When pioneering choreographer and cultural thinker Narendra Sharma passed away in 2008, he was nearly 84 years of age, though his undiminished creativity and energy had fooled many of his admirers into believing he was much younger. But, physically present or not, all artists of consequence have a long life, one that carries on in the work of those they have inspired and taught. And Narendra Sharma was a man who stimulated the minds of innumerable artists across the spectrum.
This coming Monday, his senior disciple Sangeeta Sharma, a noted choreographer now mentoring a number of youngsters herself, presents a festival dedicated to the memory of her guru. Beyond offering a homage, the festival, named “Anhad”, seems aimed at highlighting his free thinking spirit.
Sharma was no learner by rote. He would often recount – with a mirth that belied the significance of the story – how he was accepted into Uday Shankar’s school in Almora. It was the class in improvisation that clinched the issue, Sharma would say. In that class, Sharma, a minor who had run away from home, had danced as if his life depended on it, focusing his body, mind and soul in creating movements on the spot.
In later years, when he founded his dance company Bhoomika, his productions always reflected that free spirit that refused to copy or settle for a rehashed version of someone else’s work, no matter how great the original. His guru Uday Shankar had done pioneering work using elements of different classical dance forms of India, weaving in social themes that reflected the social conditions of his times. It was not that those themes or forms lost their relevance when Sharma began choreographing, but he chose to tread his own path. In that sense he was a true disciple of Uday Shankar, following the spirit of his dance rather than the actual steps.
“Anhad” marks the 44th anniversary of the founding of Bhoomika. “Several dancers from Bhoomika have branched out to start their own dance companies, with their unique styles, but with common roots,” points out Sangeeta. It is under her own banner, Anveshana Society for Performing Arts (ASPA, founded in 2008), that she is organising the event. “ASPA,” says Sangeeta, is also one such dance company that carries forward and builds further on this style and technique of choreography.” ASPA wants May 23 to be known as Bhoomika Day, “the day our parental institution was born.”
“Anhad” showcases experimental dance works by young choreographers. These are “thinking dancers,” Sangeeta says, and not just good performers. The event includes a photo exhibition and a film on Sharma.
Among the featured choreographers are Bhavini Misra (Artistic Director, Urshilla Dance Company) and Shohini Dutta (assistant artistic director, The Danceworx Delhi), who are creating new pieces for the occasion. Neha Sharma and Nanda Kumar (disciples of Santosh Nair) will also present their work. Besides, Subhasish Dey (a disciple of Sangeeta Sharma) and Surbhi Kapur (disciple of Bhavini Misra) are working on a new piece, alongside young Kathak exponent Avinav Mukherjee (a disciple of Geetanjali Lal).
Also scheduled as a special tribute are some new dance experiments by Bharat Sharma. Light design is by another young professional, Atul Mishra.
As her own group celebrates eight years of independent existence, Sangeeta is aware of the responsibility of seniors in various fields of art to contribute in a meaningful way. In “Anhad”, intended as an annual festival, Sangeeta’s aim is also to bring together dancers in a creative conversation. “These experiences, efforts and directions give us creative inputs to knit ourselves together as a family under the umbrella of guidance which gives birth to a performance,” she says.
Few know about Narendra Sharma’s “vastness of outlook towards the Indian contemporary scenario,” says Sangeeta. “He also evolved elements from different classical and folk dances, incorporating western ideas into his choreography and theatre compositions.”
“Anhad” takes place on May 23 at Sangeet Natak Akademi’s Meghdoot Theatre III, Rabindra Bhawan, Copernicus Marg, Mandi House, New Delhi, 7 p.m.