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Dance

Amulya Vadapalli, ’19: Innovation and Tradition in Kuchipudi Dance

Project Date:
Project Date: Summer 2019

I continued my study of Kuchipudi dance under the aegis of legendary dancers Raja, Radha and Kaushalya Reddy in New Delhi, India, expanding my knowledge of the traditional repertoire while also working on new, modern choreographic ventures.

About the Artist

Amulya Vadapalli is a 2019 Duke graduate who majored in Public Policy and Arabic. At Duke, she was the captain of Lasya, the Indian classical dance team, founder of the Duke Arabic Union and president of the senior class. From New Delhi, India, she has been learning Kuchipudi since she was six years old under Raja and Radha Reddy. She is currently a Hart Fellow focusing on monitoring and evaluation with the Collateral Repair Project in Amman, Jordan. Outside of work, Amulya can be found dancing, listening to classical Indian music or watching The Good Wife.

About the Project

As a graduating senior, the Benenson award allowed me an opportunity to return to my roots by continuing my study of Kuchipudi dance under the aegis of legendary dancers Raja, Radha and Kaushalya Reddy in New Delhi, India. I was able to expand my knowledge of the traditional repertoire while also working on new, modern choreographic ventures. Especially after four years at Duke, where one’s attention is always pulled in different directions, the award allowed me to focus on my art in isolation—an experience that was initially disorienting.

In my time at the Reddy’s dance school, Natya Tarangini, I worked on two pieces. The first was named “Chaap Tilak” and relied heavily on abhinaya, or the expressive component of Indian classical dance. In Indian performance theory, derived from a text called the Natya Shastra, estimated to have been written around the 5th century, both the body and facial expressions are playgrounds of emotion. As a twenty-one year old, it was a much more personal journey to find how my body and face explored emotions of love, anger and jealousy. The second piece, titled “Bharata Bharati”, focused on the technical aspect of Kuchipudi, centered around the thematic presentation of unity in India. Both of these pieces challenged different parts of me as a dancer and person.

This experience was radically different from my four years dancing at Duke. In my experience, in the diaspora, dance tradition and culture is preserved for the fear of losing it or diluting it, but when art is created within the culture’s insulation, there’s less risk of degrading the traditions and therefore, more freedom to interpret the art form. I felt this most in the field of aesthetics. In my experience in India, my teachers were very open to innovation within the field, choreographing to non-traditional music while retaining the essence of Indian classical dance.

Through the summer, I explored larger questions of my own identity and belonging post-Duke through my art. After my Hart fellowship, which ends in May 2020, I intend to return to my study of classical dance, and the Benenson award has helped me make this decision.

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