Ashish Khokar's Dance DISCourse!

July 17, 2010

For long, dance lovers have been eager to see films on great dancers of the past as well as historical material on them. Thus, when Ashish Mohan Khokar, who has inherited the vast dance archives of his father Mohan Khokar, decided to mount this series starting on July 10th, with support and patronage of Alliance Francaise de Bangalore, the most central, cultured and compact space in town, it proved to be a boon to dancers and dance enthusiasts. The 125 odd who attended the first ever Dance DISCourse by Ashish Khokar in Bangalore, saw firsthand what an important tool and device for understanding dance, this type of series are. Calls came from Pune and Mumbai wishing to attend.

About 40% of the audience was non-dancers! An achievement in itself and 50% were under 30, still a bigger achievement. They were technos, geeks, designers, writers, just curiously interested in dance, theatre people, designers and film goers. First to arrive was a gentleman claiming to be Jayalalitha's brother and wearing a French cap, looking dashing. He seemed an interesting maverick, regaling with tales of this and that. Then came the scholars, critics, connoisseurs, dancers, activists, journalists, researchers, patrons and promoters. It was as though all came in the last ten minutes, since Khokar's shows generally start on time.

The host-compere Anuradha Iyengar of Alliance Francaise said, "This unique evening is put together by Ashish-ji, whose hospitality is Indian; punctuality German and structure, French!" She set the tone for the series, a six month, once-a month-on-Saturday event.

Chiranjeev Singh
In his keynote address, Chiranjeev Singh, poet, scholar, thinker and ex-IAS, also current President of Alliance, was all praise for need of such series and said, "It is to Bangalore's gain that a seasoned scholar of dance like Ashish Khokar has made Bangalore his home." Purush, a film on male dancing was shown, culled from the Khokar archives and compiled by Ashish Khokar.

Once Ashish Khokar took to stage, he conducted the evening with poise and purpose; style and substance. He introduced the content and context. For long he had looked for a neutral space for dance and this was it. He said at the outset what this forum was not! It was not about gender politics or dance politics. It was not a dance union and definitely not for dance egos. The forum was for dance and the Who's Who of dance world's presence validated that.

Padmini Ravi, Madhu Nataraj, Satyanarayana Raju, Kiran-Sandhya Subramaniam, Madhulita Mohapatra, Anuradha Vikranth, P Praveen Kumar, Tushar Bhatt, Seshadri Iyengar, Sharmila Mukherjee, Dr. Shridhar-Anu, Manasa Joshi, BP Sweekruth, students, fans and friends were present.

Khokar had devised the Past, Present and Future of Indian Dance in one evening. First half hour of Past through rare archival films, compiled, some shot and made by Khokar himself showcased many greats like Ram Gopal, Ted Shawn, Uday Shankar, Kelucharan Mohapatra, Birju Maharaj, Astad Deboo and so on.

The Present was represented by panelists including patron "Ananya" Raghavendra who does lot for art activity in Karnataka; Guru Padmini Ravi, "aunty" to all grown-up guys like Seshadri Iyengar who say she taught them from childhood and they have called her that for long! Madhu Nataraj, the designer-dancer-choreographer of Bangalore; critic of dance, master of Hindi and humour Dr. M Suryaprasad who was direct and clear; dancer Kiran Subramaniam and two male soloists representatives K Murali Mohan and P Praveen Kumar.

Padmini Ravi spoke clearly about what organising a giant festival like Bengaluru Habba meant, a festival for which she has got known in the last decade. Ananya Raghavendra stated what a thankless task being a patron can be and how demanding dancers are! They want latest gadgets and technical inputs and all frills while audiences are not thrilled by their art sometimes! Praveen Kumar made for the most vociferous speaker who woke people up from their comatose state! He looks frugal but he detonates powerful thoughts. Praveen Kumar and Suryaprasad, the critic, were the two most articulate speakers.

The interactive session is an important element of Dance DISCourse. The Future was interactive with 10 questions having been tabulated from yellow slips given to all at arrival and questions grouped. Questions regarding gender and sexuality were not taken up because this was not the forum for it, as Khokar pointed out in his introduction.

Khokar short-listed 3 questions and all assembled had a discussion on role of critic, role of art patronage and standards in dance teaching. While paucity of time meant answers were curtailed, it was still an event where one learnt a lot and took much back home. One looks forward to the series ahead, next being on 21st August on Choreography.