Monday, March 2, 2015

Interactive Session with Kuchipudi Exponent Dr. Anuradha Jonnalagadda - Department of Dance, University of Hyderabad

As part of the course of 'Art Management and Digital Art' course that I have been entrusted with at the Department of Dance, University of Hyderabad, I encountered a doubt raised by my students. How do we know what to do in the future? Who to approach for guidance?

To me the issue was more about - do you know what to ask if the person appears (a good example of when the student is ready the teacher appears). Who and How are easy. The students said they knew what to ask. So we made a list of the 'who'. We shortlisted 15 experts in dance in Hyderabad, of which 5 were on campus itself. Then we decided to invite them one by one, in a formal manner, and engage in a 45 mt- 60 mt Q and A session.

We chose to start from home. Dr. Anuradha Jonnalagadda, was our first guest. I had the good fortune of interacting with Dr. Anuradha earlier when I had conducted a 2 day workshop for the Department of Dance a few years ago and found her a very helpful, knowledgeable person who genuinely cared about her students. Then she was the Head of the Department. She is an accomplished Kuchipudi dancer who trained under the famous maestro Vempati Chinna Satyam, she specialised in the evolution of the Kuchipudi dance technique in the last century. Her research is on 'Tradition and Innovation in Kuchipudi Dance'. She has founded the dance school 'Nrityaantika'.

MPA Final Semester students Jani Miya, Niyanthri, Aiswarya, Aparna, Sneha, Ashwini, Suchismitha, Snehalatha and Rohini were asked to prepare for the event and also prepare their questions properly so that the session would be fruitful.

After a formal welcome, the session took off with probing questions by the students.

Q. How do we maintain and grow our dance skills? How does one self-correct after leaving the institution? How do we know if we are doing it right after a particular stage? How many hours do we practice?
A. First, regular practice is a must. Practice ensures that you maintain technical excellence. So, you must continue dancing. Second, as you practice basics, you must also devote time to trying out new things, items. Some improvisations must be tried and perfected.

Self-correction happens with practice and observation. One thing you can do is to watch all performances of good students and performers. Observe their performances from the aspect of learning. What is it that makes them so good. Analyse their performances. Try their improvisations. The mirror was my best friend. I'd try all the things the other dancers would and add my own to it.

For expressions, observation is the best thing. Observe your self in various moods. Observe others. and their reactions and expressions. Even when you are undergoing some deep emotion you can use it to educate yourself. Observe as a 3rd person.

You are lucky that you have the luxury of watching all the experts. Watch the performances of the greats on you tube. In Kathak and Odissi there is a lot of delicacy.

Try your best as a learner. Give your 100% and if you're satisfied with that, you have done a good job. Don't be overly self-critical of yourself. You cannot learn everything in one day. It's a gradual process. Be patient.

Q. You are a well known dancer. What were the challenges you faced to get where you are today?
A. I had a huge advantage that I had a supportive family. I was the youngest at home and I have been learned dancing from my childhood. I performed at young ages thanks to my father's constant support. I won a gold medal at the Kalajyothi festival in Rajamundry in the sub junior category. It was a festival sponsored by Narini Kedareswarulu, a local zamindar. There is a college named after him there. Funnily I wore white because that was the only costume I had for that competition, but next year, all sub junior girls wore white. We had good support from the eco system too. I had great masters.

Even after my father got transferred, in my tenth class, I continued dancing. I performed in many roles as a solo dancer too. I started my own academy. Ms. Sobha Naidu, the famed dancer was my teacher. She would give us an opportunity to perform during the breaks in her performances. Wherever I performed in those breaks, I always got offers to come back and perform solo.

Q. What are the challenges you faced?
A. Challenges are to divide time between study and practice. Academics and social acceptance. You must keep yourself and your work in proper perspective.

You see my father would maintain a huge scrap book which I still have. Paper cuttings. Medals. Articles. They all serve as inspirations. You must all maintain that and reflect on all that you have achieved.

Q. What do we need to do as we go forward to gain recognition?
A. You need good temperament. You need (1) Good PR, so be in the circuit and make contacts and (2) a support system to help you organise and promote you. You must plan ahead and be noticed by the right kind of people. Look to get reviews, newspapers and magazines. Look for help from the peer group. Make a group on facebook, get alumni support.

For performances you must plan 3 months in advance.Call teachers and others. I used to do that. Make connections at festivals. Be in touch with the experts. All the time.

Whatever happens build a good temperament to stand through. Don't lose confidence. Don't lose patience. Don't lose faith.

3) What about the work ethic we must adopt?
A. To perform consistently you must be passionate about your dance.
Being a teacher helps. Teaching is a big challenge. Learned a lot by teaching. It helps you to be in touch with your basics.
Observe others. Take the right things from them. What did they do right? Don't waste time criticizing what they are doing. Look for what they are doing right.
Your personality gets reflected in your dance.
Use stuff you learn from others. Acknowledge their contribution to it. As big dancers respect your co dancers, orchestra. Be grateful for the medium for having chosen you and for all others who have supported you in your endeavour as a dancer. If you get 10000 keep 5000 and share the rest.

Q. What preparation do you do before  a performance? Did you prefer to go solo or do a ballet?
A. Ballet is always easier. There is only one character.
As for preparation - physical practice is a must. I also do a lot of mental thinking about what I am doing. Experiences. episodes. Had ample time to rehearse so much that I was fully into it. I memorised it in my mind. I would think about it. I would write it down. For reference.
I would also read about relevant articles and made notes. I do that because when I write, I remember it better.
Having fully prepared for a performance, I surrender to the process. I am not perturbed if anything goes wrong. What ever I could do I did. Now I wait for the process to unfold.
3 hours before the performance I am peaceful. Nothing bothers me now. I don't exhaust myself. I have a good sleep. Eat light and good food. No rich and oily stuff. Don't load myself. Have a calm mind. Sit and think about what I am going to do. I focus on the job. Positive tension is always there. I am always thinking how to do better. And then, do your best.
If the performance does not go well, I am very hurt. So, for a performance after a month, I start preparing today. So nothing goes wrong.
I try to build good energy. 

Q) How long do you practice?
A. At the academy I would practice up to 9 hours a day. 9 am to 1 pm and 4 pm to 8 pm. After all the work I am tired, but happy about it.

Q) How do you plan the practice?
A. What you are not doing well in the basics, try that. Basics are for stamina. You should have separate time for abhinaya. Moods may interfere. You may not like doing certain things sometimes. Follow your routine. Do what you're enjoying. At the end of it, you must enjoy it.
Strengthen your strengths. Work on your weak areas. friends can help here.

Q. How did you improve from childhood? What is the path of mastery?
A. When I came to the academy I understood what practice means. I had to put in a lot of effort to make up. The practice was very structured. No mistakes were tolerated while performing.
New steps were taught only if 25 steps were done perfectly. To learn more you'd do more of it.
I wanted to receive compliments  from my master. I had a really strong desire. I waited for 14 years for that. He gave me a compliment at the Mumbai festival. It was a moment I can never forget.

Q. Now we are in our final semester, where do we go now?
A.. There are experts coming in. Workshops will be held. Please keep contact with them.
I see dancers coming together to form groups. Natya Sangraha. Attend. Perform as much as you can. La Makaan., Saptaparni, Sacred Space and such spaces offer your space free to perform. Use all opportunities to perform
Anupama Kailash. Get into groups.It may not pay you for a few years but persist.
Write to organisations. Get a list of organisations. Do a good CV of yours. Brochures. You tube. Send to organisations. About performances. Thematic.
Look to perform at festivals. Ugadi festival. Mumbai festival. Odissa has many festivals. Keep in touch. Communicate constantly so people recall your name.
Register at the Cultural Affairs. Submit your application. Follow through. Finish the job.

Q. How do we handle it when we do not have family support?
A. I know its important. We all feel that. That people don't appreciate us. When I am low, dance is the only thing that rescues me. I don't care now.
You can't change anyone else. Change yourself. 
Keep a supportive fiends circle.
Dance at every opportunity. Raja and Radha Reddy fought this opposition for 30-40 years. You are fortunate. There are many opportunities.
Analyse. Not merely enjoy as an audience. There will be setbacks and disappointments, snide remarks and hurtful comments. But you must keep on at it.

On that note, we ended the session which went on for almost 2 hours.

To highlight what I took away from the talk
1) Practice the basics everyday. Set aside hours for practice (ranges from 4-9 hours). Practice gives stamina. (Commit this time to yourself)
2) Try improvisations, items and aim to perfect them. You can use the mirror as your best friend. (Copy from others, and improvise and acknowledge that)
3) Watch as many performances as you can and observe what they are doing right. Analyse the performances. (Write a blog and critique)
4) For expressions observe others, your own moods as 3rd person (write about it)
5) Watch Masters perform on you tube. (Make a list of top performances). 
6) Watch all peers perform and analyse.

1) Basics -  for stamina
2) Teach - best way to practice basics
3) Eat right. 
4) Rest. 

1) Be patient with the process. Don't be overly self-critical. Whatever you are doing is keeping you on the journey. Slow down but don't stop.
2) Read. Make notes. 
3) Prepare well for performances. 3 months in advance. Call all teachers. Visualise. Make notes. Build good energy. Address all weak areas. Prepare until you know all weak areas have been addressed. 
4) Enjoy what you are doing
5) Be grateful to eco system, for support group.
6) Be respectful to the medium and all who are associated with it - teachers, peers, musicians, support staff
7) Don't criticize, learn good things
8) Share freely with orchestra whatever you get. Work as a team.
9) Build a good temperament
10) Don't lose confidence, know where you stand

Growth Process
1) Use all opportunities to perform. Masters will normally facilitate such breaks. Perform as much as you can. No big or small. 
2) Try to get reviews of performances in magazines, websites.
3) Maintain scrap books, awards, cuttings which you can look at for self-motivation
4) Make marketing collateral. Brochures. Websites. Resumes. Register everywhere that is required. Get portfolios done. Facebook and Linkedin profiles.
5) Make a plan of things to be done in the next 3 months, 6 months and 1 year in terms of things to do, festivals to attend, performances to plan for, people to meet, registrations to be completed, people and organisations to be contacted.
6) At all times try to maintain good Public Relations, make contacts (meet, get numbers, connect, keep in touch)
7) Join a support group - alumni groups, dance groups, institutes
8) Attend festivals. Volunteer. Help. Perform. Make connections.
9) Ask questions of teachers and experts
10) Build trust. Understand relationship with all external world. It reflects your personality. Share freely with support staff whatever your get paid. Behave like a team. 

I could see that Dr. Anuradha Jonnalagadda completely epitomised the growth mindset (as Dr. Carol Dweck points out in her book 'The Mindset'). She believed in effort, never gave up in the face of setbacks, believed in learning from all sources, took negative feedback well, learned from the best masters and kept working at her skill. Interestingly she speaks about maintaining good energy, about how a dancer's personality gets reflected in her dance. Though she attributes all her success to being at the right time, its obvious that she had the right approach to her art form. The students certainly benefited from the interaction but I was glad that I learned so much from listening to an expert like her speak. Thank you Dr. Anuradha Jonnalagadda for sharing your experiences and your time.


Priya Raman said...

Aparna Dhullipalla, I can't thank you enough for sharing this post with me. Sri Harimohan Garu, I acquaint myself as Priya Raman an ex-student of Dept of Dance. This effort from your side is indeed a highly evaluative process for students like us. Specially your approach to handle a situation as sensitive as 'The professional journey of dance and dancers' from its grass root level. As for our dear Anuradha Madam, her good self remains an idol in her sheer zeal for accumulation of knowledge, something that puts most of us students into the path of pursuit of excellence. Thank you for making a good start to a challenging morning.....
Priya Raman
Austin, Texas

Harimohan said...

Thanks Priya. I am glad Aparna shared the blog. I also hope others on the path (which can get lonely at times) find comfort, direction and strength in the honest, poignant and clear messages Dr. Anuradha shared. That was one of the main reasons for me to put up the blog.

I am the farthest thing from dance (and I really envy dancers - I do think its the greatest form of expression for humans) but I can understand the challenges artists face, being a writer myself. If we can get honest with the path, the medium and the process, I do think we should find meaning, purpose and contentment in the journey. My contention has always been this - the path to excel is the same just as the challenges are the same - whether its dance, writing, cricket or anything else.

Thanks for writing.

Priya Raman said...

Sri Harimohan Garu, Thank you so much for writing. I so second that thought of finding meaning and contentment in the journey. It has to be rather a very joyous responsibility of artistes to take on the challenges and excel. Art is definitely something that is bestowed and it should be used best to explore and express oneself..I would be very interested to learn from your writings, being a writer myself. If you could kindly share links to your blog writings as and when they are published, it would be great!

Harimohan said...

Sure Priya. Though I write random stuff on my blog with the occasional one that makes sense. I have seen your blog and you write well. I do think writing adds to our perspective and its my endeavour to make everyone write a bit in class and away from it. And its all about expressing, blissfully.