Choreographer-dancer Narendra Sharma (1924-2008) was among India’s most creative artists of the 20th Century, notable for his adherence to non-adherence, so to speak. His guru Uday Shankar, known as the father of Indian modern dance, was a mentor who by all accounts did not want his students to repeat his work but to carve their own path, thus following his principles of creative search, and not necessarily his particular technique.
Narendra Sharma, who made Delhi his headquarters from 1954, founding his dance company Bhoomika here, ensured that both in theme and technique, his work exemplified his inspired choreographic training, while remaining distinct from his mentor’s creations. He thus was also instrumental in steering the Contemporary Dance movement in the Capital.
Looking back, these decades seem a time of energy and excitement in Delhi, where practitioners from a spectrum of disciplines were involved in building the personality of a newly independent nation. Distance allows us the perspective to evaluate the turning points as well as the choices that might better have been avoided. But, says Narendra Sharma’s son Bharat Sharma, choreographer and dancer, this sense of contemporary history and evaluation is missing from the everyday cultural consciousness of Delhi.
This past weekend Bharat organised a presentation of two of his new choreographic pieces at Bhoomika’s NarenJayan Studio in East Delhi. The occasion was the 96th birth anniversary of Narendra Sharma. Through his choreography and introductory remarks, the dancer, who now heads Bhoomika, stressed the importance of recalling the history of Delhi’s art scene.
The first piece, “Agyeya” performed solo by Bharat, used as a background the recorded voice of poet Sachchidananda Hirananda Vatsyayan ‘Agyeya’ reciting lines from his poetry and also conversing with interviewers. The spoken words were set against a beautiful Rudra veena exposition, an archival recording from Paris of Zia Mohiuddin Dagar, sourced, like the Agyeya quotes, from the internet. Although the archival nature of the soundtrack made for less clarity, which the choreographer expressed an intention to enhance in future, its relevance to the theme was obvious. Zia Mohiuddin “himself was a major presence in music scene of Delhi,” states the choreographer. “One of the reasons to choose Rudra veena was that Agyeya wrote a long poem ‘Asadhya Veena’ at Almora, and it is considered a classic.”
Poetry and postures
The moving piece demonstrated an emphasis I had not earlier noticed in Bharat’s choreographic work in that prominence was given to ‘bhava’, the expressional aspect. The way of using gesture, stance and facial expression was reminiscent of how classical dancers use these tools to interpret lines of poetry, while the actual postures and movements were from Bharat’s vocabulary — apart from receiving his father’s grooming, he is trained in Modern dance, Ballet and Jazz technique at well known institutions in the U.S.
The choreographer noted, “His (Vatsyayan’s) presence in Delhi had a powerful impact on the Hindi literary scene This choreography was a tribute to his memory and contribution to Delhi’s cultural life in post-independent India.”
Developed over three months, “Tigdi” (Trio) was a 50-minute high energy work danced with stunning stamina and grace by Subhasish Dey, Umesh Bisht and Tushar Yadav. The various posture, leaps and gaits were interspersed with expressional exchanges between the three dancers using mime without lyrics, expressing everyday situations, from the sordid to the cheerful, of a hurried, harried urban environment. Assisted by Subhasish in the choreography and concept evolution, Bharat choreographed the dance on an extract from Steve Reich’s “Music of 18 musicians”, a rich orchestral work and a classic of Modern American music of the 1970s that Bharat has long wanted to work with. The trio’s training in disciplines like Kalari, Yoga, Mayurbhanj Chhau and Contemporary Dance was in evidence in their execution.
The young dancers’ backgrounds too were representative of the evolution of Narendra Sharma’s work. In the cosy but vibrant NarenJayan Studio that in its refurbished version has replaced the simple structure built by Narendra and Jayanti Sharma as a work space within their residential premises in Bharati Artists’ Colony, it was heartening for many senior members of the audience to witness that art in this gritty city retains a will and a niche of its own.