Natya Sagara 2008 - Celebration of International Dance Day  
- A Seshan, Mumbai  
June 15, 2008 

The International Dance Day is observed all over the world to commemorate the birthday of Jean-George Noverre (1727-1810), the father of modern ballet. The objective is to bring all dances together on this occasion, to celebrate this art form and its universality, to cross all political and ethnic barriers and to bring people together in peace and friendship with a common language - dance.  To observe the Day for the fifth year in a row, Kanaka Sabha Centre for Performing Arts, Mumbai, and organized a dance competition for different age groups under the guidance of guru Saroja Srinath and Dr. Siri Rama. Although it falls on April 29 every year, it could be celebrated only on June 1 due to unavoidable circumstances. The competition was held in the premises of the Academy of Fine Arts and Crafts (AFAC) in Chembur, Mumbai. While the main auditorium was the venue for the Special Category, two smaller rooms were  available for holding the competition for the junior and the senior categories.  

Category No. Duration of performance (Minutes)
Junior (below 12 years)  30 7
Senior (12-16 years) 29  7
Special (16 years and above) 31 12
Total 90
All the major dance styles with the exception of Kathakali and Manipuri were represented at the competition. More than one-third of the participants, viz., 36, came from outside Mumbai - Chennai, Pune and Gujarat; one from USA was on her holiday in the city.  
Panel of Judges 
Name Speciality/Dance Style
Junior Group
Rajeshwari Jain  Bharatanatyam artiste 
Mahathi Vijayprasad  Bharatanatyam artiste /Carnatic musician
Senior Group
Moli Siddharth Bharatanatyam, Odissi  & Kathak artiste/ teacher
Seema Shetty  Bharatanatyam artiste
Special Group 
Pushpa Mohan Bharatanatyam artiste / teacher
Usha Srinivasan Carnatic vocalist for dance /teacher
Keka Sinha Kathak artiste/teacher
As in the past, the names of judges were not revealed to the contestants. The former were not informed about the gurus of the participants in the contest to ensure objectivity. Students of Kanaka Sabha were prohibited from registration.  

S Simran (Bharatanatyam - Junior) 
Aishwarya Ramanan (Bharatanatyam - Junior)
Uma R (Bharatanatyam - Senior) 
S Saathvika (Special - Bharatanatyam)
Sonal Pendse (Special - Other style)
Sonal Surve (Special - Bharatanatyam)

Prize Winners 
Junior Group 
1. S Simran - Bharatanatyam 
1. Aishwarya Ramanan - Bharatanatyam 
2. Vaishnavi Shetty - Bharatanatyam 
3. Akshaya R - Bharatanatyam 

Special Mention (Consolation) Prize 
1. Shreyoshree - Odissi 
2. Kirti Pradeep - Bharatanatyam 

Senior Group - Bharatanatyam 
1. Uma R 
2. Subhiksha Raghuram 
3. Surabhi Andrade 

Special Mention (Consolation) Prize  
1. K Padmaja  
2. Sonia Malgundkar 

Senior Group (Other styles) 
1. Isha Bhalerao - Kathak 
2. Sheji Nair - Kuchipudi 

Special Mention (Consolation) Prize  
Amantrita Mondal - Odissi 

Special Group - Bharatanatyam  
1. S Saathvikha  
1. Sonali Surve  
2. Anjana Mohan 
3. Tejaswi Shetty 

Special Mention (Consolation) Prize  
1. S Akshaya 
2. Neha Rajagopal 

Special Group (Other styles) 
1. Sonal Pendse     - Kathak 
2. Payal Mistry      - Odissi 
3. Aparna Mane    -Kathak 

Honour for Guru 
One special new feature of the Day was the honouring of a guru whose students had been consistently getting prizes at the competition year after year. The cut-off minimum number was fixed at 5. Chhaya Khanvate, a well-known guru of Bharatanatyam in Mumbai, was the first to be honoured this year with a shawl by Pushpa Mohan, one of the judges and daughter of the late Guru Mahalingam Pillai of Sri Rajarajeswari Natya Kala Mandir in Mumbai. Khanvate had had the unique distinction of learning Bharatanatyam from three founders of the Mandir, viz., gurus Kuppiah Pillai, Mahalingam Pillai and Kalyanasundaram. 

The Contest 
This writer could reach the venue (the main auditorium) only at 12 noon. Unfortunately he was not present during the performances of some of the prize-winners. But what he could observe not only of the Special Category but also from occasional glances at the competition in the other two rooms was that the average standard was going up year after year despite the variations in  individual performances. It testified to the seriousness with which the art forms were being pursued by the young amateurs and the intensive preparation they had made before coming to the venue. A few performances could be mentioned here. 

Shraddha's rendering of padam "Krishna Krishna" was noted for its sancharis followed by "Natanam Adinar" (Vasanta) of Gopalakrishna Bharati. Both Sonali and Tejaswi Shetty danced to the same varnam "Anname" in Valaji, Adi tala, sung by the same person on a common cassette used on the occasion. While their dances were marked by professionalism, the recorded singing was not up to the mark and was flat with a low sruti and lack of the lilt that one associates with Valaji. The accompanying music tends to have a subtle influence on the artistes and the judges. In the case of another dancer the jatis were practically shouted at her from the cassette. The role of mellinam (soft intonation) and vallinam (hard intonation) in the recitation of jatis is important in contributing  to aesthetic delight when rendered in the right proportions. Otherwise it is jarring and it could affect the dancer's performance. Madhura Deshpande's rendering of a varnam in Nattakkurinji was good. Her strong point is her expressive eyes. 

Payal Mistry's Odissi was very impressive. She has the stage personality of a professional Odissi dancer. She executed the bhangis (body positions) well. Apart from her classic tribhangi poses she was full of bhava in her abhinaya for a Jonpuri pallavi set to Jhampa tala. The chala (torso) movements typical of Odissi and the charis were also articulated well. She is a software expert working in Dallas (Texas), USA. It is a matter of satisfaction that professionals in other fields sustain their interest in dance.  She happened to be in Mumbai at the time of the competition and hence could participate.  

All the four Kathak dancers - Rucha Nazare, Sheetal K Lalge, Shruti Anil Patki and Sonal A Pendse -  displayed a thoroughly professional approach. They were imaginative enough to engage a common live orchestra with a singer and players on the harmonium and the tabla for their individual performances, whom they had brought from Pune along with them. It spoke loudly about their seriousness in participating in the contest.  It was a relief from all the recorded music that one had heard till then. It also showed how live music could make a difference to a dance recital. Whether it was angasanchalan, abhinaya, chakkars or tatkars, each one of them did well making it difficult to choose the best. They all followed the customary practice of padhant (reciting the jatis) and doing tatkars near the foot mike to demonstrate their mastery of laya. The finishing of each rhythmic cycle with a flourish where the dancer stands in a frozen sculpturesque stance was impressive and straight from the textbook.  It was interesting to note one participant sitting in the orchestral group and reciting the jatis when another was dancing. Obviously they had all been well trained in all departments of the dance form. The singer was exceptionally good with her sweet voice. The interface of nattuvangam, singing, harmonium and tabla playing with dancing resulted in a happy and healthy total outcome.  The judges selected Sonal Pendse as the first prize winner in the Special Category. Her bhava-laden expressions were outstanding.  
The audience turnout was good. While speaking on the occasion, this writer pointed out that despite the oft-heard lament of declining public interest in classical dances the young were seriously taking to the art in increasing numbers. It augured well for the future. He pointed out the low attendance at the dance programmes at the National Centre for the Performing Arts at Nariman Point. While it is understandable that the average rasika is anxious to ‘catch' his usual train to return home after office hours, there is no reason why those in the suburbs could not be present at programmes held locally. He appealed to them to encourage young artistes by attending their performances.  

The program was compered by Vidhya Mani, Chandrika Shetty and Sarikha Shetty. Punitha Selvaraj, Sujaya Kotian and Sujatha Kotian were the time-keepers. The registration of candidates was done by Archana Vijaykumar, Bhuvana Selvaraj and Rajeshwari Nair. All enquiries relating to the competition were attended to by Surekha Radhakrishnan and Sarikha Shetty. Surekha Radhakrishnan, Vidhya Mani and Shanti Krishnamoorthy looked after publicity. The remaining aspects of administration, including the canteen arrangement, were handled by Sreelesh Nambiar, Shanti Krishnamoorthy, Asha Baimitha, Sharannya Preeti, Rekha Gadge and Divya Shetty.  

A special addition and amenity this year was the presence of a mini-canteen to serve lunch from a limited menu on payment.  This was appreciated by the participants and the general audience in view of the sessions lasting from 9.45am to 5.30pm. There is no restaurant within a walking distance of the venue. One hopes that with the experience gained this year the menu could be expanded further (including some popular South Indian dishes and cold drinks) in the next year and made operational from the beginning of the program.  

The event was sponsored by Shri Radhakrishnan Pillai of Atma Darshan, a company that provides services including management consultancy and religious and spiritual tourism. 

The author, an Economic Consultant in Mumbai, is a music and dance buff. He thanks Sarikha Shetty for the assistance received in getting details of the competition.