Saturday, 1 August 2015

Anita says - August 2015

Will dancers stop to think about the annual Music Academy awards that are given out in December? This year the prestigious Sangeeta Kalanidhi is being awarded to Carnatic vocalist Sanjay Subramaniam and the Natya Kala Acharya to Bharatanatyam artiste Alarmel Valli. The second award has been instituted less than 15 years ago and shows the schism between dance and music. Did you know that Balasaraswati was the only dancer to be awarded the Sangeeta Kalanidhi title by the Academy in 1973? Why has there been no dancer since to merit this award? Why has music been dislodged as an inseparable component of the dance learning and practice? With greater attention to the body, line, technique and the ephemeral "perfection" that is being sought, recorded music and ready make solutions seem the easy go-to option.

More and more young dancers in India and certainly in the USA lack the awareness and choreographic imprint of one particular style or teacher. We are witnessing a generation of generalists - dancers who flit from one workshop and weekend tutoring from a large smorgasbord of visiting performers, grazing at everything and digesting nothing. This emerged from my conversation with contemporary dancer Mandeep Raikhy at the GATI premises in New Delhi.  Every year many apply for the opportunity to be mentored in contemporary dance techniques by a roster of respected professionals. Each passing year elicits less engagement and responses to the basic questions about choreography and intention. The malaise is everywhere. Less interest in process and more attention on the final product. Learn one "dance item" and drop that into the dance menu box. Next! With these trends, maybe it is time to reconfigure the familiar guru-sishya relationship. Guru Purnima Day should now include not just the first dance or music guru but the various  teachers, mentors and life coaches that populate our creative lives.

Is there a true community of dancers bobbing about in our minds but not in reality? Is the idea of a dance community a mythical entity, floating in our minds but not a reality? Social media is filled with dancers posting their events on several dance pages but the question is WHO IS READING THEM? Are dancers discussing their friends' performances or even recommending other shows to watch? I don't see much interest on these pages except for self serving notices about who is dancing when and where along with a stream of missable comments. Can the newly formed DANCE UNION by GATI begin to address these lacunae in Indian dance? Can we engage within ourselves and other interested entities to create a web of dance lovers, supporters and dance advocates? We have to hope that it will be possible.

One topic that is sweeping across tongues in India is the return of Akram Khan. This British-Bangladeshi superstar of contemporary dance was first seen in 2000 at THE OTHER FESTIVAL at the MUSEUM THEATRE in Chennai. I remember meeting with Akram's manager Farookh Choudhry at the South Bank Cafe in London to discuss his India visit. I had been blown away after watching Akram and Mavin Khoo in NO MALE EGOS, a duet that brought the NAVADISHA 2000 conference in Birmingham to a close. THE OTHER FESTIVAL, India's first annual contemporary arts festival had just begun in 1998 and Akram was THE rising star of British dance.  Inviting Akram was the natural option and he graciously said YES. I recall him rehearsing on the uneven stage of the Museum Theatre, smiling as we scrambled to create the most professional atmosphere and delighted as we watched the audience rise to their feet in a unanimous standing ovation.  

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