Introduction

Shreyasi Gopinath is a Bharatanatyam dancer & choreographer. Equipped with a post graduate diploma from the prestigious Kalakshetra Foundation, Shreyashi’s craft and passion has been recognised at renowned forums across geographies and by the media. The Hindu (Oct. 2015) celebrated her act on Urvi at Soorya’s National Theatre Festival saying, “Footwork sequences showcased her dancing abilities.” On her performance at the India International Center, April 2016, The Statesman said, “Right from the opening Pushpanjali, Shreyasi impressed with her impeccable Anga-Shuddhi, perfect lines and the accurate sense of rhythm.”

Shreyasi started training from the age of 7 and by the time she was in her 10th, she was certain about not spending another two years at school. She moved to Kalakshetra, Chennai to keep dancing unfettered. Her gypsy feet gets tapping on any music or instrument; be it the dhol in Punjab or bagpipe in Scotland; she is usually the first to start dancing and the last to leave the dance floor. That brings her to another passion; travel! Dance takes her to the nooks & crannies of the country and beyond. She also loves those over-the-top Bollywood movies, waiting to groove with their masala mix!

Interview Excerpts


There are so many memories of my childhood, that it seems unfair to choose any one. Though there is one such story that still doesn’t tire me. I was around a year and half, sitting on my mother’s lap, at my aunt’s wedding and suddenly the dholwalas arrived. As the drum beats formed a rhythm, I had jumped off and ran right in front and started snapping my fingers and dancing. After which my grandmother always says, that I could dance before I could talk.

Somewhere I think it is my grandmother’s interest in dance that took me toward Bharatanatyam. Before me, my mother also learnt dance under Guru Bharati Shivaji, but her interests lay elsewhere. Sports, especially basketball was what she was interested in, so once she reached college, she gave up dance. What stayed over the years is her intrinsic understanding of the art, which also makes her my biggest critic. After nearly every performance she doesn’t mince words about what touched the audience and where I missed reaching out to them and of course, how nuanced my performance was, etc.

For a young dancer, it is very easy to dive deep into the vast repertoire of available compositions, but extremely difficult to put together a fresh composition. To begin with, one needs to be extremely sure if the piece is from our mythology or whether it is a contemporary narrative and what needs to be conveyed. The dancer rewrites and translates the piece that is already written; the musician gives it the required Ragam & Talam that makes it come to life. Now the artist begins the choreography and gets recorded. Lo & behold a new composition is ready to take wings!

I have made this entire process sound extremely easy, but it is time and energy consuming and mentally exhausting. Also putting together a new composition is extremely expensive, and hence most young dancers prefer to cull out of more known pieces.

Mine was a little different, one year after coming back from Kalakshetra, Shri. Soorya Krishnamurthy gave me the opportunity to perform at the Soorya Festival, only condition being that I had to put together a new composition. I decided to compose an item on Urvi, Karnapatni. Everyone was skeptical, my grandparents, mother, a couple of my seniors, vocalist…well nearly my entire universe. I started by breaking up the account into scenes along with dialogues, and Shri Vasudevan Iyengar, an extremely gifted musician from Delhi composed the music. We went through the recording process and my composition was ready. As I was new to this, everyone who was involved helped me understand the process, sat through each step. They could have finished their part and left, but they did not and then I understood that my URVI was a collaboration of talent and not just my composition. During production time, I used to leave home at 6 and get back close to midnight. One such long and tiring day, I stopped at McDonald’s to grab a bite, and while waiting for them to serve, I was fast asleep.

 

The stage is an extremely dynamic space and a lot of things transpire during the performance. Most of them are so subtle that the audience doesn’t even get an inkling. Sometimes the artist gets carried away with the emotions during a particular song, which while performing with musicians, can be adapted but becomes nearly impossible with recorded music. Then the challenge is to skip a couple of steps to ensure the rhythm matches up. The recorded music tends to impinge on the creative space of the artist; on the other hand the live orchestra keeps pace. The only people who actually have seen a change while I have performed are my guru, the musicians and my mother.

I was fortunate to be a part of the prestigious Soorya Festival. It opened an entirely new vista for me, not just in terms of the performance but also in terms of an extremely appreciative audience.

I am enrolled with IRCEN that gave me the opportunity to reach out to students across various economic strata. It now has been over two years and through the workshops and lecture demonstrations, I have showcased multiple things; Bharatanatyam, Carnatic and Hindustani music, ragas, musical instruments and of course a lot of telling of our mythology and tales that may soon be lost in time. Each performance has been memorable for the children/ adolescents and young adults have always been inquisitive and participative.

At the age of 5 I had insisted that I wanted to learn dance, my grandmother took me to Guru Saroja Vaidyanathan, who told us that children should start learning dance only after the age of seven as the leg muscles are not strong enough to take the rigorous practice required. By seven I was back and this time for good; I trained under Guruji for eight years. As Guru Saroja Maám initiated me into Bharatanatyam, she is my first mentor.

Post my Arangetram, Bharatanatyam was no longer a hobby but a career choice; so I decided to move to Kalakshetra, Chennai for a holistic training. Leela akka and all my teachers helped hone the nuances of Bharatanatyam.

Just before I came back to Delhi, I met Shri Ratheesh Babu; I think he saw a spark and gave me my first public performance.

Six years and a post graduate diploma under my belt, I moved back home, to Delhi. Currently I am learning under Guru Jamuna Krishnan, a leading exponent of Bharatanatyam, specially abhinaya. My recent performances have been under her guidance.

All my teachers have given form to the art and encouraged me to look forward and do better. So I do draw inspiration from all of them, but the life of Rukmini Devi Arundale has been my long-time inspiration. Coming from a conventional Brahmin household, the stance she took changed the perception of Bharatanatyam. She can be single handedly credited for the evolution of the art form.

As a professional, the vision that I follow is Focus, my mother’s favourite word. Along with being dedicated and hardworking. Dance has been my calling and will remain so as it fulfils me. The joy I derive from it is immense. In the future I do see myself performing my best and giving something back to dance by creating awareness among the less privileged.

 

 

Photo Credit :

Sanjay koul at India International Centre
Urvi. Sreenath Narayanan at Soorya Festival
Raul. Raul Irani at Humaun’s Tomb
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