A qualified Aeronautical Engineer, currently full-time Andhra Natyam (Temple dance tradition of the Telugu region) and Perini dancer, pursuing Ph. D. at Hyderabad Central University, and blessed to be the daughter of Dr. Suvarchala Suresh, Satwika Penna bats for dance forms – Andhra Natyam and Perini and expresses that these art forms are age-old traditions, which need to be kept alive for the generations to come. Speaking exclusively to Natyahasini, Satwika Penna says that the Union Ministry of Culture or Sangeet Natak Akademi should organise conferences where research scholars, eminent personalities, field experts, critics hear out the richness of these dance forms from the Telugu region. “As a dancer who practices both Andhra Natyam and Perini, I feel scholarships for students and more performance opportunities will definitely encourage them to take up these dance forms in a focused way,” she says.
The dancer states that previously many artistes who practiced Andhra Natyam and Perini discontinued it owing to limited opportunities. She feels that if the Union Ministry of Culture or Sangeet Natak Akademi had earlier offered platforms, it may have been confined to some artistes.
Satwika says: “Andhra Natyam has its roots from the Devadasi tradition. An ‘Ekapatra Kelika’ originally performed by Devanarthakis in the temples and temple premises, Rajanarthakis in the courts of kings. It was revived by Padma Shri Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishna garu and has gained significance on the modern-day stage. Andhra Natyam includes three techniques viz., Aagama, Aasthana and Prabandha Nartanam, each of which are presented in a unique way.”
Scope To Evolve: She further says that Perini as most of us know is a dance that has been reconstructed by Padma Shri Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishna garu with the ‘Shiva Tatvam’ and only for men. Now, even though it is introduced to women, Perini in a technical perspective is a purely Nritta-oriented dance. A wide research and discussion about Perini is still in progress, so it has all the scope to evolve in the near future,” says the dancer.
Describing the two dance forms, Satwika says: “Andhra Natyam is feminine at its core and Abhinaya is significant in the presentation whereas Perini highly incorporates the sound and vibration system, which creates an energetic impression on the viewer.” She quickly states, she is not confused with both dance forms, “as each of them requires a different kinesics and preparation of the mind.”
With mother teaching dance at home, Satwika initially began learning Carnatic Music. She says: “I watched the training my mom gave the students, programme rehearsals, and occasionally assisted in the beginners’ class at home. However, I was not actually training or practicing dance then.” But the turning point came in 2007, when she heard her mother’s lecture demonstration of an ‘Ashtapadi – Naadahare Jagannadhahare’, which mesmerised her and she vowed to dance like that someday. “That particular song and abhinaya has a great impact on me even today,” she admits. Since then, she began her regular training. “In 2009, I performed ‘Navajanardana Parijatham’ for my Arangetram and thus began my ‘official’ journey into the world of dance,” she says.
Mom Taught Basics: Satwika learnt Andhra Natyam basics under her mother, Dr. Suvarchala Suresh. “For a scholarship programme, I had the privilege of watching and learning Abhinayam from the stalwart Padma Shri Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishna garu at the young age of 12,” she says. The dancer has been training under Central Sangeet Natak Akademi Awardee Guru Kala Krishna garu since her Gajjepooja. “I am being specially trained in ‘Navajanardana Parijatham’, ‘Gollakalapam’ of the Andhra Natyam repertoire and the recent reconstruction of Perini for women by Kala Krishna garu, where two experimental Solo Perini repertoires were reconstructed on me,” shares the dancer, and expresses her gratitude and considers it a blessing for the presence of such illustrious Gurus in her life.
The dancer clarifies that her mother never urged her to take up dancing. “It was all my passion and respect towards dance. Once when I decided to do it full time, she believed in me, supported me like a pillar. She always inspires me. When it comes to appreciation or reviewing, she pushes me to give my best. We discuss all things – dance and more, most of the times I eat her up with all the questions,” she says.
The Graded Doordarshan artist affirms that learning Andhra Natyam was her first choice. “I was introduced to Andhra Natyam by my mom and grew up watching it for most of my childhood. She and Kala Krishna garu inspired me so much that I never considered an alternative,” she says.
State Recognition To Perini: After the formation of Telangana state, Perini was immediately recognised as the State dance form, and Satwika immersed herself in this, recognising the potential of becoming a cultural identity of this region. “Earlier to this, only men performed ‘Perini Shiva Tandavam’. When Perini was introduced to women in 2014, it was around the same time I decided to take up dance full time. I got the opportunity to attend various workshops, conferences that dealt with Perini. During this research process, I was the one who spent most of my time training under Guru Kala Krishna garu and learnt the technique of Perini. I am the first solo female performer of Perini to have presented the experimental repertoire back in 2016,” she says with pride.
Satwika states that Department of Language and Culture under the directorship of Sri Mamidi Harikrishna garu has always been very keen in promoting Perini at every level. “Back in 2016, when I took the application of performing Solo Perini for the first time, Harikrishna garu was very happy and supported the event all through. For the second time in 2019, I presented Perini Margam, and received the same encouragement from the Dept. of Culture,” she says.
The dancer further says that beginning from 2014, many workshops were organised with the support of Dept. of Culture. “Few artistes have been given opportunities to perform at various National and State level events by the Department. Perini has also been introduced at the Certificate level in the Government Music and Dance Colleges and six artistes have been appointed as teachers,” she says and shares that Diploma course is still underway and is due for approval by the University soon.
Brief MNC Stint: The first artiste in Andhra Natyam to be selected as the recipient of ‘Young Artiste Award’ by the Ministry of Culture, Govt. of India, Satwika, who holds an Aeronautical Engineer degree also worked for an MNC briefly. “That was a brief break from dancing which made me realise how much I yearned for dancing. Therefore, I took an immediate decision to take up dance as my full-time profession,” she says. She completed Master of Performing Arts – Andhra Natyam from Potti Sree Ramulu Telugu University and worked at the same University as a UGC fellow at the Department of Dance. Currently, she is enrolled in Ph. D. Dance at Hyderabad Central University.
Satwika has a fascination for Odissi. “Naadahare Jagannadahare – Ashtapadi was the Abhinaya piece I watched in Andhra Natyam, and Ashtapadi’s have a special place in Odissi repertoire too. Someday, I would like to explore and study the comparison of the Abhinaya technique in both these dance forms,” the dancer says with a glint in her eyes.
Sharing her views on the cultural scene in the city, Satwika states: “Hyderabad is one of the cities with diverse cultures and a fast-growing lifestyle. When it comes to art, the response and appreciation is quite different as opposed to Chennai and Bangalore. Ravindra Bharathi, Thyagaraja Gaana Sabha, Shilparamam, etc are always engaged in cultural activity. Saptaparni, Lamakaan etc. provide for the intellectual art gatherings too. Hyderabad is a hub for the fine arts and we have quite a range of platforms available for art exploration,” she says.
Virtual Events: The artist says that COVID has been a big blow for the community. “Like every other artiste, I too felt anxious at times. Grateful for the technology, it seemed thinkable to take our art onto the small screen. On the technical and technological front, I have learnt many a thing,” she says. Beginning May 2020, Satwika had the opportunity to perform, collaborate and even organise several performances under Sree Lasya Academy on every apt occasion. “Thanks to the virtual events, I could organise three-day Golden Jubilee Celebrations of Andhra Natyam on Facebook from August 23, 2020 with artists participating from all over the world,” says Satwika. With Guru Kala Krishna garu, she hosted several webinars about Andhra Natyam and Perini with renowned artistes and currently teaches both online and offline now.
Satwika loves her dance journey as it helps her to learn every other day through dance which is satisfying. “It is a beautiful way to communicate and fills my mind with certain calmness,” the dancer says, before taking leave.