Kuchipudi dancer and founder of Nritthyaa Sampada, Varun Thogarchedu, speaking exclusively to Natyahasini, calls for more boys to learn the divine art form and promote Indian culture. Varun states that dance is not a girl thing, it is a universal subject and everyone can learn irrespective of gender and age. “I want to see more boys coming forward to learn the art form. Also, dance should be included as a mandatory subject in schools to promote our Indian culture and future generations know and learn this artform,” he says.
With a mission to promote Kuchipudi dance Parampara and Indian culture, Varun established the Nritthyaa Sampada in 2015. “More than 30 students from the age of 15 years to 40 years have performed their Rangapravesham,” he says, adding that there are more girls in his institute and he takes online classes for students living abroad. “I also prepare them for Certification and competitions. Because just knowing about culture in not enough but understanding, learning and performing makes one to attain some knowledge,” says the dancer.
Varun admits that Certifications definitely play a crucial role for a dancer because when one does Certification, they can learn the theory part of the subject and it helps to enhance while they are performing or doing choreography. “So, when a dancer does Certification, they become a performer. Because by learning and understanding the subjective concepts of Mudras, Bhedas, Charis and Abhinayas, it helps a dancer to understand and analyse what they are performing and also can choreograph according to the ‘Bhaava’ of the song,” he says.
Thankful To Parents: The Kuchipudi dancer thanks his parents – Sandhya Rani and Vinay, for initiating him into dance at the age of six years after noticing him grooving to dance at any song coming on the TV or radio. The dancer confesses that at that tender age he wasn’t sure of what was Kuchipudi or what was classical dance and there were times when people would laugh when he tapped for a sad song too. The 27-year-old, says that not even once it crossed his mind that dance especially classical dance is only for girls. That may be because of my guru, Dr. Venkateswara Rao garu. I was the only boy learning dance at that time, and all the girls where older than me and treated me like their little brother and pampered me,” he says.
Kalaratna and Prathibha Puraskara awardee, Varun says that his Guru had taught him basics and when he started learning songs, the Guru taught those songs which had masculine features and asked him to observe the girls when they were practising other songs. “I can observe the Lasyam and Sathvikabhinayam part and Dance is a universal subject, as it is not constrained to any particular gender or age group. What matters is passion and dedication,” the artist says.
Recalling his Rangapravesham experience, Varun says: “It was like dream come true because the Kuchipudi art form came from the great sage Siddhendra Yogi. Also, over the years there have been few male dancers as it is perceived that if boys learn they behave like girls, which is not correct. If a boy doesn’t have any inbuilt feminine quality, then whether he learns or not also doesn’t matter. So, when I had my Rangapravesham at Ravindra Bharathi, I saw tears rolling down the cheeks of my parents and a smile on my guru’s face and received a huge applause.” He says that whenever he has performed classical dance in school and college, the principal, college chairman, students and friends treated him like a celebrity. “They even supported me to perform representing the institutions where I studied. I was popular as Junior NTR or Dancer rather than as Varun. With each passing day, dance has become my recognition, my heartbeat and lifeline,” admits the dancer.
Kuchipudi, Only Option: If not Kuchipudi, what other dance form would he have learnt, Varun clarifies that even if given 100 options, he would choose Kuchipudi only because it has all genres like Jatiswaram, Thillana, Daruvu, Kauthwam, Tarangam, Javali, Ashtapadi, Padam, Nritya Natika, Yakshagana and Kalapams. “For any dancer or performer, there will be some urge to perform different kinds of variations whether it may be song or character. So, with the blessings of Lord Nataraja, I learnt Kuchipudi which has all the aspects and it will always be Kuchipudi only,” he says.
First member in the family to learn, practice, perform and teach classical art, Varun is grateful to his parents and Guru, who have supported him rock solidly. “They are my biggest critics when I perform something on stage. By taking their inputs, I learn and improve and update and upgrade my performances continuously,” the dancer says.
Sharing his learning experiences with his gurus, Varun says that his first guru was Dr. Venkateswara Rao, under whom he spent training for 20 years. “I feel blessed to have learnt under him because more than a student, he treated me like a family member and son. I have performed across India with him and he has also supported me to perform solo, participate in competitions and festivals across the country in over 800 performances,” he says. Varun further adds that divine energies help a person learning the art form passionately and this prompted him to pursue Master of Performing Arts and came in contact with wonderful Gurus – Dr. Vanaja Uday garu and Dr. Ratnasree Sudhakar garu.
Learning Curve: “From Dr. Vanaja Uday garu, I have learnt that every character has its own quality and difference. The minutest details of the character while portraying in the play, I have learnt from her and it is like lifetime achievement because that helps me to take care and perform the character in future.” From Dr. Ratnasree Sudhakar garu, he learnt the great piece ‘Bhamakalapam’ of Siddhendra Yogi Virachitha which portrays the character Satyabhama. “It just gives the education of self-analysis of our own by portraying Satyabhama character. It details that Satyabhama is Jeevathma and Lord Krishna is Paramathma. Whereas Satyabhama character is very proud and the character eventually realises who she is and surrenders to the Paramathma. There I learnt the Lasyam part of how to perform while portraying Satyabhama and about the nayika avasthas and it helps me to teach my students by explaining what is Lasyam how it should be performed,” he says.
Varun denies being under any pressure to study engineering before pursuing MPA from PS Telugu University. In fact, he says that it was a pleasure to pursue engineering as it helped him to overcome many fears. “Even though my parents encourage and support me in the field of art, they always guided me that one should have academic qualification to be confident to face any situation in life. So, I decided to pursue Engineering first and later MPA. When I did my engineering, I learnt many professional skills like communication skills, soft skills and stage presentation apart from academic subjects. Even though I am a dancer, before doing my engineering I had stage fear of speaking. Engineering helped to remove my fear of speaking on stage and even helped to grab interviews. I even grabbed a job in MNC and worked for over a year. But the passion of dance dragged me to pursue MPA,” says the Kuchipudi artist.
Various Characters: The dancer, who has donned several roles like Bala Vivekananda in Swamy Vivekananda Ballet, Shiva and Rakthabheeja in Kaalika Vijayam, Narada in Sripadarchana of Venkateswara Swamy Vaibhavam, Ravanasura in Sita Rama Kalyanam, Mahishasura in Mahishasura Mardhini, Shiva in Ardhanareeswaram and Dasharatha in Ramayanam, recalls that during a performance in Shilparamam, some members from the audience were showering him with currency notes and flowers, which stands out till date. He says another memorable incident was at an old age home where a senior citizen, who happened to be the chief guest, impressed by his portrayal as Mahishasura had tears in her eyes. “The lady had come on the stage to felicitate me and her eyes were moist. I hugged her and pleaded her not to cry as it was just a character. She then became normal and thanked me,” he says.
After taking his first bow at the age of seven years in Ravindra Bharathi, Varun reveals that he loves performing in Ravindra Bharathi and also feels rejuvenated while performing at Shilparamam amphitheatre. “It makes me feel like the world is mine and with the fresh air blowing a two-hour performance passes off seamlessly,” the artist says.
Varun firmly believes that one cannot copy the choreographies of stalwarts like Dr. Vempati Chinna Satyam garu, but can only use it to learn and enhance choreography skills. Disclosing his future plans, Varun states that with the blessings of his gurus and parents, he hopes to pursue Ph. D. in Kuchipudi dance. Varun’s mission is to make Indian Culture available and affordable to everyone interested to learn.