The Legend

The Coveteur (and the industry fans who love them) celebrate RW & CO with nachos

IT WAS MY good fortune to have been born into a family whose traditions of music and dance were the focus of life for generations. Although it is well known that my grandmother's grandmother, Kamakshiammal, danced and sang in the court of Tanjore, it is important to point. out that my great-grandmother, Sundarammal, was a musician, as was my grandmother, Dhanammal, and my mother, Jayammal. In fact, most of the artists in our family in recent generations have been musicians rather than dancers. Vina Dhanam was trained in the musical styles of Dikshitar and Syama Sastri. It is her interpretation of their music which has been perpetuated through our family and her training which has influenced my interpretation of our pada repertoire.

The great musician, Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Ayyangar supported Jayammal's decision to have me trained as a dancer despite strong family opposition. Those were the days when dance faced general opposition and the family stressed the importance of music. She selected Kandappa (Pillai) who was also a fine musician. Every adavu* of his dance compositions fit perfectly to the svaras. After his severe, rigorous training from early morning, Jayammal would sit with me for music lessons in the evening. She taught me the close Relationship of abhinaya to raga- contour, saying, "Your head, your whole body, must move with the sangati, the gamaka, and not just with the tala. " Kandappa conveyed the legacy of the Tanjore Quartet through his exquisite sense of balance in standardizing the bharatanatyam repertoire and program. The initial inspiration within me to take up dancing came from seeing a performance of (Mylapore) Gauri Ammal when I was very young. If she had not brought the dance to such a stage of development, the combination of music and dance that I have attempted to realize would not have been possible.

I have kept myself open to learn from anyone of artistic integrity to add and embellish the thorough training from my family and guru (teacher). I learned much from traditionally trained ladies of our family. Some tutored me in languages; one taught me to explore the entire emotional range of sahitya using only facial expression, with out aid of arms, hands, with or without music. Chinnaya Naidu taught me to develop improvisation at one stage in my career by singing short phrases and, with few clues, asked me which nayika was appropriate. In my thirties, Kuchipudi Vedantam Lakshminarayana Sastri opened great new vistas for me, especially in varnam improvisation. He shared his immense knowledge and, in a very real sense, gave me the confidence to attempt those things I do today.

During my lifetime, I have seen the art of bharatanatyam rescued from ignominy and restored to a position of respect and worldwide interest. A few great men supported my art by arranging concerts so that others might be converted, realizing that the art form, performed tastefully, provides a legitimate and even spiritual experience. In the 1930's, there were many obstacles to overcome. The brothers, Subramania and Jelatarangam Ramaniah Chettiar, arranged concerts and provided moral support. Uday Shankar introduced my art to the north of India. I am especially grateful to Dr. V. Raghavan and the Madras Music Academy for providing opportunities for the presentation of large public concerts of my art and a school where I might train young dancers in my discipline of that art.

Among early foreign supporters was the Dutch writer, Beryl de Zoete. Many others have contributed to the widening interest in bharatanatyam in India as well as other parts of the world. As a dancer who has lived during this time of reaffirmation of the art to which I have dedicated my life, I wish to thank them all with all my heart.

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