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Make in India! Dance

February 12, 2016

Make in India! That's major focus now. And on Feb 13th, as the PM with 5 other PMs (of other countries), inaugurates this huge focus on India, what's the dance component? Forget all the Padmashris and self tom-tommed great ones with big names and titles. It is two sisters under 35 from Bangalore - Mayuri and Madhuri Upadhya - through their group Nritarutya that has been commissioned to choreograph the Opening Ceremony in an Ammchi Mumbai stadium. 85 dancers, drawn from Pune, Chennai, Delhi and of course its main company Nritarutya from Bangalore. Watch it live on most channels that day and I'm sure later for eternity, on social media. This shows where real talent lies and counts. Chennai is not. Delhi is not. Bombay is not. Not a single choreographer or dance company from any of these big cities, just good old simple Bangalore.

Opening ceremony

Upadhya sisters and core team who put the opening ceremony together

Bangalore also offered a Kuchipudi fiesta, a fine affair mounted by photographer-turned-busybody organiser Srivatsa. He saw others doing festivals and presenting artists, so the bug bit him and hey presto! He is now 3 years old into the presentation mode, maybe has done 7 -11 events. And he gets a hall and books dancers or collaborates. He is himself all over the hall, in front row, hobnobbing, talking, clicking, jumping up and about - much to the distraction of serious watchers. Bangalore functions still lack punctuality, class and Úlan. But the dancers presented - Payal Ramchandani and Deepa Shashindran with team of 4 fellow Kuchipudi dancers - showed how hard these young artistes are working. Payal Ramchandani was a delight to see: slow, languorous, unrushed Kuchipudi, each hasta unfolding like lotus petals, each movement clearly enunciated and each of the 3 items she presented (two she had choreographed herself because she is now guruless living in the UK since past one year) had depth and meaning. Kuchela in Madhava Tarangam was well etched as also the lovelorn nayika in the Javali, suggesting devious ways to unite with her lover. Payal is the next generation Kuchipudi star to watch out for. Just 28, (leap year born, so she is only 7!) she has learnt from three seniors of the form, Raja-Radha Reddy, Jayarama-Vanashree Rao and now special tutelage under fine talent Kishore Mosalikanti, the happening Kuchipudi dancer, teacher and duo.

Pancha Nayikas

Deepa Shashindran is very dedicated to dance but must watch her weight, forever a difficult factor for a dancer. Body is the tool, just like for a professional tennis player or sportsperson. She has the material and manpower but just aharya is not enough, the dance must come through. Her team of Pancha Nayikas - Lakshmi, Sita, Rukmini, Satyabhama and Draupadi - a production worthy of being seen on other platforms, provided all shape up, physically. Especially fetching was Sita who suited the role to a T. Satyabhama also proved to be an accomplished dancer. Lakshmi kept making contorted faces and Rukmini made little impact on viewers. A production is never easy. So many factors to consider. Time, rehearsals, music and team spirit. In each department, Deepa proved her competence. The opening veiled entry of each patra was effective although the shawl used as curtain for manchapravesa was from Kutch in Gujarat, not Kalamkari of Andhra. Cultural symbols are important. How else will students learn and understand?

The Padma Vibhushan to one and only Yamini Krishnamurthy, as part of Republic Day honors was the best news one got in dance field of awards, in a long time. She deserves a Bharat Ratna. She is the symbol of all that's good in dance, and has kept the dignity of art. Long live, Yamini! Young students ought to spend time just seeing her emote sitting and see old films and photos to see what spine means to form.

Ashish with Mrinalini amma

Mrinalini amma's death just 4 days before Republic Day, made many gloomy because she truly was the most evolved, gracious dance personality one has ever met. This is called being cultured. She was always positive, smart, intelligent and did her work quietly. As columnist for India Today, whenever I get a call from head-office in Delhi, my first worry is who has gone now? And this time, it was Mrinalini Amma. We were just coming out of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in Mylapore (Chennai) where Kartik Fine Arts had honoured Guru M.K. Saroja with the Lifetime Achievement Award, and I was taking her to the family doctor because she wasn't well, when my cell buzzed, "Mrinalini Amma no more, please send obit in 2 hours!" Such is the instant medium now that everyone wants info in a jiffy. MidDay in Mumbai wanted her pics, local press in Bangalore and Baroda wanted tributes. To recall and write factual obits which must hold and be meaningful is a challenge always. Dates escape even best of us historians and while on the road, where to get pics from? A great personality left us forever.

Does anyone care to meet them while they are alive? So busy are most dancers looking for performance opportunity, tours, awards that they make no time for research, reading (unless forced to by way of degree or exam) or recording dance greats. The veterans are most free to meet and are happy to meet and spend quality time and share lots. I always try and meet such greats in each city. Earlier I'd meet Indrani Rahman, Ram Gopal, Mrinalini amma, Lata Poovaiah, US Krishna Rao, Maya Rao, Sitara Devi, Damayanti Joshi (in fact I have the last, longest personal home setting films documented on most because I took a camera and recorded them in the evening of their lives) and now Yamini ji and Birju Maharaj ji in Delhi; Ritha Devi in Pune, Sundari (and earlier Sharada amma) and Padma Subrahmanyam in Chennai and learn something new in each visit.

I think teachers of dance (so few real gurus are left, most are dance factories now, turning out clones) must inculcate in their students a real desire to know more, not just learn items and perform. Dancers under 40 don't even know beyond their own form. They don't even know names of deities! They mix styles and schools. One bright Bangalore girl who came for World Dance Day auditions thought Pandanallur was a sweet dish. Obviously she had payasam on mind. Trending today is zero historical sense or perspective on dance. One exception is Pune, which is most involved with dance history and heritage. It is truly an epic centre for Kathak also today. Chennai has material and solidity of foundation in Bharatanatyam. Delhi is a jungle of contacts, power and patronage and best place to be constantly seen (so your name and face registers to those who matter) to get even a Padma award without much talent or serious work to boot and Kolkata remains O! Kolkata. Sorry Hyderabad, Bangalore and Bhubaneswar are insular and complete world unto themselves. Dance wise.

There is so much to dance! It is an ocean of endless possibilities and perks. Enjoy!

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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