by Manjari Sinha, Gurgaon  

March 10, 2003

The Asia Pacific Performing Art Network (APPAN) headquartered in Seoul, Korea and fast taking roots in other countries, particularly India was set up in January 2000 under the patronage of UNESCO. APPAN is a worldwide network for promotion and cooperation in the development of the performing arts of the Asia Pacific region and works towards creating a worldwide platform for its unique cultural identity. APPAN operates under a UNESCO charter to foster new and traditional performing arts throughout the Asia Pacific region.  

'The sacred and the Profane: THE MALE/FEMALE ROLE IN THE PERFORMANCE ARTS OF ASIA: MONK-WARRIOR FOR THE MALE, GEISHA-DEVDASI-COURTESAN FOR FEMALE: THE TRANSPOSITION OF THE ONE TO THE OTHER: THE MODERN CONTEXT', was the theme of the Fifth International Festival and Symposium of APPAN. Held in the picturesque surroundings at the bank of the Ganges in Rishikesh from 25th to 28th January 2003, the festival was attended by sixty delegates comprising of top ranking scholars and performers from nine countries of Asia Pacific region including India.  The event was organised by APPAN India with the cooperation of UNESCO and ICCR (The Indian Council for Cultural Relations). 

Earlier, after the first meet at Seoul, 'Journey to the East' was the second international conference held in Delhi in October 2000. The third conference 'Body and Mind' held in Himalayas compared Japan's Noh form with India's Kutiyattam, Chinese Kungfu with Kerala's Kalaripayattu and Chinese-Korean operatic forms with Indian musical forms, like Dhrupad. The fourth festival - symposium on the theme 'The Role of Healing in the Arts' was held in Seoul. 

The inaugural session of APPAN's 5th International Conference started with the welcome address by Ms. Shanta Serbjeet Singh, the Chairperson of APPAN. Dr. Sun Ock Lee, Secretary General of APPAN, Mr. Richard Anglehardt- UNESCO Regional Advisor for Culture in Asia Pacific and Prof. M Tawfic, representative UNESCO and UN also spoke before the keynote address delivered by Dr. Kapila Vatsayayan, Chairperson of this particular festival. In her thought provoking speech she said ' River Ganges reminds us of the female energy, the divine energy that flows within each one of us. Male and female are complimentary to each other. They interchange but never in isolation. That other is a part of you. The juxta-position is complimentary. Your journey is from becoming to being'.  

Mr. Danny Yung- Board Member World Culture Forum, Chairman Asia Art Network (AAN) and Vice Chairman APPAN, chaired the first session. Beautiful presentation of Geisha dance by Dr. Mieko Marumo, Japan, Courtesan tradition by Dr. Paritta Chalermpow Koanantakool (Thailand) and Joged Pingitan by Ida Ayu Diastini (Bali), were made. Dr. Julie Mehta's Scholarly paper and slide show on Rabam Boran was followed by an enchanting performance of Apsara dance by Ouk Chumnith of Combodia.  

Prof. M. Tawfic chaired the session on Devdasi, Mahari, and Salpuri tradition of Courtesan dance forms. The art of Devdasi presentation by Ms. Sharada Ramnathan was enhanced by a soulful demonstration of Smt. Rama Tilakkam, the last living representative of Devdasi tradition. Ms. Sharmila Biswas presented a well-researched paper on the Art of Mahari dance of Orissa. Her graceful performance of this traditional art form in the evening session was a real treat. Dr. Sun Ock Lee presented Salpuri dance with a lively demonstration as well. Annie Grieg, Trisha Dunn, presented contemporary work on gender from Australia and Sangeeta Isvaran from India. Here the body language was important instead of facial expressions or emotions. The evening performances included Sonmudo Martial Art by Master Jeong Hyun Pyo and Mr. Won Lee from Korea. Sattriya Martial Art from Assam, Thangta Martial Art from Manipur and Shaolin Martial Art by Kanishka Sharma. 

All these art forms along with Thailand's cross gender form Nora by Mr. Chin, Kuchipudi in Streevesham by Kala Krishna, who performed Navajanardanpaarijatam, China's male and female impersonators and Java's Abdi Bedya and Joged Pingitan forms were compared, analyzed and discussed from a multi-dimensional perspective. Presentation of slide show and the discussion of contemporary theater works on the male/female roles by Steven Pang and on gender by Wong Yuewai from Hongkong connected it to the present scenario. A very interesting presentation of Indonesian cross gender form Jaipongan and comedic forms by Didi Nini Thowk from Java was highly appreciated.  

The fifth International Festival Symposium of APPAN marked a significant breakthrough in both cultural and gender studies. It was a rare occasion to witness talented performers and inter-act with the scholars from different countries of Asia Pacific region. The textual work created for the fifth APPAN conference is published in book form. The aesthetic cover carrying the bronze Ardhanareshwara statue was an ideal icon for the seminal theme.  For both APPAN 2002 and now for the present one on the male/female role in Asian Performance Arts, a thirty minute video film has been created for larger viewing and documentation.   

The credit for a very thoughtfully conceived and efficiently organised festival goes to APPAN's Chairperson Ms. Shanta Serbjeet Singh and the dedicated members of her team, who worked hard to make the event a grand success.

Manjari Sinha has an MA in Sanskrit from Allahabad University, MA in Music from Vikram University, Ujjain; B.Ed. from Lucknow University; Sangeet Prabhakar in vocal, tabla, sitar and Kathak dance from Prayag Sangeet Samiti, Allahabad; and further training in sitar from guru Arvind Parikh in the lineage of Ustad Vilayat Khan. She contributes articles in English and Hindi on Music (Hindustani & Carnatic), Dance, Art & Culture for various leading music journals and periodicals. She gives lec-dems on Indian classical music and dance in India and abroad.