Dating back almost to the 14th century, an art form of dance drama was born. The themes of the dramas were mostly religious in nature and performed by groups of dancers leading a nomadic lifestyle. Often male dancers portrayed the roles of both genders in the ballets. These dancers were often patronized by royalty and sometimes subject to abuse. This spurned a revolution by a spiritual scholar named Siddhendra Yogi. His contribution was the introduction of more stylized footwork combined with classical music, under a more refined code of discipline. For many generations, the families of Kuchipudi were involved in teaching and performing and the art was passed on from father to son.
It was not until the early 1930’s that a new era of Kuchipudi arose under the direction of the maestro Vedantam Lakshminarayana Sastry. It was his persistence, despite ridicule, that eventually led to the introduction of women to Kuchipudi. At this juncture, formal training was initiated for women and the repertoire itself had evolved with the introduction of solo items, as well as compositions of eminent poets of that period. Dancing on the rims of a brass plate was also introduced to inspire more attraction for the art. A few decades later, Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam, a disciple of Vedantam Lakshminarayana Sastry, created tremendous innovation in Kuchipudi beyond its previous boundaries of geography. Vempati’s ingenious contributions to Kuchipudi were based on his detailed study of the Natya Sastra.
Traditional dramatic tunes were replaced with classical and HIndustani music, and he discarded most of the prose and dialogues on stage setting them to tune. His technique in choreography was more subtle and intricate. Understanding the limitations of his native surroundings, he left his native village at the age of 18. Due to financial constraints he walked all the way to Madras, now Chennai where he ultimately proved himself to be a kuchipudi maestro in the cultural capital of India and trained many famous kuchipudi dancers were nurtured under his tutelage. Over the next several decades, Vempati quickly created international recognition and awareness for Kuchipudi and his performances have received wide acclaim.
Expounding on the traditions of his father and guru, Guru Vempati Ravishankar has continued to foster the innovation and excellence distinct to his lineage. His outstanding choreography, which often includes unusual applications of hand gestures, hastas and charis foot movements from the Natya Sastra, is one of his many contributions to the continued evolution and innovation of Kuchipudi.