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Young India!

May 30, 2016

Dealing with exaggerated egos and frail talents of our grown -ups, I'm forever joyous seeing and dealing with young dancers under 13 or 15! They dance for joy, not mere show and they dance from within, not merely on stage, for stardom. They smile, cry, emote innocently with characters they portray, their own personality hardly coming in way of the depiction.

Grown-ups can be self conscious, full of themselves and rather predictable. I like the naivety, naturalness and neatness of young talents who are just happy to dance, whatever the stage. In fact, 20th anniversary issue of ATTENDANCE, I'm planning just on child talents of Indian dance under 13. Or to be generous to more, under 18.

Of course, one pitfall is that often parents think their wards are maha gifted and superstars already after one show. They also chase organizers (pester is the word!) and bombard them with emails that "my daughter danced here, there, everywhere, so why not at your festival or forum?" Swaraj is my birthright has an altogether new meaning.

Doing our World Dance Day @ Alliance Francaise de Bangalore with active support of AFB and BSM, every year is becoming a management task due to the fact that so many talents abound. Each year about 200 apply and we can platform only about 50 (with groups they become 108 types), this year only 20 (though they were 60 on stage, through group works). Audiences want to see variety on this occasion and all forms too, so we have to balance it out with age, forms, duets, solos and groups.

Like each year, many become members of DHS (Dance History Society) only to get on stage and we have discouraged that and discontinued it because most dancers don't have much interest in dance heritage and history, just their own glory. 30 year olds strut as peacocks as though they have conquered the world, just being mini visible stars in Odissi or Bharatanatyam, say in one city itself like Bangalore. They are nowhere on the national scene, not even known or established in their home region but have started acting like divas!

This happened in Delhi too, when we critics praised an upcoming talent. An ex-Foreign Secretary, who was culturally inclined, himself told me, "If you call someone young in age a Bala or Birju-ji, it will go to their head" and it did to a young sardar boy who was very gifted but danced barely 5-7 years professionally, then wrote a book on a critic and soon vanished to the TV world of Mumbai and now is lost to the dance world. He built 6 packs and is now busy with 6 Apps!

Seeing six year old Shrinika Purohit one hopes she doesn't go the same way. Her mother is also a budding dancer Sonalika and Shrinika would do well to get a real guru later when she grows up. For now she is learning well and performing well under her teacher Madhulita. Backstage she is full of fight and restlessness: “When will my turn come?!! When will I get on stage?” She cajoles her mother or accomplice and the minute she enters the stage, she has the calm of a Madhavi Mudgal, the spark of Indrani Rahman and the substance of Sanjukta Panigrahi. If she continues like this, she has great potential.

Shrinika Purohit

Varshini Hebbar

Ditto Varshini Hebbar in Yakshagana. Just 10, she can spin and circle like the wonder girl she is and commonly the form is very vigorous and not performed by girls or women as per tradition. Varshini too needs a real guru, not just a teacher and she also needs to build stamina for longer items. But still, this is one new talent to watch.

Then there was this all of 8 year old looking like an 80 year old maami on stage, student of Subhasini Vasanth, Divya. In the group rendition, this moppet stood out and outshone all. Sampada Pillai put all her students on stage and while most showed good foundation, some were not worthy for such a stage at all. The idea in our WDD is to start the proceedings with child dancers, so beauty of form in its natural state can be seen. Hence, each year, we platform some.

A seminar with specific subject becomes a rallying point for audiences to learn from and this year the topic was Teaching Dance by Young Teachers. Sujay Shanbhag was youngest on panel; all of 20, he shared his experience of going every weekend to far away small city Hubli to teach village children. Admirable! Parveen Kumar's main concern was he should get fees on time! Said jokingly, he meant it too. Why should a teacher not be paid? The main panelist came from Mauritius, Head of SPA@MGI, Dr. Putanjani Purgus, who spoke with authority on dance and music teaching in island country at MGI. Many others spoke on the occasion like Nadam's Nandini Mehta, Nrityantar's Madhulita Mohapatra, Nritarutya's Vishwa. Then the carefully curated dancers, who have merit and mettle are platformed like Rukmini Vijayakumar for Bharatanatyam, Tushar - Pooja Bhatt in Kathak, Angabala Irengbom in Manipuri, Atul Kumar in Contemporary and so on. This year, Miti Desai for Mohiniattam was a new talent for Dance DISCourse platform, as was Vasanth Kiran's excellent Kuchipudi group. Miti's Mohiniattam is about modern woman, full of strength and substance, no lolling-strolling, elfin charming damsel in distress going through the paces. Atul Kumar was unique in his minimal underwear costume (Nike logo was an eyesore!) and minimal music. Bangalore audiences didn't know what to do when it stopped and he didn't move for full five minutes! Reminds me of the American genius Paul Taylor who did the same many decades ago. He just stood on stage without moving. Next day, the New York Times review left one para blank! When I met him at Wreckers Ball premiere in NYC in 1997 (courtesy my host, the Scripps), I asked him what made him dance, he simply said: “Nothing and everything.”

Ashish Khokar, Pt Birju Maharaj, Vyjayantimala

The Scripps, Sam and Luise, as we in the Indian dance world know, made Bala in USA. They also helped Maihar gharana settle in USA! Ali Akbar Khan, Ravi Shankar, etc. Thanks to their patronage, Balama had a foothold in USA for long and her family benefitted immensely, ultimately brothers and daughter making it home. It was thus befitting that the prodigal grandson Aniruddha Knight, who has returned to India to make a base here, instituted an award in her memory with the Scripps and gave it to the king of Kathak, Guru Birju Maharaj. When asked to introduce him on stage, I felt I was a candle trying to introduce lord sun! What can one say about a complete artist? He who is master of sur, tal, laya, composition, choreography, costumes, music, literature? Now, that's a real giant and Aniruddha and family did well to give it to him. Saswati Sen danced Balama favourite “Krishna nee begane baro” at the grand function, full of pandals of flowers, priest and gifts for artists. It looked more like a wedding ceremony than an award function on 14th May at Madras Music Academy, an Academy where Balama had danced and taught. The one and only smiling star and sensation of films and dance and dance in films too, Dr. Vyjayantimala Bali, did the honours and both Birju Maharaj and she released latest issue of attendance 2016 too. ( for issue details on A.B.C of Dance: Aharya, Banis, Chitra).

Attendance at shows is dwindling. Ennui and traffic and distance are now chief reasons for this. Delhi still has best facilities, roads, auditoriums and patronage systems. All other cities pale in comparison. Madras has mostly one form and that's BN and some Kuchipudi and old upgraded sabhas (with no parking facility) and sabhapatis, those mamas who are eternal, and Bombay has commercial spaces, of which NCPA continues to do yeoman and classy service to arts. Bangalore has grown in the last decade to be most cosmo and encompassing and nearly all forms can be seen here including Manipuri, Kathakali and modern. Except Chowdiah and Ravindra Kalakshetra, no parking is feasible in droves, although Alliance Francaise boasts of ample and being greenest in garden city fast becoming garbage city! Hyderabad now spilt to two states, will need to get its act together. Kolkata continues to be Kolkata, full of energy and spunk. Small town India has mandatory Rabindra halls, some good like Bhubaneswar, some bad like Chandigarh. Baroda, Mysore, Lucknow suffer from minimal facilities for dance. Ahmedabad is on auto-pilot with Chandan Thakore and Darpana doing its bit. Much self sufficient activity goes on here. Pune is now on the rise with lots of Kathak and many are making efforts to make it the truly cultural capital of Maharashtra that it was.

Driving through rains, falling hoardings, trees and flying human beings, I wondered if it was worth going to ‘Crossing Oceans' by Daksha Mashruwala but it was! I have never had occasion to see her work so it was important to catch up and in the cast there was also Revanta Sarabhai, whose progress I wished to see, since we last featured him in Top 10 in our tenth anniversary issue, 7 years ago. I had first seen him as a 7 month old in Mallika Sarabhai's arms in Avignon, France, at world premier of Peter Brook's Mahabharata, in which she was Draupadi.

Seeing him now, a fine lad of 30+, deeply involved with dance, even doing a form like Odissi well in this production of Daksha's was heartening. The very tightly choreographed, excellently executed, admirable costumes and superb musicality of each work made for a great evening. Rarely, one has seen such inner calm, poise, beauty in a dance production in India, in recent years. Tales from Greek, Australia and Japan made for freshness of content and in each story, total body control, flexibility and a polished delivery made for a world-class production. This ‘Crossing Oceans' in Odissi will be a benchmark work. While Odissi was the mainstay, Chhau and contemporary movements merged and meshed, seamlessly.

Crossing Oceans

Devjani Sen's group

What Kumudini did to Kathak and Chandralekha to Bharatanatyam, Daksha Mashruwala has done to Odissi. A must-watch work in each city of India. Presented by Devjani Sen of ODC (how smart! sounds like Odissi!) whom I first saw some ten years ago at Ratikant's class in Bhubaneswar, this was her centre's annual day so excited parents and wards filled the hall and some of her students showcased her training. Excellent lights by Rikki Tikki Tavi (as I call Debiprasad Mishra), flown in all the way from Odisha and music by Hindol Deb, who got each cultural musicscape pat, were additives. Daksha was a delight. Dancers like her inspire and make long term observers happy that islands of excellence still exist.

And: Support child dancers, they are pure and will hopefully show the way. I am humbled by some talents, so even touch their feet on stage. I feel Saraswati resides in such talents. Laxmi will soon follow! That's the law of Nature.

Ashish Mohan Khokar is a reputed dance historian, biographer, critic and author of many published articles and 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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