Tuesday 11 June 2024

Home truths in Abhadra of societal snobbery - Taalam: column by Leela Venkataraman

Two factors prompted my visit to the Habitat - one to watch Bharatanatyam by a male disciple of Saroja Vaidyanathan (when I had associated male dancers in the Natyalaya as a recent phenomenon with Rama Vaidyanathan's male students), and the other that the dance was being rendered to Bhojpuri songs!


After experiencing dancer Vinay Tiwari's creation and listening to the warm response of the audience, my first unvoiced thought was that Saroja Vaidyanathan would have been supremely happy to see the rewards of her labour. As gold medalist from Bhatkhande University, with a Nritya Nipuna title from Nalanda Dance School, plus a graded Doordarshan artiste, Vinay Tiwari has more than proved his dance credentials. With a senior diploma in Folk Dance and Masters in Sociology and Bharatanatyam, he is at present, as dance teacher in Prometheas Noida School, engaged in teaching folk forms and also Bharatanatyam to new learners. After 3pm, he is engaged at the Natyalaya working and learning (now a student of Rama Vaidyanathan) et al.

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Sunday 9 June 2024

Article - Alice beyond the Victorian Era - Dyumna Chhabra

Over the years of reading English literature, if there’s one genre I tend to run away from, it is the classics, and I try to gravitate towards literatures that seek to be “Windows on the World” (Damrosch, 2003). ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ is the epitome of classics from the Victorian era and probably a book I would not have picked up myself had it not been for the show. I am glad to say that reading the book turned out to be a good decision!

‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ by Lewis Carroll is an exemplary work that reaches out to young children whose curiosity and imagination have led them down the rabbit holes of dreams.  

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Friday 7 June 2024

Book Review - Unique book on Saivism - Vijay Shanker


'Ananda Siva Natanam: The blissful dance of Siva' by Dr Geeta Radhakrishna is a unique book on Saivism (the cult of Siva). Siva forms the trinity of Hindu mythology, along with Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu. The book is dedicated to Siva Shakti - the divine energy of Siva and Parvata Nandini, the daughter of the mountain king Himavan, divine mother of this world. 

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Wednesday 5 June 2024

Prism - History of Evolution of Odissi Dance after Independence - Dr. Ileana Citaristi


ODIA THEATRE

The emergence of the Odia theatre scene in the early forties marked the end of the different forms of rasleelas or musical plays as forms of independent representations and they became part of the repertoire of theatre groups along with other plays based on modern or mythological subjects. Many of the artistes who were involved in the leelas shifted to the newly opened theatre groups so that a certain continuation in the tradition could be maintained and the more popular libretto of the leelas continued to be represented even if in a more secular environment. One of the earliest theatre groups which opened at Cuttack in 1918, was the Radha Krishna Theatre followed by others like Hajuri Theatre at Puri, New Theatre of Odisha at Baripada, Odisha Theatres at Cuttack, Bhagwati Theatres at Banapur on the Chilka Lake and the three Annapurna Theatres opened by the same proprietors-Somnath Das at Puri, Annapurna A, Cuttack, Annapurna B and Berhampur, Annapurna C.

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Saturday 1 June 2024

Anita says...June 2024


Your time is limited,
So don't waste it by living someone else's life.
Don't be trapped by dogma-
Which is living with the results of other peoples thinking!

- Steve Jobs
Tech pioneer

In the end,
We'll all become stories

- Margaret Atwood
Writer

Having not danced, watched any performance or engaged with anyone connected with dance for a full month is a rarity for me. But it was a conscious decision. I needed to disconnect and distance myself for some time to be able to refocus and perhaps, even float. I wanted to enjoy a rhythm where there were no deadlines, no rehearsals, no performance related duties and no compulsions to finish or complete any project. A real privilege, I know, but something that was long overdue.

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Saturday 25 May 2024

Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra's three day Ballet Festival - Taalam: column by Leela Venkataraman



The Indian Ballet as an art form, operating in a climate of artistic freedom, with style and technique, classical or otherwise, dictated by the need to experiment and expand the movement vocabulary in order to communicate to a cosmopolitan audience, has found its most fertile field of operation in Delhi's Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra. Aside from its magnum opus Ramayan and Krishna creations, the institution has to its credit over 60 dance drama productions, set mainly in movements of Kathak, Chhau, and Folk - their attraction and ability for luring large audiences, not lessening a whit over the years.

This year's Ballet festival projected over three days comprised three productions, Parikrama, Karna and Meera, each as different from the others as chalk from cheese. If Parikrama dealt with an abstract theme, Karna brought out the tragic story of a Mahabharata hero who despite being invested with all the noble qualities, was destined to a life of unmitigated misfortune. His unjust end came while fighting, ironically, for Dharma. Meera on the other hand, was the tale of the saint poetess, who, born in a patriarchal society and chained to the stifling orthodoxy surrounding royalty, courageously fights her way to emancipation. And given the fact that the same cast had to present three very different productions immaculately, with not a cue missed, on three consecutive evenings, one can imagine the scale of rehearsals and attention to detail in the preparation! 

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Thursday 23 May 2024

Article - The impact of songs in series like Heeramandi on Kathak artistes - Shruti Patki

Popular series like Heeramandi have a significant impact on Kathak artistes. While these shows spark interest in our beautiful dance form, they also create misconceptions and challenges. The sudden influx of beginners seeking quick lessons and the undervaluing of years of dedicated practice are just a few of the issues we face. Let's explore these challenges and gain a deeper appreciation for true dedication behind Kathak.


1. Influx of inquiries from inexperienced students
When a popular series like Heeramandi features a song with Kathak, it often leads to a sudden surge in inquiries from people wanting to learn Kathak specifically to perform that song. However, many of these prospective students have no prior experience or foundational knowledge in Kathak. This trend can be challenging for seasoned artistes as they have to manage expectations and explain the basics to those who might not understand the complexity and dedication required for this classical dance form.

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Article - Uday Shankar in Almora - Bharat Sharma



(Some thoughts on antecedents of new dance pedagogy in the 20th century as part of Liberal Education... written in 2022)

I will begin with a quote from a brochure brought out for a festival organized in 1984 in New Delhi by sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, commemorating 60 years of dance debut of Uday Shankar in London. The festival - Uday Utsav - brought together a full gamut of artists emanating from the legacy of Uday Shankar. Performances and workshops were organized in Siri Fort Auditorium and National School of Drama. In this brochure there was a significant summing up of Uday Shankar's legacy titled 'Almora- a creative peak', written by Professor Joan Erdman, an eminent Anthropologist from University of Chicago, who had by then done extensive research on life and art of Uday Shankar. 

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Sunday 19 May 2024

Week of varied fare - Taalam: column by Leela Venkataraman

The evening of Odissi dance at the Triveni was titled Sankalan. Conceived by Odissi dancer and teacher Anita Babu trained under late Gangadhar Pradhan at Orissa Dance Academy of Bhubaneswar, Sankalan presented the results of a four day workshop conducted by the present head of Orissa Dance Academy (who also happens to be the President of the Odisha SNA) namely Guru Aruna Mohanty, one of the senior-most of Guru Gangadhar's students....


It was a pitifully scanty gathering in the Stein auditorium, for the Bharatanatyam performance of Anju Chandran of the Chennai Kalakshetra alumni. But what heart warming applause after each item! It did not take long for the audience to understand that here was a dancer totally unaware of herself and utterly charming - the line perfect nritta, and restrained poise of the abhinaya, never attracting attention to the persona of the dance.....


In a fast changing world, passing on to the next generation of students the essence of an art form inherited as a legacy from past gurus, faces greater challenges - on how to keep the roots of the art alive, while adapting to a contemporary clientele of both students and audience. As usual the evening at Natya Tarangini's outdoor performance space with galleried seating, began with the wise words of Raja Reddy on prachisudha and bhinnaruchi and on keeping in mind while teaching the responsibilities in passing on the cardinal principles of the oldest living civilization, namely India....

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Friday 10 May 2024

Article - Why you must watch Madu - Dyumna Chhabra

Art doesn't create distinctions, people do. Madu is a testament to how access to learning and performing an art form can be a life-turner, and how passion can drive one beyond the walls they've known and persevered within all their life. This documentary follows the journey of a young Nigerian boy who gets to learn at Elmhurst Ballet School. Directed by Matthew Ogens and Joel Kachi Benson, it shows how passion can grow within creeks and how support can nurture it to fruition.

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Wednesday 8 May 2024

Article - Reframing Swati Padams: A conversation with Dr. Neena Prasad - Shereen Saif

As the haunting melody in Aahiri weaves a mood of pathos, a lovelorn woman confesses to her beautiful moon-faced friend: "Oh, Madirakshi (one with intoxicating eyes)! Alas! My heart can no longer bear this turmoil caused by Cupid. What am I to do?"

In another scenario, set to the tune of Asaveri, a pining heroine seeks out her lover, only to find him aloof. Emboldened by the sway she has over him, she questions, "Oh, Beloved! Why do you not speak to me? What wrong have I done to deserve this?"

"Panimathi mukhi bale" and "Enthaho vallabha", two widely performed padams in Mohiniyattam, trace their origin to the early 19th century in Kerala, a time of great creative resurgence in poetry, music and dance. The former composed by Swati Thirunal, the erstwhile ruler of Travancore, and the latter, penned by his celebrated court poet Irayimman Thampi are two classic love ballads of that era, steeped in the ethos of the Vaishnava bhakti movement that had by then gained prominence all over India. Much like Sufi poetry, the lyrical content of these padams is intimate, sensual and carries the passionate longing for an absent beloved. Treated allegorically, the yearning of the heroine is interpreted as the soul's aching and desire for union with the divine.

However, even though the intention of the poetry is anchored in the devotional, the dancer's path to evoke rasa lies not in portraying chaste devotion. Rather, the opposite! Through the explicit and aesthetic portrayal of passion. In the hands of a mature performer, a love-soaked padam can inspire a divine, transcendental experience says Mohiniyattam dancer, researcher and choreographer Dr. Neena Prasad.

To explore this subject in depth, a 10-day intensive workshop was recently organized exclusively for dancers trained at Sougandhika Centre for Mohiniyattam in Thiruvananthapuram, a kalari she established 20 years ago for research and development of the art form. The workshop curriculum covered Mohiniyattam movement vocabulary, abhinaya techniques, appreciation of Swati Thirunal's poetry and music and her approach to choreographing a padam.

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Monday 6 May 2024

Pug ghungroo bandh in Pune - Dance Matters: Column by Ashish Mohan Khokar

Pune is a unique city for dance. It is like Madras. Near perfect. People in dance field are pucca about their work, professional in attitude and perfect in interpersonal skills. They don't go overboard with emotion like North India or go ballistic, as in East!


For 20 years now, one has been going to that city. First, as the national director of America based Ngo in cultural education called the AFS. We helped start the Pune chapter and also steered it for three years. It was the most differently abled chapter in AFS network. Parents were demanding and kids were nicer! Well behaved, disciplined and kept to the course. That was 2004/5. A full 20 years ago. It was so nice to meet one such alumnus of AFS Yes program Valerie Apte, who was compering the Anuvedh festival on occasion of the World Dance Day celebrated with pomp and show by one of the biggest Kathak dance centres of Pune called Maneesha Nrityalaya.

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Saturday 4 May 2024

Epoch making 17th World Dance Day celebration by Natya Vriksha - Taalam: column by Leela Venkataraman

Much more than yet another festival of dance, Natya Vriksha's seventeenth consecutive celebration of World Dance Day at the IIC, imaginatively curated by Geeta Chandran and meticulously executed by its tireless crew, was a hard act to emulate. Crafted to meaningfully punctuate presentational gloss with sessions of intelligent reflection, the entire effort mirrored the impact of time on dance forms. Starting with Movement Technique in Sattriya, to a Celebration of Rukmini Devi Arundale as a Revivalist and Institution Builder based on V.R.Devika's latest book, with an illustrated talk/discussion by the author, to a Seminar on Legacy in Classical Dance moderated by Geeta Chandran, featuring a prominent panel comprising Guru/dancers from each dance tradition, to culminate each evening with performances featuring promising young talent and established dancers, the two day event did not have one dull moment.

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Wednesday 1 May 2024

Anita says...May 2024

"Dance disappears almost at the moment of its manifestation. It is an extreme expression of the present, a perfect metaphor for life. Dancers sculpt space in real time, working inside a form that is constantly in a state of vanishing. We have no artifacts. I find it strangely beautiful to be creating something that is made of us - made of our breath and blood and bones and minds. Something that is made of the space we occupy and made of the space between us. We embody both the dance and its disappearance."
- Crystal Pite, Canadian dancer & choreographer


A very special Hello to May born dreamers and achievers! This is our month! Well... I am born in this month and so it is my favourite time of the year. May is also the birth month of so many, many creative people - singers, dancers, composers, painters - May is the month when Taurus - the stubborn, loyal, imaginative and sensorial pleasure loving bull collides with the cerebral, quick thinking, restless Gemini twins - what a combination... and for me - born on the CUSP of both months - it means there is a whole lot of stuff going on inside!

There is also lots to talk about in the world of dance and the current spectacle of India's national elections and the vociferous protests going on in US campuses. Both countries look like bristling performance art when viewed from the outside!  

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Wednesday 24 April 2024

Article - Paying for a performance, A dancer's perspective - Divya Anand

Recently, I happened to see an Instagram video where Ms.Anita Ratnam was beseeching artistes to not pay and perform. It was, I suppose, in the context of the coveted Margazhi season. However, it got me thinking if we could respectfully explore the greys here. And don't get me wrong, I definitely empathize with her perspective about not compromising on the beauty and quality of the art form. I myself recently had to pay for a performance, it was a truly nominal amount and before I wanted to take myself on a guilt trip, I thought, why not use some more lenses on this topic! 

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Sunday 21 April 2024

Article - 4th Edition of MOVE 2024 International World Dance Day Online Festival - Michelle Jueney

As I sit and pen my 4th media release for this passionate global dance project, I cannot believe we have achieved 4 years and hopefully counting.

The challenges of dreams to bring international artists to perform in my country Malaysia with the exorbitant production costs, immigration, red tape and going through people’s land mines and minefields has opened up a different beauty and opportunity I celebrate exploring avenues in film direction and creativity, connectivity amongst more creative fields, collaborations with worldwide talents with similar visions and audiences of kindred spirits, for now we share our Art with all of you as best we can within all sorts of unimaginable restrictions financially and support to keep going online. I am not funded till today even with the support of the global dance fraternity and legacy dance institutions.

The 4th year brings us another huge milestone with legendary historical icon and dance figure Trisha Brown to be part of our family. Trisha Brown (1936) and Pina Bausch (1940) are actually the first creators of site specific performances. 

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Interview - Piyal Bhattacharya: I believe in totality - Vijay Shanker

Kolkata based Piyal Bhattacharya is the recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi award for his unique and outstanding contribution in the field of classical dance and Sanskrit theatre. After extensive research, Piyal has introduced Marga Natya based on the Natyashastra that explores the music and dance attributes of Geetam, Sangeetam, Vadyam, Nrityam and Natyam with the underlying philosophy of reaching out to the supreme, through the interaction of jivatma with paramatma. After formal training in Kathakali, being inspired by Dr Padma Subrahmanyam, Piyal studied the Natyashastra and introduced Marga Natya and choreographed dance dramas with the usage of vachika abhinaya and varied other aspects of the performance technique to combine entertainment and education with a spiritual and holistic approach. In an exclusive interview, Piyal Bhattacharya explains the significance of Marga Natya, Sanskrit theatre, characterisation and the usage of some rare musical instruments to enhance the artistic and aesthetic sensibility of the performance and much more.



What induced you to do research and introduce Marga Natya, based on the Natyashastra?

As it is known, Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam is the pioneer in the research of applied Natyashastra who first brought forward Bharata's prescription of 108 Karanas as stated in the Tandava Lakshana Chapter. I was mesmerized by her performance at the Swarna Samaroh of 1997. It is this performance that inspired me to pursue Performing Arts seriously. After a very fulfilling seven years of training at Kalamandalam, Kerala, it was Dr. Subrahmanyam's research that propelled me to get to the roots. During my training in Kathakali Theatre, I discovered many Sanskrit Naataka-s, which were based on the doctrine of Natyashastra as informed by my Guru-s. My quest was to reach this foundation of knowledge. The discipline, ethics, and ethos of my training at Kalamandalam have worked as the primary resource behind my attempt to revive Naatya of these Sanskrit Naataka-s based on Bharata's principle. For this I first started studying Sanskrit and its theories intensely. Also, a thorough knowledge of Indian worldviews was instrumental in my pursuit. 

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Wednesday 17 April 2024

Article - Brahmanical interventions in Kerala's musical legacy - V. Kaladharan

I have often wondered what prevented Kerala, the south-west tip of the Indian sub-continent, from embracing the oceanic grandeur and profundity of the classical Karnatic music till the dawn of the 20th century. King Swathy Thirunal and his court musicians definitely did have an influence in Thiruvananthapuram and in its immediate precincts in the 19th century when it comes to Karnatic music. The untimely demise of Swathy sounded the death knell of Karnatic music too in the capital city of the erstwhile Travancore. This was but an ephemeral state of affairs.

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Wednesday 3 April 2024

Anita's Andal - Dance Matters: Column by Ashish Mohan Khokar



Andal is a five lettered word, so is Anita. Andal mystified, Anita demystified. Andal left a mark for aeons; Anita has left a mark by recreating Andal for the modern era. Naachiyar Next is one production that'd go down in history of Andal lore, as one of the handsomest offering in recent times. Anita Ratnam has also made it accessible to the rest of India. Southern traditions are steeped in these tales but for the rest of India, this is a good entry point to a rarefied and layered culture.

It is also accessible as Anita uses English to communicate. So the story and its core content reaches all. That Delhi audiences, who often know very little of the rest of India, connected easily shows Anita succeeded in making a very, very Tamil cultural icon reach all. The audience gave Anita Ratnam and team a real, long standing ovation proving yet again that Delhi may be dili-tante in deeper cultural moorings - especially of southern traditions - but it still retains its heart by giving generous claps all through the 70 minute rendition of the life and times of Godha, as Andal was also known. 

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Monday 1 April 2024

Anita says...April 2024

"TO A MAN WHO ONLY HAS A HAMMER

EVERYTHING HE ENCOUNTERS
LOOKS LIKE A NAIL"
- American psychologist Abraham Maslow



Hmmm- sums up how harsh and shrill the tone has been amongst some cultural and social circles.

Sitting in Chennai where the temperatures are rising every second, there is much to talk about - and the two main events in the dance and music world DID NOT reflect much positivity. MOST of the action was OFF STAGE... and social media was the battle ground for much of the tussle of words, egos, ideologies and theories.

What am I talking about?
I will get to that
But first... the good news... no, the GREAT NEWS!

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Friday 29 March 2024

Article - On Mohiniyattam's ascent - Mythili Maratt Anoop

Mohiniyattam, like other theatrical arts of Kerala, has been dramatic, but the real-life drama that unfolded in the past few days has catapulted Mohiniyattam to the segment of main/ hard news from being perhaps a byte in the arts and culture segment. Mohiniyattam became the hotbed of controversy with the instance of a faculty from Kerala Kalamandalam making derogatory comments on the gender and skin colour of an established male artiste, teacher, and scholar, Dr R LV Ramakrishnan and the whole community of Mohiniyattam dancers standing up for him on the social media. Numerous opinions and support writing surfaced in solidarity with him. An issue such as this, in our context where there is growing sensitivity to issues relating to gender, caste, beauty norms (I wish, I could add religion too), is a sure shot way to stir up a hornet's nest, which is a good thing for the dance and the artists involved, as ultimately, all news is, after all, good news. In the past few days, I had several friends, family who had no stakes in Mohiniyattam, sharing video clips of the canonical interview, and opinion pieces with me on whatsapp, and that vouches for the ability that such issues have in generating public interest. Mohiniyattam has certainly outrun the 'Mohini', the practice of several male Mohiniyattam artistes and academic discourse has reflected this turn for more than a decade, and now the debate has found a loud finale in the public realm of social media.

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Wednesday 27 March 2024

Article - Technology takes over techniques of naatya - VP Dhananjayan

It is heartening to see a surfeit of professional productions in the Naatya arena attracting a huge mixed audience being entertained with a fairly good standard of dancing. Over the years some of the Bharatanaatyam schools have been competing with each other excelling in their presentation quality using technological developments both in stagecraft and audio support. The senior and junior naatya acharyas and self-styled choreographers strive hard to train their students to maintain a good dancing technique with precision, synchronisation in group dancing, uniformity in costuming though some lack aesthetic colours and design. Some of the out of box thematic solo and group presentations are testimonies for the present intelligent generation's creative thinking abilities surpassing their immediate and previous generation who had limited technological knowledge and exposure to internet, YouTube, online expertise etc. The group choreography employed in the film industry by dance masters goes beyond our imaginations creating fantasies of group formations which in turn influence the new generation of classical dancers, be it Bharatanaatyam or any other Bharateeya naatyam.

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Sunday 24 March 2024

Article - Entrepreneurship in performing arts - Aparna Vasudevan

Performing arts entrepreneurship is not a new invention. It can reasonably be presumed that performing artists have always been entrepreneurial. It is indubitably admirable that art thinkers and educators have started to ponder this subject seriously for years. Nevertheless, it was only a few years ago that the subject was made as Master's program at university level around the globe. It is essentially focusing on cultural and performing art entrepreneurship today. Different modern art incubators and performing art institutions can play a key role in fostering this entire idea. 

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Men to the fore! - Dance Matters: Column by Ashish Mohan Khokar

Rama Vaidyanathan, that dynamic all in one - dancer, teacher, choreographer, organiser, mother and mentor - has worked very, very hard to sustain a career in dance with family responsibilities, running a school, career and more. Today, Rama Vaidyanathan has also left a mark as the best Natya Kala Conference host with most outreach, acclaim and applause. Her students are now a legion, spread all over the world. Rama today ranks as numero uno in her generation of Bharatanatyam artistes.

So, when in the Swarna Saroja year - marked to peg 50 years is her saas-guru creation the Ganesa Natyalaya - she platformed 25 male dancers in one day, she created a new record in excellence, entertainment and engagement with art.

Male dancers have had an unusual history. Most first generation gurus, nattuvanars or gharana dancers were men. Even forms like Kuchipudi, Yakshagana, Sattriya and of course Kathakali had only male dancers. Then slowly the city-smart and college educated girls of Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata started taking to these and other classical forms. A trend started that slowly brought prakritis to the forefront and purush started getting relegated to the background. There were of course the couple dancers like Uday Shankar - Amala, US Krishna Rao - Chandrabagha Devi, Gopinath - Thankamani and Nataraj - Shakuntala. Next generation copied that idea of couple dancing or were inspired by above names and so we had the Dhananjayans, the Reddys, Singhajit Singh - Charu Sija Mathur, Thankamani - Govindan Kutty, Jayarama Rao -Vanashree Rao and more in many forms.


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Tuesday 19 March 2024

Profile - Guru Sagolshem Kirti Singh (1956-2024) - Sinam Basu Singh


Traditional Manipuri dance Guru Sagolshem Kirti Singh expired on 6th March 2024 at his residence.

Guru Sagolshem Kirti Singh, son of S. Kesho Singh, resident of Uripok Takhellambam Leikai, Imphal West, Manipur, was born on 1st March 1956. He received training in Manipuri dance from local gurus from early stage of life and formal training in three year certificate course JNMDA - 1970 and completed Diploma in Manipuri dance JNMDA-1973.

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Thursday 14 March 2024

Profile - On the 17th Death Anniversary of Sushil Dasgupta (1923-2008) - Bharat Sharma



FROM NARENDRA SHARMA ARCHIVES

From time immemorial, Music and Dance have an intimate relationship - one lives on the other in performing arts. In the 20th century, composers and choreographers shared a tenuous relationship in stimulating fresh trends in dance-making - both in the East and the West. 

This post looks into a particular thread of music-making which evolved on Indian sub-continent, within the expansive 'nationalist/post-colonial' discourse, based on Indian instruments, voice culture, 'swara' of 'raga', intricate 'tala' system, and deeply embedded within the ethos of indigenous melodies and orchestration. A kind of 'new tradition' came into being, emanating from the ingenuity of their creators. In particular I would like to project the work of Sushil Dasgupta - a music composer par excellence - who became the longest collaborator of choreographer Narendra Sharma, with beginnings that can be tracked back to 1946.

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Wednesday 13 March 2024

When the artiste and the art become one entity in dialogue - Taalam: column by Leela Venkataraman

Dance performances are a dime a dozen. But how often, while watching a performance, does one experience a feeling of being transported to another level of consciousness, where one has for a few moments, lost a feeling of oneself? This was the state-of-being I experienced watching Malavika Sarukkai dance in the Angan of her home, before a small gathering of friends. To review such a performance would almost be an affront, for what was an act of worship and thanksgiving at the altar of the Dance muse, for having bestowed on the dancer's person, the benediction of mental and physical vigor to pursue with dedication, the dance for fifty two years - and for still being able to partake of its richness. I am more interested here in the process of what has transpired in the person of the dancer during these long years, with regard to her relationship with the dance.

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Sunday 10 March 2024

Article - Reappraising Bharatanatyam for physical, psychological and psychosocial benefits - Krithika V Balaji

Abstract
This article reappraises Bharatanatyam from a therapeutic point of view, intending to explore the benefits it offers in physical, psychological and psycho-social realms to the practitioner. The aim is to derive useful insights on employing Bharatanatyam as a therapeutic dance form to aspirants seeking benefits in this regard. The insights can serve as a benchmark to trainers who seek to expand the scope of the dance form to a therapeutic plane. While mainstream research focuses on the aesthetic and artistic features of Bharatanatyam, often the therapeutic benefits offered by this dance form that is comparable to yoga and other forms of wellness therapies are overlooked and under-researched. This research is a narrative exploration of the therapeutic dimensions of Bharatanatyam.

Introduction

In India, the land renowned for culture and heritage, Bharatanatyam is considered as a representation of the ancient culture - connected with sculptures, music, poetry, scriptures, theatre and spirituality. Bharatanatyam is one of the oldest dance forms in India originating from the Southern part of the nation. This art form, as described in the Natya Shastra [1] (200 BCE), is an aesthetic and divine art which is revered for ages for its authenticity and spirituality. Bharatanatyam is a dance form which evolved from the Natya Veda [2] and has a spiritual dimension to it. The Natya Veda, as per the Hindu mythology, was imparted to the world by Lord Brahma [3] as a kreedaneeyatha [4] or a plaything that could entertain as well as impart the sense of values implying its spiritual nature in the Indian culture. Bharatanatyam is a celebration of the mind, body and spirit, similar to all the other Indian classical forms. Anyone can learn and perform this art devoid of religion, caste or creed. It is a Darshan - a philosophy on its own. It is always evolving and timeless. (Rele, K. 2018). 

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Saturday 9 March 2024

Panchabhutam! - Dance Matters: Column by Ashish Mohan Khokar


JGPAC sounds most unlike a dance music place. But it is. A college of performing arts, no less. In Ahmedabad, near Navrangpura area, beyond Gujarat University campus. The college architecture is nothing unusual in the landscape of mushrooming businesses in this city, now resembling a mini Manhattan. I've been visiting Amdavad (as locals call it) for 40 plus years now. It started with Paldi circle for most and ended at Ellis Bridge. There was one hotel those days called Karnavati and one dance institution of national importance - Darpana, initiated by the most gracious lady in dance field I've met in my 60+ conscious years - Mrinalini Sarabhai. What an epitome of goodness, on stage and off stage. She was a close friend of our family. My mother's guru vidwan Muthukumaran Pillai was her guru too. In fact, he went and helped start the first Bharatanatyam classes in that city in 1950s when Darpana was set up. He stayed there 2 years to help Mrinalini Amma find her feet and returned only as food and dusty city of textiles made him sick. As it makes me! Every time I've been to that city, I've fallen ill. 9/10 times. Something's in the air. Last I was there, I caught Covid. Two years I kept safe in the South and even Delhi trips but Gujus are very democratic people who follow no rules. No one wore masks inflight too! One can see it in city traffic and people's way of life. Shouting, talking loudly, laughing, not taking anything seriously except their accounts, stocks and shares; they are the Punjabis of West India. 

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Tuesday 5 March 2024

Kathak draped in a different sensibility - Taalam: column by Leela Venkataraman

The program at Narthaki Studio was called Leela, dedicated to Anita Ratnam's late mother, a driving force encouraging Jigyasa Giri's dance urges, while having to deal with Kathak finding a place in Madras - the land of Bharatanatyam. Late Sohanlal from the Jaipur gharana and Maya Rao (from whom Jigyasa imbibed a great deal), a student of Shambhu Maharaj, did settle in South India propagating Kathak. But what Jigyasa Giri, whose initial training was under late Krishna Kumar Dharwa of Benares gharana, referred to in the program as Dakshina gharana Kathak, was in reality Kathak with a sensibility catering to South Indian audiences. There was none of the high pitched jawab/saval, tabla versus peir ka kaam rhythmic razzmatazz, nor frequent sojourns to the microphone with announcements and parhant, nor spinning of marathon countless pirouettes - all of which virtuosity, is a legitimate feature of this dance form. Instead, what Jigyasa, who since 2001 has been teaching students in her school in Chennai, Devaniya established in 2009 has achieved, is in bringing to her dance an enhanced texture of flowing grace and poetic delicacy, without compromising on its classicism and technical exactitude.

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Sunday 3 March 2024

Book Review - Mohan Khokar - The Father figure of Indian Dance History - Dr. Uma Anantani



It is always difficult and complicated to apply an appropriate, praiseworthy epithet to Prof. Mohan Khokar. He was the one who had travelled wide and far in search of dance and dance material. And now in the year 2024, commemorating his birth centenary, a book titled 'Mohan Khokar - The Father figure of Indian Dance History' published by Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts and edited and compiled by Ashish Mohan Khokar, has 'travelled' for its launch and will continue to do so through many big cities of India and abroad; this will reinforce and concretise the dance history of past many centuries and create an awareness among readers of generations to come.

The tour itinerary in association with IGNCA of this extremely attractive compilation in 300 pages, this state-of-the-art volume began with its inaugural release on 30th December 2023 at Kalakshetra, Chennai, followed by release on 7th February, 11th February and 12th February 2024, at Mumbai, Vadodara and Ahmedabad respectively. At Mumbai, the release event was organised in association with Shri Shanmukhananda Fine Arts Sangeetha Sabha and Ministry of Culture, GoI; at Vadodara, it was in association with Anjali Memorial Committee and the Dance Department, Faculty of Performing Arts, MS University and at Ahmedabad with JG College of Performing Arts. For every release, the mesmerising feature was screening of a short film on Mohan Khokar and his works and interesting talks by practitioners and scholars on dance and dance history. 

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Saturday 2 March 2024

Article - Response to T. M. Krishna's Opinion article - Jeetendra Hirschfeld

 In his latest opinion piece (11 February 2024), singer T. M. Krishna again reminds us of the historical and ongoing injustices within Bharatanatyam art, focusing on its appropriation by the Brahmin community in the 20th century. In his article, T. M. Krishna adeptly blends academic discourse, employing terms like "rupture" and scholarly vocabulary ending in "-ness", with accessible English. Unlike many dance scholars who employ intricate terminology and convoluted sentence structures, the singer opts for clarity, potentially ensuring his message resonates with many. He also appears to acknowledge his caste privilege by using the inclusive "we" in his piece.


T. M. Krishna raises valid concerns regarding the homogenisation of Bharatanatyam aesthetics on the 21st-century stage and the distinct "Carnatic-ness" of nattuvanar singers compared to the mechanised approach of contemporary singers, including his own (and I guess his disciples). While some of his points are well-founded, it is significant to note that historians universally recognise the fallacy of single-cause explanations for historical events. Countless causes converge to shape an event, leading to multitudes of consequences branching out from it. But as is often the case, the repeated mention of certain historical truths becomes ingrained through incessant repetition, leading to unquestioning belief.

What caught my attention is when T. M. Krishna says: "When I hear the great nattuvanars or dancers belonging to the same community singing even a flash of a raga or line, I hear this Carnatic-ness. It is in the way they pronounce the syllable, move the raga, articulate the svara."

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Friday 1 March 2024

Anita says...March 2024


To be alive at all is
to have scars

- American writer John Steinbeck

An extra day in February was most welcome to collect my thoughts after a month of relentless travel.

Just two days before February closed, I had the unique opportunity to be in the presence of one of India's most charismatic politicians. The extraordinary security checks, the fastidious search of everyone's social media handles, the minute by minute instructions of where to stand, how much physical distance that was to be maintained and what to say felt like a complex handbook of rules. Surrounded by business professionals who were speaking finance, economics, profitability and employment, I was the sole artiste in this private meeting. The term VIKSIT BHARAT was being chanted ever so often during the speeches that followed and I was left wondering about the most developed form of expressions of this very idea that the Indian performing arts contained. The most evolved and the least supported. VIKSIT means DEVELOPED and while there is so much political emphasis today on a DEVELOPED INDIA - education, medicine, space, technology and manufacturing, it is in the arts - the classical arts - that India is truly VIKSIT. Yet, the needle has shifted and the mood is stubbornly tilted towards popular culture and the visual spectacle.

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Wednesday 28 February 2024

Profile - The last film of Kumar Shahani - Ileana Citaristi



I got in touch with Kumar Shahani for the first time after seeing his maiden film Maya Darpan which ends with Chandralekha's choreographic sequences of Chhau dance performed by dancers clad in white, red and black performing on a red surface which keeps on appearing and disappearing projecting a carousel of powerful and fragmented messages. Chandralekha's fascination for the Chhau idiom and my connection with her during the East West Dance Encounters of the 80s had been one more reason for me to approach him.

From then, I started visiting him whenever I was in Mumbai and spent quite a lot of time sitting in the veranda of his Napean Sea Road apartment, listening to his fascinating and erudite talks on dance, music, films and politics. When from 1996 onwards I organised the Festival of Films of Performing and Visual Arts in Bhubaneswar I managed to show three of his equally iconic films Khayal Gatha, Bamboo Flute and Bhavantarana, all three powerful statements of his deep understanding of music and dance not only as aesthetic tools but as visuals impregnated with epic, philosophical and spiritual connotations as well. 

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Monday 26 February 2024

Interview - Saroja Vaidyanathan's son on her philosophy, Part 2 - Shveta Arora

How Saroja ji responded to the fear and lockdowns during Covid-19

She didn't have any fear of living or dying. But she had the depression of no vibration. "I want some dancing," she would say. If you come to Natyalaya, what you experience - it's not one person or two people dancing, there is a very positive vibration. I feel that during Covid, she missed the ghungroos, the sound, that beating on the floor. It is a physical vibration, apart from the mental vibes. And then the kids being there, laughing, this and that. It's a mela with all these kids there.

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Interview - Saroja Vaidyanathan's son on her philosophy, Part 1 - Shveta Arora

On 21 September 2023, when Guru Saroja Vaidyanathan left this world to take her place in a higher one, the world of dance lost one of its leading lights. She was mourned not only by her disciples but by contemporaries and gurus in all dance and art forms; not only in Delhi, but all over the world; and not only by rasikas, but by people whose lives she had touched despite them having nothing to do with dance at all. She was universally loved and respected in Bharatanatyam and in life.


Many tributes of Guruji were written following her demise, which mentioned her 'conservative family', an early marriage and then the decades of awards and honours that recognized her undeniable prowess in Bharatanatyam. A Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan awardee, Guruji began learning Bharatanatyam at the age of seven from Guru Lalitha of Saraswati Gana Nilayam (putting her in the parampara of Guru Kattumannar Muthukumaran Pillai of Thanjavur). She also learnt Carnatic music under Prof. P. Sambamoorthy at Madras University. An indefatigable 'content creator' from before it was called 'content', she wrote four books, compiled an encyclopaedia on Bharatanatyam, produced a DVD about the basics of Bharatanatyam, and was a member of every conceivable body related to dance, including the Ministry of Culture and ICCR. Over her decades of teaching, not only in Delhi but in Bihar, where she first started classes, she has trained hundreds of dancers to their arangetrams and thus produced perhaps not only performers, but also teachers of dance. Her choreographies featured prominently in international and prestigious events like the Queen's Baton Relay (2009), the XIX Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony (2010), the Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas (2017) and many more. She broke a world record with a day-and-a-half-long Bharatanatyam marathon relay in 2017 and her choreographies on the Ganga, pollution, AIDS, yoga and other subjects have been much acclaimed. Of course, the Ganesa Natyalaya in Delhi, the result of decades of her work, is a physical testament to her forest she created, starting with herself as the single seed.

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Friday 16 February 2024

Ekah! - Dance Matters: Column by Ashish Mohan Khokar

Ekah danta... runs the stuti on Ganesha.... But in dance finding qualified soloist of substance is not easy. It calls for minimum twenty years of work: Five years foundation, five in training, ten in performing experience professionally. So average is forty by the time one reaches national stage. By then either half have married or have families or no possibility to stay with the dance. 40-60 is the best run for a soloist, other things being equal.


The art of the soloist had steadily been on the decline, especially in Kathak. Bharatanatyam has enough volume so staying power is equal. Orissi is fifty-fifty. Group works is the vogue. It is so, as a teacher can show many students on stage at one go. The guru today is just a title, mostly. Solo training means focused attention. Teachers have assembly like training. Solo art is all but diminished. Reasons are many: first of all, gurus are not gurus but mostly art-teaching schools. More the number of students, more the earnings, outreach and social standing. This leads to a rather flimsy foundation. Gurus or teachers say parents are more ambitious and force them to fast-track and do debuts quickly so their ward arrives on the scene quickly! That helps visibility if not marriage market. Lastly, the students themselves. They change gurus like they change wardrobe or hair styles. Some are caught between wanting to be successful and stars while some think they are born stars. 5k followers on social media make them feel they have arrived. They don't have the staying power to learn to talk first before learning to dance first. Social media and self-reviews give most a fake sense of belief that they are good or worse, relevant. End result of above three: sub-standard end result, shows to empty halls and no real professional standing. No solos for sure.

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Thursday 1 February 2024

Anita says...February 2024



How can I begin this month’s musings without mentioning January 22nd and the inauguration of the Lord Rama temple in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. Nobody, anywhere in the world it seemed, could escape this extravagant show. My WhatsApp was flooded with texts and questions about “What is happening in India?” World media was full of India’s “dangerous tilt” towards autocracy. Diaspora Indians were seen celebrating in many cities across the planet. Opinions were sharply divided but the overwhelming majority made their feelings clear - from Ayodhya to Silicon Valley, on the streets of MALDIVES and onto the Times Square marquees in New York City. 

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Sunday 28 January 2024

Simple tale of 'Arisi: Rice' spins lavish cross cultural entertainment - Taalam: column by Leela Venkataraman



The occasion under the aegis of the Music Academy was the Usha Marti Subrahmanyam Endowment Dance Program on Jan 15, 2024, with a packed hall of Chennai's socialites, treated to Singapore-based Apsaras Arts Dance Company's presentation of a lavish multidisciplinary production, innovatively conceived by Artistic Director Aravinth Kumarasamy, designed on what is taken for granted as a mundane everyday part of life - namely ARISI:RICE! Sharing the stage were Bharatanatyam dancers of Apsaras Arts, guest dancers from India, and Balinese dancers from the GEOK Ensemble....


The Narthaki Studio Series held amidst the very special ambience of Anita Ratnam's home has over the years, offered performance space for off-beat programs not attracting conventional Sabha patronage, during the Chennai Season. Hailing from a powerful musical tradition, wherein the reason-to-be for the Dance, is the Music, Aniruddha Knight, as performer, while remaining faithful to the musical heritage, (expressed in movement improvisation in Bharatanatyam through gestures and abhinaya) has shown himself to be a fine teacher....


Seldom has a Lifetime Achievement Award evoked such a warm response of total approbation, as when Bragha Bessell received one bestowed on her by Prof. M. Ekambaranathan Educational and Charitable Trust on an evening arranged at Tag Centre....


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Saturday 6 January 2024

India's biggest annual dance conference: The Natya Kala Conference - Dance Matters: Column by Ashish Mohan Khokar



The Natya Kala Conference is an annual feature of the Krishna Gana Sabha. For those outside Tamil cultural landscape (and this portal and column travels far in the virtual world) sabhas are basically registered art bodies /societies from last century that serve the cause of the arts and culture. What began as a guild is now gold in terms of land and location; power and pelf. Trustees and members are either eminent citizens or families and they are pillars of the art eco systems. They dispense patronage while creating trends. Each may have preferences and power structures, yet, most are genuine and totally devoted to the purpose it was set up for.

So, the Krishna Gana Sabha (KGS) has for 40 years held the NKC (Natya Kala Conference). The current head Y Prabhu (son of R Yagnaraman who started and steered it for decades) with daughter Saashwathi are in-charge and do their duty with finesse, advised by stalwarts and icons in the field.

Rama Vaidyanathan needs no introduction to Indian dance audiences worldwide. A Delhi-based Bharatanatyam dancer, she is now also a star with substance and spunk. A student of Bharatanatyam's benchmark icon Yamini Krishnamurti, Rama is now herself a benchmark in dance and NKC convenorship. This year was dedicated to 'Swarna Saroja' in memory of her mother-in-law, Saroja Vaidyanathan, a veteran Delhi based Bharatanatyam dancer guru who started the Ganesa Natyalaya, whose 50th year anniversary too was being celebrated. 

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