Monday 30 October 2017

Solo, the soul of Bharatanatyam - Seen and Heard by Lakshmi Vishwanathan

At first it seemed rather unusual to be invited to give insight lectures on solo Bharatanatyam on three consecutive evenings as part of a festival titled Eka Bhavana in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. However, once I formulated my thoughts on the subject it became clear why it was important to articulate the core idea of solo dance, and also why I was chosen to do it. I have always been a votary of the virtue of "thinking clearly" about the arts. And I had carefully studied the principles of the dance both as practitioner, and observer.

The nuances of classical dance as I know it, are so refined and aesthetically appealing that there is no way its contours can be compromised or watered down. From the time I was a novice, I consciously developed the subtleties and suggestive quality of dance. I think the mastery of technique has an inbuilt regulatory concept. Based on the adavu system, which the nattuvanars taught us, I could sense the well thought out geometrical strength of my dance. I understood the beauty of the perfect outstretched arm in Alarippu, the triangle formed by the Araimandi, the straight lines and curves of the arms and the shift of the body across the stage in a delightful variety of angles, as parts of a composite whole which produced the visual impact of the solo dance. Less is more, I learnt, from my gurus.

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Saturday 28 October 2017

Post Uday Shankar, any which way? - The Eastern Eye: Column by Dr.Utpal K Banerjee

The iconic contemporary dancer Uday Shankar came into his destined vocation almost fortuitously. As a fresh youth of 21, he had gone to London to join William Rothenstein (1872-1945) to learn painting, when the great British master advised him to look at traditional Indian paintings first, at the British museum. This was to let him gain an Indian insight, since his exposure to his country’s culture was limited, till then, to the lakes and palaces of his birth-town Udaipur, and temples and river banks of Banaras, his maternal uncle’s place. Soon, he was spotted – for his handsome physique and visage -- by the legendary ballerina Anna Pavlova who offered him a partnership in a couple of dances with her at Covent Garden. When, later, Shankar expressed keenness to join her troupe for a permanent career in ballet, Pavlova firmly turned his mind back to his own country and urged him to study the heritage of Ajanta and Ellora in the first place. Shankar did so, opened his own dance group to conquer the world and, in a nutshell, a star was born. To him, till the very end, dance remained a philosophy and a way of life.

After witnessing his public performances a few times in Patna, Kolkata and Jamshedpur in that order, it was fascinating for this critic to hear him speak out his love of nature in a rare private reception in the Steel City. After a young maiden’s dance to felicitate him -- to the tune of Tagore’s famous song: Remove all shackles, O Nataraj, with the rhythms of your dance…, done on a specially flower bedecked floor -- he quietly observed, “Rather than see her perform, I was moved to see how the breeze was stirring the flower petals to and fro; that was the real dance to me…” 

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Salute to heroes: A tribute - Footloose and fancy free with Dr. Sunil Kothari

Bangalore based Subhashini Vasanth, disciple of Vyjayantimala, formerly trained under late Guru Narmada, gave a Bharatanatyam performance at Chowdiah Hall on 21st October under the aegis of Vasantharatnam Foundation for Arts. Vyjayantimala conducted nattuvangam for Subhashini. It was for a noble cause. The Foundation was established ten years ago by Subhashini in memory of her late husband, Vasanth Venugopal, Col. of the 9th Maratha Light Infantry regiment. He was martyred fighting with terrorists at Uri in Jammu and Kashmir area. With his troupe he had succeeded in eliminating all the terrorists before he was killed. He was awarded the Ashok Chakra. 

Subhashini was devastated. Overcoming her personal tragedy, she decided to establish the Foundation to empower the martyrs’ families, by providing them financial assistance, extending its scope by offering educational grants to children, memorial awards to schools, where martyrs’ children study,
birthday gifts, empowerment programmes for the women, skill building workshops like computer and English classes etc., in collaboration with Pegasus Institute, Samvada, and Anekataa.

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Evening concerts after morning deliberations in Nartanam Conclave 2017 - Taalam: column by Leela Venkataraman

Morning deliberations on dance treatises, involving scholars, artists and university research students, during the three- day Nartanam Conclave 2017, mounted at Hyderabad's Hotel Plaza, were substantiated by recitals of different classical forms in the evening. 

One could hardly have wished for a better start to the evening concerts than what was provided in 'Within Boundaries' by Bangalore's Bharatanatyam practitioner Parshwanath Upadhye and his Punyah group in 'Sat Gati.' Apart from finished dancers led by a young artist who has been exhibiting a flair for presenting his own work, cutting edge proficiency of the entire presentation was also due to an equally enterprising and involved group of musicians who in their inspiring musical accompaniment, were right through, fellow travellers on the same artistic journey as the dancers. The group comprised two fine vocalists Rohit and Abhishek , Kartik Datar providing bristling nattuvangam and kanjira support, Harsha Samaga on the mridangam, flautist Mahesh Swamy and Sumarani on the sitar. 

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Friday 27 October 2017

Lights On - Centering Matters - Aalaap

Dancer Navia Natarajan speaks about what’s going through her mind and body on the day of a performance….

How do you feel on the morning of a performance?
I am usually quiet and I keep to myself. I try not to think of the performance or the things associated with it. Rather, I focus on centering myself. 

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Monday 23 October 2017

Dissolving borders - The Eastern Eye: Column by Dr.Utpal K Banerjee

When Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, the foremost cultural organization of that country, showcased recently their folk dance and music festival in New Delhi and Kolkata (Oct 12, 2017), there were high expectations of the treasure trove they would open and the cultural nuggets it would reveal. Their eminent folk-poet Abbasuddin Ahmed had written once, “Because all village people are simple, because they think simply, because their songs are simple, because their subject matter is simple, they talk of their simple joys and sorrows, and because people, the tune, the subject matter is simple -- all folk songs of the world are alike.” This applies to folk dance as well.

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Saturday 21 October 2017

Dance theatre with confluence of dance traditions - Taalam: column by Leela Venkataraman

Female dance traditions of Kerala in Sita Sambhashanam 
At the Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay hall of the IIC, Bharati Shivaji's Mohiniattam Collective presented Sita Sambhashanam on Sept 27 in a confluence of female dance traditions of Kerala, namely Mohiniattam, Nangiarkoothu and Kathakali stree vesham. The presentation of each form was based on sahitya in a different language - Avadhi for the Mohiniattam segment, Sanskrit for the Nangiarkoothu part and Manipravalam for the Kathakali section. The Avadhi script by Mohan Maharishi had music set by Yatindra Sharma. 

Powerful theatre by Rasa United
Yet another very powerful presentation based on a confluence of dance forms was on the concluding event of the Purana Qila festival of Choreographies on Indian dance mounted by the Sahitya Kala Parishad in conjunction with the Department of Art, Culture and languages, Government of Delhi with Dramatic Tales spearheaded by Kuchipudi dancer Vanashree Rao and presented by Rasa United, her recently set up group.

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Thursday 19 October 2017

The Choreography Connect - The Eastern Eye: Column by Dr.Utpal K Banerjee

Classical ballet in the West, especially in Russia, has been a long established genre and well known for its aesthetics and rigorous technique, such as pointe work, turnout of the legs, and high extensions, its flowing, precise movements, and its superb qualities. There are several standardized, widespread, classical ballet training systems: each designed to produce a unique aesthetic quality from its students. Some systems are named after their creators. In contrast, American style ballet is not taught by means of any standardized training system. French ballet, too, has no standard training system, with each major French style ballet school employing a unique training system of its own. In contrast, contemporary ballet in the West is a genre that employs often classical pointe technique, but allows far greater range of movement of the upper body and is not constrained to the rigorously defined body lines and forms found in traditional, classical ballet. Many of its attributes come from the ideas and innovations of the 20th century modern dance, including floor work and turn-in of the legs.

Contemporary dance in India encompasses a wide range of dance activities and includes varied choreography for the celluloid, for modern Indian ballet and for experiments with existing classical and folk forms of dance. All major classical Indian dance forms have drawn sustenance from the Natya Shastra -- especially with elements of nritta, nritya and natya – and have contextualized sattvik, vachik, angik and aharya abhinaya, also having developed their own grammar and cannons of choreography. Not many institutions practising contemporary dance in India can boast of clear-cut grammar and systematic training methodology that can be shared across the board.

Sapphire Creations, an “experimental dance company” from eastern India, felt a need to create abstract movements free from external influences and over last 20 years, is striving to develop an organic, radical, dynamic and alternative idiom of movement, keeping its focus fixed on innovation. Its movement technique imbibes the whole range: from ancient Indian body history, to Western breathing techniques, to modern contact, improvisatory and tuning solo and group work methods. Its choreographic oeuvre comprises issues of gender, art, relationships, society, polity, consumerism and HIV, from a global perspective. Currently, Sapphire has both a training academy and a professional repertory.

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Wednesday 18 October 2017

Article - Andhranatyam: History and Revival- Kalakrishna

(This is a condensed version of Guru Kalakrishna's presentation on June 1, 2017 at the seminar on '100 years of Nritya Bharateeyam' at Chennai)

As we know the dance traditions in India are categorised under Natya mela and Nattuva mela traditions. Andhranatyam belongs to the Nattuvamela tradition. Andhranatyam, the ancient classical dance form of Telugu region (Telangana, Rayalaseema and Andhra), has been in vogue for the past 2000 years. It may sound new to people but it is as old as the temples constructed. To start with, it was performed in the Buddhist Aramas, temples and royal courts by the cultured and dedicated female artistes of Telugu region.

Unlike other female dances like Bharatanatyam, temple and court dances, Andhranatyam had become inert at one point of time. It was later revived in 1970 and is being propagated for the last 47 years at national and international platforms, more particularly in the Telugu speaking regions.

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Tuesday 17 October 2017

Visual poetry - Footloose and fancy free with Dr. Sunil Kothari

Come September and Delhi is all agog with dance festivals. There are so many festivals organized simultaneously, that they overlap and one finds it difficult to make a choice as to what to see and what to forego. The Purana Qila Dance Festival, which is a continuation of Ananya Dance Festival, was formerly organized by Sanjeev Bhargav with the help of Ministry of Culture, Delhi Government. Now it has been taken over by the Delhi Government's Department of Art, Culture and Languages, and is mounted with assistance of Sahitya Kala Parishad, keeping the format more or less the same.

Purana Qila is a magnificent monument renovated during Emperor Humayun's rule in the year 1533 AD. Sher Shah Suri of Suri Dynasty had defeated Humayun in 1540 AD as per the historical records. Popularly known as Purana Qila, Old Fort with its vast complex offers a spectacular view. In recent years in the early 70s it was director E. Alkazi who had used it for the play Andha Yug for National School of Drama. In later decades it has been the venue of various important theatre events and concerts. The dance festival has been one of the most popular events.....

A factual description of Kanjeevaram sari by sociologist Arati Kalra inspired Malavika Sarukkai to explore the design of play of thread. For two and half years she worked upon the seed of concept and she created in Bharatanatyam the journey of sari as a metaphor for life. Thari - The Loom, offered her a certain freedom to work with the classical form and expand its range. She says that inspiration was like an ambush. It led her to meet weavers to understand how the loom functions, its rhythm and how she could work with it in terms of dance. Stepping out, taking risks she has tried to do things, going outside of the narrative of classical repertoire, the figurative and descriptive, and exploring the abstract....

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Thari exquisitely weaves the warp and weft of life's saree - Taalam: column by Leela Venkataraman

There is no flamboyance or over abundantly grand narrative. But in the 75 minutes of non-stop group presentation in Thari -The Loom conceived and choreographed by Malavika Sarukkai, the audience after having experienced artistic excellence of exquisite subtlety, leaves the auditorium with a mind filled with the lurking poetry hidden in that unstitched traditional garment - the saree. Reflecting on the primeval rhythm tat taka taam of the loom, grew the perception in Malavika of how closely the very different activities of dance and weaving are guided by the same concerns, to quote the words of Thari's creative collaborator Sumantra Ghosal of "space, structure, motif, symmetry, proportion, relationship (and ) alignment." Much like the coming together of the warp and the weft in weaving, dance and music are required to work in "total coordination, rhythm and measurement and design." The production, lacing the proven movement technique in Bharatanatyam with the alchemy of the choreographer's creative contemporary mind, converts past inheritance into not something back there and lost, but a vital presence constantly alive, expanding its horizons.

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Monday 16 October 2017

Interview - The Reddys: A family dedicated to dance - Shveta Arora

Once upon a time, it was natural for children to follow their parents into their profession. But today, when children are given the choice to choose their own professions and often choose to do something ‘modern’ in their careers, it’s interesting to hear from youngsters who have followed their parents’ footsteps in an ancient classical tradition. In a conversation with Kuchipudi Guru Raja Reddy and his daughters Yamini and Bhavana Reddy, I was impressed by how both the girls have adapted their modern upbringing to further the Kuchipudi tradition. Below are excerpts from a chat conducted during the Reddys’ Parampara Dance Festival in Delhi recently.

Raja-ji, how did you think you could initiate both your daughters into this tradition? What was the pressure as a parent?
Raja Reddy: Being in the Reddy family, we were not supposed to learn dance. But since childhood, I was very interested. Same goes for Radha – we married, and her parents and my parents were not happy about it but we were mad about dance. Then we came to Hyderabad and both Radha’s parents and grandparents told her, “Get a divorce from him, he is sure to end up penniless!” See, in our region, dance was dismissed as a profession for the lower classes. They (those who looked down upon dance) didn’t even know that Shiva is the creator of dance. Without Radha, my dance would have been incomplete. Nobody would have seen my performance; it was possible only because Radha was there to handle things. 

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Sunday 15 October 2017

The Mythologist and the Muses - Stephen Gerringer - ANCIENT FUTURES:Thoughts on myth, legend and beyond

(Reproduced here with permission from Pacifica Graduate Institute, USA)

In this Practical Campbell essay, Stephen Gerringer examines the role of the arts in Joseph Campbell's life and work, along the way touching on the roots of creativity.
In my writing and my thinking and my work I've thought of myself as addressing artists and poets and writers. The rest of the world can take it or leave it as far as I'm concerned. 

Joseph Campbell, quoted in Fire in the Mind, by Robin & Stephen Larsen (from Campbell's final lecture, to art students), p. 556 
When reading Joseph Campbell, many people naturally focus on the universal motifs found in mythologies of different cultures, or find themselves taken by the parallel between mythological themes and one's own life journey - but just as significant is the central role the creative imagination plays in Campbell's world. 

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Saturday 14 October 2017

Dance reflecting an approach not tethered to form - Taalam: column by Leela Venkataraman

Black Box, G 54 Foundation for Contemporary Culture, a delightfully intimate space, with its convoluted address of ‘Lakshmi Mills Estate, Shakti Mills Lane, Off Dr. E Moses Road, Mahalaxmi, Mumbai’ is typical of the spaces within spaces this city specialises in. It was in the compact auditorium of ‘Black Box’ that the well-known magazine of the Arts, Marg had organised the release of its latest issue on Contemporary Dance in India on October 9, 2017. The word ‘contemporary’ is a loaded term and its connotation with respect to dance will always be contested, with classical dancers not willing to believe they are anything less than ‘contemporary’. Contemporary Dance practitioners, however, for long have nursed a feeling of deprivation about their efforts not receiving the kind of government support their colleagues in the classical art forms get. 

After the formal release function followed a short but varied and arresting programme, which dancer Astad Deboo with his aesthetic refinement, had curated.

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Friday 13 October 2017

Mega Shows - TRENDING by Ashish Mohan Khokar

And one thought there were no audiences left for dance, when one saw pathetically filled halls in metro cities. 100 people on a good day. Often, there were none because it - the dance - had no real connect with the people. I must qualify the above with one additional word. Classical  dance.  

I’m coming from 7 cities in 7 days (with bad stomach flu to boot!), where I’ve seen thousands in each dance gathering - Bengal pandals and Gujarat Navratri celebrations. These are to be seen to be believed. A true, people’s festival. Thousands in each neighborhood. All dancing and happy.  Classical, folk, Bollywood, jazz, rag, tag call what you will. It is Indianised dance. Trust us to assimilate all cultures and make it our own. MAKE IN INDIA has a totally new meaning in dance.

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Friday 6 October 2017

Parampara finds the right dance/music blend - Taalam: column by Leela Venkataraman

Natya Tarangini's 'Parampara' festival (Sept 22 - 24) observing its 21st consecutive year of celebration, attracted large audiences to the Kamani Auditorium, Delhi, for what, this year turned out to be fare offering a magical dance/music blend. Shivaleela, the inaugural Kuchipudi event by the host organisation featuring the entire Reddy family of Raja/Radha and Kaushalya (nattuvangam) with their two dancing daughters Yamini and Bhavana, in the well rehearsed tautness of presentation - was a more evolved production than what one was treated to during its less formal premiere at the Reddy home on Shiva Ratri. 

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Wednesday 4 October 2017

Scenes from Ramayana and Mahabharata - Footloose and fancy free with Dr. Sunil Kothari

Bharati Shivaji's institution Centre for Mohiniattam presented on second day of Mohiniattam Festival, 'Sita Ram Parinay' based on chaupais of Tulasidas's Ramcharitmanas at IIC Kamala Devi Complex auditorium on September 28, Delhi.....

For Lalitarpan Festival 2017 of dance and music, which Shovana Narayan arranges every year under the aegis of her dance institute Asavari, in memory of her mother, she had invited from Vienna the celebrated dancer and choreographer Radha Anjali (Angela) with her Natya Mandir Dance Company.....

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Tuesday 3 October 2017

Obit/Tribute - Shirin Vajifdar - Dr. Sunil Kothari

Shirin Vajifdar, 92, passed away in Mumbai peacefully on September 29, 2017. 

She was a pioneer among Parsi community to take up classical dancing in early 1930s. She and her two sisters Khurshid and Roshan performed together as Vajifdar Sisters. Shirin studied Kathak under Jaipur gharana maestro Sundar Prasadji and later on studied further Kathak and other styles like Manipuri and Kathakali at Madam Menaka's Nrityalayam at Khandala, near Mumbai

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Sunday 1 October 2017

Anita says...October 2017

"Artists are people driven by the tension between the desire to communicate and the desire to hide."
- DW Winnicott

The party is never ending. There was a 19 day respite between Dussera (September 30) and Diwali (October 18) but no more. Indian communities across India and elsewhere have geared up for nonstop celebrations. From the jam packed streets of Newark Avenue Garba frenzy in New Jersey to boulevards in many parts of the UK and of course India, sticks click away, skirts swirl, laughter overflows and food and drink help the mood build to a lively frenzy. DURGA may have performed HER time honoured ritual of slaying darkness and restoring balance to the universe. SHE has been immersed yet again amidst cheers and tears but calm has not descended over her devotees. As you read this, many will be preparing to dress up to attend fabulous Ram Lila pandals and card parties in North India which have already started as a curtain raiser to Diwali.

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Roving Eye - Curated by Anita Ratnam - October 2017