A Conversation with Dr Kanak Rele
1. Please tell us about your childhood.
I was born in highly nationalist and artistic family though we belong to very rich business family. I was 10 months when my father past away and after few years moved to Shantiniketan with my mother and uncle when I was 5 and half years. My uncle was a painter who was studying in Kala Bhavan. My sense of dance started growing from Shantinikethan without my knowledge and my aesthetic sense grew day by day seeing my uncle and his friend’s paintings. I learned Tagore songs and Tagore dance there and joined patho bhavan but we never had such a format for a curriculum based education. Our classes used to be under the trees in open air. There was a person who took care of me from my family, his name was Haripado da. Haripado da used to run behind me when I used to run away from the house to collect palas flower. After that when I finished with my flower collection we used to come back home. We stayed for very few years in Shantiniketan and from there we had to come back to Bombay, but the memories of Shantiniketan are visually sketched like a painting in my mine
2. You have spent a part of your childhood in Santiniketan when Rabindranath Tagore was alive. Did you interact with Rabindranath tagore!
I have just spend few years of my childhood in Shantiniketan , I have seen Rabindranath Tagore, but I never interacted with him because I was quite small to understand that person with big white beard( she smile).
3. How did you introduce to Mohiniattam and what age?
I started Mohiniattyam after my marriage at the age of 28. I was a Kathakali dancer before I became a Mohiniattyam dancer. I was learning kathakali from my childhood as I was very interested in dance. I also learned Bhartnatyam from guru Nanna kasar and guru kittapa pillai, but I never felt so involved to continue bhratnatyam. I was regular performer as a Kathakali dancer, used to do stree vesam. I was introduced to mohiniattam through my kalthakli guru Panchli Karunkar Pannikar. Looking at my dance my kathakali guru told me to learn Mohiniattam which is suitable for me. My Mohiniattam guru was Rajalakshmi teacher she was from kerela kalamandalam, she came to Bombay to teach me Mohiniattam.
4. How did you choose Mohiniattam as your career when Bhratnatyam and Kuchipudi were so popular and flourishing at that time?
Mohiniattam always attract me whenever I have seen this art form. As I was well trained in Kathakali and my basic was Kathakli so it was easy for me to adapted Mohiniattam. As I said I learned Bharatnatyam but I was never deeply connected.
5. What made you think about establishing“NALADA”?
My desire towards art and to keep the tradition alive of Indian classical dance made me established Nalanda. Nalanda is my other child you can say. I don’t want an art lover or learner to face such problems which I have gone through during my learning period it used to be oral tradition and of course I want that people should know that apart from dancing on stage we have so much to study to know the subject well. Mythology, temple architecture, and dance therapy these are all very important subjects who deal with Dance and I have introduced in Nalanda. In Nalanda we offer bachelor and master degree courses.
6. Did you face any kind of social problem to establish your dream child “NALANDA” in city like Bombay?
Yes I have faced many social problems while I was establishing Nalanda. But now I feel this is not so important to talk about. People were not so happy about when Nalanda came up in city like Mumbai but yet there was god blessing and people support which made my dream comes true. M C chagla (chef justtis), T k tope vice chaceler of Mumbai university who helped me all the way possible, without the Nalanda would have been not evolved, and who supporting me throughout journey is my husband.
7. Do Nalada promote artists from new generation?
Yes we do promote every year. Nalanda has Nrityoutsav festival where we give chance to upcoming artist and we give award to the best performer also.
8. You have had a long and stellar career in dance; tell us some unforgettable moment from your career.
Yes, for the moment I can remember two incidents in my life which is unforgettable. Once I was performing in Chennai during December festival on that day Rukmini Devi had come to watch my performance. After my performance she came back stage and told me you put so much of hard work and it shown when you were performing. It must be difficult for you to learn the language and perform.
One more incident in Delhi which I will never forget, I had a performance in Kamani auditorium. After my performance Indira Gandhi came back stage and ask me are you southindian! I reapplied her NO, she smiled at me and said “KEEP IT UP”.
9. You are well-known for your conceptual choreography in the field of mohiattam like Shantavani, Kalyani etc.
I love doing combine work. Taking other classical dance forms specially mohiniattam with bharatnatyam which I have worked mostly with it. I did Kalyani ( story of chandalika written by Rabindranath tagore) translated in hindi which was big controversy in delhi when I performed in Kamani auditorium
Shantavani was collection of Abhangs and the story talk about Krishnas glory. It was choreographed in Mohiattam and Bhratnattyam styles. We did more than 108 shows in world.
But I don’t like so call fusion work using classical dance steps, I feel it is destroying our tradition.
10. As one of India's leading Mohiattam dancers you have always been subjected to the art critic's pen. How relevant do you think is the role of dance critics today?
According to me I dance for myself and my own satisfaction which is running inside me, Well I feel it’s not so important to listen what others are talking about your dance. YES it hurts you when people comment badly but they never see how much hard work a dancer put before going on stage. It’s a long process of meditation which dancer goes through before goring on stage. Sometimes we are not well physically or mentally but we have to do the show, but I never been criticizes badly.
YES sometimes it’s relevant for a dancer getting poke by critics because we think whatever we do it’s good, but we must see form other view of audience and look at our own dance and judge our own self.
11. What is your opinion on the present day Mohinattam?
It has walked a lot his way and the kind of work Mohiniattam dancers are doing at present it’s amazing to look at. I am really happy to see Mohiniattyam is flourishing.
12.How do you feel as a leading artiste of Mohiniattam?
I don’t know I am a leading artist or not but well being a senior dancer I feel very happy and still I want to learn more and more. I have achieved name and fame being Mohiniattam dancer which makes me happy but there is no end of learning I feel.
13. Do you support Male doing Mohiniattam on stage?
I feel it is a female oriented dance form so it looks nice when a female does it, but I don’t have issue male doing Mohiniattam, last year in Nalanda annual festival we gave platform to a male Mohiniattyam dancer.
14. Last but not the least any message which you like to give to present generation dancers?
I don’t think I can give message because I feel I am still beginner but I feel to tell something which I have followed till today
Be true to your guru,
Treat your guru as god and Be true to your nation.