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Dakshin December
Photos courtesy: Devaniya

November 29, 2019

Dakshin means south. I'm qualifying it, as Hindi can be perceived as an onslaught or an infliction, by some in South India too. December is the month when majority of the dance scene and scholars, critics of national (even notional) relevance move South. Some of us who live there in South India anyway see this seasonal influx; like Siberian cranes, NRI birds and bees fly in to partake of the spread that Madras has to offer. Shows from morning to evening, many fighting for attention. Some sold out, some with 10 people in hall.

Dakshin school of Kathak sounds novel, especially in a city, where no Kathak exists. Why Kathak? Not even a tabla player or ghungroo stringer (Kathak ankle bells are strung together, 108 for each ankle, not stitched on cloth or leather) exists. So when someone trains over a 100 students and presents them at a full and overflowing Narada Gana Sabha on the last Sunday of November, then bells have been rung for a mad, mad, MADras December season, the famed Margazhi maasam or month. That someone is Jigyasa Giri.

Kathak was made popular in South in a big way by Ram Gopal in the 1930s, when guru Sohanlal was teaching in Bangalore. Maya Rao next gets credit for learning it properly and even codifying format of presentation for the stage, in Delhi. She then created a band of followers and helped further the cause of Kathak in South India. One of her students, who took train every weekend from Madras to Bangalore to learn from Maya Rao was a Gujarati bhen Jigyasa Giri. As her name, so her deeds. Her parents, both well known doctors of the city, named her appropriately, for she has curious interest - Jigyasa - to learn about art forms. In all she does, there's elegance and aesthetics. Despite the flurry of activity, she had calm written all over her. Only someone very centered and sorted can achieve that on stage or off it. Jigyasa is also a well-known author of cook books, before her credentials as Kathak artiste, teacher and choreographer were established professionally.

DEVANIYA's tenth anniversary show was a very professionally mounted mega production that started on time, ran seamlessly and finished on time. Each item from the invocatory Nritya Arpana to Meera bhajans; Adi Sankaracharya's Shivashtakam to Jamuna ke teer or Achyutam Keshawam had precision and perfection. And the concluding piece was patriotic too, who else but Bharatiyar's Paayum oli nee yenakku.... The finale with 115 dancers on stage was memorable. Never in Madras has one seen Narada Gana Sabha stage so adroitly utilised by so many talents. Entries and exits were precisely choreographed and costumes were lavish and tasteful. Each dancer turned out professionally. The opening visuals were spectacular, though too many visuals got covered up by dancing in front by most. No point having visuals as backdrop if they get covered up. Showing your back to Shiva or Krishna visual also looks odd to audiences. Uday Shankar said never overdo anything in stage. It becomes counterproductive.

Music by Divakar Subramaniam was first rate and full of religious musicality. In fact, after a long time one saw Kathak as it was meant to be - a worshipful offering - not mere technical wizardry. Kathak now is more about jugglery and less about divinity. In DEVANIYA's presentation, the bhakti aspect came through. From 5 year to 55 year old on stage, each dancer got into the role of the theme. Avani clearly is a winner, though Shankari entered the stage like a ball of fire - all energy and gung-ho dance but fizzled out like a fire cracker, leaving only smoke in its wake or fallen jewellery! Her solo item was enthusiastic but didn't have any repose, thehraav, so essential to Kathak. A lone boy did well in a group of 100+ girls. Excellent light and sound by Murugan and Nambukumar, costumes by Sunanda Jain, stage decor by Shanmugham, hairstylist (yes, even that! Shows eye for detail and imagine 115 dancers had to be readied!) Dhana deserve a mention. And as I said before, ghungroo stringer (Bhagavati) who strung 230! - 115 into 2 legs or feet. Dancing feet resonated at the Narada Gana Sabha.

Jigyasa Giri has made a place for herself seriously in Chennai dance scene and she has made Kathak now a happening Dakshin school too. One felt fulfilled to have attended this special event and how rarely does that happen? In a year, on an average, one sees 200 performances in 10 cities or more. This clearly remains a benchmark this year.

Ashish Mohan Khokar is a reputed author, arts administrator, historian, critic with many published books and edits India's only yearbook attenDance. He is now helping the IGNCA, Delhi, set up the Mohan Khokar Dance Archives-cum-Museum.

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