Dance Alliance, the India Chapter of the World Dance Alliance with Kapila Vatsyayan as Chairman and Urmimala as Secretary, in a four-day conference at the IIC on Re-Searching Dance, involving scholars and practitioners from different parts of the globe, sought a dialogue on introducing international frameworks of dance research, “in the context of society, politics, pedagogy, kinetics, vocabulary, documentation, gender, history and other topics of contemporary relevance.”
The main purpose of the World Dance Alliance is to serve as a primary voice and support for dance in the Asia-Pacific region. A laudable aim, this approach pre-supposes an open mind allowing space for all viewpoints.
But somehow in India, the polarities between practitioners of ‘traditional' and ‘classical' dances on the one hand and those working to arrive at “Contemporary” dance is so glaring that the twain will not easily meet. This conference seemed to attract more of the research-oriented persons, with most of the professional classical dancers keeping away.
Research and precision of language require that the terms Modern and Contemporary be clearly demarcated. The latter should be preferred to ‘Modern' coined for the techniques of Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman (now fairly dated) which evolved with Modern Art and Painting — very different from Contemporary Dance, which in its freewheeling, eclectic, plural manifestations, defies genre.
Nirmala Seshadri, trained in Bharatanatyam, is trying to evolve a Contemporary Asian Dance form. Shrinkhla Sahai, a student of Saroja Vaidyanathan pursuing her P.D.D. in Theatre and Performance Studies, JNU, highlighted the problems between researching the meaning of dance as a scholar and “the making of dance” as a practitioner.
One of the vital aspects was looking at dance outside its entertainment/aesthetic role, of which there is a surfeit. Sohini Chakraborty discussed dance as a tool for an alternative approach to healing, recovery, self-expression and for psychologically rehabilitating marginalised people. Tania Kopytko spoke on dance becoming a tool for development in New Zealand.
Navina Jafa dwelt on extending dance to society, touched by her own experience working with Mansoor Hasan, an artist engaged in mixed arts and contemporary image making. Ritual dance Theyyam was used for spreading HIV awareness. Navtej Johar's introduction with visuals (later substantiated by a group performance by the children) of Kathak dancer Vaswati Misra's wonderful experiment “Zaroorat” in a Delhi slum, spreading education through arts, came as a heartening experience.
Ruchika Sharma highlighted how the ‘Nautch Girl' of ancient India suffered from the Anglo-Indian perception of Hinduism constructed in colonial discourse as being arcane, with belief in phallus worship, sati and child marriages, confusing the devadasi with the prostitute. But that the Western role was not all negative came out in the vibrant session on East-West Interactions 1889-1947 by Tizianna Leucci about the Bayadere represented in Ballet productions in the West and the birth of “Hindu Dance” with the likes of Mata Hari, Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn, Anna Pavlova's collaboration with Uday Shankar, the tours from 1933 to 1937 of Ragini Devi and La Meri in India, and of course the great role Pavlova played with Ram Gopal and persons like Rukmini Devi, urging them to look at Indian dance with closer eyes. Substantiating the talk visually was Ashish Khokar's screening of films.
Among performances, in the search for dance languages, “Khmeropedies II” by Amrita Performing Arts, “Cambodia” choreographed by Emmanuele Phuon was most impressive in the powerful organic growth of a dance language created by keeping a large part of the classical Khmer form and fusing it with other contemporary techniques. Impressive in parts was “Toccata” by Nanyang Performing Arts, Singapore, exploring finger dexterity (inspired by long finger nail from Northern Thai Font Laep), a creative dialogue between music and dance centred round the idea of touch. “Dear Friends” by Taipeh National University of the Arts was a still evolving playful number.
Ultimately a jam packed Stein auditorium rose as one man to applaud late Chandralekha's power-packed “Sharira”, an organic evolution of Yoga and Kalari. Time stopped as dancer Tishani Doshi on her stomach gradually raised her head like a cobra, legs folded at the knees, with feet touching elbows of arms stretched sideways, with the Gundecha brothers singing “Jagat Janani Jwalamukhi”, making the ultimate statement on the body's feminine energy.