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Updated: May 6, 2010 17:19 IST

Value creation in Indian dance

LEELA VENKATRAMAN
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Pandit Birju Maharaj. Photo: R. Shivaji Rao
The Hindu Pandit Birju Maharaj. Photo: R. Shivaji Rao

World Dance Day: A number of insightful lec/dems and some competent performances marked the occasion.

Celebrations across the week for World Dance Day (April 29) saw Bharatanatyam star Chitra Visweswaran in a lecture/demonstration concentrate on the communicative strength of classical dance, the evocative snippets by her disciple Vijay Madhavan and Chitra highlighting aspects of rhythm, gesture and word, and how detailing in dance conveys the message to the viewer — thematic concerns like animals, natural beauty, writing, etc., not straying from the world of the young into esoteric poetry.

Spic Macay's evening projection at JNU had the legendary Birju Maharaj weave his Kathak spell, the evening tracing, in Maharaj's inimitable way, how rhythm, implicit in every activity of creation, acquires a visual dimension through movement images and vocabulary of rhythm in dance. The earlier half of the evening featured an enthralling Kuchipudi duet by Raja and Radha Reddy, Raja's tandav brilliance in “Adenamma” in Paras portraying Shiva's dance counter-pointed by the lasya lyricism in “Sringara Lahari” in Neelambari, describing the gracious beauty of the Devi. singing by Sai Bhavani sustained the performance despite the absence of Kaushalya Reddy's authoritative nattuvangam. The disciples with daughter Bhavana participating, impressed in nritta exploration. For a welcome change, tarangam was performed to the Natabhairavi composition of Ravi Shankar.

Dance and value

Natya Vriksha's annual observance of the occasion at the IIC saw a vigorous seminar on classical dance and its values to society at large. Asking how one values value, keynote speaker, renowned dancer/choreographer Kumudini Lakhia, spoke of creating values in classical dances which come with inbuilt structure of values. Individual creativity demanded new interpretations, keeping respect for ethics of the form and its aesthetics sacrosanct — intellectual engagement with different sections of society becoming inevitable for dancers today, asking themselves “Why do I dance?” Quoting several philosophers from Kant to Freud, academic Krishna Menon, Associate Professor, LSR College, questioned the importance of art in an unequal society as an assertion of cultural sovereignty and political importance. As soft power appealing to other states, art, unless involved with people, cannot claim strong ownership or association.

But can dance with the body (a most wonderful and also most vulnerable instrument) as medium be compared with other art forms while making assessments? With Indian dance history written on the woman's body, society, given all the renaissance, does not place the art form on the highest pedestal, a point emphasised through practical references from a lifelong career in Odissi, by Aruna Mohanty.

Calling dance a Yoga which can open windows otherwise permanently shut in human beings, enabling a reinvention and renovation to upgrade skills which have formed traditional wealth of legacies, art commentator and Chairperson of APPAN Shanta Serbjeet Singh pleaded for respecting the likes of our Langas and Manganiyars and adding value to their creativity. Principal, Gargi College, Meera Ramachandran spoke of dance as the amalgam of all arts. Lata Vaidyanathan referred to the challenges of teaching “learning to learn', classical dance adding to the value of different types of intelligences, amidst Bollywood and all other popular culture. Malabika Mitra extolled Creator and the Created, being the same as in Nataraja.

The performances

That the best value is what comes as an irrepressible urge from the dancer's innermost being was shown by Pravat Kumar Swain, who, with his grace with assertive strength, angika exactitude, total immersion of being in the dance, was the find of the evening Young Dancers' Festival. Riveting Odissi by this 23-year-old covered mangalacharan on the Panchabhoota, Varshamisaran portraying the ecstatic response to first rains, and the delightful rhythms built round Konarak Kanthi — with the Thai Nata “Ta hamta hat tat ta” mnemonics of Debaprasad Das' creation woven into the choreography (making the audience sway) — and finally the natya-filled Ramayana passages of Hanuman in Ashokavan meeting Sita to present the choodamani. Wings led by Aruna Mohanty were competently manned with Vijay Kumar Brik (mardala) and Roopak Kumar Parida (vocal) and excellent violin and flute. This Gotipua trained youngster, for several years under Aruna, is a natural, and heralds a new era re-discovering the male body in Odissi.

Shloka Vaidyalingam trained by the Reddys, gave a competent Kuchipudi presentation foot-sure in rhythm with fair abhinaya understanding, highlighted through the Ganapati invocation in Gaula, Tiruvottiyur Tyagiah varnam in Kedaram “Saami Nee Rammanave” with sringar interspersed with the rhythmic virtuosity of jatis led by Kaushalya's nattuvangam, and tarangam in Arabhi.

Sneha Chakradhar's assertive Bharatanatyam with excellent rhythmic understanding (evident right from the alarippu in Tisram with mnemonics differently arranged from the conventional) and the Poorvikalyani Dandayudapani varnam “Saamiyai vara solladi”, was creditable for proven familiarity with the text from one not born to the languages of South India, barring words like “Bhoomi-pugazhum, and Kallatanam” which needed more elaboration.

But while Nadanamadinar in Vasanta visualising the magnificence of the dancing Nataraja was fine in tone, the varnam, in the nayika's persuasion of the sakhi to carry her message of love to Kartikeya, would have shone more with some soft and more lyrical touches, contrasting the power. Geeta Chandran's nattuvangam added a special high point to the competent musical effort.

Disciple of Malabika Mitra, Saurav Roy is a trained dancer. But too much speed in the Teen tal drut passages made flailing of hands sans aesthetics and sharp focus in movement.

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