On the threshold: young dancers at Ranan's 'Ankur 2011'
Photos: Indudipa Sinha

October 29, 2011

Ranan, Kolkata, initiated ‘Ankur’ – an annual event featuring emerging talents in Indian classical dance - in 2004. Initially conceived as a platform for local talent, ‘Ankur’ has since grown to present young solo dancers from Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Thrissur in addition to those from Kolkata. Over the years, it has been heartening to see an audience develop for ‘Ankur’ which, of course, does not have the sometimes dubious benefit of well-known names. This was borne out by the healthy turnout of about 200 people for ‘Ankur 2011’ presented at Gyan Manch on September 16, 2011 featuring two dancers selected by an expert panel from nationwide applications.

Surangama Majumdar

For the past few years, ‘Ankur’ has been presented as the second evening in the annual presentation of Brindar – Ranan’s Kathak training wing. These two evenings taken together exemplify a dancer’s journey from a novice and trainee to a budding performer. Forming a bridge between the evening of dance by students and an evening of dance by performers on the threshold of their careers, ‘Ankur 2011’ opened with a short recital by a senior Brindar student, Surangama Majumdar.

Surangama has been training in Kathak under Debashree Bhattacharya at Brindar since 2002. In her short presentation of 15 minutes, she performed Saraswati Stotra, Teental and Vrindavan Raas managing to touch on almost all of the varied aspects that Kathak offers. While her performance was competent, neat and graceful, Surangama needs to put in more work on the technical facets of Kathak which are known for their complexity of rhythm, skill and bodily control. Her abhinaya is spontaneous and natural, but would benefit from an infusion of subtlety – something that comes with maturity.  One also saw echoes of the ‘Rabindrik’ style of dance – almost disturbingly ubiquitous in Bengal – that she also learns and performs. She must take care that the two forms – though they may inform and indeed enhance each other – do not infect each other in ways that affect clarity and specificity of technique.

Satabdee Banerjee

The question of technique and form came to the fore again in a more academic vein with the next performer – Satabdee Banerjee in a recital of Gaudiya Nritya. Gaudiya Nritya is the most recent inclusion under the Sangeet Natak Akademi’s list of ‘classical’ dances of India, and its classicism – if there is such a clear-cut formula – is a contentious issue at least in the dance circles of Bengal. Dr. Mohua Mukhopadhyay – Guru of Satabdee – has argued for years in favour of what she views as the lost classical dance of Bengal. However, other dancers and scholars have raised several fundamental questions about the form’s technique, repertoire, history and so on.

Be that as it may, these academic questions did nothing to take away from Satabdee’s talent as a dancer. Gaudiya Nritya seems to draw from several ritual traditions and ‘folk’ elements in movements as well as props such as the chamar and clay pot, and both found ample expression in Satabdee’s performance. Her grace, her poise, her presence are to be lauded, especially so in the movements which are martial and gymnastic. To imbue such flamboyant movements with the grace that transforms them into dance is no easy matter, and Satabdee did this with remarkable beauty and dignity.

Satabdee presented three pieces in all: a Saraswati Vandana, Sachitanayashtakam and Nataraja Stuti. The first drew from an 18th century Bengali text and the second – a worship of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu – from the writings of Sri Sarbabhaumya Bhattacharyya. This is perhaps where the questions of authenticity, history and repertoire become most potent – but those areas are outside the purview of this report as well as outside the knowledge of this reviewer. It was the third piece performed to a well known Rabindrasangeet, however, that proved disappointing both musically and choreographically. Is it too early perhaps to begin experimentations with the form? And while the music was well researched and presented in the other two pieces, Satabdee surely deserves a more tuneful vocalist! That was the one sore point that several members of the audience commented on.

The last performer of the evening was Pavitra Bhatt in a recital of Bharatanatyam. Pavitra, a disciple of Guru Deepak Mazumdar, is from Mumbai – not a city one generally thinks of when talking of classical dance. Pavitra’s performance, though, left the audience spellbound. Rarely does one see Bharatnatyam – or any dance – performed with such a beautiful blend of virtuosity, grace and passion. Rarer still is it to watch a young male dancer dance with such consummate skill and involvement. It was arguably one of the best Bharatanatyam recitals Kolkata has seen in a long while, and it is indeed unfortunate that more local Bharatanatyam exponents and students were not there to watch it.

Pavitra Bhatt

Pavitra began with an interesting and precise combination of a Ganapati Stuti and Alaripu, where the classic lines and geometry of Bharatanatyam provided a wonderfully appropriate frame for his masculine grace and demeanour. I use the word ‘masculine’ advisedly: too often, grace is relegated to the realm of the feminine and power to the realm of the masculine – especially in dance. Grace in male dancers often borders on the effeminate which neither suits the male body nor does justice to feminine grace.

Drawing this line becomes especially difficult when male dancers depict female characters. Not so in Pavitra’s case. In his full-fledged Varnam which extolled Krishna, we had no difficulty in seeing superbly drawn representations of Yashoda and Putana as well as Kansa and Krishna himself. The switches in his bodily bearing were definite and yet spontaneous, and would leave even a first-time viewer with no doubt as to the gender, attitude and status of the character. His rendition of Putana deserves special mention. Seated with his back to the audience portraying Krishna sucking the life out of Putana as she breast-fed him, Pavitra left us spellbound. To perform such an episode that is a strange combination of the maternal and the murderous is a challenge for the most experienced dancer; to convey Putana’s dilemma and pain through one’s back and profile is a brilliant choreographic choice by the Guru, and to evoke it with nuanced success demands a gifted and responsive disciple.

Pavitra ended his recital with a brief and energetic Thillana which was the icing on the cake. Guru Deepak Mazumdar mentioned that gurus also require students who have the ability not only to learn, but also to imbibe and create. Pavitra is no doubt one such.