Monday, May 4, 2015

Surreal nature of emotions and real nature of movements

If one moves little wrist or move the lower leg from the knee joint consciously, it means the movement is observed. But we never observe our own physical movements while we are in our own world of surreal emotions. The question is where will the brain focus when you are in a hyper state ? on your emotions or on your movements ? the answer is probably both. Although, as individual we focus on the emotion; body does the movement with a reflex as though it has been had  millions of repetitions of same movement practices. This nature of body teaches a lot to all of us, if one quietly sits and studies. Practicing Yoga helps to focus inwards and reach out to our self.  With Hatha yoga one can learn different energy level flowing through the body and utilize the energy to good deeds. What is there in dancing ?

In my opinion, there is a lot. Especially in Indian dances such as Kathak and Bharathanatyam. First of all, as a dancer and dance teacher I witness the growth of intelligence (mostly with children growing from 5 years - 16 ) and manipulation and application of intelligence ( mostly in adults). Each category has different mindsets. Although I deal mostly with children, it is a fascinating thing to see intelligence growing as time progresses. Those kids who have difficult time holding the hands and sitting in a posture; have no difficulty after three years of routine dance classes. I have observed a kid started at 6 years grew in a subtle and steady way learning dance to become a full fledged artist by 16 years; where as her mother came every day sat and watched the class and learnt nothing. The only thing she learnt is how to observe and enjoy. Kid was very quick in learning and picking up the things; because mother was helping. This is a great combination. But, I always see, to become a good artist one must have the experiences of life - such as pain, sadness, exhilaration, perspiration, romantic moments, minds of dislike and hatred feeling. Even if no such experience has to happen in a personal life, yet to dramatize these elements one need to have a visual and creative power. This control of emotions will be taught in a classical dance. This is kind of controlling our own minds through controlled emotions and sentiments. In yoga one learns to be above all these and observe how we behave. It is the same thing in a performing art also. Artists need to flow with the emotions in such as way he must have a conscious control on them to keep check and balance. Because of this Dance is called "Nritya Yoga" - the ultimate purpose of Indian dancing is to reach God through dancing. The question arises - how to feel his presence, Since no one has seen. It may be a good idea to look at our own scriptures. One may wish to see him as a mortal in the form of deities like Raama and Krishna; or simply an immaterial spirit like parabrahma. For dancing dramatic elelments it makes sense to call in Raama and Krishna. These two personalities and many others like them only give a willing mind a perfect substance to reach the perfect world with perfect things around it. Feeling like "Naayaki" in any Varnam or Padam deals with this kind of high level philosophy which includes a human touch - hence called "Shringaara Bhakti".

This level of attainment only happened to great saints like Ramanuja, Meera or Kabir. They were are all in love with this supreme perfection whether they called Raama or Krishna or Prabrahma. But they understood the vulnerability of human existence and its relation to nature through the concept of perfect entity.

This relation ship of art with nature is a beautiful connection of devotee to his deity.

Lets try this beauty of nature through dancing.

Om tat sat

Monday, September 1, 2014

Memories of a Great Teacher

(A humble remembrance of Dr. Mayarao)
By Guru Prasanna Kasthuri,
Artistic Director, Soorya Performing Arts,
St. Louis, Missouri, United States of America.

It was a 1986. Roads of a quite suburb in now called Silicon city of India, Bangalore – Malleswaram were far calmer than, what they are today. I used to ride on my bicycle thrice a week to learn something very new, but never had an opportunity until Guru Maya Rao’s second act of her life happened. Kathak was very fascinating to me. I had seen probably one or two shows and many pictures of the Kathak dance style in Marga publications. It was a great boon for me and others such as Rathna Supriya, Nirmala Madhava, Nandini Mehta, Shubha Dhananjaya, Rajendra, Nirupama, Ashok, Charu, Suparna, Suma MP   – who were are all in our twenties to attend Kathak classes. We are all geared up to learn. There were some voices of discontent among leading Bharathanatyam Gurus of Bangalore – that someone is getting all attention from government – starting from chief minister of those days – Mr. Ramakrishna Hegde. But, all those who were interested in Guru Maya Rao, were very much curious to learn an untapped knowledge. 
Life of Guru Maya Rao is a story by itself. It’s a long train journey. Lots of us got in and got out. But Most of us felt it was a very unique experience. The Guru – who has been in our imaginations, was really a great fit with Maya Didi. She was very caring and heavily passionate about dance and forgiving to our mistakes. Her amazing love to those who seek knowledge was a greatest attraction for us. This love is what she leaves behind for all of us. It taught us to care those who came in search of learning dance. In the dance classes, she mentioned about – her dance students being recruited by many academic schools because they had gotten through the choreography diplomas, which helped them economically and also made them take up dance as a career. I was for one, very much in love with dancing, but not very sure where it leads. When I saw a future in dance and those who are living on dance with example – it had an elevated feeling in me.
The greatest gift – Maya Didi gave us is look at the dance as a partner in life. Dance – although many styles exist, but all were reflections of life. It was very evident in her productions. Also, the way she adopted to different scenarios to bring out these themes. I liked almost all productions – whether it is the mesmerizing entry of Sonar Chand in Nithya Nruthya in Ameer Khusro or the Panel entry of “Hoysala Vaibhava”. All of them dazzled us. Sonar Chandji was Mayadidi’s  most trusted lieutenant and lead the role of Allauddin Khilji in Amir khusro. My vision of this great emperor, who had brought down all Hindu kings in entire Indian subcontinent by his great general – Mallik Kafur, changed just because he was passionate about poetry and music of Amir Khusro. This evidently showed the power of arts amidst war and chaos.  It was a spell bounding performance by all Natya group on that “Nithya Nrithya-1984” day, which was organized by my Bharathanatyam guru Lalitha Srinivasan. The same production was repeated some years later in Bangalore’s reputed Ravindra Kalakshetra auditorium with our own Karnataka talent - Nirupama Rajendra – who was very excited to get an opportunity to perform the main role and she devoted heavily. Maya didi made sure there was absolute perfection in Nirupama’s performance. This was mandatory in all her productions.
My most revering memory is the work of Maya did with Maasthi Venkatesh Iyengar’s literature for Maasthi’ s centenary. I remember – Prabhat sudhindra and my brother Pulikeshi danced in the Guru and Shishya roles – where Shubha Dhannanjaya acted like a beautiful woman lost in the forest. Nirupama and Rajendra’s involvement with “Gowthami helida Kathe” and  Sathyanarayana Raju’s acting as a lost guy in the third story was very beautifully choreographed. Shankar Shyanubhog’s marvelous singing made the emotions flow uninterrupted. Mayadidi’s beautiful choreography made the three stories of Maasthi outshine and it was a rare experience for me. Maya Didi brought out the truth – “both Men and women needed to be equal to have a successful life” - very effectively in this production. The original message of Jnana peetha awardee Maasthi Venkatesh Iyengar, was put into physical form very gracefully. Making all his three stories into the production was a challenging one, but Maya didi accomplished these with grace and ease. This was a great learning experience for me and others– which taught us how to convert a layman’s story into a dance production. I tried out myself works on mathematician – “Arybhatta” and another on behaviors of general human tendencies with my “Vismaya” production.
Most of the dancers wish to dance without learning music; this was unlike with Maya didi. I vividly remember I was conducting Nattuvangam for a dance program. I was very fond of singing, albeit not completely understanding the sensitivity of shruthi (which took another 20 years for me to understand by the grace of great scholar Ustad Imrat Khan saab). I still remember Shankar Shyanubhog was singing for Russian Festival in Bangalore for Mayadidi’s performance and I voiced in between,off pitch. Maya didi – who was sitting with musicians, looked at me with displeasure. I understood the look in her eyes and kept quiet. Later she explained in a gentle tone, how it could be irritating to hear a voice in a bad pitch. She mentioned to avoid such mistakes in front of hundreds of audience. She was very much to the point and she mentioned why learning music was important for all the dancers. This I remembered very well, when me and my wife Seema – sang and performed dances simultaneously in our first Indian opera of the USA – “Gokula Nirgamana” in 2008.

The greatest gift Mayadidi left to Mankind is her students and her way of approaching the contents for the dances. Another greatest gift is bringing Kathak to south India, especially to Bangalore thus making this city more vibrant with more dance styles. Love and passion she built for Indian classical dances is her gift to all of us. It is very hard for devout students like me who took her message and teachings to abroad forget her ever. She lives on and on in our memories. Her marvelous way of making dance festivals in Somanathapura and Pattadakall inspired us to conduct “Shanthala Dance Festivals” in rural areas of Karnataka; as well as - Internationally - “St. Louis Indian Dance Festivals” in St. Louis, Missouri, USA – which is thousands of miles away from India. We hope, we have strength to pass this beautiful knowledge and creativity to our next generation. I guess that’s the best Guru Maya Rao is asking from her students.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Becoming a Child 

Just recapping on the events of Composers day (5/10/2014). Looking at our students - we are just amazed how they grow up. Teaching a small kid the "swar Gnanam" (knowledge of music notes) is a journey by itself. Although, I am dance teacher - I am also fond of teaching music. I feel it completes me. A journey to figuring the wavelength of sound - and calling this a "SA" is an intriguing one. Singing all the notes to perfect pitch OR dancing to movement to perfect geometry always gets us close to nature - which is already mastered such perfections. We are all made of the same dirt and elements like any other thing in this universe, yet it fascinates me to see the beauty of emotions and feelings. These feelings and emotions which emancipate from a lifeless element which makes all of us including all animals is an cryptic work by itself. 

I watched some kids who started at 5 years and still learning with us, but with an increased awareness of music. It just explains the marvel of human brain's learning abilities. Also its usage perception. I see more adults who bring their own kids are still unable to comprehend the beauty of raga, where a student comprehends and enjoys it. 

It was the same for me also. I always write "We are are artists when we are children". But I never realized the truth until now. It means - one have to be open minded like a child. A 2 - 3 year child grasps what ever it sees in its surrounding. It is this openness which allows it to learn learn faster. As we grow into adulthood, we just forget to be a child, when we face a new art or skill or trade. 

I applied the same rule of "open mindedness of child" - in my elaboration of keeravani raagam with Amba vani on saturday. It was an amazing experience. Believe it or not, I have not learnt the alapanam or swara vistara of Keeravani raga. But my listening to Bombay Jayashree's "Amba Vaani" - in teaching my dance students every class did instill the raga structure. When I sang in front of my students of music on Saturday - actually i became a student of my own thoughts and learning. I felt very humble in front of a principle. This humbleness has a strength which made my sing Keeravani raagam in praise of Goddess Saraswathi - whom I have never seen in person - but felt her in my heart all the times. Felt her energy through the universal components of learning. She is not in human flesh and blood or a photograph or an idol. Saraswati existed in every learning I felt. She guided me through a heartfelt - Keeravani Ragam - and exposed herself to my soul. Wow... it was a great experience - With me Shiv Sankalp was on violin and Ramakrishna Neti was on Mrudangam. Both were very very supportive and whole 25 minutes of singing came like an experience with God (i still don't know where the God is. But it is an Godly experience.).

Well, after the weekend's hectic schedule - my mind recapped this beautiful experience. I am just sharing with you all. Have a nice week.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Unseen - to seen.....

Living in St. Louis and not asking for a varying weather is impossible. It affects the moods of creativity also. A cold front - Polar vortex - which froze my whole city into -15 degrees fahrenheit,  broke not only many water pipes in the region but also froze all our artistic adventures to some time. As we say "Prakruthi Devobhava" - which directly means - "nature is god" - through this polar vortex Prakruthi (Nature) did show its other face. It put a mood of awe to my intellect. This kind of weather cycle comes like Brahma's sleep ( although in theory Brahma's day or night lasts billions of years). This special respect for nature always gave me inspiration and new thoughts. Sometimes, I wonder, how lonely we human kind are.... We are sitting on a piece of small spherical land-mass called "Earth" and sailing in an infinite darkness. We do not know where we all floating. As I heard in my divine scripts - it is "Ananthantha Anantha" - infinite of infinite. I was watching a documentary on PBS on an expedition to Antarctica. Just realized that it was the bottom of Earth. How funny it may sound,  you go to the bottom of something, yet you don't fall off. Thanks to gravity otherwise all of us would have fallen. Laws of physics which are used in every part of life, leading to irreplaceable laws of chemistry with which we are all made. The most funny thought occurs in my mind is almost all the time. Since everything is an element like carbon, hydrogen, oxygen etc.... how these same chemical which we consume in the form of food, create emotions and feelings ? Because we use the same feelings and emotions performing arts,which are of course always reflect the life. I just asked one of friends who is a Ph.D in bio-chemistry and doing some research on cancer cells. "Have the scientists found out how these feelings, emotions get created ? There is this beautiful brain with millions of neurons, made up of complicated chemical structures, and yet these structures create what we call emotions and feelings. Are these non-elemental in nature ? Are thoughts non-physical in nature ? Can we use some chemicals to create the "feelings and emotions" as an abstract physical object. My thought process was to pin on the issue, that those chemicals which induce these ideas, can they also be used to physically formulate the feelings. Like a feeling of love in the shape of heart, feeling of anger like a shape of fire etc. I also know, these feelings are portrayed in paintings, through music, through dance or through theater. By reasoning, I guess, suddenly I started answering my own questions. I do not know if they are the right answers. But it is lots of fun to start thinking like this. So, I still look out everyday with excitement and look at the nature how beautiful it is, look at the changing shapes of clouds, soft nature of wind in spring- but chilly and deadly nature of the same wind when "prakruthi" get really cold in the winter. I realize, there is "Purusha" who makes her(Prakruthi) respond for each of his moves. The beautiful game of universe, surprise me every single minute. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

It is 3 AM in the morning. Not slept in enthusiasm and anxiety of the 5th dance festival. As we rolled the day I just smelled the fragrance of dance movements all around me coming from different corners of the World. The beauty of dance is invariably the most beautiful thing on the face of Earth. Being both physical and psychological and some time spiritual it always yielded a deep sense of satisfaction.

This weekend's dance festival is a great success on the part of all Indian population of St. Louis, which is getting together to present this beautiful festival, showcases its traditional dances - such as - Bharathanatyam, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Mohini Attam, Odissi. This year new addition of two more dance styles - Manipuri and Sattriya makes the St. Louis Indian Dance Festival more richer. Although, we miss Kathakali, we have its brother art-form from Karnataka - Yakshagana.

All the artists celebrate their wizardry and will definitely spell bound the audience.

A special group of Odissi dancers - 11 of them - is a special treat to eyes.

Well time has come to enjoy the beauty of human mind and body through highly sophisticated movement and story telling.

I will be clebrating the spirit of dancing with my co-musicians in my new production - "Te na vina ...Trunam api na chalati" . I feel nothing moves for me without dancing....

I am going to sit and watch this beauty... Are you ?

Friday, March 15, 2013

I witness every single day,  how so many beautiful things get created. They may be either a material creation or a conceptual learning, which may happen by old knowledge or by gaining new knowledge.

When I teach a small child in the class I notice how a human body reacts to the new learning. When I do the same dances, I also feel, how the same movement feels more polished after four decades of dancing. But it also sends a message, I feel the worn out parts of the body due to my oldage. But with all these thoughts churning inside me, I indulge myself in the beauty of nature. When I restarted speaking with artists for the 5th St. Louis Indian Dance Festival, I experienced so much of enthusiasm and happiness to come and show their talent. I am really thrilled to see their artistic achievement.

It is a blessing to stay in St. Louis, with such a great art loving place, where every single Indian tries his/her best to come and support art activity amidst their busy life. Dance and music in this city has become an integral part our culture. It amazes how these children run between two different cultures and yet showcase prowess in both. Applaudes to that ability....

I will be presenting a small piece with both Kathak and Bharathanatyam. Feel good to dance among the best dancers of the field. It scares me sometime. But once you are on the road driving, you do not feel the tiredness of travel anymore, because you enjoy the cruise... the wind .... the nature.... which makes you comfortable. In our case ... it is the beauty of human body, the elegance of rhythms,  colorful variations of emotional sketches etc etc... Every single performance is an experience, I love this experience. So, I welcome all of you to come and see me and my other 21 co-dancers who are coming from different cities of USA, India and Europe on april 19, 20, 21 in the 5th St. Louis Indian Dance Festival.... Catch you all later. Have a nice spring break.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

St. Louis Indian Dance Festival ----- a great wonderful experience of art and comunity

It was a great meeting place of some of the great Indian classical dance Gurus and artists of this great country USA and from India. It was such a long preparation with so many people pitching in and making the festival such a wonderful experience. I believe in sharing our talents and artistic wealth with everyone. Initially I had tremors in my heart, whether I can pull this forward. B'cos doing a festival of this magnitude is impossible with one man alone. having wonderful friends such as Lily, Baskar, Nagendra, nirmala, Prabhu, Sridhar made this event plausible .... thanks guys.... other friends such as Sanjeev,mati, vinu, vinod, prahlad, rakesh, kumuda, anita, anita-vinu, lakshmi reddy, manisha, shalini, annuja, gajana, shubhi, keertana, adya, sameeksha ..... man .... the list too large .... This is an Indian dance festival every association pitched in Kannada association sent emails to its members and encourged all its members to support the 23 dance events .... gujarati association moved forward and not only sent the information to all its members, but also encouraged their team - "Nartana" representing Gujarath through Garbha raas.... Namaskar desi run by Rao Chilakala placed our information on their website .... The Indian Students of Washington University danced Bhangra so wonderfully .....St. Louis Indian Dance Festival truely represented the true spirit of Indian Diaspora of St. Louis area.... one dance teacher mentioned, an appreciative audience of St. Louis reminded her of the appreciative audience of Mylapore (a pure Bharathanatyam heaven);

With so much success of placing so many artists in this festival for the third time in a row... I believe all the St. Louis Indian Population is really showing up their rich dance traditions to west.... thanks to all of you.... my heart is still beating hard remembering the wonderful performances which Gurus Such as Mythiliji and Guru hemaji produced with an impeccable artistry of Sreyashi Dey, Roopa Shyamasundara, Sujatha Srinivasan, Ashwini, Lakshmi, Anjali, Soorya Performing Team, Patrick and many others .... was just over whelming

Good job everyone .... for those who missed such a wonderful presentation I will be posting a 15 minutes clip so you all can have an idea and get prepared for 2012.......

Thats it for now ....