“Attendance — The Dance Annual of India” is now available.
This year's edition of Ashish Mohan Khokar's unique journal, “Attendance — The Dance Annual of India” is dedicated to three M's: Mohan Khokar, male soloists and the Madras Season. Khokar ploughs on with bringing out this issue single-handedly. And, although he has occasionally taken on board a guest editor, this year he returns to the solo format.
Besides the usual news and notes, there are interesting pieces on Mohan Khokar, the man, the pioneering dance enthusiast and the scholar. Ashish's flowing prose makes for compelling introductory reading as he outlines his father's unusual life, from the naughty boy born in a garrison in Quetta (his father was Commissioner of Defence Office for the region) to the young man who began to learn dance only to attract a dancer he fell in love with, till dance appointed itself his foremost muse — a story that brings to mind mythological machinations. One can just imagine some apsara being despatched by the gods to draw the young Mohan towards dance, to fulfil his destiny of becoming a great dance historian! Among others, B.M. Sundaram, Mrinalini Sarabhai and G. Venu have also written on the elder Khokar, whose 10th death anniversary is marked by this issue. They bring to their contributions the insights afforded by their individual vocations and their personal relationship with Mohan Khokar.
Worth a look
The section on the Madras Season is — rather like the season itself — worth a look in spite of being a familiar subject to most dancers and dance patrons of India. Written by S. Janaki, well known writer and cultural commentator, it provides a clear panoramic history of the phenomenon known as the “greatest cultural show on earth”, bolstered by her vast experience and knowledge. In striking contrast to the ‘old world' kind of scholarship represented by Janaki is the article by researcher Aparna Keshaviah, described as “a debutante NRI researcher” and “a dancer and a statistician”. Aparna set about ‘measuring' certain parameters in the field of Bharatanatyam, interviewing some 212 dance practitioners on subjects including history of the form, current-day practice — including basic postures — and propagation in the future.
The editor takes care to point out that the article is included because the publication “encourages dance debate” although it does “not endorse or agree with many views expressed” by the writer. In a field known for intolerance, here is a step in the right direction. However, readers' responses, whether positive or negative, can only be accommodated, alas, in next year's Attendance!
Along with first-person accounts by male dancers, Attendance 2009-10 is worth attending to, as usual. Sometimes, though, the design, while aesthetic, interferes with readability. And some of the reproduced documents, if one wants a detailed read, need to be seen through a magnifying glass. Also, the editor, from time to time, refers to himself in the third person. This practice dilutes credibility, no matter what the context or provocation.