Ukraine India Bhai Bhai
- Sunil Kothari

April 30, 2005

Dance critic Sunil Kothari attends the first edition of Nrityanjali, an international festival of Indian dances 2005, at Kiev, Ukraine and finds the standards impeccable and very high.

Located in the very heartland of Europe, Ukraine has a long history forged in steel. Says Pradip Putej Singh, who has worked for more than twenty-three years with Steel Authority of India, Bhilai, “'Let us recall. India in the fifties had embarked upon a project to boost national capacity by more than two hundred percent. This was through green field project at Durgapur, Rourkela and Bhilai. Bhilai rapidly became something of a legend of modern India thanks to the speed and efficiency with which One Million Tonne Project was commissioned and operated. The rest is history.”

Ukraine achieved independent statehood on December 1, 1991. The Soviet Union ceased to exist on December 31, 1991. Often described as 'Breadbasket of Europe' it is strategically positioned, surrounded by the borders of Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Belarus, and Russia. Main exports items are metals, pipes, machinery, military equipments, petroleum products, agricultural products and textiles.

Observes Kostyantyn Gryshchenko, the foreign minister of Ukraine, “Just watch the Ukrainian expertise being used by the Indian economy in the strategic sectors. Heavy industry, metallurgy, machine building and power sector including nuclear power. As much as Ukraine can offer to India, so is India able to offer to Ukraine. There is a huge market for the Indian goods and Ukraine's non-freezing port Odessa on the Black Sea has long been the important sea-gate for the Indian goods on their way to Europe.”

”Add to it, the Indian cultural expressions,” enthuses Dr. Yu. A. Biletski, President of Association Ukraine-India, “like classical Indian dances. But more than that, your Indian films and Bollywood dancing.” And when we watched on the third day of the three day Natyanjali-2005 International Festival of Indian Dances- Kiev, we realized that come what may, Bollywood dancing has come to stay. India boasts of now eight classical dance forms like Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Manipuri, Kathakali, Odissi, Kuchipudi, Mohiniattam and the recently recognized dance form of Assam, viz., Sattriya. But the impact of Bollywood dancing is amazing! Albina, 5, dressed in a white silk dress with sequins and filmy make up, steps on the stage having won the first prize during the competition. With such charming energy and grace, dancing to the filmy tunes, executing mixed steps of Bharatanatyam and Kathak, offering pranam, salutations with the anjali hasta mudra, she dances like a seasoned dancer and steals the show!

Ranjana Bhargav, wife of Sarvesh Bhargav working for a pharmaceutical firm in Kiev, acting as one of the judges for the competition has this to say, at the end of the two day competition in which three hundred dancers from all over Ukraine have participated, “Just see how from extreme South Ukraine Yalta and Odessa, from North Chernihiv, from West Lviv and from East Donetsk, enthusiastic parents with their tiny tots and grown up young bevy of beauties have turned up in large number!”

One after another the groups with costumes seen as worn by Aishwarya Rai and Madhuri Dixit in Devdas take the stage the moment 'Maar dala' CD is played, or the audience goes crazy the moment two dancers dance a la Aishwarya Rai and Madhuri Dixit in 'Dola re dola' duet. And then the sex pot Elliana comes with ghaghra, choli and head covered with chunni, jerking and spinning with the song 'Mere hathon me nau nau chudiyan re, thoda thehro sajnava majburaina hai' (I have worn then nine bangles in my hands, be patient my beloved there are some restraints and constraints) and with suggestive up and down movements of the breasts and hip to the melodious music, she dances with such abandon that she can easily give a run for money to our own Urmila Matondkars and Sonali Bendres...

With exquisite figures and generous endowments, the Ukrainian beauties would, as Yana Gupta has demonstrated, take over Bollywood dancing scene. Gone are the days when Ukraine and other states were part of the former Soviet Union, and people only hummed 'Mera juta hai Japani. sar pe lal topi Rusi phir bhi dil hai Hindustani'!! That immortal song rendered by Mukesh now has given way to 'Dola re dola' and 'Maar dala' from Devdas. With glowing skin, light eyes, excellent figures and dancing like boneless wonders, these beauties cast a spell on the onlookers.

Like the Boogy Woogy TV show of Sony in India, in which the young Indian boys and girls start dancing, these Ukrainian kids, young girls and women dance imitating the movements of Indian actors with easy felicity.

And their love for India is transparent. They meet us on the roads, when we got to visit Churches and stroll over the main road Khreshchatyk, mirroring the life of Kiev, and greet us with a smile. They recognize the dancers in their Kanjeevaram silks and Orissa saris. Some enthusiasts request us to pose with them and after the photos are taken, say, “Namaskar- dhanyavad!”

She is addressed as Ganna and /or Anna in India. Anna Smirnova, a slender beauty with a face one would easily identify with that of an Indian dancer, came to New Delhi, India, to study Bharatanatyam in the year 1998, under the scheme of international cultural exchange offered by Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR). She enrolled at Triveni Kala Sangam and started training under Jayalakshmi Ishwar, renowned Bharatanatyam exponent, and a graduate from Kalakshetra, teaching at Triveni.

So quick was Anna's grasp of Bharatanatyam that in two years she competed a Margam, complete repertoire, and ICCR offered her another three years fellowship for an intensive training under Jayalakshmi. Anna with her natural gifts and good looks created favourable impression all over India with her performances reflecting a thorough training in Kalakshetra 'bani'. During her tenure under Jayalaskhmi, she met Sanjay Rajhans, a young political journalist, working for The Pioneer, an English daily published from New Delhi. He is a budding young musician. He was taking lessons in classical Hindustani music from Shanti Sharma, at Sri Ram Bharatiya Kala Kendra. Anna and he met during rehearsals and eventually got married.

Anna returned with Sanjay to Kiev and started an academy of dance Nakshatra, winning over a large following and became a household name. She taught Bharatanatyam following Kalakshetra style to several Ukrainian young girls. Thus today in Kiev there is a sizeable number of young dancers who dance Bharatanatyam and study Hindi language with great enthusiasm. With Indian Diaspora's presence and support from the key industrialists, young entrepreneurs and Ukrainian disciples, Anna and Sanjay organized several Indian events in Kiev. They planned the first edition of 'Nrityanjali, an International Festival of Indian Dances' at Kiev for three days from 13th till 15th April 2005.

From India, they invited Jayalakshmi Eshwar, her disciples an Ukrainian male dancer Mikhailo Krivchuk and Swati Biswas, Odissi exponent Pratibha Jena, daughter of Guru Surendranath Jena; from Amsterdam Kalpana Raghuraman, a disciple of Padmini Ravi; from Singapore Raka Maitra, a disciple of Madhavi Mudgal and Kelubabu; from Paris, the star Bharatanatyam performer Dominique Dolorme, specializing in Karanas, as evolved by his guru Padma Subrahmanyam; from Stockholm Ulrika Larsen, an Odissi exponent, a disciple of Ramani Ranjan Jena, and Anna Bolmstorm, a Bharatanatyam dancer trained at Kalakshetra; from Moscow two dancers, Irina Iskorostenskaya, a graduate from Kalakshetra and Ella Margorina, a Kathak exponent trained under Rajendra Gangani in New Delhi, both having made a name as brilliant dancers within India and Moscow.

The first night was so dazzling with dancers following one after another in a seamless manner, without a single hitch to the excellent music recorded on CDs, with well designed lighting, entries and exits, to the balanced commentary in Ukrainian language by Anna Smironova that the audiences not only gave them a standing ovation, but went on applauding 'Bravo, Bravo' for the next fifteen minutes!

His Excellency Mr. Kipgen, Indian Ambassador and his wife Mrs. Kipgen graced the occasion and complimented the organizers Anna Smirnova and Sanjay Rajhans for the presentation. He spoke warmly and said, “This proves one fact beyond any doubt that the performing arts of India have been so captivating that not only the Ukrainian dancers, but dancers from various parts of the world who have performed today, have mastered them with dedication and love, building the bridges of understanding between India and their own countries.”

Bharatanatyam of Kalakshetra 'bani ' was seen to a great advantage. Similarly Kathak by the Moscow based dancer Ella Margorina was quite breathtaking. In terms of intercultural approach, the standards were commendable.

Odissi by Pratibha Jena as evolved by her father Guru Surendranath Jena is very different from that by Guru Kelucharan Mahapatra and Guru Deba Prasad Das. It was heartening to see that this style of Odissi has followers in this part of the world.

Dominique Delorme initially trained by Muthuswamy Pillai has completely switched to the Karana style of Padma Subrahmanyam. With bare chest, minus all ornaments, only a thin belt and lower garment, hair gathered in a knot over the head, he startles one and all by his elfin grace, surprising, sculpturesque and entirely novel movements. One admits that he has imbibed Padma Subrahmanyam's style admirably. In the West, his showing the back, moving muscles, long rippling arms, jumps et al place him in a special category. He also employs these movements to the music of sitar, tabla and synthesizer. He did not perform any abhinaya number. But the abstract dance went off very well with the Ukrainian audiences who gave him a rousing reception every time he appeared and mesmerized one and all.

Whereas in complete contrast the Ukrainian dancer Mikhailo Krivchuk used eye -catching aharya, costumes, designed by him to a desired effect. His own composition the Sun-Soorya, with golden skirt, side wings and golden crown was so dazzling that he looked like the Sun God! Similarly in Kathak, using a golden cape, he swirled in a manner that the cape unfurled like a wide golden disc. He pirouetted like a dervish, winning rounds of applause. He looked magnificent.

Similarly Irina Iskorostenskaya in Bharatanatyam was convincing as a Kalakshetra product with absolutely high standards. Ella regaled audience with her beauty and seductive charms as a Kathak dancer. Their thorough training was impressive. The teamwork was exemplary.

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.