The two young artistes are collaborating together at the Trigart Festival in Dharamshala on November 3.
The two young artistes are collaborating together at the Trigart Festival in Dharamshala on November 3, in a first of its kind performance of Bharatanatyam, with an accompaniment of north Indian classical vocals, set to ragas drawn from the Kangra Ragamala paintings.
All of 24, Jai Queheini does not belong to a family with any connection with the arts, but since the age of seven has been under regular tutelage in Bharatanatyam, to the extent she preferred open school from eighth grade onwards to get more time to devote to dance. In the words of guru Chitra Visweswaran, “Jai Queheini is a gifted dancer who is passionate about dance. Her passion and joy come through when she dances; she has a bright future”.
23 year old Vijayshri Vittal has an impeccable musical pedigree, she is a fourth-generation musician (her father Vittal Ramamurthy is a disciple of the great Vidwan Lalgudi Jayaraman, her grandmother also sings, as did her father before her), and Vijayshri has been singing since she was five. In addition, she has trained in Bharatanatyam. Her current guru Bombay Jayashri praised her, “Vijayshri is from a musical family, is a very talented singer with a natural flair and knowledge of music.”
The two young artistes are collaborating together at the Trigart Festival in Dharamshala on November 3, in a first of its kind performance of Bharatanatyam, with an accompaniment of north Indian classical vocals, set to ragas drawn from the Kangra Ragamala paintings. This specially curated concert will be conceived and choreographed by Chitra Visweswaran, with the music composed by Bombay Jayashri. Truly the young artistes are lucky to have such devoted gurus who are specially composing pieces for them to perform.
Tell us how your dedication to the arts started?
Jai Queheini: My father is a businessman, my mother a nutrition doctor. As a young girl I used to watch old Tamil mythological movies with my grandfather, and I was fascinated, and wanted to dress like that. My mother initially taught me at home when I was four or five years old, and when I was six, I joined regular dance classes. I did my arangetram (maiden dance performance) when I was 11, and after this I wanted to go further. At the time, there were only three really great dance gurus in Chennai — Chitra Viswesewaran, Padma Subramaniam and Sudharani Raghupati; I was too young to know how to choose; logistically Chitra akka suited me best so I started going to her; I was 12 then. I remember not knowing even what she looked like, and my mother saying she has curly hair like me!!!
Vijayshri: I have been learning music formally since I was five, from my father initially then S.P. Ramh Sir (also a disciple of Vidwan Lalgudi). For the last seven years, I have been training under Bombay Jayashri. With Jayashri akka; I don’t go everyday, and the average lesson may range from 45 minutes to an hour and a half, but the material I get is enough to keep me going for two weeks! It’s very intense. Sometimes we sing a composition, or sometimes akka teaches us how to develop a ragam. It depends. I think I am her youngest disciple.
What do you think is the best feature of your guru?
Jai Queheini: Akka’s (Chitra Visweswaran) fluid style has influences from all over — ballet, Manipuri, the head movement of kathak, her style is so distinct; there is something delicate followed by something staccato. Every piece choreographed by her has a pattern of hard and soft.
The spirit behind her dance is important. I am so lucky I learn from her. The way I have learnt is in the old guru-shishya parampara; I spend the whole day there. In fact I was not able to absorb as much I as could have, as when she told me to read on dance, I used to find the reading a bit boring. Now I find reading more useful, though even now I find I can’t really go through the entire book! It’s lovely, we’ll be sitting and she will suddenly teach us a “padam” (emotive dance piece), or dissect a tillana (composition) Akka always says don’t think when you’re dancing; do all your reading and research before.
Vijayshri: Everything about my guru for me is the best. I am blessed that I went to her at a time she was travelling so much so I have accompanied her to so many concerts, more than 50 concerts all over India and abroad. It’s been such a learning lesson for me, I think I learnt more music, travelling with her, than in my classes. In addition to music, I’ve learnt how to conduct myself, deal with people. She chooses what to teach each student. I don’t think anyone else could have taught me as much as I learnt from her. I think she is phenomenal in that respect.
I am a Carnatic classical singer, but akka’s style has many north Indian classical music elements, which I really love. I don’t think any other singer has that quality. I am really drawn to north Indian classical music, and hear it a lot.
Recently, three of us disciples put together a tribute to our guru on Vijaydashami day, and recorded five ragams, merging into one another, using only compositions dedicated to Devi, called panchavarne.
How much time have you devoted to your art?
Jai Queheini: I spend the whole day at my guru’s place; I teach dance too. I dance minimum three hours a day, and this has been my routine since the last 12 years or so. When I have a concert, I practice more, obviously. So my day is all about dance!! I also hear a lot of classical music now; I have gradually started liking it.
Vijayshri: All day, it’s about music. Either listening or singing. I sing minimum one hour a day, sometimes it’s as much as five hours. I am also doing my Masters in Communications as I believe it will help me in a career in music. In case I need, it will be a back up profession for me. I find I listen to as much music as I practice it. The more you listen, the more you can express.
So are all your friends from the world of the arts?
Jai Queheini: My friends are not all from the world of the arts. My dance colleagues know me inside out, they are like family. I do have friends from all over. I studied film-making as I was very keen on helping special children; I could not continue that as there was lack of time. But I want to make documentaries on special children as I believe helping others is either through films or politics. Visually, angles and lighting, etc has aided my dancing as well.
Vijayshri: No, I have lots of friends from all over. Of course, akka’s other disciples are older than me but we are very close.
Tell us about your collaboration in Dharamshala?
Jai Queheini: Vijayshri and I met during our rehearsals of Meera The Soul Divine about two years ago. I think she is a very sweet girl, and I am looking forward to knowing her better with our collaboration now.
Vijayshri: I have always admired Jai Queheini for her beauty and grace and the way she carries herself. I think she is a very sensitive artist, and she has always done more than justice to any role she has performed, solo or joint. I think this concert will be a great learning experience for me and I am looking forward immensely to it!
(The Trigart Kangra Valley Festival is from November 1-10, Dharamsala, with the Ragamala Music and Dance Festival from November 1-5. Other artistes include Malini Awasthi, Ronu Mazumdar, Murad Ali Khan, Akram Khan.)