Sandhya-Kiran's milestone 
- Ashish Mohan Khokar, Bangalore 
Pics: Shrivatsa Shandalya 

February 24, 2010 

Born to police officer Subramanyam, an IPS no less, Kiran took to dance at an early age under Bharatanatyamís finest teacher in Bangalore, Padmini Ravi. Looking at her youthful and stylish persona, one cannot imagine she has students who are in their early forties! Both the teacher and the taught look youthful and surely dance must make them so! Kiran married Sandhya and together they took permission of their guru to go learn further from doyennes of the form, the Dhananjayans in Madras of yore. That was many years ago. Today, the Kirans are established names in Bharatanatyam. 

At their 25th anniversary in dance celebrations, the duo were platformed by do-gooder "Ananya" Raghavendra Swamigal (that's how I address him! as he is a true patron-saint of artistes of and in Karnataka), who presented a full-day focus on the duo, complemented with a seminar on choreographic trends today. Held on 13th of February at Seva Sadan and in the evening at Gayana Samaj, the celebrations were genuine, low key and full of substance. 

Navarasa by Kiran
Generally, a duo or a dancer celebrating their 25th year in dance amounts to an ego trip, basically. Paeans are sung by students and flowers given by family and friends and a festive atmosphere prevails. Kiran - Sandhya avoided that by highlighting their students' work and organizing a seminar where the few key dance personalities spoke about the subject. Usha RK, a dance devotee, moderated the seminar. 

My main point at the seminar was: where and what is the language of and in choreography? Will a hand of Kathak and a foot of Kalari, do? Using one Bharatanatyam hasta with two Kathakali eyes, how far will it hold? Then too, why call it modern? My next concern is about CHOReography or thieving and stealing ideas.  What about copyrights? Often one sees two students of Daksha going to another group and taking all her ideas and materials and copying it! I had raised this when Samudra debuted in Madras in 2001 at The Other Festival. They had a foot of Astad from 'Asylum' (and I have it on tape for our series on dance Taal-Mel done for Doordarshan in 1995!) and costumes and rope acts of Daksha from 'Sarpagati.' Here too, I raised an academic concern and the issue of the eternal wheel, as seen in Stemís 'Vajra' last year and the same wheel with dancers, as seen in Nritarutya's show for the Times of India function, performed the day before the seminar, hence fresh in mind, and topical.  

In my discourse, I included Mayuri, the chief choreographer of Nritarutya and fine dancing talent of Bangalore, who was present at the seminar and I asked a question of academic concern: Who inspired whom? Being somewhat internet challenged, I did not know the issue had already been raised and spatted upon in the Facebook! Photographer Shrivatsa Shandalya told me later.  Now, as a professional writer, I hardly have time to see my emails and write my many books and columns, thus Facebook and Twitter are not my daily priority area and I see it, maybe quarterly or bi-annually! Mayuri explained later that the use of wheel was done by her in Pune, 6 months prior to Stemís use in 'Vajra.' The occasion for Mayuri to use it was a special launch for and by Volkswagen, the car giant from Germany. It seems, both Madhu and Mayuri had been shortlisted for the show and both were given story boards with "wheel" as the idea (how original for a car co.!). Mayuri got the commissioned work and was selected by Volkswagen to present her show with wheel as the main dance motif. Mayuri thus "created the wheel-dance" idea, first. Mayuri says she took up the matter with Madhu after 'Vajra' was performed. Two great minds working on the same wheel? Who used the idea first, is the main issue. Me thinks it is a fellow called da Vinci, way back many centuries ago. Recall his man within the circle? A very common image. I recall seeing "dance in wheel" first in the works of an American dance group, Philobolus, in Delhi in 1976 or 77. My point was: who inspires whom?  I further said why not give a line of credit? No idea being more original than Brahma's creation of the universe, I feel, all ideas in art have been done in some form, before. Ditto, in fashion. There's a line in the Mahabharata, the epic: what is not stated herein, does not exist! I also raised the issue of free usage of the title "guru" nowadays. Ordinary teachers use the term guru freely now. My mother, nearing 80, and an acknowledged Bharatanatyam doyenne, still feels shy to use it after training 2 generations of dancers.  

Sunil Kothari won everyone's hearts by starting out with a few lines in Kannada. He screened snippets from works of Daksha Sheth, Aditi Mangaldas and Chandralekha. Bhanumati, the senior talent of Bharatanatyam and a fine teacher, spoke coherently and brought out her thoughts on choreography and how line, structure and movements were critical to symmetry, synchronization and sophistication (her works are known for). The Kirans gave all credit to their gurus and got their abundant blessings in turn. The Dhananjayans seconded two points raised by yours truly: the stealing of choreographies and the free and liberal use of the word "guru." Recently I was in Orissa and everyone there was a guru! Even a thirty something calls himself a guru!! Dhananjayan's speech was backed by a fine depiction in Kathakali, of a hunter, lion and a deer in pangs of delivering a calf/doe. It was done so superbly that he naturally got a standing ovation.  Usha KR summed up the proceedings well. 

VP Dhananjayan in his Kathakali demo
Students of Kiran and Sandhya
The evening's delayed start and long screenings of various voices ruined some of the impact of the function in which the students of the Kirans showcased their teacher's art. First-rate is the only word for 'Arambha,' which was such a simple idea that one wondered, why no one had done it before. Weaving in an Allarippu, were the patakas and the positions as enunciated in the Bharatanatyam teaching and shown in the morning by the Dhananjayans too. The choreography was superb and this item alone should be seen by all India, especially big festivals like Khajuraho, Konark and others. The second piece was on Tulisdas' "Main nae-hin makhan khayo" on Yashodha-Krishna. Performed ably by a mischievous looking Vidya Padmam as Krishna and serene Yashoda done by Sivaranjani, the item showed the abhinaya or emotive abilities of Kiran's students. The concluding piece was  a marvellous projection of the firm foundation given by the teachers to each and every student. In all the students attempted, under the able choreography of  Ramya Janakiraman (who also administered the whole event and helped make the film screened), there was proper finish and substance. The Kirans can feel proud and in turn both Padmini Ravi and the Dhananjayans should. Both were felicitated at the evening function by Sunil Kothari and yours truly. 
From left: Kiran, Sunil Kothari, Shanta Dhananjayan, VP Dhananjayan, Ashish Khokar, Sandhya, "Ananya" Raghavendra
Sandhya maintained a dignified silence all through and only once took to the mike to say a few touching lines on the other quiet partner, Shanta Dhananjayan. Sandhya said Shanta had inspired her and was her role model. Kiran looked regal, like a lion king! Both complement each other and one can see they are married not only to each other well, but to dance as well.  

If this is what the Kirans have achieved at so young an age, then in times and years to come, one can only expect more. May their art continue to help Generation Next! The whole event was artistically done by Ananya's team. Bangalore is lucky to have a patron saint of arts, Raghavendra swamigal and a fine dance couple and teachers like the Kirans.  
Reputed critic-historian-editor of attendance, Ashish Mohan Khokar takes time off from several dance-related projects ongoing in many cities, to travel and take note of  special events and festivals in India.