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Dancers as organizers
Photos courtesy: Nrithyodaya

August 28, 2017

Dancers are being innovative in trying to create all kinds of performing platforms for their art. Patronage systems are such that today there are more dancers than platforms available. Look at Balasaraswati's time or 20 years later still, in Yamini Krishnamurthy's era. In each form, there were a handful of dancers only. Say 5 in Bala amma's or Shambhu Maharaj's times; 10 in Yamini's or Uma Sharma's; 20 in Valli's and now 200! Every bio-data boasts of awards, rewards, tours and titles. It seems it has never been so good for the dance and dancers. India is dancing!

And celebrating special occasions are dancers: Jigyasa Giri of Chennai takes her Kathak to Delhi, to perform for a cause while Ranjana Gauhar of Delhi brings artistes from all over India to showcase in her Saare Jahan Se Acha festival. A Kalari initiative next to Adishakti in Pondicherry premieres its work called BHU and to BHU (Benaras Hindu University) comes ace Kathak talent from Mauritius, Dr. Putanjani "Vandana" Purgus, to admit her niece in this famed university. In Baroda, Harish Gangani is all set to retire after decades of serving Baroda MSU Dance Dept., which his father late Guru Pt. Sundarlal Gangani first came to when my father engaged gharana gurus to teach at university level - Tanjorkar for BN and Sundarlal ji for Kathak, Saxena sahib for table… And in Chennai, the season is agog with thematic events.

Jigyasa Giri and group

Padma Subrahmanyam in ‘Vande Mataram'



The season was dominated by Padma Subrahmanyam, who showcased over a hundred talents, her acolytes and associates in a 5 day 7 event Nrithyodaya 75th anniversary festival. It brought to light many hidden gems like Gayatri Kannan and Mahati. What elfin charm on stage and what perfection. One very masculine but graceful dancer Vineeth, a nephew of famed Padmini, was seen as a meaningful male dancer. The star, Shobana, too danced like there was no tomorrow, what speed, what perfection. She is today an amazing complete artiste. Few can match her delivery. And add to it all, seeing a seasoned icon like Padma Subrahmanyam herself on stage on 2 occasions in 5 days, in patriotic fervor of what another Subramaniam, Bharati, the nationalist-poet would have felt seeing free India today, showed the range of Chennai excellence in Bharatanatyam.

Seeing the 5 day festival, representing all age groups from 5 to 75, one wondered if art has any age. What a child did effortlessly, an adult often had limitations to undertake but what an adult did in terms of ability, maturity and wisdom naturally escaped youngsters. The Raslila was simply beautiful for innocence of small debutantes pairing off as Radha-Krishna and in another epic rendition, Narada done by Mahati was mischievous and manipulative to serve larger cause of cosmic propriety and order. It was a discovery to see Gayatri Kannan dance because one sees her singing, conducting often. She was like a fairy on stage, effortless flow and movement. Uday Shankar proved to be a good addition to corps of male dancers. All in all, Kannan, the veena master, also nephew of Padma Subrahmanyam, proved how good an organizer he was as the events ran seamlessly. On day two, the music did get stuck when Swarnamalya Ganesh effectively showcased a reconstructed Bharatanatyam from devadasi lore, and her occasional singing could have substituted the stuck cd! Roja Kannan and Priya Murle never rose above the ordinary and that evening did not belong to them, largely because the flow and mood was broken by a stuck music cd.

Roja Kannan & Priya Murle

Jayashree Rajagopalan and group
Kathak duo Nirupama and Rajendra from Bangalore were the only non Bharatanatyam dancers included and they performed with aplomb the unusual return journey of Rama and Sita from exile. Sita describes various scenes from their lives in Chitrakoot, Panchvati etc. Their movement while flying was uniquely devised with just knee folded and easy jump from vimana.

Bombay production by Jayashree Rajagopalan was the most amateurish and school-like in the entire festival. Of course, it was a truncated version of a full length ballet of 2 hours done in half hour for this occasion but overall impact was zilch. Many Madras worthies - those sabhapatis in white veshtis mouthing long, tiresome speeches were extolling the work of Nrithyodaya with only 3 making sense. N. Murali, Co-Chair of The Hindu, N. Gurumurthy the patriotic-economist-ideologue and Sachchidanand Joshi of IGNCA, Delhi, made sensible points. N. Murali recalled the yeoman service to art by "Director Subrahmanyam" as Padma's father was called. N. Gurumurthy said he rarely saw dance shows but came to this as many of hers before because she brings “nationalism through dance” and Dr. Sachchidanand Joshi connected her art and work to the present times of national revival with inculcation of Indian culture and good, Indian value system. Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam and her family have indeed dedicated their lives to art. Need more be said?

Padma Subrahmanyam's senior disciples

What this 75th celebrations of Nrityodhya threw up were three important aspects in and of dance:
1. There is no short cut to dance learning and teaching. One has to put in minimum time a guru desires before a student is ready for stage. A guru is supreme.
2. The maryada of art is intrinsic to the art. Allied arts must be learnt too: The 3 S - sahitya, sangeeta, shastras.
3. It takes a lifetime to build reputations and goodwill and a minute to lose it. Padukka style now, lokadharmi in appeal and manifestation, is her own brand of Bharatanatyam. Deeply researched, tried out for decades and matured, it can be now called Padmanatyam.

With August 15th nationalistic atmosphere having been around, Saare Jahan Se Achcha mounted by Ranjana Gauhar's Utsav Society had no less than the SNA Chairman Shekhar Sen chief guesting, having flown in from a tour of USA; he said his eyes were still dazed. But like a professional, he came on time and sat till end at late 10pm hour when the assembly of 4 senior dancers - Ranjana herself, in a fine solo depiction of sakhi bhava Dheere sameere Yamuna teere... - regaled the audience. The softness of the Orissi form - its lalitya, lyricism - now lost to senseless speed like in Bharatanatyam, was brought about ably by this senior dancer. Come to think of it, she is the only one left from redoubtable Guru Mayadhar Raut's stable who has an active dance presence. She teaches, writes, organizes, supports other artistes. Kiran Segal does too but not so actively, nationally. Ranjana has stuck to the medium and solo art brings out her seniority and maturity. In group productions, other junior talents can't match her experience and range of emotion, naturally. Thus she wisely (or logistically as she had to also play host and receive many dignitaries among whom was former PM Manmohan Singh's wife) didn't dance in the opening offering, but instead lent her artistic credentials through choreographic inputs. It was a short work on Rani of Jhansi, to inaugurate the festival with an appropriate patriotic, political or nationalistic theme. The team of freelance dancers and students did well and made it a meaningful, seamless production.

Ranjana Gauhar, Anita Sharma, Sandhya Purecha, Nalini-Kamalini

Ileana Citaristi, Vyjayanthi Kashi, Uma Dogra, Saroja Vaidyanathan

Sattriya dance by mother Anita Sharma and daughter duo was rather repetitive although their movements were neat and clean and well executed. In its own setting of sattras it must flower well. Sandhya Purecha based her presentation on Panthuvarali raga using an old recording of her guru late Parvati Kumar, whose protégé she and Sucheta Chapekar Bhide were. Her students Suhani Dhanki and Chitra Dalvi did her proud by executing each pose and posture, turn and twist excellently and Sandhya herself danced very well as a foil to youthful energy. The winsome sisters Nalini - Kamalini have been dancing for over 3 decades and their brand of Benaras gharana is all flurry and footwork, unique and electrifying with no strain shown of breathing. While dancers half their age huff and puff today with no evident stamina, this Kathak pair excels in what they do. Kamalini is today the Chairperson of Kathak Kendra, while Nalini looks after their own institution in Trans Jamuna.

If Ranjana helps brings artistes to Delhi to showcase their work in the capital city (next day had Ileana Citaristi from Bhubaneswar, Vyjayanthi Kashi from Bangalore, Uma Dogra from Mumbai and a local veteran, nearly 80 year old Saroja Vaidyanathan), an upcoming Odissi dancer Madhulita Mohapatra of Sambalpur-settled-in-Bangalore brings only Orissi dancers to Bangalore and showcases them at her NAMAN gathering. First day is a student showing with parents and all and next day, senior professionals. So her Naman festival brought Sharmila Biswas, seen in Bangalore after a long time; Aruna Mohanty comes every year because she is also Madhulita's guru late Gangadhar Pradhan's close associate and teacher, and Surupa Sen, a fine local dancer from Nrityagram.

In Delhi too, at a solemn gathering of all dance fraternity, dear Shanta Serbjeet Singh was paid homage to at IIC, with its President, Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan, concluding a plethora of admirers and associates like Shanno Khurana, yours truly, Alka Raghuvanshi, Prathibha Prahlad, Laila Kabir, Leela Venkataraman, Lalit Mansingh and others. Her lifetime work and contribution was celebrated.

Thus Trending is platforming dance and those who serve dance in various ways - organisers, critics, publishers, filmmakers and of course the gurus and dancers. Now, isn't that a positive trend?

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.

Precise, honest, and replete with relevant details and information. One gets an interesting insight into the work and changing dynamics of Indian classical dance and dancers across the country and abroad. When we took Kathak from Chennai to Delhi a few weeks ago, it was like taking a bride in her new avatar to her maike (parental home). And with God’s grace the performance was well attended and appreciated by a charming Delhi audience who stayed till the end and made it a point to appreciate and bless the dancers. It reiterates that hard work, aesthetic eye for detail, honest representation and surrender to the Lord paves the way for creative evolution, thereby leading to a beautiful performance, audience - critic synergy.
- Jigyasa Giri (Aug 29, 2017)

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