Priti Patel and her Anjika troupe showcased the different dance styles of the State.
Noted Manipuri dancer Priti Patel and her Anjika Dance Troupe comprising 26 artists (including the oldest performing artist Oja L. Ibohalmacha Singh, 86) presented many dance forms of Manipur, most of which are part of their ritualistic tradition even today.
Opening with a Dasavatara choreography with the first song from Jayadeva's Gita Govinda, the female dancers displayed their unique soft and undulating style. The treatment of the avataras was symbolic rather than anecdotal, with quickly shifting references to each incarnation. An interesting feature of the style is that the neck of the dancer is always tilted. So the women never look up. The toes and the wrists do most of the work to keep the sense of swaying and gliding as they move.
Compare this then with the martial arts of Manipur, Thang-Ta, a pre-Hindu ritualistic dance dedicated to the snake god, Lord Pakhangba, which is full of strong leaps and big movements performed by young, agile men with spears, swords and sticks, and you'll see the contrast between the male and the female dance styles in this State. Especially striking was the decorative sword and stick dance that surely inspired the stunt scenes in Indian films! The Pung Cholom dance, though part of the Sankirtan tradition, is another vibrant movement and rhythm-oriented performing tradition of the males. The whirling drummers certainly qualify as the poster-boys of Manipuri art and culture!
The Vaishnav ritual dances of Natasankirtan and Raas-Lila, on the other hand, are very low-key and internalised with little external drama. Here, the performers sing as they dance in worship. The former was presented as Khubek Ishei, led by Oja (another word for guru) Ibohalmacha Singh, which is a clapping song. It is usually performed during the Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath. The latter was presented as the Basant Raas-Lila, performed otherwise in temples on full moon days in April and May.
All Raas-Lilas are performed only by female dancers, one of whom would be dressed as Krishna. Their music is high pitched and sometimes delivered with a quivering technique. It is only here that the dancers don rich costume with a stiff glittering skirt, a short gossamer one, a blouse and a veil.
Every piece was introduced with educative commentary by Lokendrajit Singh of the Jawaharlal Nehru Manipur Dance Academy, making it easier to understand the Manipuri people and their purely devotional dance better.