At its 25th anniversary celebrations, the IDA honours Leela Sekhar, chairperson, Chennai chapter. Leela Sekhar was no dancer. Nor had she experience in organisation. But passion triumphed over doubt.

The Madras Council of the International Dance Alliance (IDA) celebrates its 25th year in Chennai with a three-day Natya Sangamam (August 5, 6 and 7 at Narada Gana Sabha). Inaugurated by Jayant Kastuar and presided over by Vyjayanthimala Bali, the event showcases the dancers who were part of IDA's debut show in 1986, as also younger artists, and artists from Hyderabad, Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore.

New York-based IDA sprouted a branch in Madras when founder president Dr. Ben Somers met a woman from Madras, visiting her daughter in the U.S.

He had already identified her as the right person for the job when he saw her earlier, on the stage, singing for legendary dancer Balasaraswati.

Leela Sekhar was no dancer. Nor had she experience in organisation. But passion triumphed over doubt.

Singing for Bala

Her continuous association with the finest in Bharatanatyam, as Balasaraswati's vocalist, had made Leela love the art form. And when she discussed the idea of opening an IDA council with leading Chennai dancers, Padma Subrahmanyam, Sudharani Raghupathy, Chitra Visweswaran, Shanta and V.P. Dhananjayan, Vasanthalakshmi and Narasimhachari, their enthusiasm energised her even more.

T.T. Vasu, president of the Music Academy, offered the theatre free of cost.

That was how 1987 saw the first IDA edition ‘A ticketed, houseful show, a tribute to Bala and Ben who had passed away!' V.P. Dhananjayan's depiction of a deer chased by the tiger was an astonishing bit of choreography.

The ‘kuravanji' by Sudharani Raghupathy, Padma Subrahmanyam and Chitra Visweswaran was invited straightway to Russia. The Hindu carried a two-page report with photographs, and a review declaring ‘History has been made.'

From 1987, new dancers of promise were showcased. Adherence to the time slot – 18 minutes – was the mantra, to ensure that everyone had a fair share.

The budget has always been tight, but artists outside Chennai volunteered, or found local aid to come. IDA introduced several new artists from every Indian dance form and also some new genres to Chennai. This included ritual performances from Mysore, Maharashtra and Assam, where the God is taken in procession with puja, dance and song. “I still remember the yellow cotton saris with green borders the Mysore women wore, as they followed the deity dancing.”

Shift of venue

Ensembles, classical and contemporary came from Italy, Germany, the U.S., Japan, Russia and Sri Lanka. After 10 years, the venue shifted from the Academy to Narada Gana Sabha, whose unfailing support is acknowledged thankfully by the IDA team.

Performances outside Chennai happened with assistance from the South Zone Cultural Centre. “We even went to Delhi by air, imagine, in those days, all 20 of us, to perform at the Siri Fort!

President Venkatraman agreed to come over for 10 minutes, but stayed till the end, and invited us all for tea at the Rashtrapati Bhavan,” Leela exults.

A one off-production, ‘Krishnam Vande Jagadgurum,' choreographed for IDA by Sudharani Raghupathy and scored by Madurai Krishnan, had a successful coast-to-coast tour of the U.S.

The 25th anniversary celebrates this feat with a scene from the dance drama with some members of the original cast.

Natyasangamam 2010, honours president Leela Sekhar, for running the show single-handedly for 18 years, and continuing to guide the advisory council with dance artists such as Revathy Ramachandran and Radhika Shurajit as members.

The future of IDA? Leela Sekhar answers with a smile, “With Revathi and Radhika. They must be inclusive but maintain standards, increase international participation, encourage young talent. Not easy! Do you know that IDA branches in Delhi and Mumbai closed down long ago?”

But Chennai goes on… Didn't Ben Somers, who never visited India, say to Leela Sekhar 25 years ago, “Madras is a city where dance and music are honoured most?”