Matters of Dance
October 29, 2023
I took time to think what really needs telling. Not routine reviews that are almost passť now, when anyone can write their own blogs or FB reviews. We writers anyway rarely make a living; sometimes we make a fortune. Or history.
History in performing arts - that's India's true intangible heritage - comes from decades plus of shows like the one that had gone on for 75 years! Every year. Without fail. The Ramlila of Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra. The seeds for the mega musical (that's what it is, actually) was first sown when India became independent.
Our epic tales, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana have gone on for ever. In Kathakali or Yakshagana or Kalakshetra productions or elsewhere. What makes SBKK's Ramlila special is its spiffiness and smartness of sets and substance. So many legendary gurus have contributed to it; so many music and dance greats been part of it. There's a whole book on the subject, brought out 25 years ago, on its 50th anniversary.
This book details the story of the making of this production and the institution behind it. Costumes, music, young actors and musicians all into the making of India's best Ramlila that is shown in an open air stage behind Kamani auditorium in the heart of Delhi. Sumitra Charatram, the queen mother of artistes of Delhi, started it long ago and she was both literary and classy. Today, her uber cool (for a 75 year old!) city smart daughter, Shobha Deepak Singh, continues with her innovations, additions and alternations. In under 3 hours the whole epic story is told and how! Fast changing scenes; superb sets and good drama adds sheen to this eternal story of Tulsidas' Ramayan. It is the highlight of the season and the reason many corporates in Delhi book the show to show their staff and clients. The show is transformative. It takes you to another world.
Far from the maddening crowds of Delhi - in Tijara, Alwar district, Rajasthan, a high end heritage hotel of the Neemrana group, one sees classical dance unfold every Saturday, for six months. Ditto at its flagship property Neemrana, on way to Jaipur. A good dancer, selected from hundreds of choices from all over India, is platformed for an hour and showcased. The wonder boy of Bharatanatyam Aditya Nataraja, all of 12, was the youngest to be seen on this platform recently and his performance had all sit and take notice. There was pin drop silence with only one member in audience in high spirits, saying bravo once too often. What perfection, what command and what ease of delivery Aditya has. Boy, can he dance! This is a talent from previous birth. His teacher Deepa Krishnamurthy deserves an award for nurturing this talent. He is so self-contained and centred. He is like an old soul in a new body.
Births and deaths and ancestors and constellation was the theme of Birmingham boy Aakash Odedra, presented in Delhi at the Sundar nursery and anyone who was anyone was there. Usual suspects of dance scene of Delhi were missing, showing they don't matter in higher circles or non-classical world. Though all Aakash did was based on classical Kathak, with superb sound and light thrown in. I overheard some local kathakars muttering, "What's his dance without all the props? We can do it too! If given lakhs in support for a production". Kiran Nadar Museum stands congratulated to have brought him to India and presented to the wine-sipping cognoscenti. Two Aditis were instrumental in its presentation: Mangaldas for content and Jaitly for conducting it. There were many ah and wah moments.
Photos on dance have come of age, even if most are posed. You see, dance should be captured in motion. Else the photo looks static. Like this photo of Nancy Sahu, ace disciple of guru Valmiki Banerjee. Look at the flow of the colours and the stylisation - An art work.
Young India is awash with TALENT. Problem is the lack of platforms. Earlier there were three greats in every form. Then 30. Now, there are 300 or 3000! In this age of SM, everyone also thinks they are god's gift to mankind just by posting on Instagram or X or Meta. Most have no real market. No one even pays for their paltry art or artistry. In this scenario who decides the real work and worth? Mainstream print media is missing from platforming most (except standard news magazine like the India Today, occasionally taking note of trends or milestones) and official bodies can't help defy logic in selection.
As the new season starts, post Covid, there's rush of activities post Dusshera. Festivals, seminars and events will compete for attention and audiences in metro India will be hard pressed for choices. Distances and traffic in most don't make for an enjoyable outing and still the die hard make it to the hall through Fall. That's autumn for non USA returned!
November brings us to Diwali when Dandiya of Dusshera is over. The season has just begun and will culminate in the Chennai sabha season with 9am to 9pm fare. In all this, what will stay and what hold, ultimately time and audiences will tell. But time and tide wait for none.... The fun has just begun.
Critic, connoisseur, historian, author, artivist, archivist, administrator and more - editor, columnist and mentor Ashish Khokar remains true to his muse.
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Awesome read, Ashish ji, especially about budding 12yr old Aditya Nataraj. I liked the line 'old soul in a new body' - those words are like an award to a 12yr old, such a good encouraging line, Hope someday I get to watch him dance in our Nrithya Utsava festivals at Bangalore.
- Prashanth Shastry (Oct 29, 2023)
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