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An Elevating Kuchipudi Lecture-Demonstration By Swapna Sundari

Veena Pillai

Padma Bhushan Swapna Sundari, referred to as the "Queen of Kuchipudi," gave a brilliant lecture-demonstration on August 23, about the past, present, and future of Kuchipudi dance. This event was held at the Studio of Anu Sharma in Burlington, CT, and was well attended. On August 24, for over two hours, Swapna Sundari mesmerized an enthusiastic audience that filled the auditorium at the Glastonbury High School. Her visit to Connecticut was sponsored by MILAN organization.

Swapna Sundari learned Kuchipudi from famous Indian masters Pasumarthi Seetharamaiah and Vempati Chinna Satyam. She gained further training from Kalanidhi Narayanan, a well known teacher of abhinaya or the stylized mime of Indian classical dance. Since she has founded and directed the Kuchipudi Dance Center in New Delhi, many students have received their instruction under her guidance. She has also produced several ballets. Her contributions to the arts have earned her many honors.

In her lecture-demonstration, Swapna Sundari spoke about her training under renowned masters Seetharamaiah and Vempathi Chinna Satyam. With the knowledge she received from these outstanding teachers, she brought her artistic sensibility to authentic Kuchipudi, creating her version of Kuchipudi dance and claiming that a dancer conveys her own conviction through the abhinaya. She prefers singing to lip-moving in the traditional dance.

Swapna Sundari then spoke about the fellowship program. During the 1990s, she had done research on the performance traditions of Andhra Pradesh and on the last living temple dancers of Andhra. Guided by eminent cultural historians, scholars and the aged temple dancers themselves, she reclaimed and revitalized this nearly obsolete dance form, giving it a new identity as "Vilasini Natyam." Swapna Sundari is now performing this dance style all over the country.

Her work in the fellowship program has led her to discover more about the devadasees. She emphasized how unfortunate it is that these authentic temple dancers choose not to perform since they received highly disrespectful treatment from some rulers. She also emphasized that these former devadasees had multiple talents - singing, acting, and dancing. Commenting on the present of Kucipudi dance, she noted that each dancer is artistically free to express her own sensibility and conviction without losing the authenticity of the dance. For the continued future of Kuchipudi, Swapna Sundari hopes that each dancer will, as she said, "look into the lacunae of the dance form and try to fill it with whatever is necessary for the future needs of the culture and era."

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