1st National Dance Drama and Ballet Festival at Imphal
- Dr. Wahengbam Ibomcha Singh
e-mail: ibosingh@yahoo.co.in

June 18, 2014

Manipur is known for its rich heritage, especially in the field of art and culture. Many festivals are being organised by various organisations of Manipur, including JN Manipur Dance Academy (A constituent unit of Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi) with financial assistance from government and semi government machineries. Ministry of Culture, Government of India, spearheaded the funding. Festivals like drama, dance (folk/classical), music are almost a regular feature here at Manipur. These festivals offer a great opportunity to upcoming artists to enhance their creativity to a great extent and that creates an ambience to understand the art forms of other parts of India. Having said that, the dance drama and Ballet forms seem to be slightly neglected at national level in Manipur.  This negligence directly gives a negative impact to the young artists, choreographers and to its art forms.  Hence, Progressive Artiste Laboratory (PAL), Imphal, Manipur, wished to organise such a festival at national level, but being a voluntary organisation that cherished dream was unfulfilled for years, mainly because of financial restrain.

PAL had produced many works in the field of performing arts, be it dance drama or solo classical dance festival or interactive programs with Indian and foreign art forms. The organisation gives emphasis on research works, preservation of dying art forms and of course to improve the quality of performing art forms of Manipur and also aims to give an academic input to the artists.

Keeping its ideology in view, PAL had organised a three day long ‘1st National Dance Drama and Ballet Festival’ (Tarunkumar Fest) from 21st to 23rd May 2014. As mentioned above, many festivals can be seen in Manipur organised by various institutes mostly based in Imphal valley, including JN Manipur Dance Academy at state level. But for the first time PAL had initiated a Dance Drama and Ballet Festival at national level. The main motive behind this festival is to give local artists an exposure to dance drama based on other dance forms and also to avail opportunity to interact with artists belonging to different art forms of India.
The first day of the three day long festival started with an emotional note by offering floral tribute to Late Guru Thiyam Tarunkumar Singh (founder of PAL and also father of eminent theatre director Dr. Ratan Thiyam) in typical Manipuri tradition. After the formal function, ‘Nongdon Leima’ a dance drama directed and choreographed by the late guru himself was presented. Ballet unit of JN Manipur Dance Academy performed the dance drama. Most of the artists were above sixties who were either associated or disciples of Guruji. Their intensity, enthusiasm and devotion while performing showed how much they love and respect their guru. Darpan from Assam performed on the second day. Along with her sixteen artists, Anjana Moyee Sakia presented ‘Chitrangada’ of kavi Rabindranath Tagore, directed by Abhinas Sharma and choreographed by Anjana. Adept in both Odissi and Sattriya dance forms, her synchronisation was exceptional. She also added a little bit of classical dance and martial art of Manipur showing her hidden talent.

The third and final day was a grand finale with an innovative presentation of Manipuri classical and Bharatanatyam dance. It is a common saying that dance and music knows no barrier of language and it showed in the way dance of far North East and southern most part of India performed together only through their abhinaya and rasas of their dance forms. ‘Dasavatara’ of poet Jayadeva is well known from down South along coastal regions right up to Manipur. In Manipur during the Ratha yatra, every night ‘Dasavatara’ is sung by Palas (male choir) and later on joined by the female folks young and old, dancing ‘challis’ in front of every Hindu temple. Many artists have presented Dasavatara on stage in his or her own style but ‘Aavas’ that was performed on the last day of the festival offered to the full packed auditorium a different flavour. The dance drama was a joint venture of Lianda Folk and Classical Academy of Imphal and Kausalya Srinivasan of Chennai. Kausalya who runs her own academy of Bharatanatyam at Chennai, stayed at Imphal for a week and collaborated with about a dozen young dancers of Lianda.
On why she collaborated and danced with the Manipuri group, Kausalya says: “I did my MA in Vaishnavism from Madras University when Dr. Narasimhachari was the head of the Dept. His classes would be so educative and informative as he was a great scholar. This had impact on my dance and this fascination for Lord Krishna made me think and do projects. The bhakti tradition which we keep studying in Vaishnavism made me very close to Manipuri classical style as it is so much from Srimad Bhagvatam and Raas and still very much within the temple space as it has not spread outside too much like other styles. With the Lianda Dance Academy, I performed along with close to 15 dancers Jayadeva’s Gita Govindam. The dancers, both male and female, were all Manipuri dancers and music   was sung by Manipuri singers. Since it was Dasavataram - Pralaya payodi jale - I enacted the story of the avatars in a detailed manner like a dance drama. The Manipuri style is very subtle, elegant and the Bharatanatyam with all its bhava, gestures and dramatization made the production more communicative. I felt ‘Aavas’ was well knit and I did not want to change the formations and patterns which the dancers had already done but only weaved my characters and movements intermingling so both the classical styles were complementing each other and not distracting or disturbing.”

To organise a three day long national festival needs huge funds. The financial assistance given by Ministry of Culture, Government of India is too meagre and needs to be increased. Needless to say that except for Ministry of Culture, other organizations be it government or semi government, stay away from sponsoring the festival. But as of now, all is well that ends well.
Dr. Wahengbam Ibomcha Singh is a National Executive, Spic Macay.