Chennai Margazhi Season 2017: A look at new dance trends and presentations

Sanjuktha Wagh explored the layers of Kathak  


How long can you keep watching the same trope — pining Nayika constantly waiting for her lord and his love — in this day and age, questions one faction of the audience watching dance performances. Contemporary dance is the route that a few dancers take to camouflage their bad dancing skills and poor technique, says another group. Both these viewpoints have been expressed for some time now and there is some truth in both. But it cannot be generalised. Whichever path is chosen, it is the artiste’s calibre, commitment and conviction to their concepts that determines their reach.

Interestingly, the two dance conferences that unfolded in Chennai during the Season more or less focused on these two diverse angles of tradition and its relevance today.

Natyadarshan, the dance conference, hosted by Kartik Fine Arts and curated by Krithika Subramanian with the title, ‘Now or Never ‘sought to focus on the traditional finding a voice in a contemporary milieu, initiating a dialogue among the performers, audience and connoisseurs. “In today’s world, art forms need to be competitive without diluting their identity and this is the real challenge I had taken on as convener. Besides the lectures and discussions, there were performances that were examples of genres pushing the boundaries set by conservative thinking,” says Krithika.

At the other end of the spectrum was the Natya Kala Conference, hosted by Dr. Srinidhi Chidambaram, who chose to relook with a fresh perspective, the varied hues and shades of ‘Sringaram’ — love hailed as the king of rasas in the traditional repertoire — highlighting its relevance to a younger generation of artistes. “Sringaram is like clay, allowing itself to be moulded into any shape or articulation, yet staying true to its inherent flavour and fragrance,’’ says Srinidhi. Insightful explorations of Sringaram across different styles of Indian dance, re-emphasised the relevance of the rasa in our arts.

The awards given at the two conferences were reflective of their themes. Ramli Ibrahim, honoured by Natyadarshan, is an artiste who has made tradition find acceptance in the urban milieu and popularised Odissi among contemporary non-Indian audiences. Ashish Khokar, recipient of the award at Natya Kala Conference, is the torchbearer of a rich legacy of archival material on the traditional performing arts.

The current scenario often leaves young dancers in a dilemma about the direction they need to go. Most of them continue to dance in the comfort zone that traditional arts provide. The few who choose to deviate are often confused. The work is contemporary, only by way of the avant garde costume they use, the medley of music and an amalgam of movements, with a few adavus and sollukattus thrown in. The attention to stagecraft and presentation skills are either overlooked or overworked. This leads to all practitioners of contemporary dance being painted with the same brush, showing the genre in a poor light.

In this background, two explorations presented at the Natyadarshan festival served to validate contemporary expressions. ‘Jheeni,’ presented by Sanjuktha Wagh, visualising Kabir’s dohas and verses by Janabai and Chokamela with poems of Arundathi Subramaniam was a rich tapestry of music and dance where, true to the Nirguna and Saguna ideas of the poems, all classifications and genres of music and dance disappeared and all that was felt was an wholesome experience of the sublime — ‘Ananda.’

The show began with the four artistes — Kathak dancer Sanjuktha Wagh, Carnatic vocalist Shruthi Vishwanath, guitarist Hitesh Dhutia and tabla artiste Vinayak Netke — attired in stark red-coloured costumes bathed in individual pools of light (lighting design –Deepa Dharmadikari). Shruthi sang just one word, ‘Jheeni.’ The full throated rendition traversed different octaves. Slowly, with just slight movements of her fingers, Sanjuktha sprang to life in response to the sound. Slowly the performance gained speed and energy before the full song in raag Charukesi ‘Jheeni Jheeni Bini Chadariya’ composed by the Gundecha brothers was rendered.

Shruthi poured her soul into her rendition, which was full of raw energy and classicism and Sanjuktha’s responses were equally spellbinding, where every movement spelt Kathak, without its signature bols and chakkars. Janabhai’s song ‘Doicha Padar’ and Chokhamela’s ‘Abeer Gulal,’ ‘Tade Neele Illada’ by Ambigara Chowdaiyya and ‘Naiya Mori’ by Kabir were the other songs explored. Bhakti poetry got a new dimension with sensitivity and passion, which marked the perofrmance of each artiste.

The use of a simple drape of a sari as a prop, apt lighting design and above all the total sublimation of every individual entity to the larger idea in focus, made it a collectively enriching experience.

Chennai Margazhi Season 2017: A look at new dance trends and presentations

‘Bhinna Vinyasa’ presented by the ‘Attakalari’ group from Bangalore looked at the vibrancy and diversity of the urban Indian landscape along with its chaos. The perfectly synchronised movements of the dancers, stark costumes, stunning lighting design and multimedia projections which blended seamlessly to become an integral part of the choreographic design, made a strong visual impression. The movements drawn from the vocabulary of diverse performing traditions of the country reiterated the belief that strong production values and excellence in movements are integral to group compositions.

Chennai Margazhi Season 2017: A look at new dance trends and presentations

Spilling Ink dance company of Vijay Palaparty presented ‘Vishala-Expanse’, along with his co-artiste Nalini Prakash. Bringing together the varied art forms of music, dance, theatre and visual art, they expressed through the traditional form of Bharatnatyam — using fast-paced choreography — ideas relevant to our times. The Ardha Nari concept was danced by the two artistes drawing on the imagery of the feminine and masculine to communicate the distinction with clarity.

After watching these brilliant initiatives, I was faced with the familiar question — can we accept anything that is mediocre just because it falls into the classical framework or can we also dismiss anything that chooses to move away from the stereotype in favour of an individualistic vocabulary?

As someone, who has watched many performances, over a few decades, in both approaches, I feel one needs to look at each work of artistic expression on its intrinsic and individual merit , without a bias of any sort.

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Printable version | May 15, 2021 7:35:02 AM |

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