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10th National Dance Festival at Ahmedabad
- Dr Sunil Kothari

March 15, 2013

By a fortuitous circumstance during my visit to Gujarat both at Baroda and Ahmedabad, I was lucky to attend and review two major dance festivals Nritya Parva and 11th Kathak Nritya Sangeet Mahotsav at both the cities.

It was Kathak exponents, husband and wife team of Maulik Shah and Ishira Parikh, who introduced me to Chandan Thakore, Bharatanatyam exponent, teacher and choreographer. I was delighted to meet him and learn a lot about Nrityabharati institute established by his mother, the well known guru Elakshi Thakore. I had known Elakshiben since 1958, when I visited Dance Department at M.S. University, Baroda. She was learning Bharatanatyam from traditional nattuvanar Kubernath Tanjorekar and dramatics at the Drama Department. On completing her studies and after marriage to renowned theatre director Arun Thakore, she settled in Ahmedabad and started her institution Nrityabharati to train students in Bharatanatyam. She also choreographed a full Margam in Gujarati and trained hundreds of students in Ahmedabad.

Nrityabharati troupe

Her younger son Chandan took to Bharatanatyam, whereas the elder son Kabir took to Dramatics. Chandan, besides performing and teaching dance, started group choreography with large number of dancers and besides these activities, began travelling abroad. In 2010 on the 130th birth anniversary of the Nobel Prize winner German author Hermann Hesse they performed in front of his house and also visited Japan to perform at Otemon University at Osaka. Chandan's group works include dance-dramas Vision of India, Luv-Kush, Siddharth, Meghadutam, Shiva Nrityaanjali, Shri Krishna Mahaprasthan, Gita Govindam, Shailputri and the latest Journey through the beautiful persona of Naari. Chandan has also experimented with Flamenco and Bharatanatyam taking the theme of Panchamahabhutam. Ten years ago, the Performing Arts section of Nrityabharati started organizing the National Dance Festival, inviting leading dancers from all over India and sometimes dancers from abroad.

Chandan invited me to attend the 10th National Dance Festival (Feb 18 - 21) at Samutkarsha, near Prahlad Nagar. The venue accommodates nearly a thousand people. With a large stage with black backdrop and better viewing facilities and commendable sound system and lighting, the performances by participating dancers were engaging. On the opening night, in Naari choreographed by Chandan, young dancers dwelt upon the theme of women through ages. From Vedic age, women of eminence like Gargi and others, have been respected for not only their beauty but also intelligence. Praising them the journey of women through ages has been quite fascinating. Woman as mother, wife, friend, playing several roles is indeed Shakti. The feminine principle was well emphasized.

The choreography was simple, uncluttered and group formation moved smoothly as the participating dancers were of more or less similar heights and visually they looked very colourful. Their Bharatanatyam movements were precise and they performed in a synchronized manner to the musical score. The overall composition and the formations of the chain, shrinkhala, were eye catching. The team work was impressive. As a choreographer, Chandan attempts at maintaining simplicity. Instead of complicated talas and patterns, what the dancers can execute perfectly has been a great advantage in his approach.

Ganna Smirnova

From Kiev, Ukraine, Ganna Smirnova gave a brief delightful Bharatanatyam performance. I had seen her performances earlier in India and when we visited Kiev for International Dance Festival which she and her husband Sanjay Rajhans organize there, inviting dancers including Indian Diaspora settled abroad to perform classical dances like Bharatanatyam, Kathak and Odissi. I was able to see her work training dancers at Kiev. She has been trained in Kalakshetra style of Bharatanatyam by Jayalakshmi Eshwar for more than ten years. Her style is faithful to Kalakshetra spirit and movements, and she has a stage presence which gives onlookers an impression of her as an Indian dancer.

She opened with Devi Mangalam in Ragamalika and Taalamalika. Addressed to three Goddesses Saraswati, Lakshmi and Durga with lyrics from traditional texts, the ragas used were Bauli, Sri and Durga. The iconic images of the goddesses were well etched by her interspersing small teermanams. Jayalakshmi Eshwar's choreography was highlighted by Ganna in various striking poses of the Goddesses. In Meerabai's bhajan, Mere to Girdhar Gopal, dusaro na koi, Ganna used the sancharis of Indra's getting upset at devotees praying only to Lord Krishna, so he sent rains and Krishna lifted mount Goverdhan protecting all the cowherds and gopis. Referring to Krishna's peacock feather, Meera enjoys his vision. Asuvan sinch sinch premabel boi, with tears she had generated the creeper of love and Meera did not care for the comments of people and thought only of the Lord who mattered in this life. With restrained but intense abhinaya Ganna won the applause of the audience for her rendering.

She concluded with Tillana in Amritavarshini raga and adi tala. The music composition was by Sadashivam and choreography by Jayalakshmi Eshwar. In the prayer part of Tillana with sahitya she referred to the Lord performing at Chidambaram who is worshipped as Nataraja and who danced at the Golden Hall. Ganna's grasp over Bharatanatyam is praiseworthy. Belonging to a different culture, she had imbibed the spirit of Bharatanatyam admirably. Her performance was a highlight of the evening.

Rajashree Shirke & troupe

On the second day from Mumbai, the well known Kathak dancer Rajashree Shirke, a disciple of Madhumita Sarang of Jaipur gharana, regaled the audience with her impeccable presentation. Her three students accompanied her. Going through the traditional Kathak nritta sequences of thaat, parans, kavits and other infra-numbers, Rajashree displayed her taiyyari and training of her disciples. Their command over taal and laya was excellent and with dynamic dancing they won rounds of applause for most of the time. Kathak is an open ended form and has instant appeal with Hindustani music. Rajashree's son Aniruddha Shirke, a brilliant drummer, gave her good support.

Rajashree has won acclaim for her choreography of Kathak Ravana Mandodari Samvad from the Ramayana. We are used to Sadara being sung by Birju Maharaj of his father Bindadin Maharaj's composition. With imagination, Rajashree has used the story telling aspect of Kathak, taking many roles, rendering vachikabhianaya, dialogues, enacting roles of Sita, Rama, Ravana and of course Mandodari, which has become her signature. Rajashree uses the kathakar's style with touch of Maharashtrian music, and captivates audiences from the moment she enters the stage. In the stanza Shesha fana dagamagyo, even the Shesha Nag lost balance, when Ram shot the arrow, so amazing was the sound of bow of Lord Rama. The three dancers turned into the hood of Shesha Nag. Another sequence was building the bridge across the ocean. Rajashree uses the space imaginatively creating an illusion of a bridge being built. I can go on counting many imageries where Rajashree succeeds in creating dramatic tableau and visuals. Her vilap when Ravana is killed is very moving. With her abhinaya enhanced by apt music, she evokes karuna rasa in the audience. Powerful and appealing, her enactment has won accolades wherever she has presented this work of hers, which is outstanding. Bravo Rajashree!

Over the next two days, Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra's daughter-in-law Sujata Mohapatra from Bhubaneswar performed Odissi and Sahrdaya troupe headed by Manjari, daughter of Guru CV Chandrashekhar presented a Bharatanatyam group work. Unfortunately, I missed the performances. I was impressed by Chandan's untiring zeal and organizing capacities, Cool, collected and quiet, Chandan has carved a niche for himself in Ahmedabad. Like the well known music festival Saptak which is known world over and in which every musician of India has performed and looks forward to performing, Chandan plans to hold National Festival of Dance for nine to ten days. He has the capacity to do it and one hopes he shall succeed in doing so. Here's wishing him all the best.

Dr. Sunil Kothari
Dr. Sunil Kothari is a dance historian, scholar, author and a renowned dance critic. He is Vice President of World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific India chapter, based in New Delhi. He is honored by the President of India with Padma Shri, Sangeet Natak Akademi award and Senior Critic Award from Dance Critics Association, NYC. He is a regular contributor to, the roving critic for monthly magazine Sruti and is a contributing editor of Nartanam for the past 12 years.

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