Vijayshree Chaudhary, the foremost disciple of Pandit Birju Maharaj has been a leading light in the Kathak fraternity. Carrying the Guru-Shishya Parampara ahead, she is a perfect blend of both traditional and modern way of living.
Being a free spirited person and a perfectionist to the core, she has travelled the world with her ghunghuroos and enthralled the audience at Canada, Singapore, Germany, Portugal, Italy, Thailand, UAE, Bali and Russia. Also, on a special deputation, she was posted under the embassy of India at Indonesia as a Kathak instructor which is a prestigious post for any dancer. She has shared her journey into classical dance, thoughts of memorable dance sessions with Pandit Birju Maharaj and challenges with our Editor-in-Chief Vaidehi Taman.
What kind of person is Vijayshree Chaudhary?
Patient, passionate and a little odd in the sense that I don’t do things the way they are ‘supposed to be done’! Be it cooking or composing dance piece or performing it. Drawing inspiration from nature and society, I try to make my dance relevant. Travelling is my other passion that helps me learn new aspects about life and dance.
Tell us your journey, into classical dance?
My father Pandit B NandKumar was a renowned Tabla player based in Hyderabad. So, sense of rhythm is in my genes. I have grown up watching legends like Gangubai Hangal, Nirmala Devi, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Gopi Krishna, Pandit Birju Maharaj, Kishori tai Amonkar, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and others. From the very beginning my inclination was towards dance. Unlike most of Indian families, I was encouraged for classical dance and later sent to Delhi Kathak Kendra for formal education in Kathak under Padma Vibhushan Pandit Birju Maharaj.
What is the one memorable lesson that you have learned from your mentor Pandit Birju Maharaj?
Pandit Birju Maharaj is an institution in himself. He was not just a dance teacher, he is a true Guru, who taught me to enjoy and live dance. Most importantly, he awakened the part of my soul that made me remain committed to dance each moment; every day in every sense.
When you started, that time classical dance was limited to Guru-shishya, or within the institution. But now you can see it’s largely expanded. Whom would you like to credit this?
Of course Pandit Birju Maharaj, who popularised Kathak among the masses by composing some of the immemorable dance routines in some of the biggest blockbuster movies like Devdas and Bajirao Mastani. Apart from that, I would like to give credit to various media houses who took Kathak events to colleges and schools.
What are the challenges faced by a full time classical dancer like you who is teaching Kathak and also performing?
Though times are changing but alas, classical dancers are not paid well. To put up a good show we need good musicians, costumes, make up etc., we need good team and that is not possible without sponsors or funding. This is the main challenge. And as a teacher, I would say, in today’s fast life, everyone wants instant result. But for classical dance one should have lots of patience. To keep students motivated in this process is my biggest challenge as a teacher.
Is it possible to reach out to every student personally?
I make sure that each batch has only 8-10 students so that I can give personal attention to everyone as every student is different and has different challenges with different abilities.
Tell us something about your dance academy and its uniqueness.
Natyaved is the name of my institution. Not only I teach dance and make my students confident enough to perform on stage in front of audience which helps them face people in every walk of life. I also introduce them to different forms of dance and music. I organise different workshops so that students can connect to our culture and roots. We have students from the age of 5 to 50 and my main focus is to keep them motivated to learn, improve and perform.
These days classical dance classes are mushrooming. How you look at this business?
Everybody says that today’s generation is not interested in learning Indian classical dance forms but I am really happy to hear from you that in every corner there is a classical dance class. It means our Indian classical dance form is still popular and its future is bright.
Let it be a dance show, or dance competition or television show, in the name of fusion or modern dance, the classical dance form is mixed with contemporary dances with very little knowledge about it. How do you look at it?
Television is a medium of entertainment based on TRPs, so if they are showing any fusion, so it makes no sense to make any comment on it because programmes are not judged on the basis of authenticity or purity of any dance form. But I see nothing wrong in fusions as it helps popularise and reach out to larger audience. I myself had choreographed and conducted work shop for Dance India Dance for two seasons and I am really happy with the outcome.
Who can peruse classical dances and at what age?
The best time to plant a tree was 25 years ago, the next time is now. One can start at any age but ideally 5-7 is the right age if one desires to perfect this art and become a professional dancer.
What are the basic requirements for learning Kathak?
Passionate teacher, inner desire and discipline.
How many years its takes to become a good Kathak performer?
Learning never stops. I would say 10 to 12 years of professional training is required for a solo performer.
We hardly see classical dance performances, in comparison to other modern dances, what can be the reason?
I think it’s just a phase but the kind of response I get after my performances, I am sure that more and more people are coming back to enjoy Indian classical music and dance.
What is your opinion about Bolly-Kathak (Kathak dance form in filmy songs)?
Kathak has evolved through many faces from its inception. From temples to Mughal courts, from tawaif kothas to auditoriums and then from solo to group dance to nritya natikas! At every stage it grew and became more meaningful. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong in Bolly-Kathak if done innovatively and gracefully. Bollywood provides a popular platform to spread popularity to Kathak as a Indian classical dance form; on the other hand Kathak provides grace and aesthetic to otherwise stale and alien Bollywood song and dance routines.
Who are your most favourite classical dancers?
Above all Pandit Birju Maharaj stands tall as my all time favourite; Leela Samson, Madhavi Mudgal and Aditi Mangaldas are really close to my heart.
What are your future plans in this journey of dance?
To popularise Kathak as a pure classical dance form and at the same time branch out as innovator in Kathak, combining it with various dance forms as a healthy life style.
Any message for our readers and for those aspiring classical dancers?
Enjoy the process and feel more beautiful from inside. It’s one big celebration of life. As they say dance as if no one is watching you.