Archangelic face, fearless eyes, enchanting smile, an epitome of grace, wearing a bright red sari stood Stella Uppal Subbiah on the centre stage ready to present an impeccable Bharatnatyam performance at her alma mater, Kalakshetra Foundation.
During the course of an hour long performance, she maintained her poise while her expressions varied from grief, exhilaration, tumult, contemplation and the like. The atmosphere was charged up as Stella and her partner, Justin danced adroitly to the melodious tunes of Carnatic music sung by Sudha Raghuraman and her team.
"Coming back here was nerve wracking but this place has a sense of rootedness, it reminds me of what I learnt from my teachers here, I feel at home already," exclaimed Stella.
Stella was born in Patna and is the daughter of late Hari Uppal, the celebrated Indian Classical dancer and Padma Shree awardee. She said that she learnt the various forms of art from her father and has grown up with dance, theatre and music.
As a child, she received her initial training with Pushpa Shankar at the Bharatiya Nritya Kala Mandir. She then went on to teach Indian theatre at the University of Groningen, The Netherlands, for a-year-and-a-half, and then went to Nigeria for over two years. Currently, she runs her Indian Classical Dance Academy in London where she lives.
Stella worked closely with celebrated danseuse Rukmini Devi for over a decade and hence jumped at this opportunity of performing at Kalakshetra in Vasta Smaranam, a show dedicated to revive Rukmini Devi's saris.
"It's a feeling of resonance, the fact that this show had something to do with textile excited me. The flora and fauna of south Indian music is such that it interconnects the inside with the outside. I did a lot of research and have been preparing since November, 2016 for the event," added Stella.
Her previous performance in India had been with Sri Lankan refugees in Tamil Nadu where she saw Bharatnatyam serving as a medium to loosen the severed ties. Despite of shifting base to the UK, she has kept her art alive and imparts the same knowledge to the younger generation.
"Dance should be dance and not a cultural identity I believe. Being a mother of two and teaching the art form since quite some time, I feel that the younger generation lacks the commitment and patience to acquire the art," said Stella.
She elaborated on Tamil and Sanskrit languages being beautiful to the point where it all becomes dramatised and merges with the society. "Young people need to engage with our ethos and take forward the colonial history we carry in our minds. It takes 20 years to learn the art and another 20 years to understand it. However, it's all worth it as it infuses within us a sense of direction in life," stated Stella with a glee.