Cross-genre performances and a discussion on classical dance’s new contexts marked World Dance Day

World Dance Day, little known till just a few years ago, has today assumed a prominent presence with celebrations across the board featuring cross-cultural dance events. Natya Vriksha’s annual Young Dancers’ Festival for this occasion had its open-house seminar built round the theme of “What is classical anymore?” with Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan chairing the session and summing up with her keynote address. Rajiv Chandran in his introduction referred to the challenges in India’s classical arts, evolving for years in a cyclical society, now confronted with a linearity where the scramble for change and being different have cut into the in-depth approach required in these art forms.

Dancer-teacher Jamuna Krishnan talked of how Bharatanatyam had been preserved for years — with the firm realisation that one cannot play with the grammar of the form. The itemised approach today with the margam inertia has forgotten that the prana of the dance has to be kept intact. Manipuri guru Singhajit Singh bemoaned the exhibitionistic nature of performance art, which was losing the meditative strength of forms like Nata Sankirtan, the very soul of classical Manipuri. Geeta Chandran, founder president of Natya Vriksha, wondered if in a climate where the economics of dance are skewed, she could in all fairness ask even her really talented students to take up dance as a fulltime career. The intelligent and articulate young dancers Anvesha Mahanta (Sattriya dancer, disciple of Ghanakant Bora), Sneha Chakradhar (disciple of Geeta Chandran) and Swati Sinha (disciple of Kathak guru Rajendra Gangani), very briefly voiced the challenges of making their respective classical dance forms relevant to the compulsions of the present, rather than what constituted classical dance. Kapila Vatsyayan in her brief address referring to the dialectics between performers and audience in a changing spatial-cultural context, maintained that the ultimate decision remained with the dancer not to make compromises with the classical dance form and to aim at “transcending the body through the body” — reaching out for the formless through the form. Varied responses from the audience made for a lively session. That the grammar and rigour of classical dance and the body as instrument were only means to an end — beyond the individual and market concerns — needed to be understood.

Kalamandalam Sangeeth Chakyar’s Koodiyattam excerpt showing Ravana, from “Torana Yuddham”, was an eye-opener in the Nirvahanam sequence, where Ravana reminisces on his encounter with Shiva and his lifting of Mount Kailash, with a frightened Parvati, setting aside her jealousy of Ganga lodged in Shiva’s locks, running to Shiva for protection — bringing to a happy end the misunderstanding between the divine couple. Parvati’s suspicious queries about tiny strands of hair, of a pair of eyes, of eyebrows, of breasts, are sought to be explained away by Shiva as a swarm of bees, as darting fish, as waves in water, and as a pair of chakravaka birds, respectively. Brilliant in the alternate roles of Shiva and Parvati in the narrative, Sangeeth Chakyar’s abhinaya prowess, heightened by the bhav-packed resonance of the mizhavu with the percussionists seated behind him, made for a rare treat. The promising artiste was greeted with standing applause at the finish.

Swati Sinha’s Kathak, after a vibrant Durga stuti showing “Ashtabhujadharini Ambai”’ and “Vrindavasini”, proceeded to a fine Dhamar presentation, where authoritative precision kept pace with grace. The crazy movement of the bols ‘tithigata gadigina dha’ in the paran, the bedam tihai, and later the Holi gat in drut laya with a kavit were all gems of virtuosity with sensuous appeal. In “Aaj rakho mori laaj Keshav”, introduced as Guru Rajendra Gangani’s poetry, in which the Draupadi vastrapaharan episode became a metaphor for the assault on women today, the dancer was convincing. But the unimaginative music needs to evolve.

At the Azad Bhavan, Shovana Narayan’s Asavari celebrated World Dance Day with her students in an Ashta Nayika presentation visualised with vasakasajja set to seven matras, virahotkanthita in nine matras, swaadheenapatika in 10 matras, kalahantarita in 11, khandita in 12, vipralabdha in 13and proshitapatika in 16 matras. The interpretative passages were generously interspersed with nritta sequences, performed with joy and clean profile by the disciples. The music, more in the ghazal freewheeling mode, had mishra ragas. The abhinaya of the students needs to evolve. For instance, the khandita in “Kaheko mere ghar aye ho” in Sohini needed more anger along with the anguish.

Rushing across from Azad Bhavan to the India Habitat Centre, one caught the last half hour of Shallu Jindal’s high-profile Kuchipudi performance for a packed auditorium. Shallu’s nritta in the tarangam, woven into the finale of the tarana in Natabhairavi composed by the late Ravi Shankar, was sufficient proof of a finished dancer, the rhythmic combinations in the plate dance spelt out with clarity and accuracy. She is emerging as one of the prime disciples of the Reddys. Aditi Shelva, with her Hindustani training, sang the tarana with melodious control. Pranab Joshi on tabla, Annadorai on violin, Javed Khan on sitar and Bhasker Rao on mridangam, with Kaushalya Reddy’s nattuvangam, combined well.

Cross-cultural celebration

Symbolising the World Dance Day spirit in all its cross-cultural bonhomie was “Spandan” at India Habitat Centre, visualised by R. Sreenivasan, co-founder of Career Launcher. Starting with “Dance Through My Lens”, an interaction with photographer Avinash Pasricha, the evening presented an entertaining blend of dances. Along with Swami Dayanand Saraswati’s “Bho Shambho” in Revati presented in Bharatanatyam with the sculptured majesty of frozen stances, Nicolina Nicoleski from Croatia also presented with grace a ballet “Lakme” based on music by French composer Leodibes. A disciple of Mayurbhanj Chhau guru Janmejay Sai Babu, Columbian Carolina Prada’s “Nataraj” was a clean winner. With its demanding balance in one-legged stances, including the Nagabandha freeze, movement rendered at a very slow pace, the performance saw the dancer highlight with crystal clarity the opposing tranquil and tandav manifestations of the deity — one benign and the other evil-destroying. The same dancer later presented a Columbian folk dance “Cumbia” with a partner, the frilled swirling skirt creating entertaining geometry, followed by a sword play of coffee planters, a dandia-cum-fencing piece danced with sticks. Nitisha Nanda first presented an Odissi rendition based on Ravana’s Shiva Stotram (the music in a chanted recitation in strong metre) done with clean technique and expressional enthusiasm, but with a tendency for foot contact fractionally faster than what the music warranted. She later went on to present superb belly dancing! A disciple of Meher Mallik, Nitisha, undoubtedly gifted, must take care to preserve the sanctity of the two very different movement forms in their own respective spheres. Paola Santa Cruz presented Flamenco ‘Salon’ with plaintive sadness and lively Tan, concluding with Buleria with a group, providing a glimpse of the exuberant participation, with syncopated hand clapping. Quincy Kendell Charles from Trinidad and Tobago, now under the training of Prerana Shrimali, the Kathak dancer-teacher, gave an immaculate presentation of Dhamar, the 14-matra cycle both in footwork patterns and bandishes very competently rendered. With a packed Stein auditorium, the cosmopolitan audience encouraging every move, the evening was a great success.