The thinking dancer of today’s times

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Art exists for thinking, not just for enjoyment,” opines twenty-five year old Mohiniattam dancer Rachitha Ravi. Rachitha grew up surrounded by art. Her father was an actor in a drama troupe. She watched them perform countless times and would later imitate their expressions and movements herself.

At the age of 12, Rachitha entered the hallowed portals of Kerala Kalamandalam, a gurukula-style institution set up by the poet Vallathol in 1930. Located near Thrissur in Kerala, it offers training in Kathakali, Kutiyattam, Mohiniattam, Thullal and Panchavadyam. Rachitha talks of how she came to be associated with Kalamandalam, where she is now a guest lecturer and research scholar. She elaborates, “When I was 5, I asked one of my schoolteachers to teach me dance. Thus, Geetha teacher became my first guru. She taught me Bharatanatyam till I reached the seventh standard. In the eighth standard, I joined Kerala Kalamandalam. Though my family stayed close to Kalamandalam, I had to live in the hostel. It was compulsory, because classes began at 5 am. Till 8 am, we would practise music and movements of the body and eyes. At 9 am, we would all go to our kalaries — practical classes where we would train in the dance form we had chosen.
After lunch, we went to school. Till the 12th standard, I studied a blend of dance and the regular curriculum of the state education board. After that, I enrolled in a BA at Kalamandalam, with Mohiniattam as my main subject and Kuchipudi as a minor paper,” she adds.
Rachitha explains that girls in Kerala often start learning Bharatanatyam as children, taking to Mohiniattam only after the age of 10 or 12, because sattvika abhinaya plays an important role in the dance form. Hence, it is only after a certain age that children are considered mature enough to study Mohiniattam.
Rachitha was always a good student, doing well at school and topping her BA exams. But it was only when she left Kalamandalam to pursue an MA at a university in Kalady that she seriously thought of Mohiniattam as a profession. Soon after, she returned to her alma mater to continue her research. Meanwhile, there was a vacancy for a guest lecturer at Kalamandalam. Rachitha promptly applied, and was selected.
Teaching makes me a careful thinker. If I go to my guru Kalamandalam Leelamma with a doubt about a dance piece, she does her best to explain every line to me. That becomes especially important if I am confused about abhinaya. I take my guru as a role model when I teach my students. Actually, teaching is a very difficult job. Students think teachers can clear all doubts. If the students are not satisfied with an answer I give them, I think it till I am able to give them a bette answer,” Rachitha says.
She is happy about her work at Kalamandalam; she teaches post-graduate students and pursues a career as a solo Mohiniattam performer. In living with other dancers, most of them equally skilled, Rachitha finds a great support system and insists that there is no rivalry and jealousy between them. She enjoys teaching because it makes her think about the nuances of the dance form. But she is quite convinced that her calling lies in performance.
“Every performance brings enjoyment, but not satisfaction. I am always happy about being on stage, but I am very self-critical too,” says the young dancer. She has to her credit solo performances at Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal, SNA’s Nritya Pratibha Festival, Jabalpur and Umang Series, NCPA, Mumbai, among others. She is eager to explore new issues through the idiom of Mohiniattam. “The sahityam or literature of Mohiniattam is not always contemporary, I feel. Mohiniattam is a woman’s art, for only women perform it. We must choose women’s issues to portray in dance. Besides the wealth of literature based on sringara, we also need to disseminate contemporary messages through our art form.”

Next Big Thing is an occasional column that will profile emerging Indian dancers. We all like to read about dancers who make the news regularly. What about those who’re waiting in the wings, eager to capture our imagination on the strength of their earnest and promising performances? To know more about them, watch this space.

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