Tuesday 26 May 2015

Base notes - Reflections on beauty as an element of aesthetics - Shanta Serbjeet Singh

Some months ago I was in Chennai.  I was heading for a cultural program in a city auditorium.  Suddenly, the car that I was travelling in braked, the busy traffic ahead of us slowed down.  Then it started to re-align, following the directions of the young man standing in the middle of road, waving his hands, directing the traffic to the left and right of the central obstruction.  And what could that be, I wondered, since I could see no truck or bus or an identifiable road block.   But soon I noticed what it was that the young man was ‘protecting’--   a huge kolam being drawn in the middle of the road, its abstract circular design being deftly filled in with rice flour and organic colours.  A group of women were bent over the pattern,  saris tucked knee-high, hands busy  giving final touches to the design.  A narrow swathe of tarmaced road on either side was being left free, to let people to go about their daily business.
But for those involved in this ritual of making art on a busy, city road, this was what the  business of life was all about.  It was an expression of an individual’s inner need to make art, a process that begins alone but becomes true for all those who are engaged in it, even  for those of us who were just looking. Suddenly it was a common endeavour, for an auspicious purpose, to mark the annual festival that night of the Kapaleeswarar temple, towering over the scene at a stone’s throw distance, offering a tryst with both beauty and art as we all chose to perceive it.  For me it was a validation of the classical core of Indian aesthetics, satyam, shivam, sundaram, that which is truthful, that which is auspicious and that which is beautiful. 

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Wednesday 20 May 2015

Article - Our heritage, our identity - Ananda Shankar Jayant

(This article first appeared in The Times of India’s edition of Essence called Vijayibhava, Vijayawada, May 4, 2015)
Have you ever noticed? Whenever any country showcases its strength, presence and intent, it does so with its culture! From the Olympics to our own Republic Day Parade; it is culture in its entirety that gets encapsulated and presented. Culture, creativity, entertainment; all these are slippery concepts. Culture in its broadest terms, demands an engagement of the actor and the viewer, the performer and the audience: engagement being the key word here.

Our world, today, celebrates the genius of scientists and technology pioneers, and uses their discoveries and inventions with panache. Yet, this still is the outside world. There is another world - the internal that stays alive with the creativity of centuries, a world that is the collective unconscious of a society, which sometimes precludes even formal learning, distilled as it is over eons of transmitted knowledge. A world, that is being snatched away from the young generation.

Stop any young iPod holding, jeans clinging, sneaker scuffing, young lad or girl, and ask any of these three questions :
■ Who is Annamacharya?
■ What language did Thyagaraja sing in?
■ What are the two major styles of Indian classical music?
■ Which place does Kalamkari painting come from?

What do we get? A perplexed look, mumbled and unsure answers, something on the lines of, “I am not interested in this old stuff”. Replace the questions with all things related to western culture, and you will have your answers pat!

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Friday 15 May 2015

Roses & Thorns - Managing / mismanaging culture - Madhavi Puranam

The first issue of Nartanam of this year is a first for our banner in more ways than one. It is our first special issue on folk forms, a first issue with colour plates, and a first to have been backed by the vision of a bureaucrat, accused in a variety of ways for heaping attention on the Performing Arts of Odisha. Ashok Kumar Tripathy, a dynamic Indian Administrative Services officer of Odisha, with a rare cultural sensibility, empathy, and vision steered at least half a dozen performing arts festivals in Odisha including the Konark and the Dhauli, to become the most prominent festivals of the country. Tripathy roped in the best of the state’s artists and pooled in their sensitivities to curate these festivals.
As Secretary, Odisha Tourism and Culture, Tripathy’s far reaching strategy of ensuring that the visiting media was exposed to every cultural nuance and form of Odisha when they were covering these festivals brought in criticism that the media was lavished with unnecessary attention. The local press resented the national press being sought after. But for the inclusion of Nartanam as a media guest covering Odisha festivals, we would not have gained ready access to the regional scholars, photographers, libraries, archives, artists, and art forms of Odisha. It has helped us put together the content of this issue written by the best of the regional scholars of Odisha at such favourable and competitive production costs that no publishing house or government can envisage. Nartanam is bringing this issue with 50 colour plates to showcase the vibrant folk colours though we cannot afford the high costs of colour printing.

The returns for the money spent on various counts under culture cannot always be tangibly evaluated. Culture demands a work style which is not bureaucratic in nature. In a country where the culture budgets are far lower than most other countries we are also clueless and apathetic to administering / managing culture. It’s time that Indian society, especially the arts community, takes some time off their individual trials and tribulations, and reflects on what ails our Ministry of Culture (MoC).

We raise here a few issues along with the ones highlighted by a High Powered Committee (HPC) set up by the MoC, through an Office Memorandum (No.8/69/ 2013-Akademis) dated the 15th January 2014 to examine the issues related to the mandate, composition etc. of the cultural organizations viz. National School of Drama (NSD), Centre for Cultural Resources &Training (CCRT), Lalit Kala Akademi, Sahitya Akademi, Sangeet Natak Akademi, National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Indira Gandhi National Centre of Arts (IGNCA) and Zonal Cultural Centres (ZCCs) etc. and to suggest measures to monitor their performance.

The most pertinent question is whether the MoC is equipped to deal with its mandate of administering culture. Can the MoC which deals with matters of intellect, aesthetics, and creativity, be run the way most other Ministries are run? Does it have the expertise and manpower to deal with its mandate? Even the simplest of its duties are not discharged efficiently. 

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Tuesday 12 May 2015

Book Review - Roshan Date’s Kathak-A-dikathak - Nilima Devi

This pioneering book, written in Hindi, one of the major world languages, presents inspiring and unique discussions about the historical relationships between Kathak dance, sculpture, painting, architecture, literature, archaeology and other forms of fine arts. Venturing to discuss a vast array of topics in an introduction and 15 major chapters, this book challenges readers in terms of its agenda, its expressiveness of language and also through its sheer breadth of coverage. The key argument appears to be that since ancient times, human forms of movement and expressions can be and have been identified as forms of ‘dance’ and that from those very early times onwards such forms of movement and related artistic and communicative expressions may be identified as prototypes of what is today known as one of the major classical Indian dance styles, Kathak. Altogether, this constitutes an intriguing resource of rich information, including especially many magnificent pictures, for art lovers, students and teachers. This book provides much inspiration for further research and also helps in guiding dance practitioners’ minds today towards new artistic directions to combine old and new elements. 

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Sunday 10 May 2015

TRENDING by Ashish Mohan Khokar - 108 Reasons to dance...or not!

108! What’s so special about this number, an Algerian diplomat asked me at the recently concluded World Dance Day, which Alliance Francaise de Bangalore (AFB) presents every year and each year, the event has grown from 8 main dancers to 108 dancers, dancing through the day. Actually, organising it (I’m just the helper - a team of 5 - Tushar Bhatt, Praveen Kumar, Padmini Ravi, Madhulita-Imran and AFB are the panchabhutam supported financially and culturally by BSM, HCG, PRDA, OPERA PROMO and many well-wishers. Putting this mega event together, I realize there is so much talent that if we did one each month, there will be enough audience! The metro audiences are hungry and curious, and how!

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Seen & Heard by Lakshmi Viswanathan - Celebrating Dance 2015

I think dancers know that every time they dance, be it for the public or in a rehearsal studio, they are celebrating Dance. It is a matter of body and mind coming together to make one forget all else for those magical minutes....hours, whatever. Celebrating Dance worldwide is quite a concept. Many events took place everywhere I believe, and brought the focus on Dance in India to new levels of appreciation and involvement.

I had a ringside view of one dance school going all out to celebrate dance. They did it with style, dedication and joy. Natya Vriksha of New Delhi and the founder Geeta Chandran are famous. A dancer of renown, she had her training with Swarnasaraswati, and later Dakshinamurthy Pillai. Geeta has trained girls from innumerable families of New Delhi, and has planted the seeds of culture by taking on the responsibility of shaping their daughters into skillful Bharatanatyam dancers. One could feel and see the pride of the parents as their daughters danced in glorious abandon.

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Thursday 7 May 2015

Article - Education in Spiritual Values through Bharatanatyam - Part VIII Maxims of teaching and the adavus of Bharatanatyam - Chandra Anand

The art of dance is created through the symbol of movements. Cadences of movements are combined in different permutation and combinations to make dance patterns. In Bharatanatyam, “The small units of dance patterns which emerge as a coordinated pattern of movement of the feet, thighs, torso, arms, hands, neck, head and the eyes is known as adavu.” The name adavu falls from the word “adaibu” meaning to integrate cadences of movement into dance patterns. It is actually a Tamil word, for the Sanskrit word “karana.”  “The adavus of Bharatanatyam have like karanas, the sthanaka, the basic standing position; the chari, the movement of the leg and the feet; and the nrittahasta, the decorative hand gesture.” These are the common points between adavu and karana. Adavus form the base for all the major dance patterns called the korvais and jatis. These different dance patterns form the nritta of Bharatanatyam.

Araimandi – the fundamental feature of Bharatanatyam
Bharatanatyam adopts the araimandi as its fundamental stance and thus limits its movements to those that stay close to the ground level only. Its use of aerial space is pretty much nil. The posture of araimandi is described thus: “In Bharatanatyam, the principal stance of the dancer is one in which the body is broken up into a series of triangles. The triangle is formed with the line joining the two knees (flexed and outstretched as in the demi plie in the first position of the classical ballet) as the base and with its apex at the heels (where the feet are outturned as in the first position of the ballet). Another triangle is formed with the waist as the apex and the line joining the knees as the base. A third triangle is conceived with the waist as the apex and line joining the shoulder as its base. This is further emphasized by the outstretched arms, which make yet another triangle in space on either side of the vertical median. The flexed position of the knees known as the ardha mandali is an imperative in Bharatanatyam and the entire dance is executed with a few accepted exceptions in this position. The leg extensions, the jumps and the pirouettes all emphasize this and the entire technique of dance – cadences is one which deliberately seeks to emphasize covering of space, in terms of many varied triangular patterns.”

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Friday 1 May 2015

Profile/Tribute - Remembering Maya - Madhu Nataraj Kiran

May 2, 1928: The Hattangady family lovingly welcomed into their fold, their first daughter and named her after the Devi- Maha Maya, endearingly known as ‘Baabli’ at home.

“Maya means, one born in May,” her Russian family would say, fondly calling her Mayichkaa, during her Moscow days.
Maya didi, was probably her universal identity.
Maya ji, Maya didi, Mayichkaa, Ma, Dr Rao... Maya Rao’s name became synonymous with dance. Pioneering Kathak dancer, path breaking choreographer, ubiquitous mentor, founder of India’s  first college of choreography, revivalist, curator, Guru....she donned all these and several other hats. Her passion for dance and her career trajectory are chronicled for over 7 decades in books, journals, documentaries and more recently in her autobiography and DVDs produced by us at the Kampni and so I will not go into those details.

Very little is known of how she spent time with her precious circle of family and friends which I will share in the near future, but today is about the 2nd of May, her birthday.
Here’s a short, staccato retelling of those memories which flow and collide in my mind, congealing into a body of experiences, of remembrance  

Roving Eye by Anita Ratnam - May 2015

Anita says - May 2015 message

As I write this month's message, I learn of the earthquake in Nepal. That, alongside the dance-quake that occurred throughout India on April 29th (World Dance Day) would have been enough for an entire month of contemplation and recouping for body and spirit.
It is precisely when these natural calamities happen close to the heels of performances that we  are called to question the place of the arts in our lives. In Nepal the earthquake devastated temples, precious memories of history and civilization and more than 6000 lives. (The death toll is climbing as you read this). Around the world more than 20,000 dancers must have celebrated WDD in some way or another. Social media was groaning with the avalanche of images from dancers who were celebrating in so many ways. Bangalore and Delhi were in the national spotlight with large scale events and flash mobs took shoppers in Chennai and Bombay by surprise.

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