Dance

To Guldi with love

Ahead of the times A scene from Gul Bardhan's ballet “Ramayana” performed at Bharat Bhawan, Bhopal, some years ago. Photo: A.M. Faruqui  

Little Ballet Troupe was one of the leading dance companies in the 1960s and '70s, and Gul Bardhan, one of the founders, was the nerve centre of the group. LBT was formed in Bombay in 1952 by the legendary Shanti Bardhan (immortalised for his work “Puppet Ramayana”) and Guldi — as she was fondly addressed — with meagre funds but unparalleled artistic vision. Rehearsals were held in the open under trees, and costumes were made with painted jute bags which are used till date!

Hailing from a Gujarati family, Guldi's entrepreneurial skill and Shantiji's unmatched creative abilities gave LBT a winning combination.

Guldi was didi to everyone. I met Guldi in October 1971 wishing to join Little Ballet Troupe, Gwalior. She immediately said, “Okay, you come and act in our Puppet Ramayana, You shall be Lakshmana!” I went on to spend a full decade with LBT and Guldi from 1971 to 1981.

She worked for the group selflessly and was our trouble shooter. Wherever we had a problem, Guldi was there to solve it. We trained under the guidance of ace choreographer Prabhat Ganguly, and Guldi. The distinguishing feature of LBT was that training was imparted in the genre of creative and experimental dance, where movements are drawn from Indian Body Movement techniques and fused to create a new language pioneered by the legendary Uday Shankar — unlike the current Contemporary Dance scenario in India which borrows heavily from Western movement vocabulary.

Guldi groomed me in all the aspects of stagecraft. Along with our training in dance and improvisation classes, we were trained in all the related areas of a stage performance. We had to erect the stage, the wings, hang the curtains and the lights, design and execute the lighting plan, stitch costumes, perform and later dismantle the stage and equipment!

This kind of complete training, which I feel prepared me and gave me a sound foundation for a career in dance, is sadly missing these days.

I thoroughly enjoyed that period of my life. It was here that I was introduced to Mayurbhanj Chhau (which has become so popular amongst the young modern dancers of today) and met the great Guru Krishna Chandra Naik. LBT was the first to introduce training in Mayurbhanj Chhau outside Orissa.

Guldi knew no fear or gender inequality. She smoked her pack of Charminar overseeing the loading of trunks on a railway platform! She possessed great leadership qualities and management skills. Guldi lived frugally, believing in simple living and high thinking! And above all, she lived to dance, playing Rama in “Puppet Ramayana” well into her 80s, refusing to be bogged down by weakening eyesight and impaired hearing. Her last performance was at SNA's Choreography Fest in Guwahati in 2007.

Guldi will be warmly remembered forever for her courage, and as a woman extraordinaire! I bid her adieu and would ask her to come back again ‘Av jo' as they say in Gujarati!

Gul Bardhan, 1928-2010

In the death of Gul Bardhan, the world has lost an outstanding creative personality.

Gul Bardhan trained in dance initially from her husband Shanti Bardhan. She learnt Manipuri under Ojha Amubi Singh, Mayurbhanj Chhau under Guru Krishna Chandra Naik and Seraikela Chhau under Guru Ganesh Mohanta. She also learnt the folk dances of Gujarat and Rajasthan under Pratibha Pandit.

In her early years she was associated with the Indian People's Theatre Association. After the demise of Shanti Bardhan in 1954, she led the Little Ballet Troupe, which they had founded in 1952, successfully in performances around the world.

She was honoured with the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award-2001.

Among other honours, she received the French Government's Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1964, besides the Padma Shri, Gujarat's Gaurav Puraskar and the Madhya Pradesh Government's Shikhar Samman.

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Printable version | Mar 3, 2021 9:18:05 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/dance/To-Guldi-with-love/article15586450.ece

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