Friday, 27 April 2018

Evoking a feel of the Sadir dancer's joi de vivre - Taalam: column by Leela Venkataraman

Sandhya Raman's Art Studio has been a venue for some out- of- the way evenings of dance. Now with one end of the L shaped hall given a neatly erected wooden stage just a foot above the floor level with the audience seated on modhas in front, the performer has his/her space defined, with the intimate ambience preserved. And marking Tamil New Year's day, was a most entertaining evening of Stories that take a form devised and performed by scholar /performer Swarnamalya Ganesh from Chennai, who with years of research into the cultural, sociological, political history of what we call Bharatanatyam today, has worked at trying to reconstruct the old avatars of the dance - this evening's concern being with its manifestation as Sadir performed by the devadasis - the period dealt with being roughly from early 1700 till about 1920. In the then Madras Presidency, the dance had a very visible presence. The old diaries, records and gazetteers contain plenty of scattered bits of information and culling the details to be able to get out of it sufficient material to construct a dance edifice, is the unstinting work of Swarnamalya who acknowledges generously the help of other researchers of history, Tamil literature etc in this effort.

The memories from the past began right from the introduction to each item, the dancer's histrionics bringing alive the British dorai and the plantation owner, the Dubhash or any character featured in the interaction. The story begins with The Luz House of Moddaverappa Venkatasami Naidu, where several kutcheris were held - a famous place visited by renowned musicians like Sonti Venkataramana and even Tyagaraja. 

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Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Nrutya Rangoli dance festival and seminar - Footloose and fancy free with Dr. Sunil Kothari

Academy of Music, Bangalore, under its aegis invited Veena Murthy Vijay to curate and conduct the annual dance festival for three days along with two morning sessions for dance seminar at Chowdaiah  Memorial Hall (April 13, 14 and 15). Titled as Nrutya Rangoli, Veena Murthy planned an inclusive dance festival which was from the word go a success.

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Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Death and Resurrection - The Eastern Eye: Column by Dr.Utpal K Banerjee

Punoruthhan presented by Sayak on March 28 in Kolkata, was based on the novel penned by Amar Mitra, which brought out the hard realities down the decades of unchallenged exploitation running rampant in what are known as Khadans (illegal spots of mining coal), owned and operated by coal mafias. Dramatized superbly by Chandan Sen and directed by the thespian Meghnad Bhattacharya, the play opened most imaginatively on a dimly illumined cyclorama where the scantily clad indigenous people are seen underground, lifting up costly coal and suddenly an ear wrenching accident takes place, causing explosions and deaths - - never to be acknowledged - inside those dangerously unsafe pits. ....

When Nirmal Verma (1923-2005), the flag-bearer of Nayi Kahaani movement in Hindi literature, pioneered his brand of brooding novels, stories, essays and travelogues, his penmanship was constantly seeking out the people who got left behind, having been first lured by the magnetic narratives of the city. Recipient of Jnanpith Award, Padma Bhushan and the Sahitya Akademi accolade, Verma developed a trenchant style, which used rich, realistic description as a mirror of the inner life. This was largely due to a very productive period of his literary life spent in the 1960s at the Oriental Institute in Prague, where he undertook direct translations of contemporary Czech writers, such as Milan Kundera, Bohumil Hrabal and Václav Havel into Hindi, much before their work became popular internationally. ....

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Conversations with God - Footloose and fancy free with Dr. Sunil Kothari

Vaibhav Arekar's Naama Mhaane transported the audience to Pandharpur

Performing at Delhi's Habitat Centre on the first evening of the two-day Madhavi Festival in memory of Madhavi Gopalakrishnan, mother of Bharatanatyam exponent Rama Vaidyanathan, Vaibhav Arekar and his Sankhya Ensemble transported the audience to Pandharpur in Naama Mhaane. The percussion by Krishnamurty with the playing of cymbals created magic and with chanting of Jay Jay Ramakrishna Hari by the dancers one felt that one was at the holy place of Pandharpur in Maharashtra. Being born in Mumbai and brought up there with Maharashtrian neighbors, one was steeped into abhangas of Tukaram, Janabai, Sant Namdev and others, as much as being a Vaishnava one was steeped into Haveli Sangeet and Brajbhasha songs.

Rani Khanam attempts a rich amalgamation of Sufi/Bhakti poetry 

After an interval of three years, I watched vastly gifted Kathak exponent Rani Khanam, disciple of Reba Vidyarthi and Birju Maharaj, in a highly aesthetic presentation, at Delhi's Habitat Centre on 10th April. She transported the audience to the realm of abstract philosophical, Sufi and bhakti verses in an effortless manner using Kathak, revealing another dimension of Kathak which explores the Islamic aspect / concepts which merge so easily with not only bhakti but also universal truths.

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Monday, 16 April 2018

Interview - Jonathan Hollander: Dance allows people to forget they have been traumatized - Shveta Arora

Earlier this year, renowned American contemporary dancer Jonathan Hollander was in Delhi to present his production Shakti: A Return to the Source. Before the performance, he spoke to a small audience at the studio of his long-time collaborator, costume designer Sandhya Raman. Hollander's Battery Dance Company has performed all over the world and also held workshops with troubled participants in several countries. He has a special relationship with India, though, having been a Fulbright scholar to the country and also spent a lot of time here. He has facilitated US tours by many of India's leading dance companies and co-founded the Indo-American Arts Council in 2000, according to his website.

Responding to the questions of an audience made up of classical dance practitioners and enthusiasts at Sandhya Raman's Atelier, Hollander spoke about his production, the importance of dance in handling the fissures in the world today, and how difficult it is to make dance work professionally.

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Saturday, 14 April 2018

Folk Art embodying eternal spirit - The Eastern Eye: Column by Dr.Utpal K Banerjee

Mrudanga (literally meaning "clay limb") in Odisha -- not to be confused with  mridangam of Carnatic performing arts -- is a terracotta two-sided drum familiar all over northern and eastern India. An essential accompaniment for devotional music and dance, it is also known as khol in West Bengal, Assam and Manipur. Prevalent from antiquity, it has specially haloed association with Shri Chaitanya in Bengal and Saint Sankaradeva of Assam since the bhakti movement of the 16-17th century.  

Murchhana was presented on April 6 by Odissi dancer Sharmila Biswas with her well trained co-dancers in a very well attended ticketed show in Kolkata. The fascinating idea came to her -- in episodic form -- narrated by the mrudanga players when she was conducting research on the rural percussion instruments of Odisha. During the annual mrudanga making season, the mythic tales were repeatedly told to her through verses and songs (carefully culled and reworked) as part of mrudanga purification ritual and carried forward as an oral tradition. Said Sharmila, “The folk artists  believe that whenever a man plays the mrudanga with his whole being immersed in his art, murchhana, the spirit, enters and possesses the mrudanga, stirring the person from within. It transforms him, and his art elevates to a spiritual level. It brings supreme bliss.” 

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Thursday, 12 April 2018

Article - Celebration of Chaitra Parv Chhau Festival - Pallavi Verma


Folk dances are about more than dancing. It’s human’s natural urge to rituals, a direct expression of innermost spirit. The beauty of folk dances lies in its intervention with the lives of people. Each movement they perform is familiar and joyful. They are associated with the performance of daily tasks or activities like sowing, harvesting, hunting and the passage of season gives them a devotional theme. Chaitra Parv is one such season when people of Orissa worship Lord Shiva with utmost enthusiasm by performing Mayurbhanj Chhau dance. The Chaitra Parv Chhau Festival is celebrated on 13th or 14th April for consecutive three days. Understanding Mayurbhanj Chhau’s cultural and historical background on this eve will let us appreciate the strength of our traditions. 

Chhau is derived from the word ‘Chhauni’ meaning a military camp where the dance evolved from martial art. Some believe that this folk dance was performed to entertain the Oriya warriors inside the camps and has spread gradually. Others believe that the word Chhau is originated from such words as ‘Chhabi’ (picturesque), ‘Chhai’ or ‘Chhatak’ (clowning) and ‘Chhaya’ (shadow or phantom). Mayurbhanj Chhau is one of the principal folk dance forms of eastern India performed by the people vastly spread in contiguous areas of Mayurbhanj (Orissa).

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Bhopal Diary - Footloose and fancy free with Dr. Sunil Kothari

I was visiting Bhopal after three or four years. Last time I visited was to participate in a seminar on Ratan Thiyam's plays. Six of his plays were staged back to back, with one day gap for a seminar. I have been associated with Ratan Thiyam for more than 30 years and have seen his plays within India and abroad and am a great admirer of his works. During that brief visit, I had missed visiting Gurukul of Gundecha Brothers and also the Tribal Museum. Anita Ratnam had specially asked me not to miss it. Therefore the visits to Gundecha Bandhu's Dhrupad Gurukul and Tribal Museum were on my list....

The Tribal Museum in Bhopal is very thoughtfully planned and the entire campus is theme based right from its entrance. Every art work has some meaning to it which is beautifully depicted but difficult to decipher without basic knowledge of the tribes. Therefore the best way to understand was to ask for a copy of their colorful brochure which describes meaning of all the major artifacts. We met Shri Ashok Mishra, who very kindly gave us the brochure in Hindi. We also got in English, brief introduction about the museum that helped us to follow the six galleries....

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Monday, 9 April 2018

Devadasi's legacy to the saint poet's glory - Taalam: column by Leela Venkataraman

It is almost ironical that dancers today celebrate the glory of Nagarathnamma, who from the thirties to 1947 (she died in 1952) led a dogged fight against the anti-devadasi movement, which deprived an entire community of its centuries old artistic credentials. Not knowing what to expect of Nagarathnamma- Pancharatna Pancharasam Natya conceived and choreographed by Kanaka Sudhakar of Sunaina, premiered at Delhi's Tamil Sangam auditorium, one must admit to being very pleasantly surprised at the laudable effort. Featuring Kanaka Sudhakar with her disciples, the production testified to great pains taken to capture the period details with backdrops of the Mysore court, the typical turbans worn at the time, sarees draped in the Karnataka style, with suitable jewellery etc. One very heartening feature was the uniformly well trained dancers. 

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Sunday, 8 April 2018

Bonding with Global Theatre - The Eastern Eye: Column by Dr.Utpal K Banerjee

The stage is a reflection of society and in order to emphasize its importance, every year on March 27, World Theatre Day is celebrated. Initiated in 1961 by the UNESCO-sponsored International Theatre Institute (ITI), this day is annually celebrated by ITI Centres in different countries and the international theatre community at large. It was entirely appropriate that the eastern metropolis paid its own tribute to this day with a new adaptation from the American wizard playwright Eugene O'Neill's 1956 play - as staged in the Broadway a good three years after his death - Long Day's Journey into Night that was acknowledged as the Nobel Laureate's magnum opus and earned him a posthumous Pulitzer Prize.

Long Day's Journey into Night takes place in four acts on a single day - supposedly in August 1912 - - from around 8:30am up to midnight. The setting is the crumbling seaside Connecticut home, Monte Cristo Cottage, of O'Neill's father. The four main characters are the semi-autobiographical representations of O'Neill himself, his elder brother, and their parents. In a nutshell, the play portrays a decadent American family in a ferociously negative light as the parents and two sons express accusations, blame and resentments: qualities which are often paired with pathetic and self-defeating attempts at affection, encouragement, tenderness and yearnings for things to be otherwise. The gnawing pain of the family is made the worse by their depth of self-understanding and self-analysis, combined with a brutal honesty - - as they see it - - and an ability to boldly express themselves. The story primarily deals with the mother's addiction to morphine, compounded by the family's addiction to whiskey, the father's miserliness, the older brother's licentiousness and the younger sibling's illness.

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Saturday, 7 April 2018

8th Olympic Theatre Seminar on Natyashastra - Footloose and fancy free with Dr. Sunil Kothari

During more than two months duration 8th Olympic Theatre Festival was organized by National School of Drama (NSD) and Ministry of Culture at several cities within India, with presentation of plays in various languages along with seminars on various aspects of theatre. One which was organized at Bharat Bhavan in Bhopal was on different aspects of theatre in relation to Natyashastra. Many leading scholars, practitioners, directors, dancers, musicians, authors and critics were invited to participate for two days on 23rd and 24th March, to discuss and deliberate on practice of Natyashastra. I was invited to present my paper and chair the session on Practice of Natyashastra: In perspective of Rasa. 

The Rasa Sutra as mentioned in the sixth chapter of the Natyashastra refers to bhava, vibhava, vyabhichari bhava and with their confluence takes place the rasanishpatti. The aphoristic formula for the issuance of rasa as given in Natyashastra is that the rasa issues forth when vibhava, anubhava and vyabhicharibhava are appropriately blended.

Natyashastra continues to remain a main semiotic text for plurality of various dance and dance-drama forms of India. In practice, the Rasa Theory applies more in principle to the performances of classical dance forms, which are eight in number with inclusion of Odissi, Kuchipudi, Mohiniattam and Sattriya dances to well established forms of Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Manipuri and Kathakali.

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Friday, 6 April 2018

Challenges in procuring public art grants for art and culture programmes - Taalam: column by Leela Venkataraman

It was a lively discussion on challenges people face in procuring Public art grants for promotion of art and culture, at the Habitat Gulmohar Hall, for the Shanta Serbjeet Singh Memorial Art Appreciation lecture of the month, sponsored by Legends of India. Since government as the main art promoter in the country owns the largest kitty (however miniscule it may be in the overall percentage of the total budget reserved for culture), it was but right to have representatives of government bodies dealing in art matters, as the main speakers for the evening.

With Suresh Goel, the permanent moderator for these lectures being unwell, Rajiv Chandran, at the last moment was asked to take over and he began by asking each of the speakers to first talk on what worked and what did not. Dr. Madhukar Gupta, a bureaucrat with a deep interest in the arts, now Additional Secretary with the Ministry of Heavy Industries after having served earlier in Tamilnadu and Rajasthan, set the discussion ball rolling by mentioning a very pertinent point on how a lot of government thinking perceives development as best represented in establishing brick and mortar edifices, without realising that software like good art performances can generate better responses, apart from having an economic potential that has not been tapped. Even when visitors look at a historical building, it is a live performance or an audio visual show that helps bring to life the monument. 

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Thursday, 5 April 2018

Delving into Folk roots - The Eastern Eye: Column by Dr.Utpal K Banerjee

The Mangal-Kāvya tradition of Bengal was an archetype of the synthesis between the Vedic and the popular folk culture of Eastern India. According to the experts, indigenous myths and legends inherited from Indo-Aryan cultures began to blend and crystallize around popular deities and semi-mythological figures in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. A new story of the creation of the universe evolved, as quite different from the Sanskrit tradition but with an unmistakable affinity with the creation hymns in Rigveda and the other eastern myths of creation. Manasamangal Kāvya was the oldest of the Mangal-Kāvya that narrates how the snake-goddess Manasa established her worship in Bengal by converting a worshipper of Shiva to her own worship. Manasa, a non-Aryan deity, had her worship prevalent in ancient Bengal. It is believed, in fact, that she came to Bengal with the Dravidians who worshipped her in the hope that she would protect them against snakes. Manasa was also known as Bisahari, Janguli and Padmavati.

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Sunday, 1 April 2018

Anita says...April 2018

April 1, 2018


- Chant for Women's History Month (March)

This month's thoughts come to you from the freezing cold of Minneapolis, where I made a brief but joyous visit to reunite with my high school friends. The simple pleasure of connecting with gal pals with whom you once shared lunches, brief crushes, sports, gossip and mark sheets cannot be replicated at any other phase of your life. 

My school mates just happen to be extraordinary women. Many firsts in our class batch from Presentation Convent Church Park are now Cabinet Ministers, Academic leaders, medical experts, CEOs and National Arts Awardees. However, all these prefixes fall away as do the years when we gathered. 

Except for me, nobody else in the group is in the arts although one dynamo is on the board of the Guthrie Theatre and a generous arts patron. Still, we attended the opera, a jazz concert and spoke in unison about the arts being the humanizing glue to our lives.

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Roving Eye - Curated by Anita Ratnam - April 2018

Friday, 30 March 2018

Bhaanaka: Reconstruction of Uparupaka - Footloose and fancy free with Dr. Sunil Kothari

During the 8th Olympic Theatre Festival organized by the National School of Drama and Ministry of Culture, Piyal Bhattacharya from Kolkata presented Bhaanaka at LTG theatre, Delhi, on 17th March, his recreation of uparupaka Bhaanaka under the aegis of his Chidakash Kalalaya Centre of Art and Divinity, which he established in Kolkata in 2013. On the next day at NSD during the ‘meet the directors’ program, there was an interesting discussion about this particular production. 

Piyal has received attention especially for his work on the practice of Marga Natya, as research and reconstruction of practice of the performance tradition of Natyashastra. I had known him as a Kathakali dancer with his friend Kalamandalam Gautam during my tenure as a Professor at Rabindra Bharati University. When he began work on Marga Natya, I had only seen one early performance of his work. During the past ten years, Piyal has worked on reconstructing the ancient musical instruments mentioned in Bharata’s Natyashastra with help of a grant from Sangeet Natak Akademi. He has undertaken this project for further research with special grant from Ministry of Culture under the scheme of ‘Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage of India.’ 

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Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Real and the Surreal: 8th Theatre Olympics, Part II - The Eastern Eye: Column by Dr.Utpal K Banerjee

Two endearing take-offs on Shakespeare, one delightful spoof on Jules Verne and one hard core realisation of African reality constituted a substantive spread of the ongoing 8th Theatre Olympics panorama.

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Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Agony and Atonement: 8th Theatre Olympics, Part I - The Eastern Eye: Column by Dr.Utpal K Banerjee

After two decades of conducting annually the Bharat Rang Mahotsav with great aplomb since 1999, National School of Drama unfurled – with the hand-holding by the parent Ministry of Culture -- the biggest venture of its existence: the 8th Theatre Olympics from February 17 to April 8 this year. Having begun appropriately in Greece at the end of the 20th century and having traversed through Europe and Asia in the last several years, the Theatre Olympics was a matter of national prestige and honor for NSD to host in India, comprising several hundred theatre performances hailing from all parts of the globe and simultaneously showcasing them in 17 cities of the country. The first three plays witnessed by this critic revolved round the agonizing question of existence: societal, personal and political. 

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Sunday, 25 March 2018

Dancing to poetry of liberated women saint poets - Taalam: column by Leela Venkataraman

An evening of dance centred round the poetry of women bhakti poets Andal and Meera, hailing from the South and North of India respectively, was in keeping with the mood of International Women’s Day celebrated in early March. Designed by cultural activist R.K. Usha, the evening jointly mounted with Sangeet Shyamala at the latter’s venue in Vasant Vihar, Delhi, featured two young dancers Shreyasi Gopinath and Shipra Joshi, representing two forms of Bharatanatyam and Kathak. In terms of taking programmes to audiences in different localities (the large formal auditoriums being too far away), this intimate performance area in Sangeet Shyamala’s basement facing a gallery style seating, attracted an enthusiastic turnout and seemed an excellent way of familiarising people in various areas. 

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Friday, 23 March 2018

Obit/Tribute - Subraya Bhat (1946 – 2018)- Akshara Bharadwaj

It is with great grief that we try to cope with the irreplaceable loss of Subraya Bhat, a prolific theatre personality- actor, writer and director, ‘Method-Drama Specialist’, and a student of Prof. Ranganath Bharadwaj, on 14th March 2018. He held the position of Secretary and Technical coordinator at Karnataka Haridasa Scientific Research Centre and Theatre Faculty at The Structural School of Fine Arts. He specialized in the ‘Structural Method’ under his Guru’s guidance and continued schooling young students through his theatre activities and pedagogy. He published his works under the banner of ‘Natyabhoomi Prakashana’, penning several works in the past two decades.

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Monday, 19 March 2018

Shimla Diary: 1st edition of Classical Dance Festival - Footloose and fancy free with Dr. Sunil Kothari

The Gaiety Theatre
After our last visit to Shimla in September last year for a seminar at Institute of Advanced Studies, when I received an invitation to attend a three day classical dance festival organized by Department of Language and Culture of Himachal Pradesh, I was delighted to accept. More so, as my confrere Leela Venkataraman was also invited and the artists from Delhi - Jaipur Gharana exponent Rajendra Gangani, Bharatanatyam dancer Geeta Chandran - and from Kolkata, Manipuri exponent Bimbavati and her troupe were to perform, we knew we would have a dance fare that would not only be enjoyable but also the company of the artists would give us opportunity to catch up with the latest.....

The Himachal Pradesh University and Art Gallery of Prof. Him ChatterjeeI had met painter Professor Him Chatterjee at Khajuraho few days ago at the dance performance. He invited Leela Venkataraman and me for breakfast on Sunday morning to visit his residence and gallery, some seven kilometers away from our hotel. 

Son of Sanat Kumar Chatterjee, the celebrated painter, disciple of legendary painter Asit Halder from Shantinketan, Him Chatterjee is a prolific painter. He is at present Dean and Professor of the Visual Arts Faculty. He has obtained two acres of land on which he has built two storey residential quarters and also his studio and a gallery which houses rare Bengal School  paintings of his father, few of Asit Haldar and a couple of rare original photographs of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore. Well designed, it is a treasure trove and I recommend that visitors, dancers, must visit it......

The Dance Festival 
Shimla is on the hills and its hairpin roads would scare those who are not used to it. The experienced drivers and those who have been living here can negotiate the small roads with ease. Whenever we went to the Gaiety Theatre for performances, our hearts were in our mouths, as the driver negotiated the car. If a car came from opposite direction, he drove back to let the other car go. The plaza, the more than hundred year old Christ Church, the view from the top, the 108 feet tall statue of Hanuman, the restaurants etc., located on height, people walking and some sitting on the benches made the scene colourful. The crowds strolled in the evening. By six in the evening the lights illumined the hills. The festive mood prevailed....

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Sunday, 18 March 2018

Samabhavana churns out myriad starry thoughts on new directions in Indian dance - Taalam: column by Leela Venkataraman

Indian Contemporary  dancers, a vibrant presence but without the kind of establishment support their colleagues representing other dance categories seem to command,  have over almost a century functioned as an isolated group comprising diverse individualistic movement expressions. The odd stock taking events looking at this side of Dance Exploration were The East-West Dance Encounter in 1984 and later in 1993, and new explorations featured in Sangeet Natak Akademi’s ‘Nava Nritya Samaroh’ in 1989. Now, in Kolkata comes the latest effort at bringing dancers, scholars and writers to interact on the nature of Contemporary Dance in India, and its future prospects.

Curated with great care by Sudarshan Chakravorty and Paramita Saha of Sapphire Dance Creations of Kolkata, the two day  SAMABHAVANA effort on new directions in Indian dance, churned out varied thinking on the dancing body, which, through history, has had to deal with institutions of power controlling culture – whether temple, court or an elected government. The entire history of dance in India at one time was written on the body of the Devadasi, resulting in this traditional group of professional entertainers being crushed.

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Thursday, 15 March 2018

Sensibilities of a Modern Man - The Eastern Eye: Column by Dr.Utpal K Banerjee

What is Indian dance and what could be its new directions? Is there anything ever new, when it comes to the human body in terms of its form and what it should seek to portray in terms of content? These and other provocative questions were pointedly raised in Samabhavana, an impressive, two-day national level meet in Kolkata on March 3 and 4, 2018: to debate about directions, possibilities and developments in Indian dance. This was spearheaded by Sapphire Creations who has striven, since 1992, to create first an idiom and a language, and then a whole vocabulary of contemporary dance in eastern India over the last quarter of a century.

Playing the role of an agent provocateur, this critic, when invited, premised his broad thesis on the modern man’s perceptions of what he is and what he is not.  He is certainly not the one-dimensional man portrayed by Herbert Marcuse. Nor is he the Fallen Man -- tumbling headlong into a bottomless abyss – as painted by Krishen Khanna nor is he the bewildered entity looking with bemused eyes into the fast-receding past, from the back of a speeding truck surging ahead. Au contraire -- aware that he is born in the present century – he has his sensibilities in the right place and, among other things, is reasonably aware of his heritage as well as potency of the visual and performing arts that are civilization’s gifts to him. 

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Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Samabhavana: Celebrating New Directions in Indian Dance - Footloose and fancy free with Dr. Sunil Kothari

Sapphire Creations Dance Company, Kolkata, commemorated its 25th year with historic moment in the Indian Arts by organizing a two-day dance conference on 3rd and 4th March at ICCR's Nandalal Gallery under four segments - Provocations, Explorations, Transformations and Negotiations - at Abanindranath Gallery and performances at Satyajit Ray Auditorium. The second day performance Beautiful Thing 2 by Padmini Chettur was held as part of Pickle Factory Season 1 Festival opening performance at Gem Cinema. The sessions were held from 11am back to back in a tight schedule with a large number of participants with a clear agenda to see how New Direction in Indian Dance have moved forward from earlier times. 

By fortuitous circumstances, I had participated in the historic East West Dance Encounter held in 1984 by Dr. Georg Lechner, Director of Max Muller Bhavan in collaboration with NCPA in Mumbai, followed by another in 1985 titled New Directions in Indian Dance. The other conferences which followed like one organized by Rabindra Bharati University inviting Mrinalini Sarabhai, Kumudini Lakhia, Chandralekha, Manjushri Chaki Sircar in Kolkata in1985, followed by Nava Nritya Samaroha in Delhi in 1989 by Sangeet Natak Akademi and in Toronto, Canada, by Sudha Khandwani and Rasesh Thakkar also titled New Directions in Indian Dance in 1993 and one more in Delhi by Max Mueller Bhavan in 1997 provided the background for the present Samabhavana to celebrate, debate and dissect the yesterday, today and tomorrow of Indian Contemporary Dance.

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Monday, 12 March 2018

Interview - You are just as good as your last performance: Geeta Chandran -Shveta Arora

Bharatanatyam exponent Geeta Chandran has won many accolades and awards in her career, the latest being the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi Award. Grateful for the honour, the dancer says that the attention and impact of awards is nevertheless temporary, and that a dancer is only as good as his/her last performance. The real award, she says, is when audiences can be moved by classical arts, and when education begins to include the arts. Excerpts from a chat...

Your thoughts on receiving the SNA award... 
Every award comes with a sense of responsibility. Youngsters start looking up to you. Everything you say or perform becomes like a sponge that they absorb from. So you have to raise the bar because then it becomes the yardstick. Secondly, there is the joy of getting it exactly 50 years after my first guru, Swarna Saraswati amma, got it. It is really prestigious that you are in the same list as your guru. And when you read the list of artists that you have grown up watching, being inspired by, now you are also a part of that erudite list. 

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Thursday, 8 March 2018

Malavika's new creative spurt - Taalam: column by Leela Venkataraman

Dancing with greater energy than ever, Malavika Sarukkai seems to be going through a fresh spurt of creativity, breathing new life into her Bharatanatyam art. Performing on Feb 25 at Sannidhi Auditorium of the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya with its intimate ambience and an audience of discerning art lovers, Malavika's recital had an electrifying start with Sthiti Gathi, a work done a few years ago. Based on music in Madhuvanti composed by Prof C.V. Chandrasekhar, the dancer sculpts space with form, movement and stillness as two sides of a coin not only needing each other, but their contrasting natures enabling both to draw their own individual identities, from the other. And exploring this principle through the technique of Bharatanatyam lines and rhythm, Malavika has created movement of visual geometry, which holds the viewer spellbound with energy packed movements dotted with the silence of sudden freezes. The designing with accented points of movement beautifully echoed in the nattuvangam by Sreelatha (with mridangam and music in sync) with footwork of rhythmic phrases of syllables at cardinal points, doubled or trebled, along with the perfect symmetry of stances, made for dramatic fare.....

Impressive start to Kalavahini's sponsorship of excellence in dance
By all yardsticks, it was an impressive start on Feb 23 at the IIC auditorium for the Kalavahini Trust (Malavika Sarukkai's brainchild) in its goal of sponsorship and support for young excellence in dance - comprising passionate, committed and thinking dancers. Other envisaged programmes include Dance Immersionwith four intensive days of interaction on dance matters, fellowships and financial support to help ease the burden while creating new productions.

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Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Profile - Koodiyattam maestro P.K. Govindan Nambiar - Padma Jayaraj

Chakyarkoothu and Koodiyattam are temple arts of Kerala. The origins of Chakyarkoothu can be traced to folk theater of Tamilnadu. Traditionally performed in temple theatres, it is dramatized dance worship by a group known as Chakyar, which began in feudal times and still continues as ritual worship. Association with Sanskrit drama helped it rise to a unique mimetic theatre with a history of 1000 years. Changed by daring stalwarts, the Sanskrit theatre has marched on to modern proscenium theatre of the world..... 

P.K. Govindan Nambiar was one among them who followed the footsteps of his father and guru. Born in 1930 as the second son of the legendary artist Guru Mani Madhava Chakyar, P.K. Govindan Nambiar has the art in his genes. For him, the heritage became a way of life. He had his 'arangettam' at the age of 14. In those days, the life of an artist, especially temple arts like Koothu and Koodiyattam, was one of dedication. He has continued his pursuit of excellence in this field for more than seven decades now. Initiated by his father/ guru, Nambiar displayed an inexhaustible passion for his first love. Innumerable are his contributions. He has excelled not only as a classic performer of Koothu, Koodiyattam and Padhakam but also as a writer with a number of notable publications to his credit. A versatile artiste, he has performed on several stages outside the temple premises. 

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Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Magic of Khajuraho and classical Indian dances: Part 2 - Footloose and fancy free with Dr. Sunil Kothari

5th Day, Feb 24:
The morning's Kala Varta had from Shimla Prof. Him Chatterjee, Prof and Head of Dept of Visual Arts, Himachal University. He spoke on inter-relationship between various arts, what Vishnudharmottara Purana has emphasized. He screened few paintings of his father also and brought out common elements which govern the arts. He also said that he loves to paint keeping music on while painting and it helps his creative process.

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Magic of Khajuraho and classical Indian dances: Part 1 - Footloose and fancy free with Dr. Sunil Kothari

Festival of Festivals, Khajuraho Dance Festival in its 44th year has won critical acclaim and popularity with presenting in the early years legendary dancers Birju Maharaj, Yamini Krishnamurty, Raja and Radha Reddy, Sanjukta Panigrahi, Vyjayantimala, Sitara Devi, Jhaveri Sisters, Kanak Rele, Swapnasundari, Chandralekha, Sonal Mansingh, Kelucharan Mohapatra and several others who built up the festival as unique one. It has been a dream for every dancer to perform here once in their lifetime.

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Thursday, 1 March 2018

Roses and Thorns - #SAVEKALAKSHETRA

The last few days of February saw my Facebook and Whats App pages becoming FLOODED with outrage, anger and indignation at the recent events that took place on the campus of KALAKSHETRA. A video of a group dancing in a Flash Mob with shoes at the Banyan Tree area of the Adyar Campus went viral. An eco outreach event organised by a Chennai organisation also had stalls for prospective home buyers. Vegetables were on sale and all this was captured on social media. Also on screen capture before it was hastily taken down was a sign declaring spaces in Kalakshetra FOR RENT. 

The Kalakshetra Alumni Association - a global group of eminent, active and successful teachers, performers, academics and social media influencers gathered their energy and began alerting senior bureaucrats in New Delhi about these recent misdemeanours. 

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Anita says...March 2018

Breathing in I am aware of the blue sky
Breathing out I smile at the blue sky
Suddenly, the blue sky smiles back
The blue sky becomes a smile
I smile back
- Thich Nhat Hanh
Buddhist Monk

For the past few days, my I POD playlist is looping the songs of Sridevi. She was not my favourite actor and I winced when I heard her squeaky voice on screen, but her charisma and comic timing was without dispute. While most of the Bollywood fans around the world may remember her from her Hindi films, we in South India were fortunate to see her before her NIP AND TUCK era as a fabulous actress in films like SADMA and MOONDRAM PIRAI. Despite her “thunder thighs” her dancing was also specially crafted for the camera, every angle and every bend catering to the loving glance of that glass eye that forever captured her sparkle and talent.

While the entire nation mourned her tragic passing, I wondered if the death of a dance artiste would garner so much national media. Of course not! What am I thinking? Dance? Important? Cha Cha! What a stretch of imagination to even THINK that! And with this government that spouts “ancient culture” and claps Bollywood in the same breath! 

Ironically, I was at an event in Chennai accepting the GOLDEN STAR award (THANGA TARAKAI) on the birth anniversary of late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa. She was also a Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi dancer and it was she who gifted the prime Chennai land to Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam. With the passing of Vempati Ravi, the future of the academy remains unanswered. While making the acceptance speech surrounded by political MIKE-LLS (those who seize the mike and never give it up!) I mentioned this very fact that learning Bharatanatyam was a MUST for every aspiring actor. Kathak also was a style that many actors had to pick up for the camera close up of the eyes and the eyebrows.

Sridevi was the last of the South Indian dancing heroines to storm the Bollywood bastion and her dance tracks became iconic globally. It was perhaps around the same time of my delayed award ceremony that the film queen was found dead in the bathtub in Dubai. ATMA SHANTI to a dancer, actor and true diva!

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Roving Eye - Curated by Anita Ratnam - March 2018

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Collage of cadences - The Eastern Eye: Column by Dr.Utpal K Banerjee

Traditional Odissi 
In an unbroken tradition of scholarly tomes on Indian performing arts that began from before the Christian millennium and continued till Sarangadeva’s Sangeet Ratnakara in the 13th century, marked a water-shed treatise from which point, many experts believe, the Hindustani and Carnatic music went their own way. Meanwhile, new texts and manuals started appearing that covered the regional forms of the performative arts.  

Our classical dances, having evolved over the last seven decades since Independence, have now lived cheek by jowl with each other among their ardent practitioners. It is perhaps as good a time as any other to look at some of their proximate issues and examine prospects and possibilities. One may begin, for instance, from their Margams and examine how their basic exercises, abhinaya and nritta – to take only three aspects – would feature at a confluence of two nearby styles. A second angle may be the rhythms of two nearby styles’ percussion support and allow for a scrutiny as to how their sound would resonate and reverberate. Yet a third point of view may be to inject a dose of theatricality and contemporaneity, and try then to see how the classical forms innovate. In fact, such ideas can be galore, but one has to start somewhere!

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Saturday, 24 February 2018

Nritya Parva 2018 - Footloose and fancy free with Dr. Sunil Kothari

The three day Nritya Parva 2018 was held at CC Mehta Hall, Baroda with performances by young dancers. The two day morning seminar was on Literature and Dance on first morning and on other topics the next morning. Parul Shah, disciple of late Anjali Merh and former Professor at Faculty of Performing Arts at MS University, has been arranging this festival at Baroda in Anjali Merh’s memory. The whole Nritya Parva 2018 is organised by Anjali Memorial Committee, Baroda, every year since 1981. The name to the festival was coined about 10 years before. 

This year the festival was dedicated to the memory of late Shanta Serbjeet Singh, senior cultural commentator and former Vice Chairman of Sangeet Natak Akademi. In the formal invitation there is an interesting quote of Shanta: “Slowly but inexorably, I believe, the wheel will come full circle. And it will move in that direction, because of two factors: one, the open-mindedness of our youth, almost 60% of the population, their hunger for discovering their roots. Look at the hordes of young people in the metros pursuing courses in even mediocre dance and music schools, lining up for auditioning for reality TV shows. You can see that, whatever their motivation at the start of their journey, they are going in the right direction. A new uninhibited relationship with dance is being forged by ordinary folk and they are returning to it in hundreds of ways as a mental, physical and spiritual anchor. Secondly, our culture is just too strong and too universally true to be put down.”

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Wednesday, 21 February 2018

From the foothills of Dhauli a bouquet of arts for peace and cooperation - Taalam: column by Leela Venkataraman

Started in 2003 as a Martial Arts Festival held in the open space within the verandah of the Peace Pagoda on the Dhauli hilltop in Odisha, the Dhauli-Kalinga Mahotsav's enlarged version now with its venue at the foothills, embracing dance and other performance traditions, has its greatest asset in bringing together several art disciplines like poetry, music, dance incorporating rural and classical traditions, martial arts, and above all for an animated active audience of over two thousand eagerly watching the proceedings on each of the three days (Feb 9-11, 2018). And this in an isolated place far from the capital of Bhubaneswar! With special buses arranged (courtesy Orissa Dance Academy under Aruna Mohanty, now organising the festival for Odisha Tourism, taking over from Ileana Citaristi, the original organiser of the martial arts festival at the hilltop) to ply to and from Bhubaneswar during the festival days, it is the young students from various colleges and training centres who form the audience - a very heartening trend and one not seen in other cities for dance events.

Dance comes as the final expression incorporating many disciplines, like poetry, music, rhythm, along with the consciousness of body lines depicted in sculpture and drawing - and in the Guru Gangadhar Pradhan Smruti Samman (in memory of late Guru Gangadhar Pradhan), the selection of awardees highlights this approach of recognising all inputs contributing to the dance. This year's selection had Dr. S.K. Tamotia (Dean, Director General and Vice Chairman of Bhavan's Centre for Communication and Management), Atulya Mahakud (lyricist, actor, script writer for Odiya cinema), Doordarshan and for dance, Dhaneswar Swain, the brilliant mardal expert whose contribution to dance is immeasurable, and Bhagiratha Das Odissi Bastra Karigara (designer and maker of costumes).

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Tuesday, 20 February 2018

The making of Mahagami - The Eastern Eye: Column by Dr.Utpal K Banerjee

How does a performing arts institution in India germinate, grow and gather momentum? What are its birth pangs like? How does it overcome the initial hurdles and hardships? What kind of planning process is called for at its multiple stages of progress, with a sampling of its products? And, can there be a final cheer alongside a cherished dream? Here is the connected story - from absolute nothing to a near pinnacle of sweet success of Mahagami Gurukul in Aurangabad, the heritage city of India, providing the gateway to Ajanta and Ellora.

At its core has to be a seed of demand-supply matching, even for performative arts which need to create its own environment. As a wit observed, "Culture is man-made environment." Within the 70-acre arid campus of Mahatma Gandhi Mission, its spirited Chairman had an early vision of a centre of technology, medicine, fine arts, dance, music and a lot besides. Einstein said once, "Visions are only hallucinations, until experimented." MGM Chairman and his Secretary - both staunch Gandhians and devout art-lovers - believed that education in its different forms could change the face of society and took on the daunting task to transform a barren land into a universally accepted learning centre where students from different shores would gather to get groomed in sundry disciplines.

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First edition of Kalaashish Dance Festival: Nritya Ganga - Footloose and fancy free with Dr. Sunil Kothari

Asavari Pawar, daughter of London based celebrated Kathak exponent Pratap Pawar, the first gandabandh shishya of Pandit Birju Maharaj, organized under the aegis of Kalaashish, a dance festival at Delhi's ICCR Azad Bhavan auditorium featuring late Kathak exponent Arjun Mishra's son Anuj Mishra and his troupe, Belgium based Odissi, Bharatanatyam and contemporary dancer Sooraj Subramaniam and Polish modern dancer Andre Kamienski, and leading Seraikella Chhau dancer Shashadhar Acharya and his troupe in a two day festival. 

On the first day, it was Asavari's father Pratap Pawar who performed traditional Kathak. He has turned 70 and in his honour Asavari began this new institution with a series of performances. On second day, she began with Shiva stuti displaying the technique she has mastered under guidance of her father. She has a charming and endearing personality, free from any attitude and displays a certain range of innocence. In Bhairavi Tillana choreographed by Pratap Pawar, her troupe excelled in performing energetic Kathak with aplomb. 

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