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Discourse on dance

July 18, 2017

Dance discourse is undergoing a slow but steady make over. Wherever one goes, one sees added energy to dance presentations. The commentary has improved greatly. Introductions, punctuality, program notes, contextualization. Dance Discourse.

Mumbai first: For a city where many felt in this century (2001 onwards) classical dance almost was on its last legs as patronage had declined and most veterans were past performing actively, an over-bearing presence of films and TV - loosely called Bollywood - didn't help and also dominated. Now there is a sense of revival and survival of the fittest. After the veterans had had their performing careers for 50 years from post-independence to last decade, there was a lull and slowing down of classical dance eco systems. Organizers were few; only some dancers survived and by and large, those waiting in the wings didn't get a chance. Only 2 or 3 established institutions even produced dance or students.

NCPA has done yeoman service to promotion of dance in the last few years. Their calendar is fulsome. Nalanda does its own in-house talents, a large pool of students and teachers. The generation (in the age group 50 to 60+) that has now come of age professionally are Daksha Mashruwala, Uma Dogra, Uma Rele, Sandhya Purecha, Jhelum Paranjape, Sunanda Nair and Vaibhav Arekar. These are the happening classical dancers of amchi Mumbai today, who are active, visible nationally and committed. All are keeping the flame alive and taking a tradition forward.

Daksha Mashruwala

Sandhya Purecha

Uma Dogra

Payal Ramchandani

At a packed Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan hall in Andheri, Mumbai, where 300 committed audience came to launch of yearbook attenDance and film on Guru Shishya Parampara plus ashtapadis performed by 3 seniors - Daksha Mashruwala, Uma Dogra and Sandhya Purecha - plus one youngster Payal Ramchandani doing Kuchipudi, it became evident how the flame continues to burn. High aesthetics, low tom-toming showcased how seniors of the Sin City, sorry, Maximum City, are doing their bit. In attendance was also the generation of dancers who partook of the proceedings and contributed significantly to our understanding of realities of dance today. London-based Kathak talent Gauri Sharma Tripathy conducted the evening with meaningful dialogue and depth. A total manotripti for all involved. Mercifully lord Indira and Varuna stayed away! Daksha Mashruwala through Kaishiki put this together and has compiled all those Mumbai gurus and active dancers seen in the latest issue. (

Baroda next and yet another group of real dance seniors headed by understated Guru Pt. Harish Gangani shared concerns of dance teaching today. A theme, next week Malavika Sarukkai in Delhi @ IIC took up and elaborated further in Raza Foundation's Art Matters. At Natya Kala Conference convened by Ananda Shankar Jayant, in 2008/9, I had first used the term DANCE MATTERS. It is on record and proof there that before that this combo and double entendre was never thought of or used in this way. The starting point of a good idea sometimes gets forgotten. Many are using it in other spheres, including India Matters! This is how discourse takes shape. A good idea or word or terminology gains currency. I remember in late 90s I had first used in my Times of India column the phrase: fusion (dance) is often confusion... And that was used and quoted by others so the thought travelled and continued.

At Art Matters forum created by Raza Foundation, Malavika spoke as well as she dances and there was a certain flowering of Malavika Sarukkai today. She seems less anxious to be perfect and proper as she was always on stage and more involved with the meaning of dance itself. Dialoguing with SAHAPEDIA'S Sudha Gopalakrishnan, Malavika justified the title THINKING DANCER. She was honest in her assessment of her journey and her struggles in negotiating those twists and turns in a nearly 40 year dancing career. Her discourse was a discovery into the mind of a star dancer.

Sudha Gopalakrishnan & Malavika Sarukkai

Laxminarayan Jena

A day before that, a piquant situation arose when attenDance Delhi launch was to happen but after Mumbai and Baroda (and Bangalore and Chennai) no books were left! Mysore Nagaraj readily offered to share Habitat Stein where his ace student Laxminarayan Jena was to dance. And dance he did and how! This perfectly sculpted boy dancer has a genuinely pleasing stage personality. Even if he is short and small built, thus tries to stretch arms bit much to cover space, his dance has finish. From the opening ode to Ganapati to concluding item comprising of all 4 ingredients and elements of Kathak, he showed his fine fettle. Jena is an Odiya in Bangalore doing Kathak! See how Indian dance integrates. Mysore Nagaraj's discourse is detailed, full of nuggets of historical information and meaningful. He also curated and planned the evening well because Jena has till now shown technical items mostly in short time allotted in the past. Habitat gave him full show, a comfortable 90 minutes and both Guru and Shishya put their best foot forward. Each item was well received because it was so well explained and executed.

Dance discourse is also taking message far. Dancers are PLANNING CONTENT. No more unplanned, unthought-of drivel. Most metros now offer thematic content and context. While presenting groups, the main dancer thinks of what might look good to audiences. Finally, audiences are the king! For many years they were taken for granted and given any fare. Now to get a hall full, either the artiste has to be a name or create hype (recently an ordinary Odissi dancer of Bangalore with a pushy mother in tow was sharing rehearsal videos of upcoming solo show, as though it was some grand mega cast production in making) or collaborate with others to get in their fans and family.

In all this, as Malavika Sarukkai asked: WHERE is the dance?

One look at Chinna Kala Nadam's festival for talents under 13 showed how talented the next generation can be. Some at least. And how much damage sub standard gurus can do. Mysore guru Chitra's Bharatanatyam group had 3 strong and two weak dancers, Devjani Sen's Orissi student uniformly lacked proper positions and finish. Can't the teacher see that? Then too, one in purple costume had too much attitude while one in brown very little stamina. Were they even under 13? Such teachers ought to see and correct basic postures and positions because a bad foundation spoils a youngster's chance to dance professionally later in life. Devjani uses given music recorded perhaps by her Guru Ratikant's stables so it is sharp and superb but her teaching and dancing by students does not match or do justice.


Photos: Srivatsa

What a fine, stable, poised 10 year old Akshari M proved to be, the minute she entered the stage. This Kathak student of B.P. Sweekruth has done her teacher proud. What clarity of structure. What fine execution. Even the arch of her feet was well maintained. She is a potential talent to watch. Pavanee next rolled in as a natural. Light of foot, she undertook the teen taal composition with aplomb and authority. Nothing about her was forced, even the smile was natural. A little focus on laya would help. Her feet have strength and her face has joy, an important combination for a budding professional dancer.

The Kuchipudi group rolled in like a train, tall ones in front, short at the back, with last one totally impervious of the stage, looking for her family in the audience! Why the teacher put short little ones in back row, while hefty tall ones covered them visually in front, beats me… A shrieky singer destroyed any beauty of the first item and second was salvaged by joyous dancing by kids who loved to be on stage. Nadam ought to audition students before presenting. Teachers also should see their best student is put on stage, not all. Need more be said?

As it was a festival of, by, for kids, even the compering was done by kids. 11 year old Aryaman as compere was excellent. He spoke each word clearly and with effect. His smile made him a natural.

The author is a senior critic, historian with interest in cultural policy, international exchange and helps dance in many ways. He edits attenDance, now in its 20th year and mentors many.

Ashish Mohan Khokar’s Trending had some points really well-made. Unless the pupils have certain basic requirements like posture, sync, etc, the teacher (I’ve stopped calling everyone who teaches a guru!) shouldn't dare put them on stage. Talented, the younger lot are, but not all as rightly said. A little talent and loads of attitude- that's there for sure!  As for Kuchipudi, the less said the better. Except a handful, the rest have made this art form into a pathetic clone oscillating between Odissi and Bharatanatyam sans the depth of either.
- Ranee Kumar (art critic, The Hindu, Delhi, July 21, 2017)

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