Natya Sagara 2007 – Celebration of International Dance Day  
- A Seshan, Mumbai 
June 12, 2007 

Kanaka Sabha Centre for the Performing Arts, Chembur, Mumbai, and its website jointly organized a dance competition called Natya Sagara to celebrate the International Dance Day for the fourth year in succession. The Day is observed all over the world to commemorate the birthday of Jean-George Noverre (1727-1810), the father of modern ballet. The objective is to bring all dances together on this occasion, to celebrate this art form and its universality, to cross all political and ethnic barriers and to bring people together in peace and friendship with a common language - dance.  

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.  

There were contestants from Pune, Puducherry and Baroda besides those from the city. They were divided into three categories. 
Group  Age  (Years) Duration of performance (Minutes)
Junior Below 12 7
Senior 12 – 16 7
Special Above 16 12

Panel of Judges 
There were six judges all of whom are known in the Mumbai cultural circle for their expertise in their fields.  

Revathi Srinivasaraghavan – Guru (Bharatanatyam) 
Jyoti Bhatt - Musician (vocalist- Hindustani) 
Seema Shetty - Bharatanatyam and television artiste  
Moli Siddharth - Odissi Guru 
K A Sivaramakrishnan, popularly known as Ganesh Iyer- Carnatic vocalist and music composer 
K N P Nambisan- Carnatic musician (percussion) and music director 

Corporate sponsorship of the event was thoughtfully provided by Radhakrishnan Pillai of Atma Darshan, a company that provides services including management consultancy and religious and spiritual tourism.  

The Contest 
The programme started at 10am with inauguration by the lighting of the lamp (kutthu vilakku) by guru Saroja Srinath, one of the founders of the dance school. Siri Rama, Director, welcomed the audience, explained the objective and dealt at length with the procedure followed to ensure objectivity in deciding on the prize winners. Thus the names of participants were revealed to the judges only at the time of the contest. In any case, the names of their gurus were not disclosed to any one, including the judges. In fact, one did not know the gurus' identities even after the contest!  This is very important since all of us in the field know the types of pressures that can be brought on the sponsors and the judges from gurus ever anxious to publicise their brand names! As in the previous years, the students of Kanaka Sabha were barred from participation. The programme came to a close by 2pm. 

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.  

Prize Winners:  
Junior group  
1st prize- Vaishnavi Shetty- Bharatanatyam 
2nd prize- Smruti Samant- Kathak 
3rd prize- Arundhati Chakraborty- Odissi  

Consolation prize 
1.  S Kasirajan- Bharatanatyam- (Puducherry) 
2.  Deeksha Devadiga- Bharatanatyam 
3.  Shraoshee  Majumdar-Odissi 

Senior category (Bharatanatyam) 
1st prize- Surabhi Andrade 
2nd prize- Rhea Hirani  
3rd prize- Akshata Bhandari 

Consolation prize 
1. Shiji Nair 

Senior category (Other styles) 
1st prize- Divya Mutturaman- Kuchipudi 
2nd prize-  Shiji Nair- Kuchipudi 

Special Category 
1st prize - Amruta Paranjape- Kathak  
2nd prize- Shruti Shankar- Bharatanatyam 
3rd prize- Tejaswi Shetty- Bharatanatyam 

S Kasirajan
Amruta Paranjape
Shruti Shankar

Demonstration of dancing on skates 
One surprise item by way of a bonus to the audience was a demonstration of Bharatanatyam on skates by Kasirajan, the young 10-year-old son of Ramalingam Saravanan, who came all the way from Puducherry (formerly called Pondicherry) to Mumbai for the contest. It was outside the competition. (He earned a Consolation Prize in the Junior category in the regular contest).  Eyebrows were raised when the announcement of the demonstration was made as it was something unheard of or unseen, although one understands that dancing on skates (especially ice skating) is popular in the West. This reviewer was curious to know how it would look in the context of a classical style like Bharatanatyam with its somewhat strict framework. But his doubts were cleared as soon as Kasirajan ascended the stage and did his first rolling round of obeisance. One can say that such aspects as abhinaya do not get disturbed by skates. Adavus were done on the usual lines.  Perhaps, the only element that may be difficult to execute is the footwork. One cannot expect the type of azhuttam that one sees in a normal dance. But even here one could see at least a few of the positions like kunchita padam. There was no question of tripping over due to the loss of balance at any stage as Kasirajan had a firm grip on his skates and feet as well as on his dance. His Nataraja pose was steady, perfect and effortless. Appropriately he selected Muthu Tandavar's famous song in Mayamalavagaulai in Adi. The pallavi is "Adikkondaranda Vedikkai Kanakkan Aayiram Vendamo?"  It means: "Does it not require 1000 eyes to see the fun of the dance of Nataraja?" It was really fun (vedikkai), but a serious one, both for the children and the adults.  

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. 

As in the past the contest was a great success thanks to the enthusiasm of participants, their parents and gurus and the excellent arrangements made by the faculty of Kanaka Sabha. Surekha, Sarikha and Vidhya compered the show competently.  Sujata and Sujaya diligently performed the onerous duty of time keeping. Sreelesh Nambiar, the photographer, did his job unobtrusively. Archana, Anupama and Saidivya smoothly conducted the process of registration of candidates besides looking after enquiries and general administration.  

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),] 

Kanaka Sabha 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.  

The author, 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.