AttenDance annual awards 2011
- Veejay Sai, Bangalore
Pictures courtesy: Arvind Padmanabh Shenoy

December 14, 2011

For the last fourteen years, no other writer has taken a more keen interest in preserving and documenting the modern history of Indian dance like Ashish Khokar has, via his journal AttenDance that he edits and publishes. Being the son and inheritor of late Mohan Khokar, India’s celebrated dance historian, Ashish dons many hats, other than that of being a mere writer. It was his passion for the art that metamorphosized into coming about with Annual dance awards.

Gowri Ramnarayan and Sheejith Krishna in 'Sarpa Sutra' 

Last year he initiated the AttenDance Annual Awards and gave Bangalore’s best male dancers Satyanarayan Raju, the Ram Gopal Award and Praveen Kumar, the Mohan Khokar Award for excellence in dance. It was the first of its kind event that took place in dance circles across India. Though he calls himself a ‘lazy Bangalorean,’ Ashish’s innovative ideas are far ahead of those that take place in the musty corridors of the government offices in New Delhi. Unsupported by any government agency or funding, Ashish and his wife Elizabeth Khokar do these awards out of their sheer passion and commitment towards art. Marking the second year of these awards, Ashish went ahead to institute a third award – Uday Shankar Award.

Even as the country was reeling under a lunar eclipse, the premises of the Alliance Francaise in Bangalore came alive with the auspicious music of the nagaswaram and thavil to welcome a beeline of guests who assembled for the awards ceremony. The evening opened with noted playwright and director Gowri Ramnarayan presenting a production of Arun Kolatkar’s ‘Sarpa Sutra.’ Though Sheejith Krishna’s dance was a little pedantic and monotonous, Nisha Rajgopal’s melodious interludes kept the audiences enthralled. It would be lovely to see a full-blown musical production of this play with many more actors play the roles of the various characters, for a topic like this certainly needs a spectacular presentation rather than a mere dramatic reading.
The second part of the evening was a brief screening of a film on celebrated Malaysian dancer Ramli Ibrahim who was present in the audience. One could have sat on forever and watched the interesting artistic journey of a dancer like Ramli. His passion for dance, his joie de vivre in establishing the Sutra Dance Company and his choreographic works are significant landmarks in world dance history. The much awaited awards ceremony was the third and last part of the evening. Hosting the events at the podium were Bengaluru’s very own Kathak diva Maddhu Nattraj and Muralimohan Kalvakalva. Last year’s awardees Satyanarayan Raju and Praveen Kumar were called on to the stage to narrate their experiences as the first recipients. Praveen spoke of his trip to Italy and collaborative work with a theatre group as a part of the award he received last year.

The Ramgopal Best Male Dancer Award 2011 was announced amidst much pomp to none other than Ramli Ibrahim. As a shy Ramli sat on the stage, two little girls came with the ritual silver thaalis, washed his feet with water and milk, applied sandal and vermillion and offered flowers, as the nagaswaram and thavil played on. To give away the awards, Shri Chiranjeevi Singh, former Principal Secretary to the Govt. of Karnataka and Ambassador to UNESCO, decorated Ramli with the traditional Mysore peta and Susheela Mehta, dancer and musician, adorned him with a special garland made of rupee notes and an award citation.

(clockwise) Susheela Mehta, Shri Chiranjeev Singh,
Ashish Khokar, Elizabeth Khokar, Ramli Ibrahim,
Maddhu Nattraj, Murali Mohan
These awards are announced in complete secrecy. Except for the craftsman who makes these citations and the jury members, and of course Ashish, no one invited to the event ever knows who the winners of these awards are. As Maddhu Nattraj opened the envelope to announce the second award for the evening, ‘The Mohan Khokar Award for Overall Excellence in Indian Dance – 2011,’ one had to see the various shades of astonishment that blushed across her face. She took a while before announcing her own name as the awardee and glided her way to the center of the stage. Once again the rituals followed and this time giving away the award citation was none other than violin chakravarthy Dr. L Subramaniam. What a definitive honour and a blessing! This whole event couldn’t have been better orchestrated! As Guru Maya Rao sat in the first row observing the whole process that followed, it was a proud moment for Bangalore’s dance community seeing Maddhu receive this award from the maestro. For all those who accused Ashish of being biased towards male dancers only, it was time to scoot their paranoia out.
Surprise followed surprise and this time the second host Murali Mohan’s baritone voice whimpered as he embarrassingly announced his name as the recipient of the Uday Shankar Award for Choreography and Showmanship 2011, amidst thundering applause from the audience. Once again the rituals followed and Aruna Sunderlal, the founder director of the Bangalore School of Music gave away the award.  It was a sight to see all the three awardees, well-decorated and not dancing, surprised beyond belief on the stage. The jury members were called on stage for a photo-op before the evening concluded.
These awards do not carry any purse like most others do. They are designed to be unique and so each of the recipients go with a national and international artistic residency tour. While Maddhu gets a round trip to Sweden and Poland, Murali will make his way to Italy and Ramli will tour India. This helps each of these dancers to go and enrich their artistic journeys. Why can’t the decrepit State run agencies and the guardians of culture sitting in their ivory towers in Delhi, think of being remotely innovative like Ashish Khokar?

Growing from strength to strength, the second edition of AttenDance annual awards was held with spectacle and fanfare. After being a publisher, commentator, documenter, patron of arts and a custodian of his father’s legacy, Ashish successfully adds another feather to his swarming crown as an efficient organizer of events in the field of arts. Kudos to him and three cheers to this year’s awardees!

Veejay Sai is a writer, editor and a culture critic.