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Space and spaces
- Ashish Mohan Khokar
Pics: V B Suresh

July 12, 2022

Space and spaces for dance are increasing, physically and virtually. That's a good sign. It just means that many more are learning, or wanting to. Mortality rate of dance schools can be high, especially in metro India.

Kathak in South got established thanks to Ram Gopal (1912-2003), whose world fame made all classical Indian dances famous. However, he didn't teach much; Pt. Sohanlal did. But that was pre-independence and soon forgotten once Ram left India in a huff in the 1960s because he asked Prime Minister Nehru to give him land for building an art teaching institution and Nehru didn't. Ram was royal, he couldn't care less and UK welcomed him with open arms. India's loss was UK's gain.

It was great academician-guru Maya Rao (1928-2014), who really laid the foundation of Kathak as a SERIOUSLY learnt form in Bangalore. Madras was too insular and Bharatanatyam driven. Bangalore was and continues to be cosmopolitan, so ALL forms thrive here. Not just classical, but modern and Bollywood too. Guru Maya Rao with sisters Chitra and Uma learnt from gurus Shambhu Maharaj and additionally from Sundar Prasad ji too. Those days, gharana was just a loose structure of form, not a fight for turf or supremacy. So, many shishyas and gurus learnt from as many sources and took the best of each - Jaipur or Lucknow or Benaras. Khairagarh was not even in the mainstream picture then.

Fast forward to today. In 2022, Kathak has blossomed in Bangalore and most are students of guru Maya Rao who now are dancing or teaching. Her own institute is the oldest in the city, the Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography run by devoted daughter Madhu Nataraj. It has produced hundreds of Kathak performers and some teachers too. Others who learnt from Maya Rao and Chitra Venugopal are now teaching ably like Nandini-Murali of NADAM, Nirupama-Rajendra, Mysore Nagaraj of Articulate India and Anjana Gupta of SPACE (Samarpan Association for Culture and Education) which just turned 10 years old and platformed its many gems like Shruti, Antara, Aditya and even a little smiling tot Palak.

guru Anjana Gupta and shishyas Aditya, Antara and Shruti
Invocation by guru Anjana Gupta and shishyas Aditya, Antara and Shruti

Samarpan Association for Culture and Education

The evening was fun, with audience hooting and shouting as though they were at a college annual day function, which it was in a way. Excellent team work by whole family of Guptas - father - son (Sunil and Karan, compering) mother and daughter (Anjana with Shruti) performing, with over 25 students made for a colourful presentation. Tarana stood out in group works as did the solo number by Shruti. By definition, an institution's annual day means maximum worthy ones have to be showcased and so it was. The beauty was to manage so many so efficiently on stage. Entries and exits were neat and items well choreographed. Music was of high quality, even if the announcements were muffled with echo. Lights were good and so were overall aesthetics.

Shruti Gupta
Shruti Gupta
Birju Maharaj and M. K Saroja
Archival: MKDC

Anjana Gupta remembered two stalwarts of Indian dance who passed away this year, Birju Maharaj and M. K Saroja, who strangely often danced together as this poster from 1960s shows. The show was grand and handsome. Need more be said?

Ashish Mohan Khokar
Khokar is a critic by profession, historian by education, administrator by experience, archivist by disposition and celebrator of art and artists by spirit.

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