‘Dance-a-thon’ keeps Bengaluru spellbound
- G. Ulaganathan
e-mail: ulag_nath@yahoo.com 

May 6, 2014

All roads led to Alliance Francaise in Bengaluru on April 27th morning for celebration of World Dance Day. This is something that has been happening for the last five years now on this important day, thanks to the dedication and devotion of dance mentor, author, critic and historian Ashish Mohan Khokar and his wife Elisabeth.

The annual dance-a-thon, the single largest gathering of dancers representing various styles in one day from 10am to 10pm is a unique achievement and probably does not happen anywhere in India. This year with over 100 dancers performing -- each for half an hour duration and with another 60 to 70 dancers and gurus among the audience--the event was a smashing hit and most significant point is that it is organized by Ashish and his wife with practically no support from either the state government or any corporate house.
But mention must be made of the former Additional Chief Secretary of Karnataka, Chiranjeev Singh, a well-known connoisseur of art and Phillipe Gaspiariani, the director of Alliance Francaise who provided the lovely air conditioned auditorium and the entire premises to be used for this occasion. Chiranjeev Singh, who is now retired and heads the AF in Bengaluru as its president, inaugurated the proceedings as in the past. This year, the presence of dancer and Chairperson of Sangeet Natak Akademi, Leela Samson, was a big inspiration for the young dancers and she stayed from beginning to the last performance and spoke to each of the performers warmly with a smile even at the end of the day. To Ashish, who had worked hard to put together this humongous event, support also came from Dr. Jyotsna Jagannathan, the Bharatanatyam dancer who took care of an emergency case, two important institutional patrons Dr. Vimala Rangachar (MES group) and Aruna Sundarlal of the Bangalore School of Music.

Open air inaugural ceremony

As has been his style, Ashish Khokar did a perfect juggling act and maintained order and timing. No long talk or introduction of the dancer or the items being performed, only a brief mention was made.  The open air inaugural ceremony was itself quite attractive with the small children representing various dance forms performing in the foyer of AF. With Bengaluru’s temperature touching 37degrees C (unheard of earlier) the children exhibited their talent in various styles starting with Ingabala's Manipuri, Nadam’s Kathak, Venkatesh Mandir’s Bharatanatyam, Nrityantar’s Odissi, Kuchipudi Parampara’s dance and the visually very appealing Yakshagana by child dancer Varshini Hebbar.

Says Ashish, “To plan such a matrix where the young and old, the senior and the star meet is not easy. It took about 3 months to shortlist from the city dancers, audition new, unseen names from Dance History Society members’ pool; invite a few outstation dancers to add variety and then add star names and gurus so all three generation meet. Audience interest is kept in mind so that they don’t get bored watching the same style of dance. This is part of the Dance Discourse series, now in its 5th year.”

Seminar: (L-R) Ashish Khokar, Phillipe Gaspiariani, Leela Samson, Ulaganathan, Surya Prasad, Radha Shridhar, Veena Murthy,
Madhu Nataraj, Muralimohan Kalva and Jayachandran Pallazy with participants of morning inaugural ceremony
Photo: Giridhar Chandrasekar

After the hour long open air ceremony, the scene shifted to the a/c auditorium where the day-long marathon kicked off with a galaxy of speakers giving their view on ‘Dance today’. This verbal dialogue has been the pattern in earlier years too and each speaker expresses his or her viewpoint.  While in her keynote address Leela Samson expressed her anguish over various definitions being used for classical dances, “Some want to call themselves traditional dancers, while some call themselves classical dancers. In fact, one of the dancers came to me and told me not to call her traditional or classical dancer but ‘Neo classical dancer.’ It is simply mindboggling.”

Chiranjeev Singh said, Bollywood dance is being taught abroad in regular classical dance  schools. Madhu Nataraj spoke of “learn dance in 2 hours” workshops becoming popular in metros and Jayachandran Pallazy reminded all of the simplicity and beauty of villages. Veena Murthy Vijay focussed on her form Kuchipudi while critic Surya Prasad put in perspective media realities. This writer spoke on shrinking space for dance coverage in media while Kathak artist Muralimohan Kalva spoke of international outreach.

The real action on stage was started by Bangalore based Bharatanatyam dancer Aishwarya Nityananda. Clarity and beauty, dignity and depth marked her dance. B.P. Sweekruth next showcased Kathak and Bishwabhushan Mohapatra from Bhubaneswar gave an Odissi treat.  Chitra Arvind was the sole contemporary dancer of the day. Keerthana Ravi came from Mumbai to present her Bharatanatyam talent with precision. She was seen in Anita Ratnam's group work, Utpala in January and was handpicked from there, said Ashish. Nikhila and Shivani next presented a duet in which two forms came together. These two students of Dr. Sanjay Shantaram  showcased his systematic training. Gururaj showed how his dance has grown under Vyjayanthi Kashi's care. Geetanjali Acharya came from Gurgaon to dance Odissi as did Rajashri Prahraj from Bhubaneswar to represent the Kelubabu style. Rajashri is a delectable dancer, and excelled in her hand movements. Kiran Rajagopalan from Chennai is on the heavier side but delivers his art effortlessly. He is a sincere and serious practitioner of Bharatanatyam. Madhulita Mohapatra and her students were of great support to Ashish and Elisabeth in organizing this almost flawless event and were there till the very end.

Till evening about 75 dancers had performed and then to break the monotony, it was ‘Show time.’ A film titled ‘A Century of Indian Dance' culled from the Mohan Khokar Collection was screened and it covered 100 years of history and heritage through rare press clips, books, posters, rare old films on Ram Gopal, Uday Shankar and Birju Maharaj, Alarmel Valli, Daksha Sheth, Jayachandran Pallazy and Nritarutya. This film is a “must see” for all dancers. Kathakali make- up, Kuchipudi vesham, glimpses of Kathak doyens Shambhu Maharaj and many others were showcased and the audience enjoyed the show.

After solos and duets, it was time for teams and groups. After Nadam in Kathak and Team Maya in Bharatanatyam (a team of four young men and women belonging to various professions have formed this group), it was the turn of the star of Bangalore, Vani Ganapathy, who brilliantly performed two numbers, both old Tamil classics. The last segment of the day was ‘Mothers and Daughters!’ From Mangalore came Dr. Araty Shetty and Sathvikka, performing a varnam composed in 1948 by Dandayudhapani Pillai for Araty's mother Dr. Jayalakshmi Alva, who has taught stars like Waheeda Rehman and Sonal Mansingh. Next, Hyderabad's T.K. Narayanan’s daughter Gayatri Kesavan with her two daughters, Mathangi and Maitreyi, did an exquisite Alarippu, an ode to Kanchi Kamakshi. Tunga and Tunga (father and daughter), the joyous Yakshagana pair of Karnataka, concluded the WDD with sheer poetic and powerful dance. They are a delight to watch, free and easy on stage yet in complete control of their medium.

Slide show
Photos: Ravi Shankar

Leela Samson felicitated all and certificates were given away to each dancer. The hall was managed by many volunteers like Tomar, Imran, Geetha Bhatt, Elisabeth and many staff members of AF headed by its Director, Phillipe and tech staff Joseph, Aslam and Nayan. Gururaj managed the sound tracks of so many dancers without mixing a single CD!

The audience comprised of dancers, gurus, critics, and generally those who appreciate dance. It was a spontaneous audience and even included a couple of doctors who stayed on till the very end, leaving their lucrative practice sessions! However, some of the well-known dancers of Bangalore did not bother to come in spite of the invitation. “The fact that almost 2000 people were part of this dance marathon is the most satisfying experience for me and it is my tribute also to my father Prof. Mohan Khokar and mother Saroja whose blessings matter a lot to me,” said an emotional Ashish at the end of the show.

“Perhaps that is what motivates me to organize this event without even a single rupee support from govt. and its agencies or corporate India. Basically the idea is to give young, upcoming dancers a professional platform to dance with stars and seniors. We also try to strike a balance between various styles and see that all age groups are given a chance. As male dancers get little support or a platform, I try and accommodate maximum number of male dancers without sacrificing quality,” adds Ashish Khokar. The entire effort showed a sense of bonding, belonging and bringing dance to the common man.

Dancers with Leela Samson (Photo: Giridhar Chandrasekar)

 G. Ulaganathan is a senior writer and journalist based in Bangalore.