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Why dance festivals are the need of the hour
- Simran Khurana
Photos: Tush Dadheech

March 22, 2020

For dancers, musicians, and singers, it was a hectic month of performances and practice.  Now that the NCPA Mumbai Dance Season is over for the year 2020, it is only fair to pick up the dancing bells and begin from where we left. For 2021!

All through mid-January to end February 2020, Mumbai witnessed a flurry of dance presentations, debates, lecture demonstrations, discourses, et al. While the Queen of Art festivals, the Kala Ghoda Festival continued to draw loyal enthusiasts from around the world, NCPA Mumbai Dance Season wasn’t far behind. The NCPA organizers, a team of brilliant, gung-ho artists, went all guns blazing. The outcome was quite impressive. The swelling crowds outside some of the venues I was present was testimony to the fact that performing arts had finally made its mark in the Mumbaikar’s heart. You can draw two conclusions: one, NCPA has one heck of an organizing team! And two, Mumbaikars crave for good quality classical performances.

The highlights of the Mumbai NCPA Dance Season are: 1) the coming together of different classical genres, 2) experiments in traditional storytelling using modern concepts, 3) discourses on changing trends in dances and 4) the inauguration of Nrityadarpana-ALAP Kathak Reference Library, Dadar, a repository of printed resources on performing arts, under the aegis of Paullami Mukherjee. Many renowned gurus shared their own performances. At some events, it was an explosion of splendor when senior dancers of different classical genres came together on the same stage to create extraordinarily beautiful dances. Senior artists flew in from distant countries to be a part of the festival. The buzz was kept alive through social sharing and marketing.

Co-curators Lata Surendra and Shubhada Varadkar led from the front. They themselves put up exemplary performances despite running hectic schedules. Swapnokalpa Dasgupta, eminent Odissi dancer and head of Programming Dance, NCPA, ran a tight ship with back to back performances while still being available for all eleventh-hour glitches and goof-ups. She used social media as her arsenal, with live videos on Facebook, WhatsApp updates, and Instagram to keep netizens up-to-date with the NCPA dance festival. It requires a great deal of spunk and grit to oversee all administrative tasks while still showing up at different event venues. The outcome was that the Mumbai NCPA Dance Season spread far and wide, going even beyond Vashi and Badlapur.

Dr. Puru Dadheech

Another reputed dance festival that kept Mumbaikars on their feet was the Acharya Parvati Kumar Janmashatapdi Mahotsav, ending with the grand finale at Kinkini Festival, organized by the Founder of Bharata College of Fine Arts and Culture, Dr. Sandhya Purecha. A veritable genius, dancer, scholar, teacher and visionary, Dr. Sandhya Purecha brought together young and talented dancers from far flung corners of the country to enable classical dance to reach a wider audience base. The 8 day festival saw a good turnout. The lecture demonstration by renowned Kathak scholar Dr. Puru Dadheech on aspects of Natya Shastra, Abhinaya, and Navarasa opened new vistas for even the learned scholars, who were sitting among the audience. Dr. Puru Dadheech, author of over 13 books, recently launched a first-of-its-kind one year diploma research program, Kathak Shastra.

On the next day, the audience was treated to a unique Kathak recital the Baithak Bhaav, by Dr. Puru Dadheech and his wife, a respected Kathak scholar Dr. Vibha Dadheech. Kathak is the only classical dance where Baithak Bhaav is presented as skillfully as pure nritya. In the Baithak Bhaav, the dancer does the entire performance sitting down (hence the name). Though this mode of dancing may sound fairly simple, it is far tougher and complicated. To execute an almost perfect Baithak Bhaav, the dancer has to dive deep into the various layered meanings of a song or poetry. Then, by using subtle, soft gestures, the dancer communicates with the audience. Only a flawless presentation can wow the audience. To watch the living legends of Kathak, Dr. Puru and Dr. Vibha Dadheech perform the Baithak Bhaav was a rare treat for all the dance connoisseurs present in the audience. Dr. Vibha Dadheech presented various Nayikas: Agyat Yovana, Khandita, and Kalahantarita. Each time she rendered a new meaning to her act, the audience burst into applause.

Dr. Vibha Dadheech

When Dr. Puru Dadheech took the stage, his twinkling eyes told us what was in store for us. His stories and poems of Krishna and Radha Leela, and each evocative performance brought a smile on everyone’s faces. He was once again a young teenaged boy, while he narrated stories of divine love between Krishna and Radha. Despite his frail health and age, Dr. Puru Dadheech gave a stunning performance, and the audience responded with a standing ovation.

The grand finale opened with a convocation ceremony. All students who had successfully completed the one-year diploma in Natya Shastra program offered by Bharata College were feted. Dancers from far flung places also came to showcase their talent. Many dancers who took to the stage for the first time, performed exceedingly well. A few newbies looked nervous, perhaps because they were dancing in the presence of learned scholars. Hats off to Dr. Sandhya Purecha for standing by all the young dancers with words of inspiration. A stark reminder to all senior dancers, when they took their baby steps into the world of dance.

Convocation ceremony

Of the beautiful performances, a few upcoming artists such as Nidhi Prabhu, Kathak dancer and disciple of Dr. Manjari Deo, Sangeetha Rajeev, Mohiniattam dancer and disciple of Geetha Vijayshankar shone with their superb presentations. The group dances from students of Bharata College were also well choreographed, with intelligent use of space and formations. Dr. Sandhya Purecha, a pillar of strength for all young artists, is also a taskmaster and a disciplined guru to all her students.

While dance and art festivals are not a recent phenomenon, they are gaining momentum thanks to digital marketing initiatives. However, we still have many unethical dance festivals that refuse to pay the artists. On the contrary, they quote a price under the garb of “Registration fees” to invite artistes to perform. It is appalling that this kind of daylight robbery is tolerated, because dancers are so desperate to make it big.

Recently, a few artistes stood their ground and refused to “pay and perform”. The hashtag “#notopayandperform” rose like a tidal wave on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, with dancers all over the world joining hands against unscrupulous organizers. They ask: “How do event organizers think that it’s okay to not pay? When will this exploitation end? When will performers recover whatever they invested over their lifetime, let alone make a profit?” We need more such artistes to come forth and stand their ground. Ethical practices should be followed and organizers of art festivals that want to make a quick buck should be called out!

Social media has been quite a blessing for upcoming performing artistes. YouTube, Facebook and Instagram have given everyone a level playing field. Artists no longer need to wait for a “reputed” socio-cultural organization to recognize their talent. They can reach out using videos and gain a worldwide fan following.

In the coming years, I hope to see a resurgence of art festivals, championed by prestigious dance institutions, funded by cultural organizations and well-heeled patrons. In addition, there is a growing need to consolidate our knowledge of the classical arts in an institutionalized framework through research, academic pursuits and dialogue. Dance is not just about the physical; it is deeply intellectual, and spiritual. Let us widen our understanding to absorb the multi-faceted nature of classical dance.

Simran Khurana is a Kathak dancer, and researcher, with over two decades of writing experience, having worked with national and international publications. An avid music and dance lover, Simran aims to bring about a synergy between her profession and passion.

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