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Dancing to her own tunes

DEEPA ALEXANDERDEEPA ALEXANDER

Deepika Reddy was honoured with this year's `Natya Ilavarasi' award for her contribution to Kuchipudi



Photo: K. Ramesh Babu

DEEPIKA REDDY is Kuchipudi's golden find and she could well be ethnic India's cover girl. In her drawing room full of framed pictures of kundan jewellery and Balinese dancers, she sits poised as elegantly as any of the Ming vases that crowd her mantelpiece. A mother of twins, a dedicated teacher of her art and a performer par excellence, Deepika comes from a family with a passion for dance. "My mother was a dancer. She set the stage for me to follow. I started learning at the age of seven, and my guru, Vempati Chinnasatyam fuelled me with a desire to pursue it as a vocation. That was the first time I woke up to the soul of dance. I realised art would bless me only if I persevere with all my heart," she says.

Deepika was recently honoured by the Shanmugananda Sabha in Delhi with the Natya Ilavarasi award. "It is one of the oldest sabhas in Delhi and the award is given to a performer. Awards may not be an end in themselves but every performer needs a pat on the back, sometime. And it brings with it responsibility as well."

Deepika knows her art too well and she uses it almost effortlessly to talk everything from religion to philosophy. But most importantly, she draws from the rich text of Indian classical traditions to focus people's attention on issues as vital as dance and its definition. "I run my own school, Deepanjali where I sometimes interpret texts differently to choreograph my own pieces. But when I learn the most is when I see others perform."

So when does Deepika put on her dancing shoes? "Everyday", she says. "After I pack off the kids to school I practice for nearly two hours. For me it is like worship and therefore never tedious. As a solo performer I need to." Deepika says she loves performing at the Konark festival and recently enjoyed an ICCR sponsored tour of East European countries. "Mythologicals come across so differently in the West. But performing in Chennai has always been a delight. The audience is so knowledgeable and that's the challenge of a dancer - to make the audience stay."

Having spent a year in the travel and tourism industry Deepika says, "I love to travel. For me it's a very spiritual experience. I'm not much of a desk job person and although dancing takes so much of my time both as a performer and teacher I still try and find time to unwind."

So will her twins Shloka and Abhinav take up the art? "They are too young now. I'll hope they'll at least grow to appreciate it."

For Deepika, the real significance of the artistic traditions of the world is the power inherent in them. "If an art form does not have the capacity to create a tradition it cannot be called a classic," she says. Rooted to the traditions of Kuchipudi, Deepika has discovered its inherent passion in her dance.

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