Karthik Fine Arts Seminar: Natya Darshan II 2003  
a report by Lalitha Venkat, Chennai 
Photos by Lalitha Venkat 
e-mail: lalvenkat@yahoo.com 
December 25, 2003   

Natya Darshan 2002 was conceived around the concept of group productions / dance dramas featuring the works of the most experienced and senior choreographers of our country. The morning and evening sessions covered choreographies of several senior Bharatanatyam gurus and in addition featured Kathak, Sattriya, Bhagavatha Mela and Koodiyattam. It was unanimously acclaimed a great success. 

Chitra Visweswaran and 
Sudharani Raghupathy
This year, it was decided to extend the concept of group choreographies to dance styles unexplored in 2002, like Chhau and Manipuri as well as include the works of Bharatanatyam choreographers not featured in 2002.  The support of Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi and the Zonal Cultural Centres made it possible to present the styles from outside the state. 
Convened by Chitra Visweswaran and Sudharani Raghupathy, Kartik Fine Arts hosted Natya Darshan II, a seminar on dance dramas on December 20, 21 and 22 at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Chennai. Natya Darshan was inaugurated on 20th evening with the lighting of the lamp by dancer Padmini Ravi, followed by a presentation of Raghuvamsa Thilakam, a dance drama by Chitra Visweswaran and her students. 

The theme of the lec-dems on 21st morning was ‘Exploration within tradition.’ The presenters were Anita Ratnam (creativity within boundaries), Radhika Shurajit (dance through the lens) and Ananda Shankar Jayant (group choreography evolution of a visual vocabulary). 

A past student of Kalakshetra, Anita Ratnam spoke about the farsightedness of Rukmini Devi who had used kalari movements in one of her productions even as far back as 1960s. In an excerpt from Daughters of the Ocean, she demonstrated the interweaving of martial arts movements like tai chi into her dance vocabulary.  

Drawing on her experiences in the television medium, Anita lays a lot of stress on visual imagery. Invited frequently to present programs on particular social themes by social organizations or by corporates, she finds the choreographic process a big challenge to not only make the presentation visually pleasing but to also convey the intended message to the audience. She said she frequently uses the cloth as a means of expression for various moods and moments. To demonstrate this, Anita and her group of dancers presented an excerpt from her dance-theatre production Suvvadu, which has a social message.  
In yet another excerpt, this time from her latest production Utpala, 2 dancers Vasanth and Bharath portrayed Lord Padmanabha. Anita urged the younger generation of dancers to attend theatre plays since they had elements of narrative, drama and choreography.  

Mumbai based artist Shrikant Sathe who was seated in the audience, made a couple of drawings during Anita's lec-dem and gifted them to her. Shrikant Sathe draws and paints musicians and dancers when they are performing on stage. He had been specially invited to make drawings during the 3 days of Natya Darshan.  

Shrikant has evolved a very interesting method of drawing. In the early 1970s, he attended a program of Raja and Radha Reddy.  As he was sketching Radha Reddy dancing, Raja Reddy joined her in a duet and Shrikant could not sketch the 2nd figure at the same time. Multiple dancers being on stage at the same time posed further problems for him. Experimenting for over nearly 33 years, he has arrived at the present techniques he uses.  

He was very happy to show me some of them. When 2 dancers are on stage, he holds 2 pens in his right hand – 1 between 2nd and 3rd finger, one between 4th and 5th finger – and whatever he draws is duplicated exactly at the same time! In a variation, he has one pen in his left hand and one in the right and with precise movements, he draws a picture, which is symmetrical on both sides. 

In another technique, especially for a group portrait, he does not use a brush. Instead, he wears a glove, dips each finger in a color and sketches with the fingers. He also uses a toothbrush to get the grainy effect.  

His Nritta Chitra were on exhibit at the foyer of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan for the 3 days after which he proceeded to Orissa.  Due to prior commitment, this writer could not attend the lec-dems of Radhika Shurajit and Ananda Shankar Jayant. 

There was an unforeseen change of schedule for the evening performance. In the first presentation of the evening, the Narasimhacharis presented their disciples in Nritya Neerajanan.  Following this, The Chhau SNA Project who should have performed on 22nd evening, had to perform a day earlier in place of the Manipuri Jagoi Marup who were still on the train, which was running abominably late. The Chhau group presented some group items, a duet and an item on Nataraja in the Mayurbhanj style. The dancers were all male. 

The 4 lec-dems on 22nd, on Chhau, Odissi, Manipuri and Bharatanatyam were based on ‘Traditions.’ The morning started with the lec-dem on Mayurbhanj Chhau presented by Bagulu Jena with members of The Chhau SNA Project, Baripada (Orissa). He gave a brief description of the three types of Chhau, about the history and patronage of Mayurbhanj Chhau and how the Sangeet Natak Akademi has been working in Baripada with the present group for promotion and preservation of the dance form.  

His colleagues demonstrated the various basic steps of Mayurbhanj Chhau, some movements made by women when they go about their work, some animal movements, some bird movements and finally, the difficult acrobatic movements. Jena spoke of the music instruments used for a typical Chhau presentation and the lec-dem concluded with a music item by the orchestra.  

The convener Chitra Visweswaran called it a complete presentation.  

Next was the lec dem on Odissi by Kumkum Mohanty and dancers of Odissi Research Centre, Bhubaneswar. Kumkum Mohanty spoke of her experiences when she was learning Odissi. In those days, the choreography was handed down from guru to shishsya. There was nothing written down, no video recording or anything to fall back upon if someone forgot something. The item would have to be re-choreographed again. She spoke of the work she has done on codification of Odissi dance categorizing, for the first identifiable basic poses (still and mobile) of the Odissi dance form. This has been published as the second volume of Odissi Dance Path Finder.  

She displayed the book, which not only gives a full description of movements, but also the corresponding Sanskrit verses. This is an ideal guide to all students of Odissi. Her students demonstrated the basic steps and stances and movement patterns of Odissi to the accompaniment of a live orchestra.   

The podium was so high that we could barely see the presenter. In cases such as this, the organizers would do well to dispense with the podium. 

It was a tired, weary group that presented the next lec-dem on Manipuri, but one could not guess by looking at them. Added to their already long train journey from Manipur, the train was more than half a day late and the group arrived in Chennai at 4.30am on 22nd. The conveners commended the Manipuri group for going ahead with their presentation and the Chhau group for being so accommodating as to actually perform a day earlier in place of the Manipuri Jagoi Marup.  

The presenter Ibouchouba Singh apologized for their fatigue before giving a brief history of Manipuri dance, the Krishna theme, Rasalila items, group items like Lai Haroba and pung cholom, which is an essential item in the Manipuri dance repertoire. He said in those days all people of Manipur were trained in the martial arts for self-defense. He spoke of the greatness of his guru Amubi Singh and Uday Shankar. He and some of the performers were related to the guru and he said they were all doing their best to uphold the tradition handed down to them.  

Five dancers performed the invocatory item to Lord Krishna, which is the start of a Manipuri recital. An excerpt from a dance that was specially choreographed for Amala Shankar by his guru was presented apart from a display of the Manipuri martial arts and the basic stances of pung cholom. The full dazzling display of pung cholom or drum dance, in which dancers play on the drum known as pung while dancing with thrilling leaps and turns to a fast rhythm, was presented in the evening’s recital.  
This being the centenary year of Rukmini Devi, the conveners felt the fitting finale for the seminar, ‘the jewel in the crown,’ was a lec-dem on Kalakshetra dance dramas choreographed by Rukmini Devi. It was presented by Jyolsana Menon who was also a part of the music ensemble.  

The excerpts presented were the 5 apsaras from Sabari Moksham, the patrapravesam of Andal and her sakhis, and so on. Though it was presented well, a member of the audience commented in private that the identical lec- dem had been presented the earlier week at the Natya Kala Conference and Kalakshetra should think of presenting different excerpts, instead of repeating the same things at various lec-dems during the season. 

Mr. Rajaram, Chairman of Kalakshetra honored Jyolsana at the end of the presentation and Mrs. YG Parthasarathy wound up Natya Darshan II with her crisp observations. It being a Monday, there were few in the audience. She said it was hardly encouraging to speakers to demonstrate to a thin audience after long travels and preparations. Since dance and music are a means to create awareness of Indian culture, she urged dance schools and cultural institutions like Kalakshetra to visit various city schools like hers, atleast once a month and present their lec-dems to the students and interested people could always attend. Mr. Rajaram promised to consider her suggestion and their first likely visit to Padma Seshadri school could be in Feb 2004.  

There were two performances in the evening. Manipuri Jagoi Marup presented classical, folk and martial dance in their bright, colorful costumes. The finale was a group item on Krishna with the dancers wearing the typical Manipuri cylindrical mirrored skirts and gossamer veils. After their performance at Natya Darshan, the group hastened to Kalakshetra to give their second performance of the evening.  

In the next half of the evening’s program, Kumkum Mohanty and dancers of her Odissi Research Centre presented items from the Odissi repertoire – an invocatory item, a group item of batu nritya with sculpturesque poses (choreography by Kumkum Mohanty) and a group finale on Goddess Bhavani.  Kumkum Mohanty performed 2 solo items, one on Krishna (choreographed by Kelucharan Mohapatra) and the other on Sita’s abduction by Ravana.  

Kartik Fine Arts honored the conveners Chitra Visweswaran and Sudharani Raghupathy for their impeccable organization of the 3-day festival, with wishes to continue Natya Darshan as an annual feature.  

Note from the convener: 
The three day event - Natya Darshan II - was inaugurated in the evening session (20th Dec 2003) in order to avoid spending time on a concept note in a morning (21st Dec 2003) that was already packed with much food for thought.. Our production on the inaugural evening, Raghuvamsa Tilakam, was revived after many years. No good production ever remains static. The inputs and inflow from various disciplines one has received over the years helps in re-looking at and reworking on a production. I, fortunately, have the benefit of national and international travel and have been able to experience and imbibe inputs from varied sources of inspiration. The idea of putting together Natya Darshan I & II was to bring some of these sources of inspiration to the young dancers of Chennai.  

To invite the leading groups of the country, such as Mayurbhanj Chhau, Manipuri Jagoi Marup,  Kumkum Mohanty and Odissi Research Centre would have been impossible without the support of the Sangeet Natak Akademi  and the Zonal Centres. But to convince them to send these groups, one must have conviction and the capacity to convey that conviction oneself. The Chhau group from Baripada, Orissa is the best in the country and is part of the Sangeet Natak Akademi’s project, which works on saving and rejuvenating dying art forms. Both performances and lecture demonstrations of these invited groups were brilliant, as was the lecture demonstration of Kalakshetra’s and the presentation by the Narasimhacharis of their students. 

The first day (21st Dec 2003) had a wide variety - Anita Ratnam, who is known for seeking inspirations from multiple traditions, Radhika Shurajit who looked differently at dance through the lens and Ananda Shankar Jayant who has successfully explored within the tradition of Bharatanatyam and its music, culminating in a panel discussion between Shantha Dhananjayan, Sita Ratnakar, Gowri Ramnarayan and Sujatha Vijayaraghavan. 

It was not an easy task for Prof. Sudharani Raghupathy and myself to mount Natya Darshan II. This fest-seminar was aimed at the young professional dancers of Chennai who are involved in both classical and contemporary work. Hence one could help wishing that they had turned up in larger numbers and benefited from this experience. 
– Chitra Visweswaran. 


December 20 - 22, 2003  
Nritta Chitra by Shrikant Sathe  
December 21, 2003  
Lec-dem by Anita Ratnam and Arangham Dance Theatre 

Mayurbhanj Chhau performance by Chhau SNA Project, Baripada 

December 22, 2003 
Lec-dem on Mayurbhanj Chhau by Bagulu Jena and members of Chhau SNA Project, Baripada (Orissa) 

Lec dem on Odissi by Kumkum Mohanty and Odissi Research Centre troupe, Bhubaneswar, (Orissa) 

Lec dem on Manipuri by Ibouchouba Singh and Manipuri Jagoi Marup, Imphal (Manipur) 

Lec dem on Rukmini Devi’s dance dramas by Jyolsana Menon and Kalakshetra troupe, Chennai 
December 22, 2003 
Classical, folk and martial dances of Manipur by Manipuri Jagoi Marup, Imphal 

Odissi by Kumkum Mohanty and Odissi Research Centre troupe, Bhubaneswar