The Kerala Government is planning a dance museum, a first even in the country.

Spurred on by financial assistance provided for a building coming up on the land donated by the Guru Gopinath Natanagramam at Vattiyoorkkavi in Thiruvananthapuram, the Department of Cultural Affairs, Kerala, plans a first ever dance museum.

Organised by Kutiyattam expert G. Venu, dance experts at the three-day deliberations held in Thiruvananthapuram, echoed certain points recurring like a refrain.

Living space

Starting with what scholar, critic and chairperson Shanta Serbjeet Singh mentioned in her introductory talk, all agreed that a dance museum should be a living space providing an unique experience to the visitor, rather than a morgue housing information on collective achievements of the past, which of course through films, video material and CD-Roms in a digital era would always be available.

Sadanand Menon referred to something similar to the Apartheid Museum in South Africa, totally devoid of Narcissism about one's past, treating gaps in memory with an objectivity correcting distortions in history and leading to an “honest discourse on dance”.

Gurus such as V.P. Dhananjayan held up Deborah Thiagarajan's efforts of Dakshina Chitra in Chennai as an example of what a dance museum should be. The ability for self-renewal instead of displays establishing hegemonic conclusions about regional traditions from the past, and involving the youth in schools and colleges through schemes triggering searching inquiries about dance, were other points commonly stressed.

How to preserve archival material in the Kerala climate was discussed by S. Girikumar and Pramod Kumar.

Above all was the need to find the right expertise in a director heading the institution and staff with the necessary experience to man various sections, with ideas for creating new activities and exploring fresh links within the dance field.

The discussions concluded that the first requirement of a vision statement be drawn up by Shanta Serbjeet Singh and Sadanand Menon to be placed before the Government.

Rashmi impresses

Performing at the India International Centre, New Delhi, Saroja Vaidyanathan's student Rashmi was an example of how successfully Bharatanatyam has captured the imagination of the North Indian dance talents. From the Papanasam Sivan Dhanyasi varnam “Nee inda mayam” to the Desh tillana, both music and dance composed by Saroja, the dancer was an epitome of grace and involvement. Her abhinaya, which in the Shiva interpretation could have been more indicative of the grandeur and largeness of this God, was in the Krishna depictions as in the Todi “Thaye Yashoda” and Meera bhajan very sensitive.

The musical accompaniment led by Saroja's nattuvangam was fully supportive.

Celebrating the women

Through the highs and lows of history, the women's movement in South Asia has gamely marched on. Shruti Foundation's celebration of Women's Movement at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, after honouring women working in different fields for the welfare of the deprived and down trodden, presented Geeta Chandran's Natya Vriksha in a group production entitled Pankh. Intelligently crafted and with highly involved disciples, the work subtly suggested the dreams and aspirations of woman asking for her right to share the earth with the five elements, so that she can hold her head to the skies and be saved from the waters of eternal tears and fires that terrify.

The dance was mostly abstract, disciples voicing their desires (not always very clearly) working with building blocks rising and falling suggesting woman's fate and desire to move ahead. The scene in which the lotus as a metaphor for woman is visualised by Geeta herself, was very moving with Sudha Raghuraman's delightful Ragesri score. In fact, the music, right from the Western music type of Bilahari in Muttuswamy Dikshitar's “Rara Venu Gopa Bala”, was imaginative. Through Balamurali's “Omkara Karini” and Maya Angelo's poem “I know why the caged bird sings” to the tillana in Miyaki Malhar, the way the dancers moved in groups and clusters with a minimalism, was unique.

Keywords: Bharatanatyam