Dubai: When girls her age were playing with dolls or doodling with crayons, Sravani Tenneti was taking faltering steps to learn Bharatanatyam, one of the famous Indian classical dance forms.
That was 15 years ago. The 19-year-old has since moved on to the Kuchipudi dance form and has over 600 performances to her credit with several awards as a testimony to her talent.
The teenager, who did her Grade 12 from Sharjah Indian School, is pursuing her Bachelor’s course in Interior Design from Manipal University, Dubai Campus.
Sravani is clear about what she’d be doing in the future -- combining her passion with her profession. She wants to blend her dance form with interior design and she is exploring ways to do it.
Sravani presented her arangetram (debut performance as a dancer) about six years back after having initially learned Bharatnatyam from her first guru, Giri, in Dubai. She later switched to Kuchipudi, under tutelage from the same guru.
She went on to do a certificate course under Vendantam Ramalinga Shastry of Kuchipudi Siddhendra Yogi Kalapeetam. Kuchipudi is a village in Andhra Pradesh where this dance form, based on Bharata's Natyasastra (dance treatise), originated and was popularised by Siddhendra Yogi.
Recently, she completed a diploma course under the guidance of Pasumarti Srinivasa Sarma, lecturer in VS Government Music and Dance College, Rajahmundry in Andhra. "Now I am doing an MA course under the guidance of Vijaysekhar (who is a disciple of the legend Padmabhushan Dr Vempati Chinna Satyam) in Hyderabad over Botim,” says Sravani.
Which brings us to the question: Is distance learning possible in an art form such as classical dance?
It’s possible to learn on the internet, says Sravani. “If one knows the basics, it becomes easy to communicate,” she says.
The accomplished artist, who is humble enough to say she has more to learn, has performed at most Hindu temples in India including the renowned Guruvayoor and Aatukal temples in Kerala; Tirupati, Annavaram and Srisailam temples in Andhra Pradesh and at the Silicon Andhra biennial.
Among the recent big events where she performed is the Godavari Pushkaram in Andhra Pradesh at the invitation of the state government.
Locally, she has performed at many events conducted by associations such as Rasamayi, Telugu Sravanthi, Telugu Kala Samiti, Waves, Music India Dubai, Telugu Tarangini and other Tamil and Malayalam associations.
Pursuing an art such as Indian classical dance exacts a toll on time and studies. So how did she manage both?
“I try to practice dance for at least two hours every day while not neglecting my studies. I make more of an effort on weekends.
“While still learning, I also teach Kuchipudi dance to younger girls at home. In the process, I get to know my own mistakes,” she says.
“I plan to set up a dance school of my own,” Sravani adds, revealing how deeply passionate she is about dance.
What inspired her to take up dance?
Sravani says as a toddler she was inspired by Telugu movie ‘ Srutilayalu’, directed by legendary Telugu film-maker K Vishwanath, in which a young boy performs a dance by straddling the rim of a brass plate and such is his dedication to the art that he continues dancing even though his feet are bruised by the sharp metal.
She caught the attention of her parents who saw her copy the boy’s moves in 'Srutilayalu'. The little girl asked her parents why her feet were not bleeding like the boy’s in the film. Her mother Laxmi Kameswari, a classical Carnatic singer, and father Ravi Kumar Tenneti, an engineer working for a multinational company in Dubai, decided to encourage her to learn dance and put Sravani under the tutelage of her first guru Giri.
Speaking about her interest in Kuchipudi dance form, Sravani says she is more comfortable in this dance as there are many more expressions that can be brought forth. “In Bharatanatyam, you cannot emote the way you can in Kuchipudi. Of course, there is abhinayam (acting through expressions) in Bharatanatyam, too, but the artists don’t speak. In Kuchipudi, there’s dialogue and dance. It’s more like a drama. It consists of fast, rhythmic footwork, dynamic expression, graceful body movements and hand gestures," she explains.
“Bhama Kalapam is one of my favourite as it offers a display of many expressions and my favourite song is Jagadanandakaraka jai Janaki prana nayaka," she adds.
Bhama Kalapam is a dance-drama involving a conceited Satyabhama, one of Krishna's eight consorts, yearning for his love after having antagonizing him over a trivial issue. Unable to bear the pangs of separation, Satya sends her maid Madhavi as a mediator. In the end she finds herself humbled and love prevails.
Sravani has won several awards like Natya Bhramari (received at Kerala Youth Festival), Yuva Natya Sarathi, Natya Veda and Natya Srungara Mayuri from diferent organisations and institutions — but she believes she has a lot more to learn. “No one can say they have learned everything in dance. We keep learning,” she says with a glint in her expressive eyes.
It got its name from the Kuchipudi village in Andhra Pradesh where it originated in the seventh century. The dance was originally performed by Brahmin men, as a form of bhakti (devotional worship).
Nritta (pure dance), Nritya (expressional dance) and Natya (drama) are the key ingredients of this dance form and body, speech, costume/make-up and expression (Angikabhinaya, Vachikabhinaya, Aharyabhinaya and Sattwikabhinaya) form its integral parts.
The performer is trained not just to dance, but also to deliver the dialogue with intense facial expressions, and by singing the text as well.
Kuchipudi originated as a group performance. So when the solo form emerged, the pressure on the dancer was to delineate different characters and varied moods.
In Kuchipudi, the dancer is also the story-teller or narrator. It gives a dancer the scope to perform diametrically opposite characters at the same time, as the theme progresses in the form of episodes.
- Compiled by Nagarjuna Rao