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Prune in June

June 26, 2019

June is a hot and happening month when summer solstice takes place. While cold countries like Sweden celebrate Midsummer with dance and music festivities, in hot and happening countries like India, it's a time when the full dance calendar whittles down to a trickle, bit like inadequate water supplies in most metros. It is also a time when most professional dancers tour abroad or those rich ones who can afford, go to hill stations to breathe or take a breather - even a workshop. These are often more shops than work! But commonplace now.

Rujuta Soman


So when a Pune-based Kathak dancer in Bangalore, Sampada Pillai, invites another Pune talent Rujuta Soman (of that magnificent production Rajhans fame) to perform as judwas (twosome) in Bangalore on the Summer Solstice Day (also now the International Yoga Day) then they make everyone in Bangalore sit up and take notice. Both are younger generation of Guru Rohini Bhate's students, who has left a unique mark on Kathak scene and made Pune centre almost a gharana. Of course her tutelage under giants like guru Pt. Lachchu Maharaj and Mohanrao Kalyanpurkar equipped her with material, which later she fine tuned to pass on to the generation next. And among those youngsters were Rujuta Soman, Sampada Pillai and many more. They made for a unique evening of superb offering in Kathak.

Why? Content first. Each item, each offering is geared towards perfection. From clarity of foot work, to sharpness in delivery; from pleasing costumes to perfect entries, the two gurubehns with two students - Shivangee and Sanika - made for a memorable Kathak evening. Many Kathak talents of Bangalore were in attendance in the Seva Sadan Hall and they were smitten if not struck with the beauty of this evening. No stress, no fuss, no fancy talk. Just a neat and clean delivery. Look at the composition of the evening to understand what content means.

Sampada Pillai


Starting with an unusual Vandana - in ode of Ganesha set to Dhrupad in tala Neel, they render Jhaptala followed by a Yugal Keertan and then in the solo by Rujuta Soman, she shines as Pootana first catching various venomous species to embalm her breasts with poison so when little Krishna feeds, he dies. Rujuta was so precise in each movement and gesture that it looked like she had actually caught, then slowly extracted poison from a snake and killed it finally - all under one minute! That is artistry of high order.

Four elements made for Chaturanga, ably performed by all 4 followed by Sampada's solo. The Kannada poet offering by Rujuta was to please the local audiences perhaps but there was no need as the recording was not same level and clarity as in other items. The finale Tarana was like a cherry on the cake. The whole evening was so well planned and executed that one didn't know nearly 90 minutes of performance was over. Each item also offered sparkling costume changes. Looking at the lavishness of costumes and music one wondered if the dancers were poorer by one or two lakhs, as ten costumes, travel for 3 stay in a metro, plus all extras - hall, lights, sound - costs much these days. Music alone would've meant few lakhs in recording. But that's a tool and a necessary investment for dancers as getting live music is impossible, unless there are deep pocketed sponsors. And this show was not even ticketed. Rajhans too was a mega production in a huge hall in Pune and the production cost many lakhs. When later one asked Rujuta, why do it!? Her answer was simple: "This is what I love and wanted to do - create a big dance production." Who can question that? Dance is life and rules some of us.

Founder director late Dr. Renzo Vescovi, with Guru Aloka Panikar, Luigia Calcaterra and Tiziana Barbiero

Kathakali actor Alessandro with Asaan

They have been doing dance and theatre for half a century. That's TTB, in Bergamo, Italy. Eugene Barbara set the tone which an intellectually gifted Dr. Renzo Vescovi picked up and created a most unique theatre group called Teatro Tascabile de Bergamo, named after a bustling hill town some two hour train ride from Milan. Chance first took me there 40 years ago in 1979 to be precise, so it is like returning home! Every once in a decade I manage time when opportunity comes my way, and this time for two reasons. One, our vision for 2020 is to feature (in attenDance) all such foreigners' run Indian dance connected organizations who have done benchmark work. This year one such got a Padmashri - Milena Salvini - who created Mandapa in Paris and has had a 50 year link with India.

TTB is another such, with a 40 year link now. After Renzo Vescovi, who died suddenly due to meningitis a decade ago, Beppe Giuseppe Chierichetti, Luigia Calcaterra and now Tiziana Barbiero with Alexander and others run the exceptional dance theatre company, making seminal productions and benchmark conferences not only in Italy but other countries of Europe. For 40 years they have come to India and learnt Kathakali from gurus at Cheruthurthy like Kalamandalam John; Orissi from guru Aloka Panikar and Hindustani music from Pt. Amarnath. Further, they did pedagogy and mastered in Sanskrit. TTB involvement with India is total.

Bharatanatyam dancer Catarina

Odissi dancer Tiziana Barbiero

This June, they have collected many cultures and from Indian dance world they have Bangalore's pride Praveen Kumar, Britain's Aakash Odedra, New Yorker Srinidhi Raghavan and yours truly to link up the historical narrative. Mishran I call it. India and everything about India is a meeting, merging, melting pot.

Pot of gold at end of a rainbow many dancers hope for when they covet and seek awards. July / August is the time when nominations start seriously and all the canvassing and cajoling begins. The government has streamlined many processes and if dancers have noticed, earlier anyone with pull and push got a national award. Not anymore. Only 2 Padmashri in dance or music. Not 4 or 6 as in earlier regimes. And dance includes film, so Prabhudeva got this year with Bharatanatyam dancer Narthaki Nataraj.

Please also think, while we all desire awards, do we really deserve it? Just because one is dancing one is not doing favour to the country! Get real. Doctors save lives every day, unknown and unsung. Quantity is fine, one may have performed here, there, everywhere but what is the quality of your art? Please think. When one gets an award, it should be an Ah or Wah! moment. Not a Bah!

First earn then expect. First learn properly, then dance. Foundation is everything. Young India is in a hurry to arrive. Nothing wrong with it. Problem is, even if you arrive, you must have the staying power.

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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