Maximum India
Festival of India in USA
March 2 - 20, 2011, Washington DC
March 3, 2011

When I arrived at George Washington University to give an illustrated talk on Contemporary Indian dance, organized by the renowned Kuchipudi exponent Nilimma Devi on 30th April 2009, I met Dana Tai Soon Burgess, Chair and Associate Professor of Dance of Department of Theatre and Dance, a handsome Korean American dancer, who casually said that The Kennedy Centre was not far from the University. Since I had to meet Alicia Adams, executive director of the international program of the Kennedy Centre, he called her and Alicia said "Most welcome."

I had met her with Amal Allana, Chairperson of National School of Drama (NSD) at Kamani Hall in New Delhi, with Alicia's colleague Gilda. They had come to see the Manipuri version 'Ashibagee Eshei,' Ratan Thiyam's adaptation of Ibsen's last play which Ibsen wrote in 1899 viz., 'When we dead awaken.' We had spent some time together discussing the Festival of India to be held in March 2011 at the Kennedy Centre, and I had promised to bring a DVD of the play with subtitles and a CD of photographs from Chorus Repertory Theatre from Imphal. Alicia immediately agreed to see me. I took permission to bring Nilimma Devi with me. They knew her and were delighted that she would join us.

Ten years ago, Asia Society in collaboration with Lisa Booth Company based in New York had presented at the Kennedy Centre 'Uttar Priyadarshi' directed by Ratan Thiyam for Chorus Repertory Theatre, Imphal, as the American premier. As a foreign tour manager of Chorus Repertory Theatre, I have been working with Ratan Thiyam for the past 30 years, since we met each other in 1980. I had known his parents, but had not seen his plays. With Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, I saw Bhasa's 'Urubhangam' directed by Ratan Thiyam at Imphal. I had studied Bhasa's 'Natak Chakra' in Sanskrit for my MA which included 'Urubhangam.' I was bowled over by the sheer visual appeal and teamwork, the acting, and the use of Manipuri traditions Ratan had employed in the play. A series of plays flowed, among them 'Chakravyuha' has become a world classic. However, Asia Society, their young program officer Rachel Cooper and directors of Lisa Booth and company, Lisa and Deidre, were overwhelmed seeing 'Uttar Priyadarshi' when they visited Imphal. And our American coast to coast tour was finalized for the year 2000. Ten years ago, when we staged the play at the Kennedy Centre, Alicia was on a tour, but she had heard of 'the unprecedented success' the play had received.

Since we had returned from a tour of China in the month of March, with the said play, earning more laurels, she asked me how 'Uttar Priyadarshi' had been received by the Chinese audiences. Based on a long poem by Sachidanand Vatsyayan, Agyeya, Uttar Priyadarshi, the play remains contemporary, more so in these troubled times, that a fresh look at the play simply astounds anyone who watches it. (See my article on Festival of India in China……….)

When I met Her Excellency Mrs. Mira Shankar at the Embassy of India, in Washington, she told me that when she was the Director General of Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), she had commissioned the play which was premiered at Bangkok. She reminisced about it and wished it could have been staged again. However, Alicia and Gilda wanted the latest play by Ratan, therefore it was finalized to have Ibsen's play 'When we dead awaken.'
Alicia Adams, Vice President of International Programming, J F Kennedy Center, Washington DC, with author Ahdaf Soueif
Kennedy Center has been organizing festivals devoted to major countries. After China, they had concentrated on 22 Arab countries, the Festival titled 'Arabesque, the Arts of the Arab world' during February 23 - March 2009, featuring plays, opera, dances, crafts, paintings, films, music and costumes of the countries of the Arab world. They have brought out an attractive volume 'Arabesque' containing excellent visuals. I requested Alicia to give me a copy of the same, which a young Parsi colleague Xerxes Unwala, a Ph. D in music, assisting the Kennedy Centre for the Festival of India titled 'Maximum India,' gave to me. Fabulous is the word. It records how, for three weeks in February and March of 2009, the Kennedy Center was transformed by the sights and sounds of Arab arts and culture. Walking through the Kennedy Center and entering the halls and theatres, visitors were transported to experience the Centre's Arabesque: the Arts of the Arab World.

So vast is the Kennedy Centre with its multiple venues that many events can be held simultaneously. Of course, such festivals are held with the help of official governmental agencies of the respective countries. Three to four years in advance, the team of Alicia and Gilda tour the various cities, audition the artists, watch the performances, consult the specialists, trust their own responses and select the artist and art forms. They also depend upon agencies like Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) to support and sponsor some of the artists and the rest are being sponsored by the Kennedy Center with the funding made available through the Federal Government of America, as a part of their international programming.

Alicia informed me that the Kennedy Center shall from time to time announce the schedule of the performances and exhibitions through the media. The information will also be made available through press release and on the website of 'Maximum India, the Kennedy Center, Washington DC.' The latest (and it shall be updated) schedule is as follow:

Venues for Exhibitions: Atrium, North Gallery, Hall of Nations, North Atrium Foyer, Hall of States, South Atrium Foyer, South Gallery, Roof Terrace, Grand Foyer and Terrace Gallery.

The exhibitions shall include exhibitions of crafts, sarees, The Gem Palace Collection, a special exhibition of fans collected from all over the world - Pankha-s, curated by painter Jatin Das; of painters Jitish Kallat, Reena Saini Kallat, Thukral and Tagra, Bharti Kher and there will also be a guided tour of 'The Crafts of India.' These will be on from March 1 till 20, 2011 at various venues listed above.
Alarmel Valli
Hari and Chethana
Priyadarsini Govind
Malavika Sarukkai
Nrityagram Dance Ensemble
Ragamala Dance Company
Venues: Eisenhower Theatre, Terrace Theatre, Family Theatre, Millennium Theatre for Classical Dances of India
- Madhavi Mudgal (Odissi) and Alarmel Valli (Bharatanatyam) in 'Samanvaya: Coming Together' on March 2, Eisenhower Theatre at 8pm
- Priyadarshini Govind (Bharatanatyam) and Nrityagram Ensemble (Odissi) on March 6, Terrace Theatre at 7.30pm
- On the evening of March 7, 2011 Natyalakshana presents the dance drama SHAKUNTHALAM based on the immortal love story written by poet Kalidasa in the 5th century. Shakunthalam has been choreographed by Usha Venkateswaran in Kathak style. The scintillating Kathak duo Hari and Chethana are the lead dancers.
- Daksha Sheth Dance Company (contemporary dance) on March 8, Terrace Theatre at 7.30 pm
- Ragamala Dance Company (Bharatanatyam) from Minnesota, and Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company (Bharatanatyam and contemporary) from Washington D C on March 9, Family Theatre at 7.30pm
- Malavika Sarukkai (Bharatanatyam) on March 10, Terrace Theatre at 7.30pm
- Shantala Shivalingappa (Kuchipudi) on March 12, Terrace Theatre at 7.30pm
Ratan Thiyam's Chorus Repertory
Nati Binodini
Theatre: Plays
Venues: Terrace Theatre, Eisenhower Theatre, Family Theatre
- 'Nati Binodini' directed by Amal Allana, Theatre and Television Associates, New Delhi, on March 2 and 3 at Terrace Theatre at 7.30pm
- 'When we dead awaken' directed by Ratan Thiyam, Chorus Repertory Theatre from Imphal, on MARCH 4 and 5 at Eisenhower Theatre at 7.30pm
- 'Ismat Apa ke Nam' directed by Naseeruddin Shah for Motley Theatre Group from Mumbai, at Family Theatre on March 5 and 6 at 7.30pm

Admission to all these panels is FREE

- March 12
Panel Ashish Nandy and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak / Moderator: Ritu Birla
Family Theatre at 1.30pm
Panel: Fuastine Bama, Ganesh N Devy, and Javed Akhtar / Moderator: Ritu Menon
No matter how you cut it, the vast Indian literature is inaccessible to English readers. Is it the case that most Indian writing that is translated to English is automatically westernised? or that writing in other Indian languages is provincial, non-metropolitan, grounded in a home-grown reality? Is the one more authentic than the other? And can any Indian language ever be accurately labelled 'marginal' when its readers number in the millions? Writers from across India's literary spectrum address these burning questions and others.
Family Theatre at 4pm

- March 13
Panel: Suketu Mehta, Maya K Rao and Sunetra Gupta / Moderator Hirsh Sawhney
Imagining the city will offer a lively panel discussion about cities in India- their histories and their futures. Suketu Mehta is the author of the classic study of Bombay, Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found. Sunetra Gupta is the highly regarded author of Memories of Rain, A Sin of Colour and her most recent novel So Good in Black, a paen to her native city, Kolkata
Family Theatre at 4pm

- March 17
A reading by William Dalrymple, accompanied by classical singer Vidya Shah
Discover a bygone era of matchless splendor - the period of the last Mughals. This evocative evening celebrates the sweet, poignant poetry and ghazals of the Mughal court, brought to life by celebrated author William Dalrymple reading from his award winning book The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi 1857. Experience a forgotten world of emperors, poets, courtesans, politics, bayonets, intrigue, and love.
The Monsoon Club at 7.30pm

- March 18
Panel: Salman Rushdie, Nayantara Sahagal and William Dalrymple / Moderator: Ahdaf Soueif
What role do history and politics play in a writer's imagination? Is religion important? Gender, class, caste? Should literature preoccupy itself with any of these?
Concert Hall at 8pm

- March 19
Panel: Girish Karnad, Sharmila Tagore and Sadanand Menon / Moderator: Lalitha Gopalan
Since the 1950s, cinema has evolved to dominate India's imagination. This panel explores film biography and autobiography as a personalized account of this evolution as experienced by those most intimately involved. All three panelists are too well know to need intorduction. Sadanand Menon is a notable film critic, journalist, chronicler of Tamil cinema and a cultural commentator.
Terrace Theatre at 4.30pm

There are performances by Anushka Shankar, Zakir Hussain, Rudresh Mahanthappa and The Indo-Pak Coalition, and some artists of Indian origin settled in USA (Details awaited). The performances sponsored by ICCR include Sharmila Biswas's group of Odissi choreographic work from Kolkata, Tanushree Shankar's choreographic work 'The Child' the poem of Tagore in English from Kolkata, Kerala Kalamandalam's Kathakali, Classical vocal music by Rajan and Sajan Mishra from New Delhi, Manganiyar Rajasthani Folk Music from Jodhpur, Beyond Bollywood, the world of cinema, (Details awaited)

It is a massive presentation reminding one of 'FESTIVAL OF INDIA' in USA. During the recent visit to India of President Obama, a special press conference was held in New Delhi, which was attended by Alicia Adams. The Director General of ICCR, His Excellency Mr. Suresh Goel, had explained the impact Indian arts would be making upon essentially American audiences when India is being looked upon as a major power in the international political arena. Alicia also explained how these festivals build the bridges of understanding and since Indian Diaspora in USA forms also a considerable section of American audiences, participation by some established Indian Diaspora artists settled in USA, helps a lot to appreciate Indian music, dance and related arts.

It is going to be one of the major Festivals of Indian Arts in recent times. Not only Indian Diaspora, but the American audiences are eagerly waiting to relish the Indian arts. A special Food Festival is also to be held during the Maximum India festival. I am looking forward to attending it and will be covering it for and other print media.

Dr. Sunil Kothari, dance historian, scholar, author, is a renowned dance critic, having written for The Times of India group of publications for more than 40 years. He is a regular contributor to Dance Magazine, New York. Dr. Kothari is a globetrotter, attending several national, international dance conferences and dance festivals. He has to his credit more than 14 definitive works on Indian classical dance forms. Kothari was a Fulbright Professor and has taught at the Dance Department, New York University; has lectured at several Universities in USA, UK, France, Australia, Indonesia and Japan. He has been Vice President of World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific (2000-2008) and is Vice President of World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific India chapter, based in New Delhi. A regular contributor to, Dr Kothari is honored by the President of India with the civil honor of Padma Shri and Sangeet Natak Akademi award. He recently received the Senior Critic award from Dance Critics Association, NYC.