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Classical dance will never face extinction

Vaidehi ReleVaidehi Rele is the grand-daughter of famous Indian dancer Dr. Kanak Rele.  She is also a classical dance teacher as well as assistant researcher with the Nalanda Dance Research Center. In this interview Rele discussed everything from family legacy to her interest in classical dance from a young age and also throws light on the ‘guru-shishya’ parampara.  She also discusses as to what needs to be done to make classical dance an integral figure in India. NBC’s Group Editor Vaidehi Taman indulges in a freewheeling chat with a law graduate Vaidehi Rele.

Vaidehi you are so young and adopted the legacy of classical dance, is it because of your mother and grandmother?

Well it is an influence of my family no doubt, but I am also an advocate by academics. I pursued L.L.B. at Government Law College Churchgate and also worked in a Solicitors firm Vimadalal and Company.  As I finished my academics in law, I realized my passion was overpowering all my physical , mental and emotional controls and when I finally chose to take my classical dance as my career I knew it was my decision alone and since then there was no looking back. Touchwood.

These days’ youngsters are rushing towards classical dance training, as more of a style statement and fashion than the passion. How do you look at it?

Well I believe for whatever reasons style or fashion it’s more about spreading classical dance awareness today. But at the same time I know that the art is so engulfing that sooner or later one falls in love with it and then gives it its due importance of being a ‘sadhana’.

How many hours you practice in a day? And how much dedication and time is needed for rehearsal?

Well the mental practice is forever, as I keep rehearsing in my head, at times it also gets embarrassing in public when I am caught rolling my eyes up and down while emoting a dance piece. Dedication and time is a never ending ritual for dance. I am a junior artist but I have realized and also seen my grandma and mom put in their whole life for this wonderful art form, and let me tell you – it’s all worth it !

Did you ever copy your mother or grandmother Dr Kanak Releji or try to inculcate something of your own?

Yes I do have their stylizations thanks to genetics, they say I look like my mom when I dress up or that my abhinaya is inspired by my grandmother and rightly so, they are my gurus when it comes to dance. I will be honoured if I manage to perform even 50 per cent of what they have achieved. Having said that I am also given the freedom by them as also the esteemed gurus at Nalanda Nirtya Kala Mahavidyalaya, Juhu to always interpret and emote in the manner that comes naturally to me so that the belief in one’s dance piece travels across from the dancer to her audience. I have to master the art of self inputs but I do believe I will be getting there.

A general perception is that there is no scope for experiment or innovation in classical dance as mudras, abhinay and dance form somewhat the music too is pre-set and monotonous. So the student (shishya) tend to follow their guru to keep up that legacy. How true is that?

Indian classical dance is full of the guru shishya parampara concept. It is about carrying forward the legacy from one generation to another as only then the dance will truly survive. Dance has its ambits which are strict but yes that is what classicism is. But I would say in today’s times the gurus are much more than a terror figure, they are more of a friend to the shishya, and that helps the student to discover new aspects of the classical dance which brings in the freshness to the art. Having said this following the guru’s footsteps is nothing less than a boon for a shishya.

Who is your favourite classical dancer other than the two great dancers in family and why?

I can’t pick one. I have seen the maestros as a kid, well in Kathak I am an obvious Birju Maharaj fan, Odissi was none other than Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, Bharata Natyam style is full of great names but I feel the biggest contribution to my dancing comes from the Kathakali Abhinaya Practice I did as a kid and dancing with Ramankutty Ashaan on the Khajuraho stage for me as a 9 year old has been my most ‘wow’ moment!

How you look at classical dance and its popularity in today’s time in comparison to other contemporary dance forms?

Classical dance I believe has not lost its popularity as it is a way of living. It will never end or face extinction. I just feel at times that it does not receive the importance it deserves in society but at the same time it keeps shining as a brilliant unfaded uncut ever giving diamond, it is for you to recognize.  Who kehte hain na heere ke parakh ek johari hi kar sakta hai !

Why there is limited audience for classical dance and what is needed the most to make it interesting for every commoner.

We at Nalanda lay a lot of emphasis on the synopsis of the dancer’s presentation. If the item to be performed is explained well the commoner is not going to find it hard to follow even though it consists of intricate hastas and typical language. It is the dancer’s responsibility to spread the art in a way that it does not lose authenticity and also reach the layman.

As a young dancer have you ever thought classical dance should be taught in every school, as this is our origin and legacy?

Yes very much. Classical dance basics or at least appreciation of all our arts which are our country’s heritage should be taught to every Indian.

Many a times, in school gathering or some event one or two classical dances appear and most of the time, we find they are not trained but just performing, if you come across such situation, how would you take it?

I would reach out to the two tell them they are doing a great job choosing classical dance and guide them as to where they are going wrong and also help them find a good teacher.

The make-up that you do, are you trained for that? Or makeup man does it?  Can you elaborate about the importance of art of dressing and make up in classical dances?

Yes at Nalanda we are taught to be self dependent so we learn how to put up our own makeup. Aharya Abhinaya is a very important concept in dance and is elaborated in Bharata’s Natyashastra which is a bible to all artists. The costume and makeup for us is our identity, this is one of the major facets of distinguishing between various classical dancers and we flaunt it like our identity card!

How many types of classical dances you’re pursuing? Other than classical what dance form fascinates you the most?

I am pursuing Bharatnatyam which is my mom’s style, I have learnt Kathakali as a child. I am also pursuing Mohiniattam my grandma’s form of dancing as I want to carry on the tradition of my family till whenever I can and as I am having a love affair with all these art forms. I have watched Shri Sandip Soparrkar perform Ballroom and I am a big fan of the dance too.

What is your message to aspiring young dancers like you? Would you like to share some valuable tips that you got from Dr. Kanak Rele and Uma Rele ji?

I don’t get tips from my grandmother or my mother directly, the only tip is – bare your all towards your audience, they are your report cards and let them judge you, but at the same time take everything with a pinch of salt (as for obvious reasons I am scrutinized at every single performance as I carry my family name along with me). And most importantly always stay true to your guru as guru droha is the worst.

I truly believe in this and will always try to add to my family name being the third generation.

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