Welcoming the contemporary arts: 
Modern Dance Festival at Kozikode 
- Pratima Sagar, Hyderabad 
e-mail: pratima_sagar@yahoo.com 

April 6, 2010 

The hinterlands of Northern Kerala have attracted many a connoisseur of art time and again. For the intense Kathakali performances in the evenings, the festive nights of spectacular Theyyam, the meditative and dynamic martial arts of Kalaripayattu at dawn… the neighbourhood temples illuminated with a thousand oil lamps seems to keep aglow those ancient ritualistic art forms for hundreds of years now.

This realm of living traditions seems to further its love for art when its people welcomed an annual 'Contemporary Dance Festival' to showcase world dance and newer choreographic creations. Thanks to the novel initiative by the Department of Tourism, Culture and Public Relations, Kozhikode, Kerala, for bringing in contemporary dance companies from across the country in a four day dance festival by the seashore auditorium.

Samudra, a budding dance company with a dozen young dancers trained in the traditional dance, theatre and martial arts of Kerala, now experimenting with contemporary movements and those inspired concepts, set the festival on roll. In fact, Madhu Gopinath and Vakkom Sajeev of Samudra, collaborated with Government of Kerala to actualise this very first modern dance fest in Kozhikode. 

As a curtain raiser, their performance titled ‘Cosmic Dance of Siva,' a one-and-a-half hour choreography, was befitting. A stage lit with colourful lights and smoke introduces three dancing girls stretching with prayer like movements inspired by the Kalari Namaskaram, followed by dancers gyrating in and out of the stage space in sets of three, two, and four, one and more! Fusion music overlapped by chants was the background score that saw finely trained dancers in meditative and yogic postures in the following sequences: My pick was the Ardhanaarishwara, where Lithin Raj and Lithi, artistically, intensely danced to depict the divine entity of Siva and Shakti. The choreography reaches a crescendo when Madhu and Sajeev in a hearty burst of Ananda Tandava of Nataraja, culminate with the classic sculpturesque stance of Siva standing over a dwarf! Earthy colours for costume against psychedelic lighting effects, made quite a visual feast. The Samudra dancers are undoubtedly, serious about their chosen style of dance - athletic, acrobatic and awesomely entertaining the masses.

The intellectual among the audience were satiated with the performance of the country's veteran contemporary dancer, Astad Deboo. The second evening of the dance festival saw Astad in a matte copper hued costume with genteel beam focusing on his inmost emotions - a bond that he creates with the cosmos. The Drupad  cadences along with the dancer's moves, which were almost in its stillness… like one sees a flower bloom from its bud, but miraculously miss the process… or should I symbolise with the mystery of the dusk traversing into darkness, that is soothingly subdued at dawn! Here in this offering to the space and body, titled ‘Aahvan,' Astab Deboo sets the mood for what was in the offing. ‘Stepping out,' a lilting saxophone in the background score lets the dancer literally step out from the wings with only parts of his limbs being introduced on the stage space and gradually ascending as though into another dimension of deep space … he almost seemed to sensuously blend into the play of light! Milind Srivastava's lighting design poetically complimented the atmosphere. The finale dance of the doyen was based on Rabindra Sangeet, ‘Every fragment of dust is breathtaking,' with music by a Japanese composer. Interestingly, Astad seemed to create an individualistic bond with every engrossed onlooker… letting each relate, interpret and fall in love. From a tweet of a little bird on a branch to the elevating sounds of trumpets cutting across the mountains and invoking the energies of earth…. like a Sufi, the dancer swivelled and swivelled with magnetic vigour drawing the viewers into a state of awed tranquillity, as he stops! Experience this!!

Connoisseurs who knew the mother and daughter duo,  late Manjusri Chaki Sircar and Ranjabati Sircar, missed more than ever those creative and cogent choreographies of their company, Dancers Guild. What remains of this dancing company from Kolkota is really gloomy. Striving to continue their founders' style called Nava Nritya or Modern Dance, the present set of dancers have a long way to go even to revive their mentors' creations. Their performance at Kozhikode, saw them in bits and pieces titled ‘Usha'- prayers to the Sun, ‘Matrika'- earth mother, ‘Janani' - woman, etc. but none that the audience could take back home to remember.

The finale evening of the dance festival showcased Bharat Sharma's choreography titled ‘Jatakamala.' This renowned production of Bhoomika had the established aesthetics of late Narendra Sharma - of using colourful cloth props held by the dancers to create formations. These agile and savvy dancers did create the necessary magic on stage while depicting a collage of the Jataka tales. I was reminded of the Sanchi relief sculpture, the narrative panels- as though scrolling over the stage space to tell those evocative tales of Bodhisatva. Dividing of the stage space to render layered narratives was quite appealing. For instance, young Goutama witnessing the realities of life - of ageing, disease and death and his transition into a meditative world to realise many of his earlier lives (known as the Jataka Kathas)… all happening in the rear end of the stage with dancers illustrating these in a scroll and gradually letting the whole jungle come alive in a brilliant dance choreography where groups of dancers transform themselves into leaping apes and gliding cranes, creeping snakes and crawling crocs as the jungle book of Jataka tales unfold…

The four-day modern dance fest attracted huge crowds, a fact reiterating that this city by the sea loves art in all its hues - tribal, traditional, classical and now modern!

Pratima Sagar is an artist and cultural commentator based in Hyderabad. She was dance critic for The Hindu for six years, before venturing into publishing. As, founder director of Bhairava Publications, Pratima Sagar has edited, designed and published coffee table books and catalogues based on performing and visual arts, archeology and ancient arts, apart from producing documentary films on tribal and folk arts of India and Africa. Pratima is presently pursuing her doctoral program in ‘ethnology of temple sculptors and dancers’ from Folk Culture Department of the Central University, Hyderabad.