Vithala, a show offered as a pooja by Kuchipudi exponent Dr Vasanth Kiran

 Vithala, a show offered as a pooja by Kuchipudi exponent Dr Vasanth Kiran

Few years back in 2020 the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar by Government of India was given to Dr Vasanth Kiran, who is an accomplished Kuchipudi and Bharatnatyam dancer from Bangalore. He has performed in over 20 countries and composed over 100 songs for both Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi and released in the market as a CD as well. He has been into academics and has worked as Head of Department and Director of Performing Arts at various universities. He is known for his intricate choreographies and Nattuvangam, and some of his group and solo productions have been showcased at Khajuraho, Vedavyas, Hampi, Mysore Dussehra and other prestigious festivals. I spoke with him about his recent show on Vithalla, premiered at National Center of Performing Arts (NCPA) and his dancing journey. Excerpts from the interview:

How did your dance journey and education of dance begin?
I was initiated into dance at Hubli, Karnataka at a very young age and went on to become a professional Bharatanatyam dancer and later got into Kuchipudi and trained at Padma Vibhushan Dr Vempati China Satyam master’s Kuchipudi Art Academy, Guru Manju Barggavee and Guru Dr Vedantam Ramalinga Sastry. I also hold masters with first rank in both Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam apart from MBA and PhD in Management.

Tell me about the genesis of your recently performed show on Vithala?
It so happened that I was only watching, listening and coming across Vithala photographs, songs and videos and I speak Marathi so it pulled me towards the beauty of Abhangs but I wanted a different approach hence connected a story of devotee who is in search of Salvation walks to Udupi Krishna in Karnataka where dancers reminisces childhood Krishna in Kannada composition, Tirupati Venkateshwara in Andhra Pradesh where his Times of Shringara with Alamelumanga is depicted in Telugu, Srirangam Ranganatha swamy in Tamil Nadu where the Tarangam (dance on brass plate) and playful times of Krishna is shown in Tamil, the Sakhya Bhakti of Kuchela with his beloved friend Krishna was knitted while he visits Guruvayurappa at Kerala. The ultimate way and message he receives to walk to Pandarpur for Salvation and his Varkari journey begins with Abhangs to conclude with evergreen Kaanada Raja Pandaricha. Finally titled it Sri Pandurangam Bhaje. That way I also connected as the states of languages which I am comfortable to converse with too.

How was the preparation for its music and choreography?
Music was very fascinating and interesting as I was working with most talented Venkateshwaran Kuppusamy from New Delhi. The opening song is penned by my Guru Vedantam Ramalinga Sastry paying obeisance to goddess Bala Tripura sundari, the sitting deity at Kuchipudi village and Ganesha song in Marathi. It was a lovely team with Manoharan, Raghavendra, Nithish and Kiran who have all brilliantly contributed to the amazing music. Venki’s voice is something beyond description and makes me move divinely. The recording was done in Delhi too. I did the direction, composed jathis and also did the nattuvangam too.

Tell me about Shridhar Pavaskar who aptly sashed the role of Vithala?
Oh! my favourite Shridhar Pavaskar, a brilliant actor from KGF 2 film fame, a painter par excellence, numerologist, my sishya in dance and my staunch supporter since a decade now. He portraying the role of Vithala in whom I merge in at last is the highlight of the Choreography. Though on stage only for 5 minutes, he stole the show, with his presence looking just like Vithala, I believe that if lord Vithala would descend on earth he would look Shridhar Pavaskar. Lord Vitthal is also known as Pandurang meaning white in color, although His idol is dark complexioned, it is so as it is believed that to a true devotee His idol appears white.

You premiered the show at one of India’s leading dance and theatre centre, NCPA. What are the future plans for the show?
My team and me could not have asked for the better place and venue then National Centre of Performing Arts (NCPA) for our show premiere, it is a true honour and privilege to be dancing on NCPA stage. When I got a call for the premier date I was under the weather and was not sure if the performance can happen as my health did not support but I believe that Vithala brought me back to the stage to dance for a packed auditorium, I really couldn’t have asked for more. I plan to perform this in major dance festivals and also tour USA and Europe in 2024 and 2025.

Every show has its backbones, who are the backbone of this show?
I must mention the brilliant make up by Mallikarjun B who came all the way from Andhra Pradesh and he is also a wonderful artist and has trained in both Bhatatanatyam and Kuchipudi under my guidance. Lighting was done by Vedant P from Nalanda and Swapnokalpa Dasgupta the dynamic dance head of NCPA and her team did a fantastic job in arranging logistics and coordination for this. For any show be successful its team is most important, these people are the ones because of whom I could bring my show to life.

You have been performing and teaching for years, what are your plans ahead?
I have established a residential Gurukulam at Bangarpet, Kolar, Karnataka where students are trained residentially in Kuchipudi, Bharatnatyam, Taala, Nattuvangam, Sastra etc. It also aims to train poor and underprivileged children and make high level training accessible to the rural parts. An environment which I always dreamt of being in one and creating one. A lot more needs to be done, waiting for donors and the right time. Also I aim to create strong performers in Kuchipudi and also produce some high standard dance productions. The latest hit being ‘Ardhasaankaram’, which has toured all over the country.

Sandip Soparrkar holds a doctorate in world mythology folklore from Pacific University USA, an honorary doctorate in performing arts from the National American University, He is a World Book Record holder,
a well-known Ballroom dancer and a Bollywood choreographer who has been honored with three
National Excellence awards, one National Achievement Award and Dada Saheb Phalke award
by the Government of India. He can be contacted on [email protected]


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