Sunday 30 August 2015

Tribute - Remembering my Guru Maa Dr. Maya Rao - Syed Salauddin Pasha

On her first death anniversary which falls on 1st September 2015, I dedicate my work to Guru Maya Rao without whom I could have never made it this far. She is one person who dedicated her life for her students. I was very fortunate to receive her love. I grew and gained world recognition under her guidance and blessings.  Only two weeks before her sudden demise, she attended my show in Good Shepherded School auditorium in Bangalore and blessed all my wheelchair-bound dancers. She always had time for me whenever I called her and made it a point to attend my new productions and give her insights. Some of her favourites were ‘Sufi on wheels’, ‘Yoga on wheels’, ‘Bhagavad Gita on wheels’ and ‘Bharatanatyam on wheels’. I remember in 2001 how she specially flew down from Chennai to attend my production of ‘Women of India’ performed by hundred hearing-impaired children at Chowdiah Memorial Hall in Bangalore. She was moved to tears.

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Friday 28 August 2015

Tribute - Memories of a gentle genius: S. Sarada - Anita Ratnam

The image slowly pixellates onto the mind screen. Like a million small pieces of information gleaned from memory, reflection, direct experience and nostalgia, each molecule falls into place onto the large canvas of history. What we see is a giant portrait - of a savant, scholar, musician, student, lifelong seeker, psychological salve, cultural archeologist and a lifelong loyalist to the cause of Theosophy and the vision of Kalakshetra.
S Sarada (Periya Sarada teacher) was a shadow. Not invisible, but more like a clear silhouette, a visible presence whose mind proved a perfect catalyst to Rukmini Devi's dazzling imagination. The founding of Kalakshetra in 1936 attracted many great minds - Tiger Varadachariar, Budalur Krishnamurthy Sastrigal, Mylapore Gowri Ammal, Mysore Vasudevachariar and Karaikudi Sambasiva Iyer. Each was a giant in their own right, every one a stalwart. But one young woman became the pillar of the institution. She was 24 years old when she joined and became such an integral part of Kalakshetra that Rukmini Devi herself acknowledged that "Srimati S Sarada is my right hand and a rare embodiment of knowledge, devotion and artistic ability." 

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Thursday 20 August 2015

A missing link to past and present Tribute to a centenarian: Periya Sarada of Kalakshetra - The Dhananjayans

As children we always wondered about this wonderful lady genius.  All those who were interested in delving deep into the subject of music and naatya dreamt of scaling her heights, an impossible task indeed.  Periya Sarada teacher’s presence in the Kalakshetra campus was a great boon and inspiration to everyone, irrespective of whether they were teachers or students. Any subject, anytime and anywhere - a person of her scholarship was available in Kalakshetra to us students and she liberally shared her knowledge with others.
Periya Sarada was one of those great souls who have sacrificed their lives for the development of Kalakshetra, with total commitment from the inception. We used to wonder how Rukmini Devi managed to produce her monumental dance drama productions in the languages she did not know.  Whether it was Telugu, Tamizh, Malayalam or Samskritam, only Sarada Teacher could convincingly explain the deeper meanings of the words to match the creativity of Athai – the other genius.  Only Sarada Teacher could convincingly interpret Athai’s compositions and attribute a deeper meaning to her choreography.                                             

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Monday 17 August 2015

Article - Transformational Teaching in Dance - Julianna Gaillard Hane

Our society is now experiencing the affects of information overload. Notifications and blinking lights bombard us 24/7. Anyone with a smart phone can find out just about anything they could ever want to know via the Internet.
If our students can access information anytime, then why even have school? What does a teacher offer that no other system can?
The answer is meaning or purpose (Rosebrough and Leverett, 2011).

Only a teacher can show students how to think for themselves and use information for a greater purpose. Only mentorship can inspire meaning in life.

Mentorship contains a very important ingredient that no form of technology will ever reach – the human element.

The education process is not a dumping of information into an empty vessel, but the nurturing of transformation, as in peeling away the layers of an onion to reach its core. This process is also known as transformational teaching.

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Friday 14 August 2015

Tribute to my Guru Shyamala Mohanraj - Vasugi Singh

It was with sadness and shock that I recently learnt about the passing away of my beloved dance Guru Shyamala Mohanraj.

I was very fortunate to have Shyamala as my guru. My late father Jugaheesan R. Devar accompanied me to Chennai (Madras) in 1973. Today I believe that providence led my dad to Shyamala Akka who agreed to be my teacher of Bharatanatyam. 

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Thursday 13 August 2015

Interview - Aniruddha Knight: A dialogue on manodharma in dance - Ranee Kumar

An evening with the illustrious Balasaraswati’s only grandson, Aniruddha Knight and you feel enlightened on the most exceptional expression of dance-manodharma.  A long forgotten feature with performing artistes of today’s dance world, it was this very manodharma that made Balamma immortal. Aniruddha has proved to be a chip off the old block when it comes to a holistic approach to dance. He is an excellent musician with an expert ear for rhythm, imbibing the intricate nuances of dance with intuitive manodharma. What sets him apart from the rest of the performing dancers is the striking clarity in holding mudras that it is difficult to take one’s eyes off his hands when he is performing.  

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Friday 7 August 2015

Interview - Madhavapeddy Murthy as Shiva - Bhavanvitha Venkat

A mere mention of the word Kuchipudi readily evokes visions of grand drama of gods and goddesses. From the delicate feelings of Satyabhama, Rukmini, Usha to the aggressive Bali Chakravarthy, Mahisha, Bhasmasura, and divine heroes like Lord Rama, Krishna and Siva, we visualize all these wonderful characters. It is interesting to note that in spite of Kuchipudi being a rich dance drama tradition, there are not many who became synonymous with any character for extended duration. Legendary Vedantam Satyanarayana Sarma who played the role of Satyabhama remains one of the very few names of this exceptionally rare artistry.
With that introduction I should mention that Madhavapeddy Murthy, disciple of Dr. Vempati Chinna Satyam is one who belongs to such rare and unique accomplishment. He continues to play the character of Lord Shiva since the last few decades and that is something incredible. It did come as a surprise that it is Tamilnadu that honored him with Kalaimamani award and Andhra is yet to acknowledge such a fantastic achievement. Please note that he plays Lord Shiva opposite none other than actress Hema Malini.

A visit to Siva Foundation, Murthy’s dance school in Chennai and interaction with him in his class and in his home about his contribution to dance, threw up some interesting information. 

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Wednesday 5 August 2015

Article - Transformational learning - Mamata Niyogi-Nakra

My curiosity in finding out about Transformational learning sprouted a few years back when ballet dancer and dance historian, Vincent Warren, referred to me as a Bharata Natya guru. I pointed out to him that I think of myself as a dance teacher and prefer not to be called a guru. He came back with a quick repartee, "Your own Guru Krishna Rao gave you Maha Maya Award in 1992 as one of the distinguished gurus he was honoring." I did not have an answer to that and have been looking for one ever since.
For some time now, I have been personally grappling to find a definitive answer to who is a Bharata Natya guru - to enumerate the qualities of head and heart that make him one, to define his distinctive style of training and to discern the profound paradigm shift that not only affects his immediate circle of learners but others that follow, even when he is gone.

Sunny Cooper in an article On Transformational Learning mentions: "The study of transformational learning emerged with the work of Jack Mezirow (1981, 1994, 1997)." According to him, "Transformational learning is defined as learning that induces more far-reaching change in the learner than other kinds of learning, especially learning experiences which shape the learner and produce a significant impact, or paradigm shift, which affects the learner's subsequent experiences (Clark, 1993)."

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Saturday 1 August 2015

Roving Eye by Anita Ratnam - 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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