Ashish Mohan Khokar sees his work, in some sense, as a kind of service to Bangalore’s dance scene. The dance historian edits and produces the ‘ atten dance ’ yearbook series, which takes the form of a roundup of everything to do with Indian dance and is released in December.
This year’s edition, the 15th, is themed around the ‘Ashtanayikas’ — the eight general heroines described by Bharata in the Natya Shastra. The text describes eight different women, each embodying one quality, such as anger or fondness towards a lover, for instance. atten dance 2012 , Ashish said during an interview, takes the theme of the eight heroines but transports the idea to the present, animating them through personalities in dance. The eight dancers who are celebrated in the issue are Alarmel Valli, Leela Samson, Mallika Sarabhai, Bharati Shivaji, Kiran Segal, Madhavi Mudgal, Saswati Sen and Shovana Narayan. “We’ve connected past with present through ideas of empowerment and feminism,” says Ashish.
While he is satisfied with the content of atten dance 2012 , Ashish sees the need for much more institutional support for the initiative. “We don’t get much support from the government or from corporates. If we [did], we could send it to more libraries in schools and colleges.”
Over the last few years, the release of the yearbook has also been marked with an awards ceremony. This year, awards have been given to Bangalore-based artistes such as the couple Shridhar and Anuradha and the Bharatnatyam dancer Sanjay Shantaram.
“I felt that this would be my contribution to Bangalore’s art. There is no one to promote Bangalore artistes,” says Ashish, who is the son of art scholar Mohan Khokar and Bharatanatyam guru M.K. Saroja. “With these awards, perhaps indirectly, the artistes’ names will circulate.”
Ashish has a special fondness for Bangalore. The silence he still finds in the city is what has allowed him, he says, to write 30 books on arts, heritage and history in his 15 years in Bangalore. “In 25 years in Delhi, I could do only five!”