by Dr Sruti Banerjee, Calcutta

Sep 2001

The rich heritage of dance comes down to us from time immemorial. Ever since Man was created, he created the art of movement i.e. dance. Each of the world's greatest civilizations has produced its own dances. In India, too, dance is rooted in the pre-historic past, for long before dance grew to be a complex art, human beings swayed, turned, stamped rhythmically and took the first steps of motion. It was an expression of joy. Being inspired by nature, one man swayed and stamped, his joy got spread among his associates, they responded with him. Thus the happiness of moving together developed. This gave rise to a group of men and women of same social structure dancing together, thus originating the folk dance of that particular group and region. The man who started it, remains unknown. Thus folk dances are products of environment. Men even tried to pacify nature through ritual dances. We notice that the movements that started as only a joyous expression blossomed into specific dance patterns, which again got codified into rules of performance, thus emerging the classical dances. The creative impulse followed the aesthetics of art and new dimensions within it were explored. Rules were laid down in the texts i.e. the shastras. But folk dances prevailed side by side.

Classical dances when brought on proscenium faced a major change in repertoire as well as in presentation. But modern proscenium also inspired dance productions that do not adhere to any rule. They incorporate any kind of movement. The popular term Creative Dance is often coined for such dance productions. But there is no definition of this dance. Its first birth is in the conscience of choreographer's mind. The second birth is on proscenium with the dance artists, lights sets, electronic sound systems and all the other elements. It is the concept of the choreographer.

What can be the inspiration of the choreographer? I feel it is the socio-economic and political conditions that affect a sensible person, thereby provoking him to react to social issues and express through the medium of dance. Therefore we can say Creative dance is a product of consciousness and it bears the identity of the choreographer or the conceiver.

In the world of dance we come across another classification i.e. modern dance. The modern dance thoughts emerged in America just after the First World War. Till then, European ballet had been ruling in America and dance became little more than an extension of the decorative scheme of entertainment, enjoyment and undemanding, being termed by the people as a ‘diversion of aristocracy' and thus ceased to convey any contemporary message. At this stage three Americans Isadora Duncan, Louis Fuller and Ruth St Denis revolted against such prevalent tradition and spurred to seek new forms of dancing. Each considered themselves as artists rather than entertainers. They felt they have a responsibility towards the society and they created a new dance of their own. Not only in America, modern dance developed rapidly in the world. In Europe we get modern dancers like Lavan, Wigman, Jack Delacroize, Herald Krutzberg and in Asian continent we have Taksumi Hijikata, Min Tanaka, Yan Mei Ki and our Udayshankar. But searching for a definition in modern dance had been equally difficult. When asked, Paul Taylor said “Modern Dance? To me it is a license to do what I feel is worth doing without somebody saying that I can't do it because it does not fit into a category”. The scholars tried to point out the characteristics of modern dance, but they could not agree to a single definition. Each production had the distinct stamp of the choreographer and hence was individualistic.

Turning to our country India, we observe that this kind of outburst took place after the Second World War. The socio - economic and political crisis that occurred during the freedom movement became the inspiration to new dance thoughts here. The IPTA came up with its theatre productions and dance dramas bearing distinct stamp of contemporary relevance.
The other two torchbearers of new dance movement in India were Rabindranath and Udayshanker. Rabindranath in Shantineketan tried to make a synthesis of the classical dances and folk dances of India. He did not even hesitate to use other dances from Java, Bali and German Modern Dances in his compositions. For him the new dance was born out of vocabulary of all the dances that had appealed to him. He assimilated these forms on his songs to depict a story of contemporary relevance. These were his dance dramas. On the other hand, Udayshankar tried to blend the western dance presentation with eastern dance concept. He was well versed with western dances and he grafted on music different Indian gestures, bodylines, sculptural poses taking inspiration from not only folk and classical forms, but also from visual art forms like paintings. His dance was a synthesis of East and West and one of the characteristics of his dances was the utilization of the fourth dimension like a sculpture. Both Rabindranath and Udayshanker were conscious about contemporary relevance of their choreographed themes. Thus we find Tagore writing Chandalika and Udayshanker choreographing Man and Machine and Rhythm of Life.

Inspired by Udayshanker many other dancers took to creative productions and the era of new dance started in India. Bhookh a production on Bengal famines by Sadhana Bose spoke of contemporary problems. Dharini of Ramgopal and Reptile of Zohra and Kameswar also followed. Side by side there was a new trend in choreographic pattern in Ramayana and Panchatantra of Shanti Bardhan, Ramlila of Narendra Sahrma and other traditional themes. A series of names were suggested for these productions like Oriental dance, Ballet etc. But at present we are very familiar with the term Creative Dance. I prefer to categorize it as a separate form of dance. Many are of opinion that any creation in dance is a Creative Dance. But I feel when there is a creation within our traditional dance forms, the new creative effort adds to the tradition of that dance. But to fall into the Creative Dance category the choreographer must be able to offer new or original thoughts with contemporary relevance. The artistic director is free to borrow from any dance form, classical, folk, Indian or foreign. The movements should dissolve in the body and bring out a new dimension and the blending should transform the whole into a new vision.

Dr Sruti Banerjee is one of the foremost artistes of Manipuri Dance. She is at present engaged in evolving a new dance idiom of her own. She is associated as a Reader in Dance in the Department of Dance, Rabindra Bharati University.