Wednesday, June 25, 2008

It’s a family affair

It’s a family affair
Wednesday June 25 2008 10:54 IST Gayatri Dwivedi for Express News Service Kochi

WHEN mom and daughters stepped out in tune with the music, ‘Nritha Sandhya’ held at Fine Arts Hall became an event to cherish.

Renowned dancer Mary John and her daughters Ria and Ruby John put up a mesmerising show with spectacular performances of mohiniyattam, bharatanatyam and kuchipudi last week. Their troupe ‘Kalatharangini’ is headed by Mary’s husband KM John. The programme was held as part of the silver jubilee celebrations of Bank Employees Art Movement Ernakulam (BEAME).

John was born into a traditional Christian family in Kerala and nobody ever envisaged that he would be a dancer of international acclaim. As a child, he loved participating in school dramas.

The Duryodhana-Krishna sequences depicted in kathakali performances used to stir him like nothing else could. He felt that kathakali was his calling and made up his mind to study it. The going was tough and the training rigorous.

The painstaking practice sessions of eight hours a day for nine years was no child’s play. But his efforts came to fruition. The first honour that came his way was the AD Bollard gold medal for the best kathakali student in 1977. He started as a teacher at Kalamandalam.

The first tour abroad came in 1981 and after that, there was no looking back.

Marriage blessed him with a perfect partner in Mary. Besides being a leading mohiniyattam artist, Mary is also the first Indian female ‘chutti’ (make-up) artist. Mary’s decision to learn dance after marriage did not take off initially but after the birth of her second daughter, the desire became irrepressible.

Recalls John: “Mary used to get up very early in the morning with the plate and pot for kuchipudi practice. Amidst all this, there would be moments when she would hold the baby in her arms. The commitment in her put wings to her aspirations and soon, she started performing all over the globe.”

Their daughters are following their footsteps and perform kathakali, koodiyattam, mohiniyattam, bharatanatayam, kuchipudi and ottan thullal. While Ria is pursuing dentistry in Kochi, Ruby is a Plus-Two student. The family has given many performances in almost all the European countries. The troupe regularly conducts classes and workshops abroad.

The audiences there are very different. “In India, the number peters out as the night passes; but people abroad sit through the performances even if the next day is a working day,” says John.

The couple runs Kalatharamgini, a centre for performing and fine arts and culture in Cheruthuruthy, Thrissur.

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