Thursday 31 July 2014

Article - Mohiniyattam Missteps - A few observations - Methil Devika

Of all papers that I have come across, a must-read is the thesis by recent researcher Justine Alexia Lemos who has carefully detailed out the positioning of the form of Mohiniyattam vis-à-vis the socio-cultural context of the sambandham or ‘alliances’ rampant in Kerala in the 19th century. Betty True Jones has much earlier given a commendable historical detailing of Mohiniyattam in comparison to others but Lemos’ is a new take. For students pursuing historical research in Mohiniyattam, common references have for the past so many decades been P. Soman, Guru Kalyanikuttyamma, Dr. Kanak Rele, and Leela Nambudiripad. Every student can talk yarns about Gurus Kalyaniamma, Kunjukutty amma, and Chinnammuamma, and their contribution to the Kerala Kalamandalam. Vyavaharamala of the early 18th century is the oldest reference to Mohiniyattam. And that is because no research seems to have gone beyond it. One also finds the novel Meenaksi quoted regularly as a valid evidence of how the dance became debased by the turn of the 20th century. Lemos in her thesis ‘Bracketing Lasya; An Ethnographic Study of Mohiniyattam Dance’ has done wonders in her first three chapters of revealing a more convincing historical process through which the form was resurrected. She has brought in a whole new list of the then practitioners of Mohiniyattam and their dance. 

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Wednesday 30 July 2014

Interview - Kalamandalam C Gopalakrishnan - Vijay Shanker

Kalamandalam C Gopalakrishnan and Kalakshethram, the most popular organization standing for presenting, preserving and propagating classical art, are inseparable. Gopalakrishnan is the most popular Kathakali actor in Mumbai, his teaching career spanning more than three decades at Nalanda Nritya Kala Maha Vidyalaya as tutor / accompanist and 28 years teaching experience in Kathakali and eight years in Mohiniattam at Kalakshethram, Dombivli, as honorary guru. As a nattuvanar, he has accompanied performances of Kanak Rele in India and abroad. He has accompanied on the nattuvangam all the senior artistes and students of Nalanda for the past two decades as well as provided vocal support for several Mohiniattam and Kathakali recitals of leading artists. Gopalakrishnan speaks about why Kathakali has few takers in Mumbai and his passion for the most dramatic classical dance style of India.

Why is it that Kathakali has few takers?  
Kathakali is the most difficult and strenuous classical dance among all the styles, hence that is one of the reasons there are few takers. Moreover, unlike other styles Kathakali is a group presentation with very little scope for solo presentations. Normally, Kathakali is taught and practiced only by male dancers.

Read the interview in the site

Friday 25 July 2014

Contemporary Indian Dance - Ashish Mohan Khokar

As the French would say, eet izz veery interasteeng! Yes, what is contemporary Indian dance and where is it headed? What is choreography? This search sets me thinking in light of Zohra Segal’s passing away on 10th of July in her Mandakini Enclave Delhi home, care of daughter Kiran Segal, who lovingly looked after her for decades. Zohra Segal represents the starting point of contemporary dance styles as enunciated by Uday Shankar. She remained his only dancing partner who was NOT his student (but Mary Wigman’s). Others were attracted to his persona and came under his influence but Zohra remained his dance partner, like Simkie, the French artiste.

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Thursday 24 July 2014

O Friend, This Waiting! - Dr. Sunil Kothari

O Friend, This Waiting! is a film on Kshetrayya’s padams by Bharatanatyam exponent Justin McCarthy and Sandhya Kumar. Made in 2012, it won an award in art film category at the 63rd Film Festival. It is an unusual film weaving in poetic sensibilities of both the film makers and exquisite visuals by cameraman Amit Mahanti.
The film of 32 minutes duration is unusual in the sense that with the padams of the Telugu poet Kshetrayya, one expects that there will be more of abhinaya performed by a dancer. However, the script writers Justin and Sandhya have focused on evoking a mood through brief words about devadasis: sacred and profane, a maid of gods and prostitute, her disappearance. The poems she danced portrayed intense love for gods, then for Kings, patrons, her social status commented upon with exquisite visuals of the river, the palace, the flowers, the lotus leaf, a garland, two feet with ankle bells, green leaves, interiors of the palace, old mansion with stained glasses, school children running in a building with old architecture- a cascade of images, often breathtaking which linger long in memory after the film is over.

Read the review in the site

Sunday 20 July 2014

Remembering Zohra Segal (1912-2014) - Dr. Sunil Kothari

Zohra Segal was a dancer, who had worked with the legendary Uday Shankar. Born in Sharanpurin 1912, in a large orthodox Muslim family from Rampur, she was from a very young age of independent temperament. After passing her matriculation examination in 1924, she travelled with her uncle to Germany and studied modern dance from Mary Wigman. During those years, Uday Shankar was making his name in Europe and on knowing about Zohra studying dance, he invited her to join his company. When she met Uday Shankar, she had said, “I was surprised to see a man as a dancer and thought what this young man was doing as a dancer?But what I saw I liked very much as it had a lot of folk element and some of the music was based on peasant music which I loved. I thought his partner Simkie was a Kashmiri girl because though she had a fair complexion she had dark hair. But she had adapted wonderfully; in her movements and feelings she was very Indian. I liked what they did, and it made me homesick. I thought it was beautifully presented and very colourful.” At that time Zohra was in Dresden and wanted to return to India.

Read the article in the site

Saturday 19 July 2014

Obit/Tribute - Zohra Segal (1912-2014) - Ashish Mohan Khokar

In the death of Zohra Segal, who witnessed a century of Indian dance and theatre, films and folk dances, an era is gone.

Sahibzaddi Zohra Begum Mumtazullah Khan shortened to Zohra Segal later, was born in Saharanpur, to the Rampur nobility (Rohilla Pathan stock) on 27th April 1912. This lady has seen a century of Indian art and has lived every moment of it. There was no dance in her immediate surroundings. Her mother died early and Zohra, one of seven siblings, was sent to Queen Mary's Girls School in Lahore as she was a bit of a tomboy and needed discipline. The school PT drill became a source of amusement for her and one thing led to other and she went off to Germany with her maternal uncle Saeeduzaffer Khan, who studied medicine at Edinburgh, in a car! Imagine in 1930s going through Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and then take a boat from Alexandria to reach eastern "walled" Europe and arrive in Dresden to join ballerina Mary Wigman's school? This is stuff Zohra the great, is made of. Her training under Wigman style made her a true talent, sought no less by Uday Shankar when she met him backstage when he was touring Europe with 'Shiva Parvati' and assured her a job in his troupe once she finished her training and sure enough when she did and returned home, she received a telegram asking her if she would join him for his forthcoming Japan tour.  Her father was bit worried. How to send a young girl off on a tour like this? He asked her to think it through. While she was thinking, he went into the bedroom and came out with a train timetable saying, "Beta, the next train to Kathgodam is at 11.22!" Zohra was off. 

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Monday 14 July 2014

Book Review - ‘Mohiniattam-History, Techniques and Performance’ by Kalamandalam Sathyabhama - Padma Jayaraj

The book ‘Mohiniattam-History, Techniques and Performance’ (Mohiniattam Charithram Sindhadham Prayogam) by Kalamandalam Sathyabhama, co-authored by her daughter Kalamandalam Lathika Mohandas, is a delightful tapestry featuring the story of Mohiniattam, Kerala’s classical dance form traversing through five decades. Into it is woven the story of Kalamandalam founded by Poet Vallathol Narayana Menon in a historical context in the cultural history of modern India. The memoirs of a dancer interlacing through its web in soft vivid colors make it greatly readable. Written in Malayalam, this is invaluable for its texts for practitioners and lovers of Mohiniattam. Kilimangalam Vasudeva Namboodiripad, a long time associate of Sathyabhama in Kalamandalam introduces the book. He praises the book for recording the visually enchanting aspects of the dance as its uniqueness.
Spread in eleven chapters the book begins with a brief history of Mohiniattam. 

Read the review in the site

Tuesday 8 July 2014

Natyanubhava - A film by Sharada Ramanathan by Dr. Sunil Kothari

Produced with the assistance of Public Service Broadcasting Trust (PSBT), which is a Public Diplomacy initiative of the Ministry of External Affairs, Govt of India, Natyanubhava, a documentary on classical dance forms of India by the renowned film maker Sharada Ramanathan was screened at Gulmohor, India Habitat Centre, on 3rd July. A large number of dance aficionados were present as were some of the dancers who are featured in the film like Kathak exponents Abhimanyu Lal and his wife Vidha Lal, young Kuchipudi dancer Sandhya Raju, who specially came from Hyderabad for the screening. Saswati Sen and Geetanjali Lal, both senior Kathak dancers and gurus, were also present and at the end they all were felicitated by PSBT organizers. Former Foreign Secretary and Ambassador to USA Lalit Mansingh, photographer Avinash Pasricha, Professor Amrit Srinivasan, music and dance critic Manjari Sinha, senior Bharatanatyam dancer Jamuna Krishnan and her daughter Ragini, and many young Kathak dancers were present. It was heartening to see the full house and many standing near the wall of the hall at the back, watching the film. The entry was free, unlike the three screenings in Satyam cinema in Chennai, which were ticketed shows.

Read the article in the site

Monday 7 July 2014

Interview - Aruna Mohanty: The thinking dancer - Sutapa Patnaik

Odissi dancer-choreographer-guru Aruna Mohanty is known globally for her innovative productions that harmoniously blend indigenous explorations with contemporary cultural sensibilities. While 15 out of her 59 compositions are based on the 12th century saint poet Jayadeva’s Geeta Govinda, she has also explored with equal ease unusual themes like the Odisha super cyclone, Krishna for the contemporary world, apart from some modern Odia poetry. Her latest venture is based on German Nobel laureate Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha. Her research on representation of the male dancer in classical sculpture and evolution of Odissi in the post-Independence era are widely appreciated.

Here are some excerpts from an interview conducted at her Bhubaneswar home recently dealing with her thoughts on the art of choreography.

Are you aware that you are widely recognized as a thinking dancer?
It is nice to know that people consider me to be a thinking dancer. But I don’t think I am God’s Sunday creation. Everyone learns by observing people and from the environment one is in. I am very fortunate that in my journey of dance, which began in the 1960s, I met people who were very generous. My parents, my gurus and well-wishers have all helped me see the road ahead of me. Like a child, I continue to learn from authority figures, peers and people I’m surrounded with. I’m always hungry to know more and to appreciate people for their good work. This helps me to learn a few things which I try and incorporate into my work. I haven’t stopped learning because I think I have so much more to learn, and I’m doing so little. In that, I’m like a student; and I do think. But then, every dancer does. The sad part is, very few dancers communicate their ideas through their work, while most refrain from expressing in action what they think because either they are too happy following a set of guidelines to project their art, or they believe people will not understand their viewpoint and hence withhold their creative potency. 

Read the interview in the site

Saturday 5 July 2014

Seen & Heard by Lakshmi Viswanathan - Etiquette for dancers

A rather unusual lecture was presented by Shanta Rati Mishra at the recent Dance India Asia Pacific conference. She raised interesting points about general etiquette, quoting some well known experts of the west, like Emily Post, and then spoke of dancers and their need to follow etiquette. It was an interesting session, particularly for the young aspirants present. I am giving my own small take on this subject.   
Most dancers today are well educated and learn early on, to conduct their careers suitably. From writing letters to organisations to applying for scholarships to meeting aficionados, they know pretty much what to do. One need not emphasise elementary stuff like being polite, thanking people, and showing respect to elders and gurus. I truly appreciate the fact that many gurus have done a great job of instilling the idea of respect in their students. They greet senior dancers and teachers with namaste, touching the feet when it is an elder guru, seeking blessings, and so on in a very sweet way. The glaring converse among young musicians is something I find rather curious. Perhaps it is because most of the singers have no guidance from gurus (they are virtually pirates, learning each song from a different stalwart's recording!) and things go to their head rather fast when they take the stage. 

Read the article in the site