Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Male messengers of the muse - The Eastern Eye: Column by Dr.Utpal K Banerjee

Are our classical dances, especially in the manifestation of Bharatanatyam – revived and revitalized around Independence – already tending to become somewhat gender specific? Do the viewers, especially in north India and among the vast Indian diaspora, show any special preference for the female dancer with ‘prettification’ ruling the roost and gaudier, the better? In a land where dance as a performative art draws its genesis as well as entire inspiration from Lord Shiva as Nataraja and Lord Krishna as Natabara – both revered as dancers nonpareil -- would a trend such as this not appear to be anachronistic?
There is another germane issue about the male dance teachers who nourished and nurtured the muse, giving it ‘a local habitation and a name,’ beginning from the legendary Thanjavur Quartet, who shaped the early Pandanallur form, followed by a string of illustrious gurus who honed Bharatanatyam in its various manifestations, including Meenakshisundaram Pillai who aided Rukmini Devi Arundale in conceiving the Kalakshetra style. Then there were Bhagavatars and masters from Andhra and Chennai who moulded Kuchipudi; Kalamandalam products, International Centre for Kathakali and others who guided the Kathakali dance-theatre to achieve its present pattern; stalwarts from the ‘Jayantika’ conclave who conceived the modern day Odissi; the Bindadin family and a host of others in Lucknow, Jaipur, Banaras and Raipur gharanas who showed Kathak the way forward from being mere storytellers; Manipuri Sankirtan and Raas Lila leaders who lovingly brought Manipuri to the open; and, by the turn of the twentieth century, the Sattra adhipatis who brought the male Sattriya dance to the fore. While, no doubt, the female dancers joined wholeheartedly in this exciting fray, it appeared for a long while that the male of the species was the dominant dancer-scholar-choreographer-conductor in the performance arena. Is this scene now in for an almost irrevocable change? 

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