Friday 30 March 2018

Bhaanaka: Reconstruction of Uparupaka - Footloose and fancy free with Dr. Sunil Kothari

During the 8th Olympic Theatre Festival organized by the National School of Drama and Ministry of Culture, Piyal Bhattacharya from Kolkata presented Bhaanaka at LTG theatre, Delhi, on 17th March, his recreation of uparupaka Bhaanaka under the aegis of his Chidakash Kalalaya Centre of Art and Divinity, which he established in Kolkata in 2013. On the next day at NSD during the ‘meet the directors’ program, there was an interesting discussion about this particular production. 

Piyal has received attention especially for his work on the practice of Marga Natya, as research and reconstruction of practice of the performance tradition of Natyashastra. I had known him as a Kathakali dancer with his friend Kalamandalam Gautam during my tenure as a Professor at Rabindra Bharati University. When he began work on Marga Natya, I had only seen one early performance of his work. During the past ten years, Piyal has worked on reconstructing the ancient musical instruments mentioned in Bharata’s Natyashastra with help of a grant from Sangeet Natak Akademi. He has undertaken this project for further research with special grant from Ministry of Culture under the scheme of ‘Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage of India.’ 

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Wednesday 28 March 2018

Real and the Surreal: 8th Theatre Olympics, Part II - The Eastern Eye: Column by Dr.Utpal K Banerjee

Two endearing take-offs on Shakespeare, one delightful spoof on Jules Verne and one hard core realisation of African reality constituted a substantive spread of the ongoing 8th Theatre Olympics panorama.

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Tuesday 27 March 2018

Agony and Atonement: 8th Theatre Olympics, Part I - The Eastern Eye: Column by Dr.Utpal K Banerjee

After two decades of conducting annually the Bharat Rang Mahotsav with great aplomb since 1999, National School of Drama unfurled – with the hand-holding by the parent Ministry of Culture -- the biggest venture of its existence: the 8th Theatre Olympics from February 17 to April 8 this year. Having begun appropriately in Greece at the end of the 20th century and having traversed through Europe and Asia in the last several years, the Theatre Olympics was a matter of national prestige and honor for NSD to host in India, comprising several hundred theatre performances hailing from all parts of the globe and simultaneously showcasing them in 17 cities of the country. The first three plays witnessed by this critic revolved round the agonizing question of existence: societal, personal and political. 

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Sunday 25 March 2018

Dancing to poetry of liberated women saint poets - Taalam: column by Leela Venkataraman

An evening of dance centred round the poetry of women bhakti poets Andal and Meera, hailing from the South and North of India respectively, was in keeping with the mood of International Women’s Day celebrated in early March. Designed by cultural activist R.K. Usha, the evening jointly mounted with Sangeet Shyamala at the latter’s venue in Vasant Vihar, Delhi, featured two young dancers Shreyasi Gopinath and Shipra Joshi, representing two forms of Bharatanatyam and Kathak. In terms of taking programmes to audiences in different localities (the large formal auditoriums being too far away), this intimate performance area in Sangeet Shyamala’s basement facing a gallery style seating, attracted an enthusiastic turnout and seemed an excellent way of familiarising people in various areas. 

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Friday 23 March 2018

Obit/Tribute - Subraya Bhat (1946 – 2018)- Akshara Bharadwaj

It is with great grief that we try to cope with the irreplaceable loss of Subraya Bhat, a prolific theatre personality- actor, writer and director, ‘Method-Drama Specialist’, and a student of Prof. Ranganath Bharadwaj, on 14th March 2018. He held the position of Secretary and Technical coordinator at Karnataka Haridasa Scientific Research Centre and Theatre Faculty at The Structural School of Fine Arts. He specialized in the ‘Structural Method’ under his Guru’s guidance and continued schooling young students through his theatre activities and pedagogy. He published his works under the banner of ‘Natyabhoomi Prakashana’, penning several works in the past two decades.

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Monday 19 March 2018

Shimla Diary: 1st edition of Classical Dance Festival - Footloose and fancy free with Dr. Sunil Kothari

The Gaiety Theatre
After our last visit to Shimla in September last year for a seminar at Institute of Advanced Studies, when I received an invitation to attend a three day classical dance festival organized by Department of Language and Culture of Himachal Pradesh, I was delighted to accept. More so, as my confrere Leela Venkataraman was also invited and the artists from Delhi - Jaipur Gharana exponent Rajendra Gangani, Bharatanatyam dancer Geeta Chandran - and from Kolkata, Manipuri exponent Bimbavati and her troupe were to perform, we knew we would have a dance fare that would not only be enjoyable but also the company of the artists would give us opportunity to catch up with the latest.....

The Himachal Pradesh University and Art Gallery of Prof. Him ChatterjeeI had met painter Professor Him Chatterjee at Khajuraho few days ago at the dance performance. He invited Leela Venkataraman and me for breakfast on Sunday morning to visit his residence and gallery, some seven kilometers away from our hotel. 

Son of Sanat Kumar Chatterjee, the celebrated painter, disciple of legendary painter Asit Halder from Shantinketan, Him Chatterjee is a prolific painter. He is at present Dean and Professor of the Visual Arts Faculty. He has obtained two acres of land on which he has built two storey residential quarters and also his studio and a gallery which houses rare Bengal School  paintings of his father, few of Asit Haldar and a couple of rare original photographs of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore. Well designed, it is a treasure trove and I recommend that visitors, dancers, must visit it......

The Dance Festival 
Shimla is on the hills and its hairpin roads would scare those who are not used to it. The experienced drivers and those who have been living here can negotiate the small roads with ease. Whenever we went to the Gaiety Theatre for performances, our hearts were in our mouths, as the driver negotiated the car. If a car came from opposite direction, he drove back to let the other car go. The plaza, the more than hundred year old Christ Church, the view from the top, the 108 feet tall statue of Hanuman, the restaurants etc., located on height, people walking and some sitting on the benches made the scene colourful. The crowds strolled in the evening. By six in the evening the lights illumined the hills. The festive mood prevailed....

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Sunday 18 March 2018

Samabhavana churns out myriad starry thoughts on new directions in Indian dance - Taalam: column by Leela Venkataraman

Indian Contemporary  dancers, a vibrant presence but without the kind of establishment support their colleagues representing other dance categories seem to command,  have over almost a century functioned as an isolated group comprising diverse individualistic movement expressions. The odd stock taking events looking at this side of Dance Exploration were The East-West Dance Encounter in 1984 and later in 1993, and new explorations featured in Sangeet Natak Akademi’s ‘Nava Nritya Samaroh’ in 1989. Now, in Kolkata comes the latest effort at bringing dancers, scholars and writers to interact on the nature of Contemporary Dance in India, and its future prospects.

Curated with great care by Sudarshan Chakravorty and Paramita Saha of Sapphire Dance Creations of Kolkata, the two day  SAMABHAVANA effort on new directions in Indian dance, churned out varied thinking on the dancing body, which, through history, has had to deal with institutions of power controlling culture – whether temple, court or an elected government. The entire history of dance in India at one time was written on the body of the Devadasi, resulting in this traditional group of professional entertainers being crushed.

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Thursday 15 March 2018

Sensibilities of a Modern Man - The Eastern Eye: Column by Dr.Utpal K Banerjee

What is Indian dance and what could be its new directions? Is there anything ever new, when it comes to the human body in terms of its form and what it should seek to portray in terms of content? These and other provocative questions were pointedly raised in Samabhavana, an impressive, two-day national level meet in Kolkata on March 3 and 4, 2018: to debate about directions, possibilities and developments in Indian dance. This was spearheaded by Sapphire Creations who has striven, since 1992, to create first an idiom and a language, and then a whole vocabulary of contemporary dance in eastern India over the last quarter of a century.

Playing the role of an agent provocateur, this critic, when invited, premised his broad thesis on the modern man’s perceptions of what he is and what he is not.  He is certainly not the one-dimensional man portrayed by Herbert Marcuse. Nor is he the Fallen Man -- tumbling headlong into a bottomless abyss – as painted by Krishen Khanna nor is he the bewildered entity looking with bemused eyes into the fast-receding past, from the back of a speeding truck surging ahead. Au contraire -- aware that he is born in the present century – he has his sensibilities in the right place and, among other things, is reasonably aware of his heritage as well as potency of the visual and performing arts that are civilization’s gifts to him. 

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Wednesday 14 March 2018

Samabhavana: Celebrating New Directions in Indian Dance - Footloose and fancy free with Dr. Sunil Kothari

Sapphire Creations Dance Company, Kolkata, commemorated its 25th year with historic moment in the Indian Arts by organizing a two-day dance conference on 3rd and 4th March at ICCR's Nandalal Gallery under four segments - Provocations, Explorations, Transformations and Negotiations - at Abanindranath Gallery and performances at Satyajit Ray Auditorium. The second day performance Beautiful Thing 2 by Padmini Chettur was held as part of Pickle Factory Season 1 Festival opening performance at Gem Cinema. The sessions were held from 11am back to back in a tight schedule with a large number of participants with a clear agenda to see how New Direction in Indian Dance have moved forward from earlier times. 

By fortuitous circumstances, I had participated in the historic East West Dance Encounter held in 1984 by Dr. Georg Lechner, Director of Max Muller Bhavan in collaboration with NCPA in Mumbai, followed by another in 1985 titled New Directions in Indian Dance. The other conferences which followed like one organized by Rabindra Bharati University inviting Mrinalini Sarabhai, Kumudini Lakhia, Chandralekha, Manjushri Chaki Sircar in Kolkata in1985, followed by Nava Nritya Samaroha in Delhi in 1989 by Sangeet Natak Akademi and in Toronto, Canada, by Sudha Khandwani and Rasesh Thakkar also titled New Directions in Indian Dance in 1993 and one more in Delhi by Max Mueller Bhavan in 1997 provided the background for the present Samabhavana to celebrate, debate and dissect the yesterday, today and tomorrow of Indian Contemporary Dance.

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Monday 12 March 2018

Interview - You are just as good as your last performance: Geeta Chandran -Shveta Arora

Bharatanatyam exponent Geeta Chandran has won many accolades and awards in her career, the latest being the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi Award. Grateful for the honour, the dancer says that the attention and impact of awards is nevertheless temporary, and that a dancer is only as good as his/her last performance. The real award, she says, is when audiences can be moved by classical arts, and when education begins to include the arts. Excerpts from a chat...

Your thoughts on receiving the SNA award... 
Every award comes with a sense of responsibility. Youngsters start looking up to you. Everything you say or perform becomes like a sponge that they absorb from. So you have to raise the bar because then it becomes the yardstick. Secondly, there is the joy of getting it exactly 50 years after my first guru, Swarna Saraswati amma, got it. It is really prestigious that you are in the same list as your guru. And when you read the list of artists that you have grown up watching, being inspired by, now you are also a part of that erudite list. 

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Thursday 8 March 2018

Malavika's new creative spurt - Taalam: column by Leela Venkataraman

Dancing with greater energy than ever, Malavika Sarukkai seems to be going through a fresh spurt of creativity, breathing new life into her Bharatanatyam art. Performing on Feb 25 at Sannidhi Auditorium of the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya with its intimate ambience and an audience of discerning art lovers, Malavika's recital had an electrifying start with Sthiti Gathi, a work done a few years ago. Based on music in Madhuvanti composed by Prof C.V. Chandrasekhar, the dancer sculpts space with form, movement and stillness as two sides of a coin not only needing each other, but their contrasting natures enabling both to draw their own individual identities, from the other. And exploring this principle through the technique of Bharatanatyam lines and rhythm, Malavika has created movement of visual geometry, which holds the viewer spellbound with energy packed movements dotted with the silence of sudden freezes. The designing with accented points of movement beautifully echoed in the nattuvangam by Sreelatha (with mridangam and music in sync) with footwork of rhythmic phrases of syllables at cardinal points, doubled or trebled, along with the perfect symmetry of stances, made for dramatic fare.....

Impressive start to Kalavahini's sponsorship of excellence in dance
By all yardsticks, it was an impressive start on Feb 23 at the IIC auditorium for the Kalavahini Trust (Malavika Sarukkai's brainchild) in its goal of sponsorship and support for young excellence in dance - comprising passionate, committed and thinking dancers. Other envisaged programmes include Dance Immersionwith four intensive days of interaction on dance matters, fellowships and financial support to help ease the burden while creating new productions.

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Wednesday 7 March 2018

Profile - Koodiyattam maestro P.K. Govindan Nambiar - Padma Jayaraj

Chakyarkoothu and Koodiyattam are temple arts of Kerala. The origins of Chakyarkoothu can be traced to folk theater of Tamilnadu. Traditionally performed in temple theatres, it is dramatized dance worship by a group known as Chakyar, which began in feudal times and still continues as ritual worship. Association with Sanskrit drama helped it rise to a unique mimetic theatre with a history of 1000 years. Changed by daring stalwarts, the Sanskrit theatre has marched on to modern proscenium theatre of the world..... 

P.K. Govindan Nambiar was one among them who followed the footsteps of his father and guru. Born in 1930 as the second son of the legendary artist Guru Mani Madhava Chakyar, P.K. Govindan Nambiar has the art in his genes. For him, the heritage became a way of life. He had his 'arangettam' at the age of 14. In those days, the life of an artist, especially temple arts like Koothu and Koodiyattam, was one of dedication. He has continued his pursuit of excellence in this field for more than seven decades now. Initiated by his father/ guru, Nambiar displayed an inexhaustible passion for his first love. Innumerable are his contributions. He has excelled not only as a classic performer of Koothu, Koodiyattam and Padhakam but also as a writer with a number of notable publications to his credit. A versatile artiste, he has performed on several stages outside the temple premises. 

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Tuesday 6 March 2018

Magic of Khajuraho and classical Indian dances: Part 2 - Footloose and fancy free with Dr. Sunil Kothari

5th Day, Feb 24:
The morning's Kala Varta had from Shimla Prof. Him Chatterjee, Prof and Head of Dept of Visual Arts, Himachal University. He spoke on inter-relationship between various arts, what Vishnudharmottara Purana has emphasized. He screened few paintings of his father also and brought out common elements which govern the arts. He also said that he loves to paint keeping music on while painting and it helps his creative process.

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Magic of Khajuraho and classical Indian dances: Part 1 - Footloose and fancy free with Dr. Sunil Kothari

Festival of Festivals, Khajuraho Dance Festival in its 44th year has won critical acclaim and popularity with presenting in the early years legendary dancers Birju Maharaj, Yamini Krishnamurty, Raja and Radha Reddy, Sanjukta Panigrahi, Vyjayantimala, Sitara Devi, Jhaveri Sisters, Kanak Rele, Swapnasundari, Chandralekha, Sonal Mansingh, Kelucharan Mohapatra and several others who built up the festival as unique one. It has been a dream for every dancer to perform here once in their lifetime.

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Thursday 1 March 2018

Roses and Thorns - #SAVEKALAKSHETRA

The last few days of February saw my Facebook and Whats App pages becoming FLOODED with outrage, anger and indignation at the recent events that took place on the campus of KALAKSHETRA. A video of a group dancing in a Flash Mob with shoes at the Banyan Tree area of the Adyar Campus went viral. An eco outreach event organised by a Chennai organisation also had stalls for prospective home buyers. Vegetables were on sale and all this was captured on social media. Also on screen capture before it was hastily taken down was a sign declaring spaces in Kalakshetra FOR RENT. 

The Kalakshetra Alumni Association - a global group of eminent, active and successful teachers, performers, academics and social media influencers gathered their energy and began alerting senior bureaucrats in New Delhi about these recent misdemeanours. 

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Anita says...March 2018

Breathing in I am aware of the blue sky
Breathing out I smile at the blue sky
Suddenly, the blue sky smiles back
The blue sky becomes a smile
I smile back
- Thich Nhat Hanh
Buddhist Monk

For the past few days, my I POD playlist is looping the songs of Sridevi. She was not my favourite actor and I winced when I heard her squeaky voice on screen, but her charisma and comic timing was without dispute. While most of the Bollywood fans around the world may remember her from her Hindi films, we in South India were fortunate to see her before her NIP AND TUCK era as a fabulous actress in films like SADMA and MOONDRAM PIRAI. Despite her “thunder thighs” her dancing was also specially crafted for the camera, every angle and every bend catering to the loving glance of that glass eye that forever captured her sparkle and talent.

While the entire nation mourned her tragic passing, I wondered if the death of a dance artiste would garner so much national media. Of course not! What am I thinking? Dance? Important? Cha Cha! What a stretch of imagination to even THINK that! And with this government that spouts “ancient culture” and claps Bollywood in the same breath! 

Ironically, I was at an event in Chennai accepting the GOLDEN STAR award (THANGA TARAKAI) on the birth anniversary of late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa. She was also a Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi dancer and it was she who gifted the prime Chennai land to Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam. With the passing of Vempati Ravi, the future of the academy remains unanswered. While making the acceptance speech surrounded by political MIKE-LLS (those who seize the mike and never give it up!) I mentioned this very fact that learning Bharatanatyam was a MUST for every aspiring actor. Kathak also was a style that many actors had to pick up for the camera close up of the eyes and the eyebrows.

Sridevi was the last of the South Indian dancing heroines to storm the Bollywood bastion and her dance tracks became iconic globally. It was perhaps around the same time of my delayed award ceremony that the film queen was found dead in the bathtub in Dubai. ATMA SHANTI to a dancer, actor and true diva!

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Roving Eye - Curated by Anita Ratnam - March 2018