Two recent festivals showed how dancers move beyond barriers to find their own language.

Two cheek-by-jowl festivals last week pointed unwittingly to what cultural exchange is doing to a global world. While Indians are learning Ballet, Modern Dance, Jazz and other western forms along with our dances in order to create what is called Contemporary Dance, dancers from Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Russia, Mexico and China are becoming committed students of Indian classical dance forms.

Efficiently mounted without any fanfare, Bhoomika’s three-day Narendra Sharma Festival of Dance at the Shri Ram Centre showed how far Contemporary Dance has travelled from the fledgling days of Uday Shankar and his disciple Narendra Sharma. Cross-cultural inspirations apart, this year’s festival featured only solo work by established names, many running their own respective dance companies, with laudable group work to their credit. This festival of highly individualised personal expressions attracted a surprisingly good turnout of viewers every evening, the generally high standard of presentations projecting some very evocative work. For this critic, the surprise of the festival was in Bharat Sharma’s work “Neti! Neti!” — a movement exploration based on the ancient Indian philosophical thought process of deducing arguments through negation “Not this, not that”. More involved in directing than performing over the last several years, to watch Bharat’s no-longer-reed-slim figure perform with such complete control over the body came as a kind of awakening. A minimal movement choreography rendered to a sound tape with music by Klaus Febmann, Manfred Kniel and Frieddermann Dahn, along with the complete focus in the eye/hand/mind coordination, made each moment communicate with power. Body swinging like a pendulum or sustaining a broad ‘plie’ with raised heels and toes alone establishing ground contact, every moment, whether suggesting the birth of a child and raising it or showing birds flying or bees hovering round a flower or meditating to the sound of gongs (all unconnected movements without a visible narrative), still sustained a flow. With it all was an eloquent face communicating all rasas.

Santosh Nair’s abstract work “Inner Images” showed boundless imagination in scrupulously neat, uncluttered choreography — a symphony comprising the live dancer’s cleanly graceful and strong movements, deriving from training in Mayurbhanj Chhau and Kathakali, and lighting by Dhingra along with visuals. The attempt was to express inner feelings even while interacting with visuals projected on the screen comprising a video of Santosh’s own dancing, some of the photography in shadow work with just the dark profile of the dancer executing movements. The backdrop with rectangular light spots on which at different times dance movements appeared and disappeared in quick snatches, with the live dancer responding with his own interpretations, performing on light spots, covering ground space running across or diagonally, threw up some powerful images — as of just a hand appearing on a spot of light. Upamanyu Bhanot’s music combined melody and sounds. It was an artistic statement blending technology with dance.

“Talkative Voice” by Sumeet Nagdev from Mumbai was another powerful work of talk and dance, a real rib tickler. As the dancer started with his introduction poetic, philosophical and funny about how his life had shaped his Contemporary Dance, his cloning of the Kathak dancer (he himself is learning Kathak) and his comments on the Martha Graham technique stressing on contractions and punning on words like Contemporary (he made into temporary) had the audience in splits (even as one stealthily kept looking back to see if there was any Kathak luminary in the audience). But overcome by recent developments in his life, the concluding part ended on a sad note. How one bol “tram” could lead to an opening up of the body into myriad movement images, and how personal joys and tragedy could affect what movement has to say could be seen in the dancer’s work with his cross cultural influences with training in Ballet, Jazz, Contemporary Dance, Kathak and what have you.

The other very evocative work “One voice” was by Surjit Nongmeikapam who has trained in arts of Manipur, Kathak, Kalaripayattu and Contemporary Dance. On the nature of torture and shared trauma of both victim and torturer, the dark mood of the dance was typical of what Manipur has been going through for years now. The contorted body in tortured pain and suffering made every person in the audience ache with the dancer. Performed to complete silence, the sense of inner timing in the dancer’s moves showed phenomenal control over the emoting body. That quality of stillness contrasting with explosive energy made a most convincing statement.

Karan Kumar in “Unwritten” aimed at communicating how persons taught to move and behave in certain ways for success in life often hide the natural inclinations lying within. With training in Ballet, Jazz, Hip-Hop, Karan, who graduated from Broadway Dance Centre, in his unique movement expression showed a lot of what to this critic seemed western influence — though Contemporary dance believes in no cultural/national identity boundaries.

Bharat’s disciple Himani Sharma in “Who am I?” (choreography with Bharat Sharma’s assistance) gave a promising performance and so did his other student Neha Gupta who projected an original work on “Birds in Exile” using hand mudras very tellingly. Tripura Kashyap’s choreography of “Wheeling Through”, performed by Shubhro Ghosh, and “Terra Incognito” showing the eternal search for one’s true identity by dancer/choreographer Shohini Dutta were all works revealing evolving dancers.

Excellent and agile movers, Sangeeta Sharma (whose work was recently covered in this column) — in “Stand Still” aiming for that point of utter silence in movement — and her student Subhashish Dey of Anveshana Dance Company who presented “Redemption – a Hope”, tended to crowd out theme in too much physicality. One could not understand the connection between movement and intention spelt out in cardboard headings in Pune-based choreographer/dancer Rajyashree Ramamurthi’s “Amidst ten states”.

ICCR’s 4th International Dance and Music Festival at the Kamani featured foreign dancers of Indian classical styles who must be lauded for their commitment, and ability in mastering the nritta element. It is in the larger picture of understanding culture specifics of language, poetry, music and other aspects of a regional tradition that difficulties are predictably noticeable — with people living in far off places not open to an ambiance which can offer anything more than structured items of another tradition as a readymade product.

Bharatanatyam by dancers from Kazakhstan, Akmaral Kainazarova, Lyazzat Polatbek and Rada Olmessekova presented very tidy movements in the pushpanjali, “Natanam Adinar” in Khanda jati Ata tala set to raga Vasanta and in the tillana in Bilahari, though a slightly more articulated ardhamandali posture would give the dance even greater lines. In the javali in Suratti “Sariga Kongu” and in Pandadi from Tirukkodal one saw the expressional element somewhat limited.

Sri Lankan dancers Sumathi Chandra and Nritta Ganeshi Manoharan, settled in Malaysia, presented an excellent recital in the Debaprasad Bani, both Suryashtakam and the pallavi in Madhyamavati with lyrical composition by Dheerajkumar Mohapatra and dance choreography by Leena Mohanty rendered with perfect mastery over technique and rhythm. The two dancers also had very expressive faces. Bhangis like darpana, alasyakanya, mardal, smelling a flower and the sravan mood were very well brought out.

Marie Zhiltsova and Zoya Spirnova from Russia rendered an immaculate alarippu in Tisram, the central ardhamandali stance, subtlety of shoulder movements, full hand stretches, and excellent eye movements a pleasure to watch. “Velli ambalattil nadanam seydan”, a kirtanam in Kamboji from the Kalakshetra “Meenakshi Vijayam” production, rendered by Maria, was full of stances beautifully held portraying the dancing Nataraja. Evoked rasa needs greater inner involvement blending with the visual correctness. Zoya’s presentation of the javali “Vani pondu chalu vaddane” in Kanada needed more bite in the khandita portrayal. From Krishna Kuravanji set in Simhendra-Madhyamam, “Vidai meedu” showing how the Lord came to Vedapuri and apsaras danced, was followed by the tillana as mangalam, neatly rendered.

China’s Zhang Xiaoqing’s presentation of Kathak, with guru vandana, bhajan and thumri, was redolent with pleasant grace. But with no nritta virtuosity, Kathak becomes empty.

The finale where all the dancers (barring the Odissi dancers) combined needed more variety in movement. While ICCR has done a great job by having a festival of this nature, its printed invitation was a shoddy job — with too many errors and misses in dancers’ names making one wonder how this could have happened. The highlight of the festival turned out to be the Hindustani flute music by Nathalie Ramirez Tovar from Mexico.