Thursday 31 December 2020

Obit/Tribute - Memorable tribute to a Master - G Ulaganathan

The iconic Chowdaiah Memorial Auditorium opened its doors after nearly 8 months on December 30 to bring together almost all the dancers of Bangalore. The solemn occasion was to pay tribute to the irrepressible dance historian, critic Dr. Sunil Kothari who all through his life made it a mission to connect and communicate to the dancers all over the world. Bangalore, which he often used to say is his second home, has thus taken the lead in paying tributes to the man whose Globetrotter column in was always looked forward to by the senior as well as the younger dancers of the city.

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Wednesday 30 December 2020

Obit/Tribute - In remembrance of Dr. Sunil Kothari - Deepsikha Chatterjee and Uttara Asha Coorlawala

Indo American Arts Council mourns the passing of Indian dance lover and scholar Padma Shri Dr. Sunil Kothari on December 27, 2020. He had contracted COVID earlier, and after treatment was released last week, only to be readmitted soon. He succumbed to a heart attack on the morning of 27th December 2020. Born in 1933, he was 88 years old. He was a Sangeet Natak Akademi award winner along with many other accolades.

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 Anita Ratnam and present ANDAL'S GARDEN, Andal's TIRUPPAVAI 30, a series of curated performances celebrating the spirit and poetry of the only female Azhwar, Godai, for 30 days from December 16, 2020. These 30 poems or Pasurams, are brimming with imagery, imagination, and innovative metaphors influenced by the naturescapes of the Sangam era and Andal's own knowledge of the Bhagavatham.

ANDAL is for everyone. Her 9th century voice was among the earliest of the female mystic poets to flood this land. ANDAL'S GARDEN - where Carnatic music meets Kathak, Mohiniattam, Kathakali, Odissi, Kuchipudi and of course, Bharatanatyam. Original music, freshly filmed videos in the outdoor, shorn of extra ornamentation and focusing on the poetry and the mood of the Margazhi season.

Art by KESHAV - ©krishnafortoday & Keshav
Translations by Priya Sarukkai Chabria - 'ANDAL: Autobiography of a Goddess'

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Sunday 27 December 2020

Au revoir 2020, Welcome 2021 - Dance Matters: Column by Ashish Mohan Khokar

 What a year! Whoever would've thought we will witness the most unusual and scary year, without even SEEING the enemy. Our parents had seen World Wars, their parents, perhaps the Spanish Flu; we living in North India faced the Partition and lost everything overnight (and still half my father's family survived and served India after independence, as Army doctors and COs) and my mother's side of the Kumbakonam-Kanchi family escaped (to Madanapalle) from Madras to avoid the possible bombing by the Japanese in WW2. I, growing up in Delhi, witnessed wars with Pakistan and China, but this 2020 INVISIBLE attack on the entire world was something evil, almost diabolical. Biological warfare has begun. All them American films on bio wars (there was a real bio attack in a Japan metro too, some years ago) now seem prophetic. The strangest part of the pandemic has been until now that all the scientists and medicos just mumbled inanities on TV, since none really knew what they were dealing with in the first place. One Delhi doctor, heading a prestigious national institution began every discourse with: So, we know this but we don't know that...As if, we already didn't know this and that. Now mutant ninja is here, from UK. 70% faster in transmission they say. Born in the USA (I learnt on KBC) but now the PM of UK, Boris - that man with a seemingly perpetual bad hair day - is slated to be the Chief Guest at our Republic Day, come Jan 26. Will he still come or comb India? More on this and that, later.

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Sunday 20 December 2020

Obit/Tribute - Drishtikon pays homage to Astad Deboo


What happens to the dance when the dancing body is no more? What happen to the love we shared, when - skin, muscle and bone have disintegrated - dust to dust?

Astad, your dance, your humanity, your generosity of spirit - and above all your courage and conviction to be the lonely trailblazer on the dance sky, will forever remain in our hearts and minds. Your dance and your life will inspire and give courage to many generations to come.

You are and will always be a part of our living mythology - your 'dance being' had so many stories to share.

The heart can only ache...and you touched so many. Your friends and fans across the world are devastated.

Just a few days ago your voice was positive about your recovery.

Just a few weeks ago, we were chatting about your latest photoshoot.

Just a few months ago, you shared your brilliant dance film made with your dancers over zoom.

Dec.10th, 2020 are gone.
Belief is suspended. I am so so so sad

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Wednesday 16 December 2020

Letters from a Father to his Daughter by Jawaharlal Nehru from Allahabad to Indira Priyadarshini, aged 10, residing at Mussourie in the summer of 1928 numbered 30 and, culled in a book in 1930, has been a great favourite with global readers: an affectionate, erudite persona reaching out to a tender mind. This critic recalls a most touching, theatrical rendering of the same narrative by the noted thespian Vijaya Mehta at an intimate gathering at Ashoka Hotel in Delhi in the 1980s.

Almost half a century went by, when Batakrishna Dey, a renowned Bengali poet, lyricist and essayist, much published and honored during his literary career of over 70 years, penned his romantic poems in the 1950s, with images and metaphors of his time around nature and often reflecting - perhaps unwittingly - the nuanced sorrow and melancholy of an unrequited amour sung in Ghazals originally from Central Asia. To his talented daughter Sreyashi Dey, with her married abode in Ann Arbor, Michigan, this year of global upheaval seemed unlikely when she could bridge the enormous physical distance from her US abode to her father's niche in Kolkata.

Unable to travel home and adopting the digital medium, Sreyashi - groomed in Odissi and quite adept in creative style, running her own dance institution overseas for years -- felt moved to choreograph six of the vintage songs her father wrote in the 1950s, calling it A Daughter's Tribute to her Father, reversing the Nehruvian name! It was as moving an obeisance to her father's sprightly writings, as Vijaya Mehta's dramatic homage to Nehru has been in another time and clime! [Just a footnote here: The so-called Adhunik Gaan (Modern Song) genre of the 1950s' Bengal has long yielded to Jivanmukhi Gaan (Realistic Song), a kindred of the robust Western Pop Songs and hold popular imagination in Bengal in this millennium.]

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Saturday 12 December 2020

Profile - Nirmala Paniker - Venugopal SK

As part of the series paying my tributes to some of the finest gems in the world of Mohiniattam who gave their life and times promoting the dance form, this piece is on Guru Nirmala Paniker of Natana Kaisiki, Irinjalukkuda, Kerala.

I came to know of Nirmala Paniker teacher, through a Facebook post by her disciple Sandra Pisharody. I remember it was the 70th birthday of her teacher that Sandra dedicated a beautiful composition honoring her Guru. It was a marvel of a performance that you seldom get to see with so much perfection in the movements and abhinaya. I was so impressed by her dancing skills that I did a small research to find out more about her and her school of learning. Thanks to FB, I could further establish contact with the artiste and came to know as to how from the age of 5 she was learning from Nirmala Paniker (almost like under Gurukul system). I took the phone number of her guru and spoke to her followed by a visit to her home in Irinjalakkuda to know more about her.

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Friday 11 December 2020

Obit/Tribute - Astad Deboo (1947-2020) - Ashish Mohan Khokar

Astad Deboo was a lone ranger. His whole life in dance was a quest for an inner urge to express and he traversed the globe many times over. In fact, he is the only Indian dancer who has been to places many have only heard of but never been to: Mongolia, Morocco or Machu Picchu. Add Bolivia, Belarus or Buenos Aires. Sudan, Sweden, Seoul. Astad flew so much he could've owned an airline by now!

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A taste of Kathakali - The Eastern Eye: Column by Dr.Utpal K Banerjee

This critic clearly recalls how he was enthralled, years ago, to witness, on a ritual occasion,  the nightlong Kathakali performance in the sanctum sanctorum of Padmanabaswamy Temple under the twinkling lamps’ glow in the early hours of dawn and sat transfixed with its magic -- connecting THERE and THEN to the HERE and NOW... Yet, while performed on today’s proscenium stage under the glaring arc lights, spectators often miss the romance of this dance-theatre, one major reason being the unfamiliar attire worn by the dramatis personae. In this context, one also fondly recalls many demonstrations of Kathakali that the maestro Sadanam Balakrishnan gave, clad in the most simple attire, in the national capital and won over his audience.

When Prabal Gupta, the talented young dancer hailing from Kolkata, arrived in Kerala to become the disciple of the master artist Sadanam Balakrishnan, he encountered stiff  resistance from the local community against being absorbed in the Kathakali dancers’ fraternity. By sheer grit and struggle, Prabal achieved acceptance and became a Kathakali dancer of some eminence. Especially his streevesham dance of the Kathakali genre received national acclaim.

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Thursday 10 December 2020

Obit/Tribute - A fond remembrance.... and farewell - Ketu H Katrak

 Astad Deboo's voice, his memorable chakkars on stage, his prodigious talent in riveting performances, his infectious laugh, his impeccable ability to offer friendship to so many across the world have all been stopped in his untimely passing. This news has shocked and devastated us, his dance fraternity and friends. The Indian dance world has lost one of its most paradigm-shifting and beloved artists.

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Monday 7 December 2020

Interview - Kalamandalam Thankamani Kutty turns 80 - Tapati Chowdurie

 Kolkata based dance guru Dr. Kalamandalam Thankamani Kutty recently celebrated her 80th birthday. Here is an excerpt from an informal conversation with her.

How have you fulfilled your duty of carrying on the parampara of your learnt arts?
Parampara is unique to Bharat, where learning of our ancient art is handed down from generation to generation. It is the utmost duty of a guru to teach his disciples, his learnt art so that he may in turn do likewise. This is the concept, which is popularly known as guru-shishya parampara. Change is inevitable and one must conform to the call of the soil. By saying this, I mean that since I am in Bengal and have lived my entire work life here, it was my labour of love that I needed to be a part of the land where people are artistic and emotional by nature. However one has to be rooted to the learning imbibed to bring about any changes.

Between 1952 to 1956, I was learning Mohiniattam and Bharatanatyam in Kerala Kalamandalam. There I had to learn the allied arts of music, mridangam, taalam and the languages. Our classes started from 5am and continued till 8pm in the evening. We practically lived and breathed dance and music. In today's changed scenario, I have trained my students with utmost sincerity and have put in my best to bring out the best in them.

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Friday 4 December 2020

Yog Sunder: the dancer extraordinary - The Eastern Eye: Column by Dr.Utpal K Banerjee

Yog Sunder, a dance phenomenon of this land, is no more, leaving behind an incredibly rich outcrop of dance events. He passed away just a few months short of 100 years of age. This critic came to know him intimately over the last 50 years, even persuaded to be a (quite passive) Vice President for his 'India Revival Group' (IRG) for a while. Born with a silver spoon in his mouth in a royal family of Gujarat, he was exposed early in life to the Spartan Gandhian principles - including participation in the Banar Sena (Monkey Brigade) during the Bardouli movement-and he followed these tenets throughout his own life.

The consequence was that he maintained a frugal life-style all along and, in fact, never had a permanent address for his brainchild IRG founded in 1948 -- and gloriously active ever since -- barring a modest flat at Delhi's Vasant Kunj bought in his sunset years. When, after the Asiad Games in 1982, sumptuous twin cottages (with garden space) in the posh Asiad Village were offered to eminent artists (and art-related persons) at hugely concessional terms, he laughed away gentle persuasions from many well-wishers, including this critic, to utilise his considerable political clout and obtain one of them. Similarly, he declined to make discrete efforts to secure allotment of land at the trans-Yamuna Artists' Colony, or elsewhere, to build for IRG "a local habitation and a name", -- preferring to retain his self-effacing manner of living all along.

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Thursday 3 December 2020

Article - AI, Indian Art and the World - Prachi Hota

 Do India's ancient art and craft traditions naturally prepare it for a world where Artificial Intelligence is at the centre of affairs?

Today, Artificial Intelligence (AI) dominates the market to the extent where it influences the socio-cultural fabric of the world. This has led to a shift in the way we form and affiliate ourselves with social groups. There has recently been a lot of discussion about what aspects of human life AI can take over, and whether machines can do everything that humans can. Arguably, creativity is among the few characteristics of human beings that cannot be fully replicated by machines. In such a world then, what role can India with its ancient art and craft traditions play? Vivian Balakrishnan (Minister for Foreign Affairs of Singapore), American philosopher John Searle, economist John Maynard Keynes, psychologist Abraham Maslow and poet and screenwriter Prasoon Joshi, all of whose opinions have been examined here, are some people who can inform the conversation around art and its importance in a highly mechanised world.

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Tuesday 1 December 2020

Anita says...December 2020

 Heal yourself

With the light of the sun
And the rays of the moon
With the sound of the river
And the waterfall
With the swaying of the seas
And the fluttering of the birds
Heal yourself with mint, neem and eucalyptus
Sweeten with lavender, rosemary and chamomile
Hug yourself with the cocoa bean and
A hint of cinnamon
Heal yourself with the kisses that the wind gives you
And the hugs of the rain
Stand strong with your bare feet on the ground
And with everything that comes from it
Be smarter every day by listening to your intuition
Looking at the world with your forehead
Jump, dance, sing, so that you live happier
Heal yourself with beautiful love
And always remember

You are the medicine

- Advice from Mexican healer and poet MARIA SABINA

At the last month of the year, a year that has tested and tried us in many ways, we have arrived at a SANKOFA moment. The mythical symbol of the Akan people of Ghana - the image of a bird with its head turned backward taking an egg from its back. It expresses the importance of reaching back to knowledge gained in the past and bringing it into the present in order to make a positive impact and to move forward.

What have these 9 months of lockdown and forced isolation given us? What have we learned about ourselves and the art that we hold so dearly? How have we faced the idea of our own mortality? How have our memories and the past bolstered or weakened us?

Roving Eye curated by Anita Ratnam - December 2020


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