Upendra Sharma on the Jawaharlal Nehru Manipuri Dance Academy’s diamond jubilee.

The Jawaharlal Nehru Manipuri Dance Academy (JNMDA) in Imphal, currently celebrating its diamond jubilee with a series of events, is arguably one of the most significant institutes set up in post-independence India to nurture the country’s traditional art forms. Over the decades, as it produced innovative productions and trained bright alumni, the Academy has contributed towards collecting, documenting and preserving archival materials. Here, the Academy’s Regional Director, Upendra Sharma, talks of his role in the building of the institution, besides plans and administrative and financial constraints.

What are the aims and objectives of JNMDA?

The primary aims and objectives of JNMDA are to promote and preserve and popularise Raas, Nat-Sankirtan, tribal dances, Lai-Haroaba and Thangta.

In terms of its popularity how far has the academy progressed?

Manipuri is one of the classical dances of India. Manipuri dance and music is an integral part of our culture. It is our duty — meaning the Academy’s duty — to make everybody aware of the rich civilisation of Manipur through the presentation of our dance and music. Our tradition has been kept alive for the last 60 years by our gurus. We take the help of gurus who are too old to hold posts, keeping them on our payroll. To fulfil public demand JNMDA has ever endeavoured to open its doors to new beginnings. In 1979 the Academy introduced Post- Diploma courses in Nat Pung, Nat Esei, and Nat Cholom as well as other subjects.

JNMDA has produced many a dance drama. What are its main features?

In 1975 a special wing was approved and with the help of the Sangeet Natak Akademi a production unit was set up for the production of dance dramas. The subject matter of these dance dramas is varied. Both well known mythological stories as well as contemporary themes have been taken up to produce dance dramas of eternal value. The repertory company has so far produced at least 29 ballets. Talented choreographers like Rajkumar Priyo Gopal, Th Tarun Kumar, S. Tondon Devi, Th Babu Singh, Th Chaotombi, W. Lokendrajit, Amusana Devi, have made seminal contributions. “Kabui Keioiba, Keibul Lamjao” portraying cruelty to wild animals, “Wainu Pareng” the flight of the cranes, “Shakuntala” from Kalidasa’s “Abhigyan Shakuntalam”, “Sangai” on the dancing deer of Manipur, “Moirang Shah” the story of an elephant, Rabindranath Tagore’s “Bidai Abhisap” are a few of the memorable choreographies of the production unit. Choreographer Thockchom Chaotombi Singh has as many as eighteen productions to his credit. The list is endless.

Who are some of your bright alumni?

Our repertory members like Debola, Chandan Devi, Ibemubi Devi, besides others are quite famous.

What are some of your special plans in on this diamond jubilee year?

We are in the process of bringing out a diamond jubilee commemorative glossary of Manipuri dance and music of young gurus, besides trying to assign the work of writing a book on Manipuri dance to a senior and experienced writer in the line — on the lines of Marg Publication. The Governor of Manipur, Vinod Kumar Duggal, has advised us to hold short programmes — with at least one dance scholar speaking on the subject — every month to bring more awareness to the general public about the rich culture of Manipur. We also plan to go to smaller cities outside the state such as Vijaywada, etc., with our productions. We will visit Viswabharati, Nabadwip and Murshidabad to perform Rasleela as a part of the jubilee celebrations. Some time in November-December we will take our productions to Kalakshetra and the Music Academy in Chennai after which we will visit Mumbai. Our concluding programme of the Diamond Jubilee year would be on the first of April, 2015 at Imphal. We at JNMDA are very happy with the full support of the Sangeet Natak Akademi in everything we do, as well as the support of my staff and the gurus.