Shijith Nambiar and Parvathy Menon are exponents of Bharatanatyam. While Shijith, a former faculty member at Kalakshetra, has shown his exceptional skills in choreography to worldwide acclaim, Parvathy, who is a guest artist at Kalakshetra, has a mesmerising stage presence. The husband and wife duo speak about sharing their lives and practising a demanding art form together.
How they came together
“I didn’t fall for him because of his dance, but for the person he is,” says Parvathy, “Although my opinion of male dancers changed after I joined Kalakshetra, romance was the last thing on my mind. My first priority was dance,” Parvathy adds.
While Shijith Nambiar and Parvathy Menon are known for enthralling their audiences with their engaging chemistry and partnership on stage, it is interesting to note that it wasn’t dance that did the match making for them, albeit Kalakshetra played an important role in bringing them together.
Parvathy entered Kalakshetra as a student right after finishing her schooling in Kuwait, much to the chagrin of her teachers there. They believed her test scores were a waste if she didn’t follow a mainstream career, like medicine or engineering
Shijith, a final year student of post graduation at Kalakshetra at the time, was in the process of discovering himself as a dancer and his passion for it. “I wanted to be a soccer player, initially,” states Shijith, “it was my father’s wish that got me into dancing and Kalakshetra.” Kalakshetra was the deciding factor both in his life as a dancer and in his relationship with Parvathy. “We somehow connected as people, and things just fell into place for us,” he says.
Theirs wasn’t anything like present day dating. “As soon as Shijith left Kalakshetra, he got busy travelling for his shows. He was already an established solo artist when he returned to the institute as a faculty member,” reminisces Parvathy, “but my dance and my studies were my priorities then. I didn’t want to compromise them for anything else. Moreover, I didn’t want us to be a topic of gossip within the campus.” It was only after they were engaged that they dated more freely.
During her final year at the institution, they got married after some hesitation on the part of Parvathy’s parents. “They were concerned about how a male dancer would survive financially in our field. All they needed was to meet him personally to be convinced of his talent and future success,” Parvathy beams proudly.
Their everyday life revolves around dance — teaching and training their students, discussing future projects and designing choreographies, practising for a recital together — are a few things the couple find more interesting than other forms of entertainment.
Sharing a stage
As an already established solo artist, Shijith found it difficult to incorporate Parvathy into his choreography initially. “In a regular Bharatanatyam recital, performing with another requires a certain harmony between the two for it to appeal to the rasika. Till then, I had performed alone, so I wasn’t used to it.” But it didn’t take them long to find harmony performing together and take it to the next level. “Today, we find it difficult to perform without each other. We are happier sharing the stage than when we perform solo or in a group.”
When asked about their picture perfect on-stage presence, Parvathy says, “Chemistry isn’t something that you build. To Shijith and me, it comes naturally.” When sharing the stage with other partners too, she says, “As artists, one should be able to produce the same feeling, especially when it comes to dance dramas in which they portray different roles. When I get into the role of Sita, I try my best to be the Sita to the Rama with whom I share the stage. It’s the same when Shijith is taking part as the male lead in Meenakshi Vijayam and I am not playing the part of Meenakshi. It would be a failure on our part as artistes if we were awkward around others.”
Are duets limiting?
Did performing together limit their scope and choreography to only duets? “No,” says Shijith, “We also choreograph group acts and perform solos. Last April-May, we went to the US as a group with our students and had 18 shows in and around North America. The themes for those shows were specifically choreographed to suit a group rather than duets.”
When it is a regular Bharatanatyam recital though, it is mostly the two of them. In terms of their artistic approach to Bharatanatyam, they usually stick to the traditional forms in their recitals. At the same time, they experiment with different adavus when working on a theme-based act, which also requires original music, jatis (verses) and choreography.
For Shijith and Parvathy, dance is surrender, an act of worship. “We have felt that divine energy many times on stage,” they say.