In a candid conversation celebrated Kuchipudi dancer Amrita Lahiri talks about her eternal love for Kuchipudi and her enriching experiences of training under stalwart gurus.
You started learning classical dance at a very young age, what encouraged you to start at such a young age?
I grew up in USA (in Washington, DC). When I was 6 my mother was looking for a good dance teacher to teach me and my sister. Like all moms she wanted us to learn the arts. She was the one who enrolled me in Anuradha Nehru’s dance class at a young age. And I never stopped since then! I have been fortunate to have great gurus along the way!
You have been trained under many gurus, what impact did each guru leave on your dancing style?
One of the greatest gifts of my training under various gurus has been the rich and varied repertoire that I have inherited. Each guru has a different approach to teaching and to dance. Anuradha Nehru was my first teacher, and she is a perfectionist- I have a strong foundation of good clean movement technique from her. She was adamant that we practice and I’m so glad she was not easy on us when we were kids, because that kind of rigorous training lasts a lifetime. When I was 16, I started learning Bharatanatyam from Leela Samson in New Delhi. This has had a huge impact on my life and my dance. She is well known as a performer, a teacher, an intellectual. She taught how life and dance are not separate- what people see on stage is your relationship to dance, and your relationship to the world. Being kind and gentle and loving and intelligent is more important than perfect technique! It was Leela Akka who suggested I go to Swapnasundari, the genius Kuchipudi and Vilasini Natyam dancer. Her knowledge of dance in Andhra is like an encyclopedia! One of the pieces I learnt from her, Usha Parinayam, is a traditional piece- a gem. In Delhi I also trained under Seetha Nagajothy, who polished and trained my movements with precision. In Chennai, I trained in Kuchipudi under Jaikishore Mosalikanti, whose Kuchipudi choreography and understanding of music is outstanding. I am so grateful to each one! The greatest joy of being an artist, especially in classical arts, is that the learning is endless- the art form is an ocean!
You have performed both Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi. Which is closer to your heart and why?
Kuchipudi is my first dance language, so it is like my mother tongue- I learnt it earlier and first. I currently do not perform Bharatanatyam, but I love watching Bharatanatyam and follow it closely. In fact, I love dance and movement of all kinds- the entire range! It just so happens that I speak the dance language of Kuchipudi.
How do you manage to give a fresh perspective to Kuchipudi every time you perform on stage?
I am constantly working on new pieces- choreographing new items every day. Every time I perform a piece, even if I have done it 100 times before, I find something new and exciting in it. It could be a particular line of poetry, or a phrase of movement, or the way that the musician renders a particular piece of music. It changes every time, with each performance. The amazing thing about dance is that it really exists only in our dancing bodies- intangible and constantly changing.
Recently I toured the Philippines, and performed Kuchipudi. Of course there were shows in the capital city, Manila. But what was incredible was the reception I got in the small city of Davao, in the southern island of Mindanao. Even audiences who do not understand the language who have never seen classical Indian dance before can connect so easily to Kuchipudi!
What would you be performing at Dr Raja Radha Redyy’s Maha Shivratri festival?
All of the pieces I am performing are on the theme of Shiva. Each is by a different choreographer in the Kuchipudi style. So you see a different approach to the Kuchipudi vocabulary in each piece. I begin with a choreography of my own created for this program. Following that I will dance a Tarangam, which tells a story of Shiva- the descent of the river Ganga. The Tarangam includes the dance on the brass plate, which has become a trademark of the Kuchipudi style. The last piece, Shivashtakam, is choreography by one of the greatest gurus of Kuchipudi, the late Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam.
Amrita Lahiri will be performing at the 3rd Edition of Maha Shivaratri’ Festival ( In Ode of Lord Shiva ) on 4th March 2019 between 7:00 PM- 1:00AM at ‘Raja Radha Rangmanch’ Natya Tarangini’s Amphitheatre, Saket, New Delhi.