Sharmila Biswas on her festival of dances of East and North-East India
India’s rediscovery of pride in its art forms may have started with the independence movement, but the journey is still on. With Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Manipuri, Odissi, Kuchipudi, and others recognised as classical dance forms of the country, artistes continue to delve into the past, unearthing forms long forgotten and presenting them to a modern proscenium audience. This week Kolkata-based Odissi exponent Sharmila Biswas presents the first edition of a festival she plans to make an annual event — Poorva Dhara, described as “a three day festival exploring the progress, continuity and presentation of the traditional dances of Eastern and North Eastern India.”
The festival brings to a common platform the arts of Odissi, Manipuri, Sattriya and Gaudiya. It will be presented in New Delhi on November 2, 3 and 4 and in Kolkata on November 9, 10 and 11.
Explaining her concept, Sharmila says over the phone, “There is a distinctiveness of the cultural activities of the Eastern region. I wanted to project that.”
Sharmila, who has been engaged in research into the arts of eastern India and the culture preserved by the temple dancers — maharis — and presented a number of productions related to her research, points out that although Odissi and Manipuri are quite well known nationally, Sattriya began receiving attention more recently, and Gaudiya, the dance of the Bengal region, is lesser known.
There are always controversies surrounding the rediscovery and repackaging of arts with ancient roots, says Sharmila. When Odissi was first presented as a solo form, “it had very little technique,” she avers, but if the gurus engaged in its promotion at that time had stopped their creative reconstruction, Odissi would not have gained popularity in contemporary India. Therefore, she feels, other arts such as Gaudiya need to be given a platform and seen with patience and an open mind to allow their practitioners to solidify their performing technique.
Scheduling the four dance forms consecutively on day two of the festival, she hopes to display their similarities and differences and let viewers compare them for themselves. “I feel this cannot be resolved in lecture-demonstrations,” she adds.
On whether Gaudiya is being performed in West Bengal by dancers other than Mahua Mukherjee, known as a champion of the form, and her associates, Sharmila says, “It is very controversial, and I don’t want to be opinionated about this, because I feel it is the responsibility of the artiste to go on showing the art. Since it exists and is happening, my idea is to bring it together and see.” The Delhi and Kolkata events have the third day set aside for discussions.
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Kamani auditorium, 6.30 p.m.
2 November: Chaturang – aspects of Odissi, choreographed by Sharmila Biswas
3 November: Vadya Sanchar — presenting Odissi, Gaudiya, Manipuri and Sattriya
Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, 4 p.m.
4 November: Interactive discussion with the artistes
G D Birla Sabhaghar, Kolkata
9 November: Chaturang
10 November: Vadya Sanchar
Padatik Buildwell Theatre, 4 p.m.
November 11: Interactive discussion with the artistes
Sharmila Biswas (Odissi)
Mahua Mukherjee (Gaudiya)
Preeti Patel (Manipuri)
Ramkrishna Talukdar (Sattriya)