Having danced her way through the years, veteran dancer Dr Kanak Rele speaks about the spring in her step.
It was back in the early 1940s, a time of much turmoil in India, when Padma Bhushan recipient Dr Kanak Rele discovered her life’s calling was dance. For most performers, it’s a moment of realisation, an incident or an inspirational person crossing their path that sets them off on a journey towards their art.
Quiz the doyenne about her moment of revelation, and the 80-year-old replies in a no-nonsense manner, “I was born to dance. I can’t tell you about a particular moment to make this decision, because there is none. I was born into this art form; I was born to become a dancer.”
As a young girl, Dr Rele began learning Kathakali, and happened to be one of the first women to do so. A few years after the death of her father, the danseuse moved to Shantiniketan with her mother and uncle. It was here that Dr Rele picked up on the artistic energy of the institution, and she credits her gurus for what she’s achieved in life. “I have had the honour of learning my art from some of the best gurus in the country,” she reminisces.
She soon made the journey to learning another art form, Mohiniattam, after her marriage at the age of 28. The shift came easy to her, thanks to her strong foundation in Kathakali. “Mohiniattam, for me, was a very attractive dance form. Since I had my basics strong was Kathakali, the shift was easy to make,” Dr Rele explains.
That, however, was only the beginning of what went on to become an iconic journey. One of the first exponents of Mohiniattam, Dr Rele went on to become the first to get a PhD in dance in India, as well as became the first to set up a research institute for dance in India — the Nalanda Dance Research Centre.
Recalling one of the many reasons of founding the centre, Dr Rele says it partly had to do with the quality of knowledge that was being dished out. “There was only superficial knowledge available. I wanted to impart a deeper knowledge about dance. I strongly believed in the cause of the art and have rightfully dedicated all my life to it,” she says, proudly.
The classical dancer is all set to take to the stage again, and this time, for a talk. She explains that an evening of her interaction will entail on the audience getting an opportunity to gain her perspective on dance. “I will be talking about what it meant to learn dance in those times, how central dance was to the imagination of a newly born India and if I may, will let the audience fall in love with dance all over again,” she smiles.
On March 4, 5 pm onwards, at Mcubed Library, Bandra (W)