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March 11, 2015

Collaborations, that's what's trending. Collaborations between forms, dancers, organizations, cities, universities, institutions.

February was fulsome, to say the least. TREND and TRENDING is learning! Our universities are woefully inadequate with dance history and heritage teaching as they have little or no evidence of historical materials in possession, to illustrate dance heritage. Just talking about a subject without visual or literary evidence is dull, especially in a visually rich art form like dance. One exception to this trend is Pune University's Dance department. Last year, they had a seminar and focus on dance writing and assessment and this February a two-day focus on choreography under CREATING AWARENESS series. Pune University's Lalit Kala Kendra (Music and Dance Dept), Sucheta Chapekar and Parimal Phadke, Maharashtra Cultural Centre and Nad Roop made me address over 100 students of MA and PhD in what are trends in choreography today and dance history. To meet and talk with over 100 enthusiastic and evolved Puneites was an eye-opener. Among the most artistic lot in western India, Pune is to Hindustani music and theatre and films, what Madras is to Carnatic music, Bharatanatyam and films. It is a gardd (adda / epic-centre). With hours of rare film footage, culled and collected from various sources, including making my own short films from Mohan Khokar Dance Collection materials, I could bring alive the various facets of our dance heritage and history. The students were all grown up mostly and keen to learn and some had very good questions. They asked about Natya Shastra and its relevance to modern dance (!); they asked about where to practice in Mumbai (as though I owned Bombay!) and they asked why such materials had not been ever seen before.

Baroda next: Retired from the near comatose dance dept., MS University, but a never say never Parul Shah with friends of Anjali Mehr, mounted her annual Nritya Parva festival where most of Baroda denizens came and saw various dancers and dance forms like excellent Tanjore bani Bharatanatyam by Aniruddha Bala Knight, who mesmerized audiences and Orissi by Madhulita Mohapatra and Bishwabhushan Mohapatra (not related!), who got a standing ovation. Add some fine Kathakali by Kalamandalam Yashwant and engaging Kuchipudi by ten year old Lakshmi and 20 year old Venu, under guru Deepa Sashindran's tutelage. Baroda audiences sit till end and are committed. A big hall can be filled if the fare is good. Vidhi Nagar's Kathak on the opening night was an eye sore! Her dance was not even college level. Morning interactive sessions with each artiste were best though poorly attended because university folks didn't send students! What a missed opportunity. So many good artistes come all the way like Aniruddha Knight, Madhulita, Bishwabhushan, Yashwant and students pursuing dance can't meet them or care to learn from them. In 60 years, if only 9 PhDs have come out of MSU Dance Dept., then it shows its academic levels and interest in art of dance today.

Bishwabhushan Mohapatra and Madhulita Mohapatra

Isabelle Anna

Next to Delhi and trend was talk, walk, dance! An event a day: either solos or ICCR's Horizon Series, or SNA's platform or the IIC. Add, Habitat, SKP and you have a cup full and overflowing but audiences not. Birju Maharaj festival which Saswati Sen organizes like an inhouse production was the high point of the season with 3 days of Kathak and students and seniors showcasing their homage to Kathak and its King - Birju Maharaj - sitting next to whom I learnt he's a tech gizmo king too, for he knows all about latest gadgets! Parisian Isabelle Anna (better known to some of us as Milena's daughter) showcased her tayari under Jaikishan Maharaj, and she has a stable stage presence, very focussed and involved followed by Anuj Mishra, a firecracker delivery. All of Delhi turned up on first day when Alarmel Valli danced with Madhavi Mudgal. Collaborations all the way.

Ramli Ibrahim

Vyjayanthi Kashi

Kalamandalam Kannan

Gopika Varma

Vaibhav Arekar

Rakesh Sai Babu
Back to Pune as Nad Roop presented its 25th anniversary offering ATEET KI PARCHHAIYAN ... A relook at Mahabharata. Seven dancers of calibre of Ramli Ibrahim for Orissi, Vyjayanthi Kashi for Kuchipudi, Kalamandalam Kannan for Kathakali, Gopika Varma for Mohiniattam, Vaibhav Arekar for Bharatanatyam, Rakesh-Rajesh Sai Babu for Chhau and Ameera Patankar for Kathak undertook the seven principal characters - Yudhishtra, Kunti, Bheeshma, Gandhari, Karna, Duryodhana and Draupadi ask and hold Krishna responsible for all that happened during the course of the great war. Add a group of well trained Chhau dancers from Janmejoy Sai Babu's stable and a group of Shama Bhate's students in Kathak who performed sharp Kathak and used the fine footwork as curtain raiser and divider of scenes (where a patra - character- could enter or leave the stage behind the line they formed) and this feast was fulfilling. On an average, we professional dance watchers see a minimum of 200 shows a year. In last ten years, that's 2000 shows, I have not seen one such production that merits such high marks (except Dasamahavidya by Ramli Ibrahim's Sutra in Malaysia). With editing (to make it travel worthy), this production should be seen in each city of India, where dance is taught and appreciated and it is a role model production to be sent abroad, where all major forms of Indian dances can be seen and a great story retold. Shama Bhate has come up with a spell-binding production in which a seamless team work emerged.

Ameera Patankar

Gopika Varma stood out as Gandhari and Vaibhav as Karna. Both had range, maturity and material. Each one contributed significantly. Kashi's dance is too lokadharmi but then Kuchipudi is a melam art. Ramli's did not show much Orissi (as all others did with their respective forms) and he was too muscular and young looking for Yudhishtra. Dr. Kannan has all aspects of Kathakali artistry but the symbology of Kathakali is missing. Chhau was excellent and so was Kathak. Avani and Shivani shone like a well cut diamond. Ameera Patankar was given the pivotal role of Draupadi and she did well performing with so many seniors and rose up to the occasion. Matching musicscapes to so many forms and giving it one wholesome patina was left to Narendra Bhide. His mastery was evident. Shama Bhate has surpassed her peers in the art of choreography and put Pune on the national dance map. It was truly a deep, meaningful, moving experience and takes me back to 1985 when I watched Peter Brooks's Mahabharata in Avignon, France with an international cast of many, in which Mallika Sarabhai was Draupadi and had just been blessed with baby boy Revanta - today a fine dancer!

TRENDING then was group works and collaborations. And next issue attendance (2016) under guest editorship of Dr. Seshan, will hopefully focus on this subject.

Ashish Mohan Khokar is a reputed dance historian, biographer, critic and author of many published articles and over 40 books on Indian arts and culture. He served govt. bodies in many capacities and also teaches Indian dance history and aesthetics for university faculties. He is the curator of the Mohan Khokar Dance Collection and chairs the Dance History Society which hosts an annual convention and dance discourses that afford many talents a platform. He has mentored many and instituted five awards through attendance, the dance yearbook he edits and publishes.

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