A Versatile Act

by Madhur Gupta
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Radhika Kathal has been pursuing dance since the age of 7 and is trained in both, Folk as well as Classical dance. She started her formal training in Bharatanatyam under Dr. Sneha Chakradhar and is currently a disciple of Guru Padmashri Geeta Chandran. A highly versatile artist, Radhika’s journey is truly inspiring for budding artists:
Tell us about your journey as a Bharatanatyam Dancer and about your Gurus.
My journey in dance started at a very young age of 5. I grew up watching Madhuri Dixit whose dance inspired me to become a dancer. I knew then, no matter what I do I will dance all my life.  I started my training under Ms. Rashmi where I started learning Bharatanatyam and folk dance. My actual training in Bharatanatyam began under Dr. Sneha Chakradhar in Jaijaivanti Sangeet Sansthan in Sarita Vihar. Although my parents did not have a particular form of art in mind, so they enrolled me into Bharatanatyam. The bonus was that my mom was a Tamilian. The other reason of joining the class was also that I was a fat kid. My mom thought I would lose weight eventually and simultaneously learn a new form. I used to look forward to my dance class. After I had achieved, a certain level, Sneha Ma’am requested Geeta Chandran ji (my current guru) to take me as her disciple. It has been 15 years under Geeta Akka and each day has been a blessing. I started with the most junior batch. Also, during my journey my parents have been my biggest support. My mother used to accompany to class. I used to sit for the junior class, then did my class and then used to sit again for senior class. And 5 years down the line i was part of Natya Vriksha Dance Company. I have traveled with both my Gurus on Spic Macay Tours. I have assisted both of them on Vocals and Nattuvangam for their performances.  With Sneha Ma’am, I learnt the precision, technique and timing of movements or adavus. With Geeta Akka, I learnt the nuances of Abhinaya and choreography as a soloist and as a company artist. Geeta Akka  introduced me to not only dance but the other aspects such as music, poetry, mythology and sculpture. The journey has been great and there is so much more to look forward to.
Radhika Kathal
Which style of Bharatanatyam do you follow?
I follow the Dandayudhpani Pillai style of Bharatanatyam. The pure dance movements are linear, geometric and defined. Abhinaya is more classically stylized rather than realistic. The structure of Jatis in this particular style are very playful and have definite format of teermanams. Though it does not come under the four banis which are there theoretically (Thanjavur, Pandanallur, Vazhuvoor, Mellatur), but it is quite similar to Thanjavur. It has a lot of influences by Dandayudhpani Pillai Sir.
How much does your deep training in music help you in your dance?
I have been fortunate that I have grown up listening to old melodies of Geeta Dutt, Shamshad Begum, Noor Jehan, Talat Mehmood and Kishore Kumar. My Dadaji was a Station Incharge in AIR and he had a collection of C-60 Cassesttes (which is owned by me now)! I wanted to learn Carnatic but my school and dance class timings took a major part of my day. At that time, we also did not know any good Carnatic teachers. Hence, I started with Hindustani Music. I am currently a disciple of Dr. Soma Singh (an exponent of Gwalior Gharana). In my guru’s setup, understanding music is considered equally important as dance. Also, Geeta Akka herself is trained Carnatic music and she sings when she teaches students. During her classes, I understood that a dancer must know to sing, teach and play tatta kazhi at the same time. One must know to sing all the pieces that one knows in order to practice.
My understanding of music developed over the years when I did my bachelors and masters in Hindustani Music from faculty of music and fine arts. Over the years, I understood how a body should react to different patterns of music, be it a varnam or a jatiswaram. For example, asking a sakhi to come. The standard notes are fixed, but since the sangati or the way to sing that particular line can be different, the way of calling a sakhi also can be different. Thus, I try to develop my abhinaya through music. As a student as well as a dancer, I see a lot of difference between a dancer who knows music and a dancer who dances unaware. Dance has also helped me to better my skill of portraying abhinaya. According to me, music also guides movement and hence now when I choreograph pieces for my students, I take music into account. Not many dancers can sing, hence I feel fortunate and blessed to know both the streams of art. I have to agree though that i am a little biased to Hindustani Raagas when it comes to composing pieces for my performances. Working with musicians such as Sudha Raghuram, K. Venkateshwaran and Dr. S. Vasudevan, has also helped me in finding connection/similarities between Carnatic Music and Hindustani Music. For me personally, I have to enjoy the music, it is then that I can dance my heart out.
Radhika Kathal
Finally, why Dance.
As a kid, everyone wants to become something. I did not have one particular goal. One day, I wanted to become Madhuri Dixit, next day I wanted to become like my class teacher and the next day I wanted to become a chef. Though I was a culturally active kid, but never thought  that I would be in the performing arts scene. Since I was a fat kid, I was bullied a lot. Dance taught me to carry myself gracefully. Over the years, dance has evolved me as a person.  Dance opens my eyes to beauty amidst all the chaos that world is filled with. Dance becomes my space where I have the liberty to create, to express, to vent out my anger and many more. Dance has made me understand characters much better. I can live multiple lives on stage. Besides that, as a kid I was always ready to perform and be the center of attraction. Dance gives me that space to be. Time management, juggling between classes, juggling between two streams of art, discipline, it has given me everything and much more.

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