PERFORMANCE. This one word jumps out at us from almost every sphere of human activity. The word plucked directly out of the world of live arts is now applied to industry, technology, sports, science and academia.
Yet it was through the prism of sports that I saw the close affinity between the sweat and toil of the arts and the exhilaration of a "show" well done.
January unveiled a feast of my two favourite subjects - dance and tennis. It was through the daily broadcast of the Australian Open tournament that I was able to watch and listen to the greats. Hear their thoughts about working towards uncompromising excellence, the unglamorous daily grind of practice and the ability to "improvise" in tricky situations. The sudden spurts of newcomers enjoying the limelight of centre court and the legends finding a way to win - the match and the hearts of the audience. One night wonders who upset the champions fade away so quickly we are left asking, "Whatever happened to him/her?"
How different is this from dance? At the recently concluded Music Academy Dance Festival in Chennai, several newbies charmed us. Aishwarya Narayanaswamy was delightful. Praveen Kumar and Vaibhav Arekar - not newcomers - continued to delight. Uma Satyanaryana was impressive... but ... but... can they endure the tough path studded with landmines? Seasoned senior stars like Leela Samson, Malavika, Valli, Sujata Mohapatra and the Nrityagram duo continued to dominate the programming. When will they give way to the next gen? At the Aus Open, the tournament accommodated a slot called LEGENDS. Why don't we see the one and only Vyjayantimala at the Academy mornings? At 82, she continues to astonish and stir audiences. Too old? Over the hill? Well, that argument can be made for many of our divas but not for someone like Vyjayanti. A festival that includes the changing of the guard, the young and old, the senior and the fledgling, the maestro and the precocious next star - this is the alchemy that makes for an interesting mix. Not the same old names being repeated again and again.
New Yorker Sonali Skandan held her own within her petite frame on her morning showing. Composed and serene, she was the perfect starter for the audacious Janaki Rangarajan who followed. There are many adjectives that come to mind when I speak about Janaki who is making her push towards international stardom. "Excellent" is not one of them. Athletic, aggressive, attractive, seductive, in your face? Yes. Superbly agile and pliant, Janaki's "Accro Natyam" left me more disturbed than exhilarated. People around me were either stunned or in raptures. Her Tai Bo kicks, Zumba moves and a hyper-mandi with Padma Subrahmanyam's Bharata Nrityam moves as "inserts," made Paddu Akka's lifelong study of the Natya Sastra 'karanas' seem more like a seduction than a conscious choreography design.
But mark my words. Janaki, whether you or I like it or not, is the next star of Bharatanatyam. I should know. In 1985, I told my TV crew in New York that soon everyone would be buying $5 coffee when Starbucks appeared and we would all be buying bottled water. Hmmmmm. Need I say more?
Sharmila Biswas and group presented APARKAYA
on January 16, 2015 at the Parkaya Festival, Delhi
Photos: Avinash Pasricha
Ashish Khokar: Feb 29
K Kalyanasundaram (BN): March 1
Menaka Thakkar (Odissi): March 3
Rani Karnaa (Kathak): March 11
Sudharani Raghupathy (BN): March 21
Shobana Chandrakumar (BN): March 21
Vidhya Subramanian (BN): March 24
"An art historian has to work very hard. He has to be a composite being – hawk, ant, camel and peacock. Like a hawk, he has to be alert and swoop down to catch a point; he has to have the industry of an ant; the memory of a camel to connect various pieces of information; and like a peacock to spread one’s wings and to enjoy art!"
- Dr. BN Goswamy
(‘Two historians share notes,’ by Chitra Madhavan, The Hindu Friday Review, Jan 30, 2015)
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