A month of many greats
February 26, 2019
February is now about the great Balasaraswati, who passed away on 9th February. Her acolyte Dr. Nandini Ramani celebrated her centenary in a grand 2 day function held in Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Chennai, and a monograph compiled and written by Nandini Ramani, published by SNA was released on the occasion. Bala's story is stuff myths and history is made of and in India now her principal follower-disciple Nandini Ramani, with sister Priyamvada - both talented daughters of giant scholar Dr. V. Raghavan - continue to worship and propagate her art. Aniruddha Knight, Bala's grandson, was only 5 when Bala died and has lived and grown and worked mostly in USA.
Bala was celebrated in a big way when Chennai dancers came together (a riot of talents and colours) to dance for her or speak on her. Nandini Ramani and family left no stone unturned to propitiate Bala's memory and art.
From senior dancers like Rhadha, Bragha Bessell and Leela Samson, to youngsters like Narthaki Nataraj, Radhika Shurajit and Divya Kasturi, many others participated in the 2 day mega focus on 9th and 10th of February. It was a star-studded gathering, with almost 15 dancers and as many speakers on stage, which concluded her centenary. Guru Kalyanasundaram and icon Vyjayanthimala chief guested, while senior gurus C.V. Chandrasekhar, Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam and the Dhananjayans attended. Nandini Ramani is a good organizer and conducts the proceedings with firm hand and crisp commentary. Singers, musicians and scholars were in attendance. While for dance there was sufficient audience on day one which was a 6 to 9pm show, to see paltry turnout on next day Sunday morning to hear some good speakers like VAK Ranga Rao, Soumya and S. Janaki was disappointing. Gurus and institutions should make students attend such rare academic dance gatherings.
On same day, Bombay's Nalanda hosted a focus on Mohiniattam and Baroda on contemporary dance issues. That same weekend - 9th and 10th - one had to be in 3 cities at the same time which made it very difficult to reach.
Regarding dance academics, there are hardly any forums and most dancers being brahmagyanis, think they need not learn anything new. Then, I'm told some gurus themselves discourage students from attending, insecure about their own limited knowledge. Big institutions often teach only what's in curriculum. A Kathakali person knows scant little about Kathak. Or Orissi about Bharatanatyam or Bharatanatyam about other banis. As a race, even in dance, we have become divisive.
Which is why when 7 Padma awardees (Dr. Sonal Mansingh, Dr. Saroja Vaidyanathan, Dr. Shovana Narayan , gurus Kiran Sehgal, Bharati Shivaji, Ranjana Gauhar) attend one dance lecture on Mohan Khokar Dance Collection hosted by India's only multi-disciplinary art institution, the IGNCA, Delhi, on Valentine's Day, it is heartening. This despite thunder and rain. A rare 20 minute film based on Mohan Khokar's prestigious Collection was shown and the 20th edition of attenDance, the yearbook, was given to all. Dr Joshi, head of IGNCA, is a most cultured head, and a gracious host too. Dr Gaur, who heads Kala Nidhi division and library, gave the welcome address. Panelists Pankaj Saxena and Alka Raghuvanshi, both ace authorities in their respective fields of film and media, gave pointed points after the film was shown. Rama Vaidyanathan, Ambika Panikar, Kailash Sharma, Priya Raman represented next generation of artistes and acharyas.
What was memorable and mesmerizing the next week was a presentation by Dr. Sonal Mansingh at Habitat's Stein. At nearly 75, to dance solo for an hour without break, is in itself a feat, but the way she wove in many strands and stories, rasas and repertoire, showed her mastery.
Although the evening provided a platform for her students to showcase the training and teaching of a guru - who despite a hectic schedule of travel and parliament and trusteeship of many organizations and speaking at various forums - still makes time to mentor and present students, proves why Sonal Mansingh is also a super woman - dance diva, guru and mega star.
Yet again the week after, she presented an ode to Bapu at the swanky new Ambedkar Bhawan, opposite Shastri Bhavan. That Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam present in town for IGNCA's Kala Kosh meeting went on stage to felicitate her, brought two iconic artistes together. It was a touching moment.
Summer will soon be upon us and with that festivals and fairs will dry up a bit, although World Dance Day on April 29 proves to be a blockbuster in many metros. Ides of March and Idea of April we look forward to.
Ashish Mohan Khokar is a senior critic and historian with interest in cultural policy, international exchange and helps dance in many ways. He edits attendance and mentors many.
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