A dancer turns organiser, delivers a cultural bonanza
- Deepa Chakravarthy
e-mail: apoorini@gmail.com 

September 28, 2012

Padma Subrahmanyam, Sailaja, Radha Reddy, Raja Reddy
Sailaja, the Kuchipudi dancer based at Chennai, hosted a cultural bonanza on the 22nd and 23rd of September. Nrityasangama is a brainchild of Sailaja with a singular aim of promoting and popularizing classical dance and theatre traditions since 2008. The event was inaugurated by Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam , Dr. Raja Reddy and Radha Reddy. Top ranking artistes from diverse art forms were invited to perform for this event and the turn-up was something unprecedented. This year she dedicated this event paying homage to her Guru Vempati Chinna Sathyam.

Today, with the advent of several modes of entertainment like television, cinema and even internet, it is never too easy organizing a cultural event. There is always a vision that is very intrinsic and common among all artistes to play hosts to a cultural extravaganza; many try, but only few dancers truly succeed as organizers in translating their vision with a clear sense of purpose. In that perspective, I thought, Sailaja as an organiser had shown some real character by remaining true to the objectives of promoting classical dance without any hidden agenda by making it a non-ticketed event. She has taken care in inviting only artistes of excellence who are also globetrotting cultural ambassadors. Otherwise, is it possible to even imagine catching a Kathak performance by Aditi Mangaldas, Shivananda Hegde staging a Yakshagana tradition and Priti Patel showcasing Manipuri on the same day in the same venue? Or, when was the last time Chennai got to witness the Mohiniyattam performance by the legend Bharathi Shivaji? And, when did we get to catch Shobana performing at a non-ticketed event?

Chennai has no dearth of dance institutions imparting multiple art forms and if one is in the circuit, we would also know that there are many dancers organizing dance festivals in the city to promote classical dance and new talent in different ways. However, this might be the first private dance school from Chennai to host an event of this magnitude. And I think this festival earns a status of magnitude simply because it has consistently for the last five years conducted its annual event inviting artistes who are legends, experts, or achievers in their areas of expertise.

When I went to get myself acquainted and also convey my kudos in putting together this event successfully, I understood what a simple and humble person Sailaja is to interact with.  Besides the pleasantries that were exchanged, she mentioned how she considered it a responsibility as a rasika herself to take art forms to grass root levels, accessible to even a commoner. She also explained how every year she does this for the artistic community – particularly to expose the younger learners to good art. Like it is said - the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so when I questioned her if she had met her own expectations, she replied that this year she was overwhelmed by the response. She shared that she was touched particularly by a charitable trust sending a group of 25 members who had come all the way from Kalahasthi to attend this event. Another area where she felt satisfied was in the turn-up and support lent by the artistic community in attending the event on both days.

Some of highlights in the ways in which this festival was organized are also worth mentioning. First, the savvy marketing strategies were intelligently employed that may be the first-time for Chennai especially for a classical dance “free” event. Second, when an event receives patronage and sponsorship, usually we would expect a backdrop that will be gaudy taking the focus away from the dancers on stage. However, the simplicity of just hanging flower streams added an aesthetic touch. Third, the inaugural was conducted without much ado keeping it crisp and not over-extended or tiring. Then of course, the lighting arrangements were harmonious according to the needs of the performing style. Another well anticipated aspect of the event was in the employment of security, well-dressed to the occasion, ushering guests in and out and also managing the crowds lined outside. However, care could have been taken with respect to the audio system’s throw which the performing artistes themselves found either too jarring or too low. Perhaps, next time we could also expect a more experienced compere especially because the other standards in which the festival was conducted demands it.

If the little setbacks mentioned are also addressed, Nrityasangama would definitely become an event to look forward to in Chennai’s cultural calendar.

Deepa Chakravarthy is a Mohiniattam artiste.