Vasantholsavam in Kapaleeshwara temple, and during the Margazhi season. Her choreographies of the Thodi Varnam – Daanisaamajendra- a 40-minute piece and the Keerthanam Mahadeva Shiva, and a Kannada Padam, were beautiful, dramatic and great learnings for me. 

Mythili with Gopika Varma

Guru’s Advice: I was fortunate to meet and learn from Sadanam Balakrishnan in 2018, when I performed for his dance production, Radha Madhavam for Kinkini Festival in 2018 along with Probal Gupta. After the performance, he told me something that left a strong impression on me: “You did well, but were not fully involved. You have all the qualities to be a very good dancer, you can do much better.” I realized then, that here was a truly great teacher, who did not entirely dismiss my performance on the basis of its flaws, but saw the potential for betterment. He put to rest several doubts and insecurities about my abilities that I had developed based on negative comments I heard. Then I decided, I had to learn from him. I visited him a couple of times in Chennai to learn, but the learning was limited, as I could not stay away from Hyderabad for too long. Here again, online regular classes have been a blessing, and I have been able to learn Padams of Sthree Vesham in Kathakali that I hope to present in Mohiniyattam.                

One of the first workshops I began with after the first lockdown was Guru G Venu’s workshop on Navarasas. After I did the first in the series, there has been no looking back – I completed three phases and hope to continue. Guru G Venu is a brilliant actor and teacher with students of great fame and I am humbled to be a part of the learning and it has been truly transformational. Regular workshops with Guru Nirmala Paniker on the Desi Mohiniyattam repertoire which I have been in awe of have also been a great gift for me. I am grateful to be on this learning path, with others, where she picks on each and every little nuance, stubbornly corrects us and fires our imagination with her philosophy. 

Academic Guru: We seek out our Gurus, and destiny connects a student and a Guru. I thank my destiny for giving me such a constellation of brilliant Gurus.  While I have imbibed technique, content and philosophy from my gurus in dance, my academic guru, Prof. Milind S Malshe from IIT Bombay has truly transformed me as an individual and shaped my vision. He strongly encouraged and enabled my Ph.D. work in the Semiotics of Mohiniyattam, which is a non-traditionalist work, perhaps one of the first in any Indian institute on dance that approaches a traditional dance-form from a framework that is not based on the shastras or on historical approaches. There has been a gap in defining a clear methodology for broad-based research in performing arts in most Indian institutes and universities, and Prof. Malshe, who is also an accomplished Hindustani musician, credited with introducing the Hindustani Music Appreciation course as an elective at IIT Bombay, has published a book on the same topic. Learning from him in the environment of IIT Bombay has made me aware and sensitive to presumptions and prejudices that people have, and has really lightened and opened my mind, and has moulded the values I stand for as an artist. 

~Dr. Mythili Maratt Anoop 

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