The spotlight at “60 Years of Classical Dance” was on the Indian classical forms post-independence.

Celebrating 25 years of painstaking research and dance teaching, Nalanda Dance Research Centre Mumbai, in a significant three-day event “60 Years of Classical Dance” threw the spotlight on 60 years of traditional classical dances in post-independent India. Following film screenings by Nalanda of great dancers of all forms, and one by Ashish Khokar with culled material from Mohan Khokhar's archives — which like catching a river in a teacup, in 20 minutes projected a bird's eye view of landmark developments in the dance field — senior dancers representing six traditions, through seminar/performance sessions, demonstrated classical disciplines coping with changing sensibilities.

C.V. Chandrasekhar the Bharatanatyam doyen, still stunning audiences with flawless sarukkai and mandi adavus in teermanams while performing the challenging Papanasam Sivan Nattakuranji varnam “Saami naan undan adimai...”, epitomised how in-depth command over a discipline alone provides the take-off for mature innovation, glimpses of which his video material projected. How Hariprasad sang the ashtapadi “Maamiyam chalita vilokya…” in Ahir Bhairav was a lesson in blending sahitya understanding, its right enunciation and involved singing.

Kanak Rele's organic creation of an original, stylised repertoire for Mohiniattam, began in bright-eyed youth searching for Kerala's dances, stumbling upon aging Chinammuamma and Kunjukutty Amma, (whom she has filmed), studying ancient texts under Sanskrit scholars, theorising on the rounded kinetics of Mohiniattam with some aspects of Natya Sastra and Balarama Bharatam, and finally working with Kavalam Narayana Panikar's Sopanam music with special Kerala talas. Disciple Meha Mohar presented a Ganapati item based on a Thiyani. Senior disciple Madhuri Deshmukh's brilliant nritta in the 3 + 1-1/2 + 1-1/2 beat tala to music in Samanta Malahari, followed by delightfully vivid sringar depiction interpreting gathas strung together from Hala's Gatha Saptasati in Maharashtra Praakrit, with dulcet Kamas music evocative for Madhumasa when Manmatha's flowered darts kindle desire in the nayika.

Secular themes

Kanak's masterly rendition with her mobile mukhabhinaya (thanks to the Kathakali background) of Kubja, the hunchback whose searing love Krishna accepts, and an item based on pre-Malayalam literature describing the doting mother agonising over her only daughter deserting her to elope with a strange man, epitomised getting away from traditional nayikas, and embracing secular themes.

Kathak began with subtle poetry in Saswati's abhinaya to Birju Maharaj's throbbingly emotive singing of Vallabhacharya's “Adharam Madhuram.” Birju Maharaj ensnared the audience with his talk on how old maestros like Achhan Maharaj used the “anchal” and how musicians followed the dancer who, with audience seated all round, had to accommodate more than frontal dancing. His demonstration of how the language of arithmetic in rhythm could represent a whole range of ideas and moods, and how laya was implicit in every activity of the universe, and is a potential theme for Kathak, made an absorbing experience for the packed auditorium.

Beneath each of the four unrelated items of an in-form Kumkum Mohanty's Odissi lay aspects revealing a historical perspective of the Odissi revival in the fifties. The dance/music interweaving of the Hamsadhwani pallavi (1978) epitomised the gloriously fruitful Bhubaneswar Misra/Kelucharan interaction, making the pallavi genre flower with the filigreed rhythm conceived by Kelubabu's mardala genius. Composed in 1967 for SNA's All India Gita Govinda Seminar, “Keshi Mathanam Udaram” began an evolutionary process in the newly revived Odissi incorporating the high sringar of Jayadeva's ashtapadis — a lost tradition despite inscriptional evidence. “Braju Ku Chora” in Anandabhairavi depicts Yashoda's life-like storytelling, forcing recalcitrant child Krishna to sleep. Far from Bhubaneswar Misra's Carnatic tradition ragas was Herman Khuntia's score adapting Balkrushna Das' typical Odissi/Hindustani blend in “Lajare Sarigolli aaj sajani”, for Kumkum's dance interpretation.

Lasya-Tandava personified

Raja/Radha Reddy personified the lasya/tandava exchanges of a husband/wife duo creating a new emphasis in Kuchipudi — neither Yakshagana of Bhagavatulu or the Laxminarayana Sastry patented and later enlarged solo presentation. Like Siva/Parvati, tandav/lasya male/female portrayals depicting birds like the hamsa (swan), the garuda (eagle), the mayura (peacock) along with the deer and elephant, followed by the dream sequence in Usha Parinayam and the Kuchipudi visualisation of Ravi Shankar's Natabhairavi tarana, the couple showed how they had carried forward what they imbibed from Vedantam Prahalada Sarma. The elegant vocalist Kamanita rendering Neelambari, Kambodi, Shanmukhapriya and Khamas, Bhaskar Rao (mridangam) and Kaushalya (nattuvangam) made a competent team.

Manipuri talas, Raslila and Sankirtan, and their adaptation for proscenium performance by Guru Bipin Singh were highlighted by Darshana Jhaveri. How Guruji utilised the vivacity of khartal and pung cholam, demonstrated by Veer Mangal Singh and acrobatic movements of Bajikarvesh by Gyaneswar Devi were evocative. But nothing could rival Draupadi Devi's piercing singing and dancing of the Gita Govind.