Ten days of nifty footwork

The NCPA Mumbai Dance Season sees the community joining forces to highlight eight styles of classic forms

When Swapnokalpa Dasgupta, the head of dance programming at Mumbai’s NCPA, invited dancers in the city to a meeting in November last year, her main objective was to address scheduling clashes that further split an already meagre dance audience. The calendar conflict became a fragment of the agenda when the meeting snowballed into plans for a ‘dance season’, much like the one Chennai plays host to every December. This is how ten days of existing dance events at the NCPA and other venues in the city have collectively become the Mumbai Dance Season.

This year’s season begins with a prelude curated by Kathak dancer Uma Dogra and Odissi dancer Jhelum Paranjape, where city-based artists will showcase all eight classical dance styles. “Since it is the first time we have had a season, we felt that all eight styles of classical dance should be represented. There are solos, duets/ trios, and group performances planned for the prelude. These performances are short, but are about bringing dancers together, and seeing how a certain solidarity emerges from our love and passion for dance,” said Paranjape, marvelling at the spontaneity with which the season came together.

More than performances

In the days that follow, there will be workshops, talks and other performances across city venues in Bandra, Juhu, Chembur, Dadar and Vashi. The season concludes with the Pandit. Durgalal Festival on February 4, with performances by Kuchipudi dancers Prateeksha and Vyjayanthi Kashi and Kathak dancer Mangala Bhatt. In coordinating these efforts, Dasgupta was struck by the warmth and support she found among the community. “It’s an exceptional quality. Some events are curated, while others are participatory efforts. We hope to make this a month-long calendar of events in 2019,” she said.

Dance activity in the city is scattered but often concentrated in pockets with several communities sustaining a vibrant local arts scene built around religious and cultural spaces. The timing of the season has meant that annual festivals like the Natyanjali at Chembur’s Murugan temple, which sees nightly dance performances in the run-up to Mahashivaratri, have also found ways of placing themselves within a larger context.

This year, the Natyanjali has invited Bharatanatyam dancer Bragha Bessell to be the inaugural performer. The Chennai-based Bessell is a renowned practitioner and teacher of abhinaya. Bessell draws from an extensive repertoire in her performance, spanning texts across several languages, and best known for the versatility of her expressive abilities.

Celebrating folk traditions

The season goes beyond the classical to look at folk traditions in the country, in events like Lok Gatha. One of the performances in this strand of the season is Indian Route, a presentation by dancer Vaishali Sagar and her students at Kalanjay. The dancers present folk dances from various parts of the country, highlighting the skill and rigour required to master some of these practices. This includes the tera tali dance from Rajasthan, where the dancers tie 13 cymbals to different parts of the body, clanging these cymbals in various rhythmic patterns as they dance.

Sagar shares the dilemma of classical dancers in having to reflect on the impact of staging traditional practices. For instance, she pointed out that garba is usually danced in a circle, facing inwards. In a performance, one needs to take liberties with the choreography so that the formations of the dance open up in a way that is more visible to audiences. “Children don’t realise that folk dance is constantly changing. Right now, our emphasis is on keeping it alive. We do not belong to one state or community, and learn new dances as performances come our way. It’s an advantage, because every performance gives us the opportunity to introduce audiences to four or five dances they have never heard about,” she said.

Across all ages

With a diverse array of performance platforms, the season accounts for dancers of all ages. At Utkarsh, a lecture demonstration event, the septuagenarian Manipuri dancer Darshana Jhaveri collaborates with dancer Latasana Devi to mark the birth centenary of her guru, Bipin Singh. The dancers will demonstrate distinct elements from Manipuri, focusing on the impact of proscenium staging. In the temple, Jhaveri explained, dances often go on for hours, featuring classical elements that are not always distinct. Bringing the dance to secular audiences calls a richness and complexity of movement patterns, so as to engage audiences in shorter periods of time. During their demonstration, the dancers will be accompanied by percussionist Brajen Kumar Singh.

Jhaveri, with her sisters, is one of the key faces of the post-independence cultural moment in Mumbai. Her family began working with Bipin Singh in 1943, watching Manipuri become a proscenium dance style. She acknowledged Singh’s scientific attitude and vast knowledge of traditional practices, “He worked to recollect and record the oral tradition with innumerable gurus in the region. Drawing from this, he choreographed pieces for the stage. This required a nuanced aesthetic sensibility and creative ability,” recalled Jhaveri.

The NCPA Mumbai Dance Season runs from January 25 – February 4, 2018, more details at

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Printable version | Feb 18, 2020 8:45:18 AM |

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