Kuchipudi dancer and founder of Sripada Srivallabha Kuchipudi Art Academy, Snehalatha Naroju, in conversation with Natyahasini, says that times have changed and one can survive as a professional dancer. “Now-a-days becoming a professional dancer has a three-tier approach. One should have acquaintance of Dance technique, Dance Academics and Teaching Skills. I don’t think only performance aspect lays a path for a long career. Gone are the days where Quantity or Opportunities used to follow the Quality or Talent. That is the reason we should create our opportunities, at the same time one should be financially strong enough by having Dance classes and Dance Academics to strengthen one-self,” she says.
The dance teacher points out that many students in the country and abroad have been showing interest in Indian culture. “Definitely there is a demand for Dance Teachers. Even many International Schools have been recruiting Dance Teachers with a very good package. For that we need to have some Dance degree, a Diploma or most preferably Master’s degree in Dance. Both Potti Sriramulu Telugu University and University of Hyderabad are offering Master’s course in dance,” says the Kuchipudi artist.
Steers Clear: Snehalatha, who has learnt dance under stalwarts – Guru Uma Rama Rao, Guru Alekhya Punjala and Vedantam Sathya Narasimha Sastry, steers clear from preferring Solos or Ballets. She says that both throw challenge at two different levels and give you two different experiences. “Solo performance is a one-man show. Your body is the only instrument to reach out to the audience. In solos, challenges lie in portrayal of characterization. In a fraction of seconds, an artist has to change his/her Body language, Bhavas, Gestures, Abhinaya in adapting a new character. When you are performing Krishna Leelas, you are the one who adopts all the characters pertaining to that theme. You are Yashoda, Krishna, Gopas and Gopis and even Gomatha. Here you should have expertise and be capable in adopting character with ease. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be conveyed properly to the audience,” expresses the artist.
The Kuchipudi artist states that where as in Ballets, most of the work is done by Aharyabhinaya itself. “It gives you demarcation between the character. Amongst many other challenges what I feel more challenging in Ballet is maintaining the rapport with other character. Maintaining your character’s mood, you should be aware and be able to connect and react to your fellow character simultaneously. Ballets challenge your calibre and give a sense of satisfaction,” says Snehalatha. She sums up sweetly that Solo performance is a one-man show, while Ballet is a group effort which includes many characters. “Each and every person of the team has to be dedicated and committed.”
Dance Journey: Recalling her dance journey, Snehalatha says that it was her mother, who initially put her in Veena and Art classes at Bal Bhavan in Nizamabad, but shifted her to dance, mainly Andhra Natyam and Folk on the recommendation of Guru Tanguturi Bheeman, and later moved to Hyderabad and under Uma Rama Rao. She says that other than Kuchipudi, Odissi is very close to her heart and soul, thanks to the exposure in UoH. “If I am given a chance, I will definitely prefer to learn Odissi dance full-fledged. As Odissi dance originated in the temples of Odisha, one can sense that Divinity in every aspect, it may be its Bols, Pakhawaj sound, the Tribhanga and graceful and flowy movements. Sometimes tears roll down my cheeks by watching a few stalwarts’ performances. That’s how deeply I get connected with the Odissi dance form,” admits the dancer. Snehalatha mentions that she has learnt and experienced the rhythmic footwork and chakkars of Kathak dance under the able guidance of Guru Mangala Bhatt just for a few months, couldn’t continue it for a long time.
Snehalatha, who is an Engineering and Fashion Designing graduate, thanks her parents who always allowed her to chase her dreams and gave wings to fly high. She gives credit to the Classical Art forms, which have taught time management, hard work, being in the moment which increases concentration level and resulting in multitasking. Currently, pursuing Ph.D. from University of Hyderabad, Snehalatha holds MPA from UoH, Certificate and Diploma in Andhra Natyam, and Diploma in Yakshaganam from Potti Sriramulu Telugu University. The dancer puts it beautifully: “Our academic qualifications give livelihood and happiness, but our classical art forms give livelihood, happiness and strengthen us to lead a peaceful and blissful life.”
Online Performance: On performing online, during the pandemic, Snehalatha makes a comparison that earlier a performer used to sing and perform, which was later replaced by Orchestra support and then by recorded music. “Nowadays Stage and even Audience have been replaced by Virtual stage and Virtual audience. Dance is a collective art form which includes Literature, Music, Dance, Stage, Presence of audience. With lack of any of these ingredients it becomes insipid. Rasa can be produced when everybody enjoys it and experiences it simultaneously. It is possible with direct communication between Artist and Audience,” she says.
The dancer categorically states that for her Virtual Performance and Teaching nowhere replace Live Performance and Teaching. “During pandemic when the whole world hit pause, online definitely sufficed our needs and gave a platform to continue our passion. Yes, I do agree that we have learnt to use our technology better, to some extent we all have mastered it. Virtual performances opened many doors in creating an opportunity, rather waiting for an opportunity and also in acquiring knowledge,” she says.
The Engineering graduate says that not much has changed in the context of providing opportunities to young dancers. She pleaded that more local Organizations and Art connoisseurs should come forward to encourage young artists. Married to an IT Professional, Snehalatha gets the full backing of her better half when she is caught up with classes and performances. “After my mother, he is my best critique and gives me valuable inputs,” she says before signing off.