Khajuraho Dance Festival 2005  
- Sunil Kothari, New Delhi 

March 17, 2005 

Attending the 30th Khajuraho Dance Festival after an interval of three years, it was a great pleasure to see that the festival has become an important landmark in terms of an exclusive classical dance festival, enlarging its scope to the  related traditional physical arts  forms like Thang-ta, the martial arts from Manipur and this time it also embraced the typical style the legendary dancer Uday Shankar had evolved and further embellished by his daughter Mamata Shankar. 

Now that the dates are fixed February 25 to March 3, tourists from within India and abroad are able to plan their visit well in advance. Over the years now the infrastructure has developed a lot and all types of facilities are available to make one's weeklong stay very comfortable. It is also well within the means of the middle class. Excellent hotels ranging from five-star to three-star and also dormitory-type are available. The M.P Tourism department through advertisements in the newspapers and the electronic media also provides information. There is also a website linked with the Department of Tourism, Government of Madhya Pradesh. The only difficulty, those travelling by air, experienced were of confirmed bookings for return flights, because the Indian Airlines had to suspend their operation for want of aircrafts and paucity of pilots. The authorities told me that they would resolve this issue well in advance, so that the return flights are confirmed. Otherwise in all matters the festival was conducted faultlessly.  

The new director Mr. Arun Palnitkar, since he took over as a Director of Ustad Allaudin Khan Sangeet and Kala Academy in December last year, he has been literally on his toes looking after Tansen Music Festival Gwalior, Mahiar Festival and other cultural events in Madhya Pradesh.  This festival is organized in collaboration with several other governmental agencies and is sponsored by Gail India Ltd for the past two years.  

I have been closely associated with the festival in various capacities including a member of the jury for selection of the dancers, as a critic writing regularly in print media both Indian and foreign for the past twenty two years regularly, advisor to the organizers, looking after the correct announcements of the dance numbers, suggesting what technical requirements are necessary, bringing artists together, assisting morning sessions of photographs at the temple, helping in interviewing the dancers for print media, electronic media  and assisting organizers in general. Since I have been attending the festival for the past twenty-two years, I am one of the 'Khajuraho regulars' and enjoy the privilege of an elderly person who is an expert in the field of classical dance. I must also put on record that all concerned have extended me the respect due to my seniority and experience. And I enjoy being a part of this most wonderful cultural event. 

This year in Kathak form Nandita Puri, a disciple of Roshan Kumari from Mumbai, Jayashree Thakur from New Delhi in solo dance and Madhu Nataraj-Heri, daughter of veteran dancer Maya Rao and Madhu's troupe from Bangalore and Uma Dogra, a disciple of Durgalal, with her own disciples from Mumbai displayed the richness of this open-ended form in group numbers. Whereas Nandita did justice to Roshan Kumari's 
training and revealed the vigor and dignity of Jaipur gharana as developed by Roshan Kumari, performing choice numbers, with ankle- bells with loud and clear sound,  Anuradha Thakur, daughter of Kathak exponent Jayashree Thakur and a disciple of Rajendra Gangani of Jaipur gharana, emphasized the speed and energy with forceful enactment of nritta aspect of Kathak.  
Madhu Nataraj-Heri has inherited an enviable legacy from her mother Maya Rao who was fortunate to perform along with the legendary master Shambhu Maharaj. Madhu has also received musical compositions replete with old world charm from her mother. But somehow her own dancing does not measure up to the expectation of the audience who look up to her for that indelible stamp of Lucknow gharana, which Maya Rao has passed on to her. Madhu, as a matter of fact comes into her own in her contemporary work. The troupe, both the boys and the girls appeared weak. To compound it further, the taped music did not help the dancers on such a prestigious platform. A pity, because had Madhu decided to present her contemporary work, she would have perhaps made a better impression.   
Natya STEM Dance Company
In contrast Uma Dogra with her commanding stage presence, with ease and confidence of a seasoned Kathak dancer, took full advantage of the tradition that allows a Kathak dancer to speak with the audience, reciting Urdu shayari, and won over the large gathering, the way Sitara and Uma Sharma do. She has a way of entertaining the audience. With excellent support from the vocalist Shailendra's melodious singing and equally superb tabla accompaniment from  Kaliprasad, a disciple of Kishan Maharaj, Uma had the audience eating out of her hands. She succeeded in presenting the flavor of the Jaipur gharana numbers she has studied from Durgalal and won rounds of applause for tatkar, the footwork, and highly enjoyable Hori number with her well-trained dancers. 

In Bharatanatyam, the celebrated dancer Yamini Krishnamurty presented her students of   Nritya Kaustubh Cultural Academy, where she is passing on to young generation of dancers her Bharatanatyam repertoire. As often happens, the expectations of the connoisseur are not fulfilled, when they look for the excellent technique of the mentor. What an outstanding dancer Yamini in her halcyon days was! Even today with a fire in her belly she would make audience sit up, were she to appear on the stage. The repertoire consisting of  'Rupa majuchi' varnam, Shringaralahari, Natanam Adinar et al created nostalgia for someone like me. The fact that the young students got an opportunity to perform on this prestigious platform was a big award for them. 
In contrast G Narendra and his Avigna Dance Ensemble did Kalakshetra training proud. There was neatness, the technique was flawless and the dancers, two male dancers G. Narendra and Joy with their slim figures and good looks, the female dancers Mahalakshmi and others, with tasteful aharya, costumes, good dancing and pleasant music, created a favourable impression. Ganapati stuti, Shiva stuti, a duet, and a group tillana placed G Narendra and his troupe in a class apart from other Bharatanatyam dancers.  
G Narendra
In a solo exposition of Bharatanatyam, Malavika Sarukkai lived up to her reputation. With arresting lines, imaginative choreography of theme based on inspiration she derived from Khajuraho, a tillana and Vande Mataram, the concluding piece, she was a vision of beauty and created illusion of visual poetry/drishya kavya with the magnificent backdrop of the temple. She has reached a state of perfection in terms of the form of Bharatanatyam that it invests itself with newness each time one sees it. 

Odissi had a solo exposition by Jyoti Srivastav, a disciple of Durgacharan Ranbir who has been furthering the  Deba Prasad Das gharana. Refreshing and different from what we have been seeing of Guru Kelucharan Mahapatra's repertoire, Durgacharan's sabdaswarapata numbers, suryashtakam, late guru Srinath Raut's choreography of Yahi Madhava ashtapadi from the Gita Govinda were highly enjoyable. The selection of dancers indeed seemed interesting for a dance buff. 

Nrityagram Odissi dancers Surupa Sen and Bijoyini Satpathy are going places with their exquisite technique, presentation, innovative choreography and live music by Raghunath Panigrahi. The way the breathing exercise gives the Odissi movements another dimension and the space explored by Surupa were quite fascinating. The interweaving of movements for creating iconic forms of the deities like Ganapati, the dancers standing one behind the other and with formation of four arms, the images linger long in the memory. 

Malavika Sarukkai

Surupa has an admirable sense of exploring the movements, stretching them without distorting, and thereby lending a fresh look to Guru Kelucharan Mahapatra's training. The Oriya songs, the Shiva stuti and group dancing with Pavitra and another young dancer from Nrityagram were so absorbing that the audience wanted more and more. But with the right duration and variety of numbers, the dancers stole the show from others in terms of brevity and excellence. 

The celebrated film star and member of Rajyasabha Hema Malini's daughters Isha and Ahana Deol were billed in Odissi on the last day after Uma Dogra's Kathak. They have been learning Odissi from a traditional guru Ravindra Atibuddhi for quite some time. Both are personable and have innocent and endearing looks. It is Hema Malini's great desire, as she told during the press conference, to see her daughters as dancers. Isha has already made a mark in the films and would like to continue performing dance, as does Hema Malini. Doubtless both the daughters have to go a long way, compared to the stalwarts in the field. They have a head start as daughters of Hema Malini. If they will 
practice more and devote more time, they are bound to make the grade with the support they have. It is true, such a prestigious platform was offered to them because the organizers wanted glamour to the festival. As a mother, Hema Malini also wanted her daughters to perform before such an audience so that they can accept the challenge.  However, the organizers did face criticism for their inclusion in this festival when they are still at a learning stage. 

The selection of Kuchipudi dancers was also complimentary. Dr Uma Rama Rao's selection for presentation of Bhama Kalapam by Thanjavur yakshaganam-Matrubhuta Kavi's Pariajatapaharanam was most welcome. It had exquisite lyrics and the music was captivating. The young dancer Dr. M Jwala Srikala enacting the role of Satyabhama was very impressive. The group presentation of Shiva Shakti was well designed. Taranga Nritya besides the popular appeal of a dancer balancing and dancing on a thali, saw a young dancer playing role of Krishna. It was a heart stealer abhinaya by the young girl Tanvi. Uma Rama Rao had very wisely selected young dancers according to their abilities and in turn convincing audiences to believe in what was being presented.  

The other group of Kuchipudi dancers arrived from the Kuchipudi village, led by Vedantam Venkatachalapathy, son of the renowned Rattaiyya Sharma, famous for his role of Hiranyakashipu. Venkatachalapathy reminded the onlookers like me who have seen his father, of his father. But more than that, he is so versatile that he convinced us in his impersonation of the female role of Satyabhama. This tradition is now almost extinct.  But the art runs in his blood and somehow nothing looked incongruous. The marvel was that he could play both the male and female roles with consummate artistry. Keshav Prasad did the nattuvangam.  

Untimely rains disrupted the show and Mamata Shankar and her troupe performed on next day. Their ballet was from the word go a runaway success with Mamata's troupe performing like seasoned dancers unfolding the story of Prakriti, a chandal kanya and her infatuation for the Buddha mendicant who accepted water from her, in spite of the fact that she was an untouchable. Gurudev Tagore's music is haunting and Mamata with her customary showmanship received from the audience big applause.  

Thang-ta, the martial arts of Manipur, as usual was loved by one and all. The juggling, the blindfolded man, cutting the pumpkin on the stomach of a man lying on the floor, the sword fighting with sparks flying in all directions and similar exercises with spear, sword etc displayed the versatility of the Huyen Lallong Cultural Association. Sangeet Natak Awardee Guru Gourkishor Sharma's disciples and son did him proud.  

From Kerala Kalamandalam, Cheruthuruthy came Nathalie, artist to present sequences from the Mahabharata, Draupadi's hair anointed by Bhima with the blood of Dusashana, Krishna’s showing his cosmic form, Vishvarupa when Duryodhana does not relent and tries to tie the hands of Krishna, and other events were much appreciated even when the stories enacted with the hastamudras often is not understood by the Madhya Pradesh audiences. Kathakali, even when presented in one hour's duration leaves a strong impact world over. The Kerala Kalamandalam artists deserve our praise for mounting such a good show.  

Barring the first day, the announcement by Sunil Vaidya for Doordarshan was adequate and well presented for Doordarshan. The organizers will do well to invite the national media and critics to have the festival covered. With the financial crunch the need  for publicity in national and English media is curtailed. 
Dr. Sunil Kothari was Professor of Dance at the Rabindra Bharati University at Calcutta and the first to occupy the Uday Shankar Chair.  A dance writer, roving critic, research scholar and author of many books, he is the recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, the Lifetime Achievement Award conferred by Kalanidhi Fine Arts of Canada, in March 2004.