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Nirikshana - 39th Natya Kala Conference: Day 1
- Prof Dr Parul Shah

December 27, 2019

A most fulfilling shloka rose from the back of the hall and the singer O.S Arun slowly reached the stage. Thus began the 39th Natya Kala Conference at the Krishna Gana Sabha, Chennai this afternoon. This conference has perhaps generated more interest than the previous one, as evidenced by about 800 people buying the Rs. 500 ticket to attend and that to a dance conference. A historical moment indeed.

After the introduction of the purpose of Natya Kala Conferences held so far, and of the chief guest Dr. Sonal Mansingh, the "Natyakala Visharada Ha" award was conferred on Guru Ranganayaki Jayaraman, for her lifetime contribution in dance and allied disciplines.

The convenor Rama Vaidyanathan so aptly described her perception and understanding of the word "Nirikshana," the theme of the conference this year, as the Nirikshana of Bharatanatyam, one of the most sought after, global emblem and symbol of Indian arts. To have and develop the idea of inclusivity, the "Nirikshana Narratives" - short videos of young dancers interpreting the word, was introduced. More than 500 entries were received, and about 100 short listed. Conference participants are also encouraged to follow the Aharya with colours associated with the Pancha Mahabhutas - one for each day.

Dr. Sonal Mansingh, the chief guest of the conference, vividly recollected her performing for Krishna Gana Sabha for the first time in 1969. Being herself a great scholar, she described Nirikshana as the Bahya and Sukshma. Quoting two shlokas from Mahopanishad and Bhagavad Gita, she elaborated that after the steadfast observation and contemplation may come action that is Parikshana. According to her, where there is honesty of purpose and integrity of action, there occurs that rare moment when dancer disappears and only dance remains.

Sudharani Raghupathy, Padma Subrahmanyam & Chitra Visweswaran

As part of the Legacy Lights and "dancing buddies" were three doyens of dance Prof. Sudharani Raghupathy, Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam and Chitra Visweswaran. The divas received unqualified cheers the moment they appeared on the screen. Excerpts from 'Viralimalai Kuravanji' recorded by Seeta Ratnakar for Doordarshan on the occasion of Pongal in 1987 were screened. For the young enthusiastic dance crowd they were the most aspirational great artistes. Coming together and enacting live after so many years, they stole the show. Great excitement, with a wave of nostalgia was experienced by the three dancers, the producer and the audience.

Trying to expand the dance canvas, Malavika Sarukkai attempted through the imagery of Ramayana, Yudhisthira, the deer and trees, themes in her choreographic palette to connect the traditional and contemporary perspectives in her presentation. The session on dance curation, featured as many as 7 curators from India and abroad. One would perhaps look for more sensitivity and depth as the subject is so important for all of us.

Last but not the least was the presentation of "Nibandhana," part of Torch Lights, trend-setting ensemble work. Group presentations of Margam items are not new and done since long by many gurus and choreographers. But Vaibhav Arekar and the Sankhya Dance Company's presentation brought an entire new and very rich aesthetics. If this is the way new age Bharatanatyam will be, we definitely have a great future!

Prof Dr Parul Shah is Former Head and Dean, Faculty of Performing Arts, The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Principal Investigator, E Pathashala and MOOCs, SWAYAM, MHRD-UGC-CEC.

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