In attendance again

BANGALORE SPECIAL Stem group featured on the cover  

Ashish Mohan Khokar is back with his labour of love... and a little malice.

This year's focus of Ashish Mohan Khokar's dance annual of India, Attendance, which was released recently, is the three Bs: Bombay, Bangalore, Bhubaneswar. Some would argue with the alliteration, saying that Bombay is now Mumbai, but since Khokar prefers his own spelling of even technical terminology like Odissi dance and music, which he writes — not without logic — as Orissi, such a quibble would least bother him. Especially as his guest editor this time is veteran dancer Ritha Devi, who writes of "Fifty Years of Dance in Bombay". In her heyday (she came there in 1953), Mumbai was definitely Bombay. One of the cities where much of the educated elite contributed to creating an international image for India's traditional arts, which they too were engaged in passionately rediscovering. Their relish was tinged with nationalism, as the Republic of India was still in its early days. The article gives a sweeping overview of the major dance events that took place in Bombay. Among others, she mentions the establishment of the Rajarajeshwari Bharatha Natya Kala Mandir, the city's introduction to Odissi dance through Indrani Rahman's performance, and to Kathakali through Karunakaran Panikkar Asan, who had been deputed for the task by Kathakali's revivalist pioneer, Mahakavi Vallathol.Ritha Devi's "Bhubaneswar-Cuttack" providing a history of the revival of Odissi dance is similarly interesting. While the dancer's personal zeal adds zest to the copy, the editor keeps it on an even keel by inserting italicised comments wherever he feels necessary. An interesting contribution by Sharmistha Mukherjee is "Kathak in Bollywood: Content and Context" in which she draws attention to seven commercial Hindi films where the Kathak technique has been consciously chosen by the director as an intrinsic part of the storyline.

Welcome analysis

Though not exhaustive, perhaps due to paucity of space, it is a welcome analysis of the techniques and choreographic solutions achieved by the Kathak gurus who were choreographing for non-initiated audiences and often working with untrained dancers. When Khokar came out with the first edition of Attendance, the barbed pen flowing with piquant if not venomous ink made its presence felt. In later editions, the tone seemed mellowed, but this time he seems to be back in form, in ways both subtle and overt.One example is the reference to G. Venu, Kudiyattam exponent: "... that quiet operator from Kerala - continues to tom-tom his wares... .". Another is the description of Subbudu, the doyen of performing arts criticism, as "a fellow who has grown up age-wise and yet refuses to really grow up". The opening remarks of "The Year 2005" concern the ousting of Sonal Mansingh as Sangeet Natak Akademi Chairperson by a Presidential order. By adding, "those who achieved it have shown that where there is collective might, wrong can be set right," the editor exposes himself to the charge of defamation, since without spelling out the issues that were at stake, he does not allow those not familiar with the conflagration to draw their own conclusion as to who was in the wrong. Since Attendance is a unique annual of dance in India, Ashish Khokar carries a serious responsibility. After all, he is not writing only for the dance fraternity here. However this (fratricidal) clan might giggle at his veiled asides, he surely has a serious international readership too.ANJANA RAJAN