The Able and Capable Bharatanatyam Dancer

Mathula was full of cheer and energy during the interaction with the Verandah Club team. The school cum mini auditorium at Bharathalayam in Ramnagar, Coimbatore had a couple of students who maintained Social Distancing during their dance practice. Mathula is a second-generation dance teacher. Her mother, Amutha Dhandapani had begun her dance journey under the tutelage of Vijayalakshmi Pillai in Sri Lanka. Bharathalayam, the dance school was founded by Amutha in the year 1986. Her husband, K. M. Dhandapani was a well-known advocate.

The danseuse Mathula began to dance at the age of 4 and this quick learner completed her Arangetram in 2000. Mathula completed her education in Coimbatore from St. Francis and P. S. G. R. Institutions. She had learnt music from her future life partner, Bhavani Kishore Kumar and he had encouraged Mathula to take up M. A. in dance. Mathula joined the Madras University and she belonged to the first batch of dance graduates. She was fortunate to receive the guidance of Prof. Raghuraman and his support played a significant role in her academic life.

“My mother was my first teacher. As a part of my post-graduation in dance, I learnt Padams & Javalis from Padma Bushan Kalanidhi Narayanan, Varnams & 'Ashtapadi' from Prof. Chandrashekar, and Javalis from Padma Shri Sudharani Ragupathy. These dance veterans were visiting faculties of the university. I picked up the Pandanallur style and the M. A. focussed on the teaching methods in Kalakshetra. I understood the importance of learning theory and it helped me to assimilate a number of concepts in a better manner. Luck favoured me in Chennai for it was the dance place. I got the opportunity to observe the dance styles from the performances of Padma Subramaniam, Chitra Visweswaran, Vyjayanthimala and Priya Govind. They all inspired me with their unique way of expressing the style,” smiled Mathula while talking about dance and herself.

Life in Chennai had been both interesting and tough. Mathula used up all her time and energy in order to improvise her skills. She would begin to practice by 6 AM. Meeting new people and learning by watching performances excited her. She began to do freelance projects during her sojourn in Chennai. Mathula remembers doing a project with Lakshmi Ramaswamy who happens to be a disciple of Chitra Visweswaran. Her M. A. dissertation and M. Phil. were to bring out the best in her. ‘The Significance of Sapta Tandavas’ was the subject for her M. Phil. thesis. She was chosen for a government scholarship program under the auspices of 'Iyal Isai Nadaga Mandram'. This gave her an opportunity to perform on an equitable basis in centres like Nellai Sangeetha Sabha. The spirit of youth, music academy festival sowed a seed in her mind. This encouraged her to start the talent enriching program, 'Natya Vriksha' in her own school, Bharathalayam.

Mathula and Kishore Kumar are blessed with Vedha Mrithika and Mithun Krishna. This mother, wife, teacher, and performer has motivated her daughter to complete her ‘Salangai Pooja’. Now, dance has become a part of her family DNA. The energetic dancer spoke about ‘Natya Vriksha’ during the course of her conversation. "We train the youngsters for solo mini Arangetrams. Live accompaniments are part of the show. ‘Natya Vriksha’ is a subsidized, assisted program and the performers are picked out of our own 150 students. Each one is given an opportunity to present a solo performance. We basically divide the students into 3 groups - early teens, mid-teens, and college students. This program has been helping the students in honing their dance skills through direct experience," stated the frank, outspoken and cheerful dance guru, Mathula and for her expression was remarkably lucid.

The energy behind Bharathalayam has performed in Singapore and Zambia. She had danced at the Mayuranathar, Thiruvidaimaruthur, Chidambaram and Udupi temples. She was awarded the title 'Mayura Natiya Tharakai' in Mayiladuthurai. Mathula had done a fusion program with Dansco Fit Suresh Institute of Fine Arts under the caption 'Ardhanari'. This program gained a bit of criticism. Mathula defended this partnership by taking about a few compositions of the 18th century musicians who pioneered western influence in Carnatic music. She was happy to state that dance was coming of age in Coimbatore and a huge number of students are learning Bharatam from a Phalanx of teachers. Mathula was glad to talk about the benefits of dance. She stated that dance helps a person to acquire aesthetics, and fitness by ensuring that they act as good teammates. It becomes possible to understand the culture of the country through dance.

“My husband Bhavani Kishore Kumar is an accomplished musician, and he has helped me to work on new concepts and projects. My Ph. D. in dance based on ‘Sitrilakiyangal’ from the Bharathiar University was due to his prodding and encouragement. He helped me to do my research on ‘Sitrilakiyangal’ which belonged to the eleventh and twelfth centuries. I took 7 of the 96 Prabandams. One can say that Talam differs with the meaning and it is based on research and approach. Concepts were based on ‘Azhagar Killai Veedu Thoodhu’, where the ‘Kili’ or the parrot is the messenger. The reason for choosing Parrot is sounded out. It was done due its good looks and character which has been compared with other choices. With regard to ‘Kuravanji’, we travelled in a different manner. It is part of folk literature, but we took it forward in a formatted way,” added Mathula.

She had compered in Podhigai and in Jaya Tv. Mathula participated in the famous ‘Thaka Dhimi Tha’ program that was brought out by Jaya tv those days. She had also done a short film with her cousin.She felt that Coimbatore could evolve into a dance destination provided people bring in the right ingredients in to the city.

Mathula spoke at length about her special interests, observations and goals, "Academic program like a M. A. in dance help people to learn more about manuscripts and sculptures connected with dance and about dance history. Now a days, I feel that I should write a book. One of my goals is to teach dance in a university. My father Dhandapani has always wished that I build up an institution. Theory classes, book publications, dance classes, lecture demonstrations, projects, a likeminded team, and branches established on the basis of quality are part of my goal. I am grateful that my parents and my husband are being my pillars of support. My students have been doing their best and I recognise them on various occasions. I earnestly hope that Lord Nataraja will bless me with a chance to build and nurture a dance institution as envisaged by father.”

Watch her dance performance:

Dr. Mathula Kishore Kumar | | [email protected]