By Srisahiti Maddipatla
Neha Kunka is a current sophomore at Vandegrift High School. She’s been a part of Natyalaya since 2012 and has participated in several productions over the years. She completed her arangetram in June of 2022. Throughout her journey, dance has allowed her to express her love for her culture!
Gopika Rajalal is a current sophomore at Westwood high school. She joined Natyalaya at the age of 5 in 2012. Since then dance has been a major part of her life. She has been part of many Natyalaya productions such as Roopa Viroopa, Ganga, Agasyta, and many more. She will be completing her arangetram later this year in India.
Q: What was your first reaction when you heard you were both going to direct Jungle Book?
Gopika: I mean, honestly, I was really excited because this was a huge opportunity, especially doing it with Neha.
Neha: My first reaction was that I was really shocked that aunty said yes for both of us to do it. I was super nervous and thrilled to do it with somebody else and not just me, especially Gopika.
Q: What was your reaction when you heard you were going to direct it together?
Gopika: We both actually knew we were going to direct it together from the beginning. Being able to experience it with her was really great.
Q: While you were going through the process what did you think was the most challenging part?
Neha: I think the most challenging part was that there was so many good dancers who signed up for the production, and it was difficult to pick one person to pick one person to do a certain role. This was hard because there are so many good dancers at Natyalaya.
Q: How was it for you to work with such a large team of dancers?
Gopika: It was really nice because we get to have a lot more characters, and we can always add more animals into a scene, so having a stage full of dancers is really nice.
Neha: Everyone is from different teachers and places at Natyalaya, so seeing everyone come together and do something as a full effort was really cool, and you could see a different styles of how people do certain moves which was interesting.
Gopika: Being part of a production is a really great way to know so many kids in the dance school and make new friends, so it is really awesome to have many people come together.
Q: What went in your mind while casting? Was it about the dancer’s background?
Neha: It was mainly about experience. We picked people we knew could handle how a production is or had some background who knew how a production usually works for some of the main characters. For the other kids who signed, we picked roles we could envision them in. For example, a small kid could work for a specific animal. Throughout the process, we can see how each dancer adapts to the role they were given. Almost every character we casted, they have done a better job than we have envisioned. When casting, background, experience, and teacher all took part.
Gopika: Also, we looked at style, and looked at the characters and people who signed up. We looked at how each dancer would fit into the character based on their style.
Q: What is unique about jungle book compared to other Natyalaya productions?
Neha: Jungle Book is very contemporary and does not have all dance steps but has a mix of modern dance and bharatanatyam, which is nice because we get audience from different cultures, so when they all meet, this creates a perfect balance.
Gopika: Jungle Book is very far from bharatanatyam, so it is a very different experience from any other experience from any production when youre dancing. This is more of acting, and you are literally portraying animals. It is very different from bharatanatyam or a dance production.
Q: You both are also playing characters in Jungle Book, so do you think it was a challenge to play a character while directing or did it help you understand the show a lot better?
Neha: I think for me it helped because my character only came in for half of the show, and knowing when everything is and what you’re character is supposed to do when you teach other characters in your scenes helps you know your movements and how they blend with other characters. If I know what my character does, it helps other characters know what they should do and helps with flow.
Gopika: Yes, I agree. Being part of the team while enacting in the show. It’s different from always standing in a third person’s perspective helps guide the dancers while being in the scene. It is different seeing it in that perspective perspective.
Q: What was your favorite part about directing Jungle Book?
Gopika: The cast made Jungle Book what it is. There are so many new kids I met through Jungle Book; I didn’t know half of them before Jungle Book. It was very cool to meet everyone and give everyone this opportunity. I met a lot of people through this process.
Neha: For me, it was seeing all the scenes put together and being able to dance them and us feeling really good about it and them feeling really good about it. It was cool to see how the show came together because they all put a lot of hard work into it.
Gopika: It is definitely really cool to see how things have changed and it has all come together.
Q: What would you say to anyone who is still deciding whether or not to come to the show on Saturday?
Gopika: Definitely come, it’s really fun. It’s a classic story, and the way we are portraying it is great, so everyone should come and support.
Neha: The show is so unique, and every scene is so well and it all fits. Coming can give you nostalgia.
Q: How are you both feeling about the show on Saturday?
Neha: I am very excited but also nervous. If anything, I am very excited for everyone to see what we are working on. I am also ready to reflect about the show. I am definitely excited and nervous but more excited than nervous.
Gopika: Being nervous is a given, and everyone is obviously nervous before a performance, but I am excited to put this all on stage.