2007 – Celebration of International Dance Day
Although the official date for the Day is April 29, which the organisers could follow in the previous year, this time it had to be deferred to May 20 since the faculty members of the dance school (Kanaka Sabha) were busy with university examinations. As on the last occasion, this year also the celebration was in the form of a dance competition called "Natya Sagara" and was held at the premises of Academy of Fine Arts and Crafts (AFAC) in Chembur, Mumbai.
– Guru (Bharatanatyam)
Those from the senior and the special categories performed in the spacious main auditorium and the juniors in a class room. The auditorium was more or less full providing hope for the future of Indian classical dances. The cautionary sounding of bell a couple of minutes before the expiry of the time limit was helpful to the participants. Except for a few dancers all were able to comply with the time limit. They had obviously planned well. The volume of music was very loud at times so much so some contestants could not hear the bell going off and had to cut short their dances abruptly when the time limit was reached and the music was turned off. However, it would appear that it did not work against their chances to be awarded prizes. In some cases, the audio recording/reproduction of taped music was not satisfactory. It is obvious that in such cases there would be a loss of interest in the performances on the part of both the contestants and the judges. This should be brought to the notice of future participants in the competition. There was one welcome instance of a live orchestra for a candidate in the junior category.
This writer, who witnessed all the dances in the main auditorium, felt that the right candidates were selected as prizewinners. The list almost coincided with his own judgement! It is really difficult to rank dancers when most of them, especially the seniors, have had training for a reasonable period and bring to bear a professional touch to their presentations. It was one of the highlights of the competition that there was no amateurish performance in the derogatory sense of the term. This is a relief considering the anxiety of parents and gurus to mount their wards or students on the stage rather too soon. Selecting candidates for prizes in such competitions with high standards is difficult. Emphasis on some technical aspect or the other, for example, correct araimandi or the Nataraja pose, may decide the outcome. (Incidentally, this writer does not like the practice of any dancer in a Nataraja pose keeping up the left leg by holding the foot with the right hand although one leading natyacharya once told him that it was permissible. It is unaesthetic and should not be encouraged as an easy option).
Besides well-known pieces like Samaganapriye (Hindolam, Adi) and Nathanai Azhaittu Vaa Sakhiye (Kambodhi, Adi) there were a few relatively new (to this writer) items like Nataraja (Nattakurinji, Adi). Surabhi attempted the well-known varnam Dhanike (Todi, Adi) with all its ramifications in sanchari bhavas, etc. It was indeed bold on her part to have presented the varnam in a capsule form. It was a laudable effort showing how manodharma can not only expand but contract also - a case of the Parkinson’s Law in reverse! (In his famous 'law' Parkinson said that work expands to fill the time available for its completion! Here the expansive varnam, which normally takes around 30 minutes, was finished in 12 minutes). Shri Ganesh Iyer, one of the judges, made a special mention of this and gave some useful advice on how to present such a major item in an abbreviated form.
Among the performances a few may be mentioned without detracting from the contributions of others. Kavya Ramesh, who performed in the Odissi style, impressed this writer with the perfect tribhangi stance she maintained throughout in a consistent manner without any laxity. Amruta was just superb in her Kathak. She performed like a real professional. Her anga sanchalan was effortless and flowed smoothly in a seamless manner. The chakra brahmaris were breathtaking reminding one of some of the masters in the field. Eloquent expression of bhava was another highlight of her dance. To cap it all, she presented some excellent footwork in front of a foot mike after reciting the rhythmic syllables. She earned the first prize in the Special Category.
Another outstanding dancer (in Bharatanatyam) was Shruti Shankar. She presented a song of the late Kavi Yogi Suddhananda Bharati, whose output of songs for Bharatanatyam is prodigious. But unfortunately they have not been popularised. Shruti danced to "Ananda Thandavam" in Rishabhapriya in Adi tala. It was set to music by the multitalented artiste P S Krishnamurthy. She did full justice to the poet's portrayal of the different dances of Lord Siva. Steadiness in stances, angasuddham in adavus and careful adherence to kalappramanam were evident in abundance in her performance. Last year there was a Special Category separately for Bharatanatyam and other styles. This year they were merged due to the insufficient number of entries for other styles. This writer felt that if there had been one especially for Bharatanatyam, Shruti would have easily qualified for the first prize. But, given the overwhelming performance of Kathak by Amruta, she could be given only the second prize. It reflects in no way on her talents. She has a bright future ahead of her.
of dancing on skates
While such innovations are welcome one needs to be cautious about their fitting in with the total ambience of a classical dance like Bharatanatyam. For a Westerner going into the church wearing shoes may be part of his normal attire. But, in India, it may look odd for a dancer to wear shoes to stand on the skates and make an obeisance either to Lord Ganesh or Lord Nataraja or the gurus or the audience. In fact, whoever goes up on stage for some purpose or the other removes his footwear before doing so, as it is considered disrespectful otherwise. Also Nataraja wearing shoes could be a shocker! This is not to discourage the young boy from pursuing his talents further but to caution him on the need to dovetail them to the sensibilities of the dance form.
This writer had expressed a nagging question in his mind in a past review about the methodology for judging contestants presenting dances in various styles, each with its own speciality. He would like to repeat it to indicate how the problem was solved. To quote: "In the case of academic subjects like physical sciences the syllabuses and the question papers are common in examinations. Thus there is standardisation and commonality and there is no difficulty in judging objectively the relative merits of candidates through marks or grades. How does one do that in an art form? The problem is twofold. One is within each style, say, Bharatanatyam, and the other is across different styles. How does one compare two Bharatanatyam performers - one doing a varnam and the other a javali? Or, how does one judge a Kathak dancer's tatkar vis-à-vis the teermanam of a Bharatanatyam artist? Will there not be a large subjective element in judgment? Saroja Srinath resolved the puzzle when these questions were posed to her. She said that there are common elements in all the styles like nritta, abhinaya, laya gnana and presentation, the last providing a total impression. Marks were given for each of these characteristics. Thus it was not difficult to judge the participants." ["Natya Sagara: Report on dance competition organised by Kanaka Sabha, Mumbai" (April 2005), www.kanakasabha.com]
was somewhat late in announcing the contest due to certain practical difficulties.
It should revert to the old practice of publicising it in January. Since
there is a rush for train journey during summer, sufficient notice will
be helpful to participants outside Mumbai in reserving their tickets while
facilitating the holiday plans of local dancers.
an Economic Consultant in Mumbai, is a former Officer-in-Charge of the
Department of Economic Analysis and Policy of the Reserve Bank of India
and (IMF) Adviser to the National Bank of Kyrgyzstan (a former Soviet Union
Republic in Central Asia) and Bank of Sierra Leone (West Africa). He thanks
Sarikha Shetty for the assistance received in getting details of the competition.