(Photo:http://www.queenieau.com)Vanashree Rao has a sanctity around whatever she creates — be it dance or designing. Yes, this Kuchipudi dancer-guru turned ethnic clothesline designer (labelled Angikam) finds her dual passion sacred. Her cosy studio near Aurobindo Marg houses antique artefacts amid her collection of Kalamkari saris, blouses, shawls, kurtas, et al.
With a warm smile she settles down into a chair ready for a friendly conversation on a sultry morning. “I think I should begin at the beginning,” she quips even before you make up your mind as to where do I start — the dance end or the designing line!
“Everything in my life, except academics happened without plan or design. I’m destiny’s child,” she puns on the last word with a wink and continues, “Like all Bengalis, I was very fond of music and dance but financial viability factor did not make it possible for me to pursue anything other than studies. My father was a journalist with the United Press of India and with a meagre income those days, life was a struggle for my siblings. It was a blessing of sorts that all of us were academically-oriented and intelligent. It was dream to get into Lady Shri Ram College then which I did. Believe me, either through my graduation or post-graduation, none of my classmates took note of me, I had no friends — just my books and me and of course my family. I learnt Rabindra Sangeet which was a sort of custom for all Bengali girls of my time. I don’t know what spurred me into jettisoning my M.Phil after five semesters and put an application in Triveni for learning classical dance. I chose something which wasn’t popular in Delhi then —Kuchipudi dance.”
With that, one could gauge her unique personality which opted for a rare art form of which she knew nothing — neither its idiom, nor its lingo, so to say; yet she took it as a challenge to prove to herself that she can rise above the rest. “Unlike other dancers, I started late and except my guru Krishna Kumar at Triveni, nobody had any confidence that I could be a performer on stage!”
To cut a long story short, Rao says her very first performance in Kuchipudi got rare reviews by the best critics and that catapulted her to an artiste of some consequence. “It so happened that the Indian Airlines was bringing out a calendar in which they wanted to feature a dancer and their choice fell on me. I wasn’t even aware of the stir this publicity created for me. I was asked to accompany the President Pranab Mukherjee’s (then Commerce Minister) wife’s troupe to London. Later, I came under the tutelage of my husband Jaya Rama Rao who was a versatile young Kuchipudi dancer-teacher in search of employment in Delhi. My husband was a shy person then since he couldn’t speak Hindi fluently. I would encourage him to perform on stage apart from just teaching at Triveni and to boost his low self-esteem, I would volunteer to perform with him together. Even then, I had no intention of marrying him!” she laughs aloud.
Then how did it all happen? “Well, we were asked to perform our first ICCR trip abroad upon which he felt it would tarnish my reputation if I accompanied him and he proposed to my parents who in turn persuaded me since dance had by then become my vocation. As I went on these trips, I would design and stitch my own blouses and saris which caught the attention of many an Indian VIPs abroad who would first compliment me on my sense of dressing and then put a proposal for me to customise something on the same lines for them. It so happened that I had to oblige them and this was the starting point, Providence’s design that I should become a clothes designer! My latent talent and aesthetic taste for clothes came to the fore.”
Heart in dance
She still claims she is not here for commercial reasons though by word of mouth her creations have gone far and wide with Jeypore online store taking their Kalamkari collection from her. “I’m a vendor for Tat Sat store in Hauz Khas, Opala Jewellers and Cottage Industries. As the saying goes — my own field of dance and its proponents were not my customers, though now, they do get a thing or two done by me! My clothesline is mainly blouses and saris, kurtas, stoles and shawls, mostly Kalamkari (a natural dye fabric painting of Andhra Pradesh). I don’t push hard to sell my creations — I wait for those who have a taste for the ethnic and aesthetic to pick up. I don’t undertake mass supply since mine are all stand-alone pieces.”
Vanashree readily states that her heart is in dance always. “My first love where now I have begun to realise that creating gives more fulfilment than performing. My Rasa United, an umbrella for dance choreographic productions has already made waves with unique technique of story-telling through dance where neither the classical format nor the mythology is tampered with. Now that the universe has given me abundance, I’ve decided to give back to society whatever I can by way of art — be it designing or dance,” she ends on a note of commitment.Read more at:red carpet dresses