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Updated: January 25, 2013 19:13 IST

A contemporary punch

Anajana Rajan
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Aditi Mangaldas. Photo: M. Karunakaran
The Hindu
Aditi Mangaldas. Photo: M. Karunakaran

Aditi Mangaldas on why she has declined the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award

In the current scenario, every Padma Award list or announcement of recipients of State and Central Akademi honours gets a contention-ridden reception. The recent announcement of Sangeet Natak Akademi Awards for the year 2012 (which will be conferred at a ceremony and festival in 2013), however, has generated a debate in the classical dance world quite different from the usual question of whether the recipients are deserving enough. Eminent Kathak dancer Aditi Mangaldas was selected for the SNA Award in the category of Creative and Experimental Dance. Many people, says the dancer, congratulated her thinking she had been recognised in the Kathak category. This indeed is the point. Aditi, a disciple of Gurus Kumudini Lakhia and Birju Maharaj, decided to decline the honour as she felt accepting an award in a category other than Kathak would amount to “negating” her entire approach to classical dance and her life’s search so far.

Aditi took time to “really think about it and decide what I want to do,” before formally intimating the Akademi of her decision. “I have the highest regard for the Akademi, and I am sure they have debated it thoroughly, but all my work is in Kathak.” She explains, “I feel I am a Kathak dancer and have worked within the classical repertoire of Kathak in 80 per cent of my work, and 20 per cent is what I call contemporary dance based on Kathak, and that is where I have started breaking the structure of the format of Kathak.”

Further, she feels, “in the Contemporary sense I have a long way to go. Therefore I feel this category (Creative and Experimental Dance) was incorrect.”

The debate has less to do with rejecting the ‘contemporary’ tag and more with the ability of classical artistes to accept each other’s creativity within a tradition. Aditi feels that by categorising her work as outside of Kathak, the apex Government body for the classical performing arts is signalling that the artiste who strays from the presentation format and conventions laid down over the last 50-odd years will be considered to have deviated from the art entirely. She puts it as, “If you expand the vocabulary of Kathak, if you try to de-structure it a bit like in my contemporary work …sorry we won’t consider you as Kathak.”

She sees Kathak as “a large garden with so many flowers” and cites Kumudini Lakhia, Rohini Bhate and Birju Maharaj — three highly eminent Kathak dancers and gurus whose work is totally dissimilar and cannot be straitjacketed. “I would rather not have the award than be categorised as something I am not. Even in Drishtikon (her repertory company) the training is Kathak.” She points out, “It is very difficult to de-structure a form,” adding, “Kathak is my seed and I am watering it with my contemporary process. I don’t say Creative and Experimental is any lesser category.”

Her website lists Drishtikon productions under “Classical Kathak” and “Contemporary Kathak”. It is the former category that is performed regularly. For example, “Uncharted Seas”, she says, “has been danced about 25 times, and my solo in it about 100 times in India,” whereas a Contemporary work like “Timeless” has been presented five-six times in India and as often abroad, and another, “Now Is”, she laughs, “has been done (only) three times in India!” Aditi’s presentation of her classical works differs from the often seen chamber art style, where the dancer talks to the audience almost in a lecture-demonstration approach. “I feel the lec-dem format is a wonderful format for dancers who are able to do it,” notes Aditi, saying she has performed this way in the past. But now, she says, “I want to weave it in an imaginative context.”

She feels no need to load the audience with information on the technicalities of rhythm and structure. “I do padhant, I do jugalbandi, but I don’t say, ‘Ab dekhiye, yeh….’ I have nothing against anyone who does it, but I need to challenge my brain a bit.”

Summing up, Aditi says, “I don’t grudge any dancer who has got this award. Because they have all contributed. Some may have stuck to the old form, some may have taught a lot of students, some may have expanded the form….”

Conceding the possibility that selectors thought she should be recognised and this was the only ‘available’ category, Aditi says she is in no hurry to be awarded in Kathak. “I’m okay with it, do saal baad de do, paanch saal baad dedo! (You can give it to me in two years, five years!)”

Defining dance

Leela Samson, Chairperson, Sangeet Natak Akademi, on the selection process and whether more thought needs to be given to defining the different dance genres.

What was the logic behind putting Aditi Mangaldas in the Creative and Experimental category?

It is like other selection processes. Eminent names in the art form are proposed by the members and a selection is made after due deliberation. The decision to place her in this category was made by all members of the General Council, as is usually done.

Aditi says she is a Kathak dancer and performs classical dance much more often than Contemporary. She says she feels she has still a long way to go in achieving something in the Contemporary idiom. Anyway, she says her Contemporary work is always based on and springs from her Kathak training. In selecting her for an award other than the Kathak category, would the selectors be disagreeing with this view?

Yes. It may well seem so.

Is there some confusion in the current scenario on work that moves beyond the pale of the conventional classical forms and that which expands the vocabulary of a classical form? In a sense both these approaches are 'creative and experimental'. Do you feel there is a need for senior gurus and the Akademis to sit down and define boundaries, so to speak, of the various forms?

I do believe there is always scope to tweak a process from time to time. The words ‘creative’ and ‘experimental’ are applicable to every thinking artiste — no matter what title you give their art. I do not think art should be defined with boundaries drawn. On the contrary, the forms continue to expand and grow in unimaginable and quite beautiful ways. What can be included matters more than what can be excluded.

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