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Grace and grit

Roja Kannan says Bharatanatyam has been her companion through the ups and downs of life


"ONCE A dancer, always a dancer," says Roja Kannan, senior Bharatanatyam artiste, her face glowing with inner strength and composure, as she reminisces about the ups and downs of her life and artistic career. "Not a day passes without practice or lessons at my teacher's place," says Roja, an accomplished dancer and disciple of Adyar K. Lakshman for nearly four decades.

On the dance scene, Roja has won acclaim as a dedicated artiste, who adheres to tradition where dance and art are concerned. Her impeccable nritta, sensitive abhinaya, deep commitment to and involvement in dance have enabled her to carve a niche for herself among leading dancers of the South.

Vibrant, cheerful and soft-spoken Roja is a woman of courage and determination. "Life has not been a bed of roses for me," she says, having gained recognition for her talent by sheer dint of hard work and merit. As a child of 3, Roja suffered an attack of post measles encephalitis, which rendered both her limbs lifeless. "On the advice of my paediatrician, my parents sent me for Bharatanatyam classes to strengthen my limbs. I was then five years old and my sister Meena was three. We started training at renowned danseuse Vyjayanthimala Bali's Natyalaya and came under the tutelage of Kavi Aravindakshan, Adyar Lakshman and Trichur P. Ramanathan."

The sisters had their arangetram in 1972 and since then there had been no looking back for them. Performances all over the country under the guidance of Adyar K. Lakshman and later assisting him in teaching proved to be an enriching experience for Roja. She won recognition as a disciple of Lakshman and Kalanidhi Narayan. The latter developed her interest in abhinaya.

A solid musical background helped in refining Rojas's talent. Roja's grandfather was none other than Palghat Rama Bhagavatar, renowned musician. Roja continued training in vocal music under the late V. R. Krishnan and subsequently under Shyamala Venkateswaran. This has sharpened her interest in interpretative dance.

Roja is probably one of the few dancers who is a qualified vocalist too. She is therefore a much sought-after accompanist for nattuvangam.

Marriage and children kept Roja away from the dance scene for a while. But life was not smooth. Destiny struck again in 1996 when she lost her husband. "But, even in the most depressing of times, a visit to the dance class never fails to lift my spirits." Though Roja is a Bharatanatyam artiste, her training in Mohiniattam (under the late Trichur P. Ramanathan) have made her alive to the nuances of the lasya aspects of dance.

The Music Academy's Special Award for Best Dancer during its Platinum Jubilee (December 2003) and Best Senior Dancer Award (Natyarangam-2003) are recent additions to Roja's list of achievements.

She runs a popular school Bharata Natyalaya and many of her solo thematic works such as Sri Krishna Leela Tarangini, Tiru Arutpa, Sri Krishna Ganam and Endaro Mahanubhavulu have received appreciation.

NANDINI RAMANI

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