presentations at Incredible India @ 60 in New York
- Arun Aguiar,
"Evolution of Dance" video, a whimsical one-man capsule of the most popular
American dance fads of the past half-century, is the most popular video
on YouTube with almost 60 million views since it was first uploaded a year
– together with synthesis – was the name of the game for New Delhi-based
choreographer Madhavi Mudgal when she successfully presented, in less than
an hour, a taste of the finest of Indian classical dance traditions to
an invited New York audience that filled the 2,700-capacity Avery Fisher
Hall at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts for the gala inauguration
on September 23 of 'Incredible India @ 60,' a four-day celebration of Indian
art, music, dance and cuisine mixed with meetings of business leaders and
overseas Indians that was jointly sponsored by the Indian Ministry of Tourism
and the Confederation of Indian Industry.
loved it. Titled 'Sankriti - Indian classical dances in a composite presentation,'
the performance brought together the disparate styles of Bharatanatyam,
Odissi, Kathak, Manipuri, Kathakali and Mohiniattam dancers while invoking
the common tradition of the Natya Shastra. The piece began with an invocation
from the Rig Veda, and continued to music composed by Madhup Mudgal.
dancers from Geeta Chandran's Natya Vriksha company led off with the notes
of Krishna's flute heralding the performance of the Rasa. Next up were
Manipuri dancers led by Manipuri Nrityashram's Charu Sija Mathur who brought
romance and grace to the stage. The sensuous and sinuous forms of
Odissi were presented by dancers from Mudgal's Gandharva Mahavidyalaya.
Kathakali dancers from New Delhi's International Center for Kathakali in
skirts and elaborate face make-up brought a change in tempo as they presented
the vanquishing of the demonic by the divine. Bharati Shivaji's Mohiniattam
dancers drew a gasp when they poured water brought from five different
Indian rivers into a common vessel. Finally came the sparkling footwork
and whirling movements of Prerana Shrimali's Kathak Kendra dancers.
A tiny detail
made a big difference: the strategic placement of two raised platforms
at stage rear left and right allowed the audience to see each dance style
separately when there was more than one dance troupe on the stage. The
grand finale saw all the featured forms come together showering benedictions
on all through the celebratory symbol of Vasant.
All the dance
companies and dancers were from New Delhi, which enabled the dancers to
rehearse their combined choreography together, and go on stage the night
of their arrival in New York.
A repeat presentation
was scheduled to take place the next night at the same venue, but without
opening remarks and welcome speeches by visiting Ministers and invited
American dignitaries, thereby allowing time for group presentations of
each of the individual dance styles, following their combined appearance
in the composite Sankriti performance.
Alas for the
dancers, the event organizers failed to attract the attention of American
media or dance critics, so the performances went unreported. Moreover,
while the organizers filled the seats on the opening night, over 70% of
the audience were NRI's rather than mainstream Americans. And, with
camera and video use by the public prohibited in the Avery Fisher Hall,
it seems unlikely that a pirate video of Sankriti will ever become a viral
hit on YouTube.
contingent of folk dancers accompanied the classical dancers to New York.
They performed during the daytime and early evenings at the South Street
Seaport and Bryant Park. Except for an inept troupe of bhangra dancers,
they were of uniformly high quality. Some of the folk styles had
never before been seen in America, not even by NRI's. But once again,
the organizers' publicity failed to impress the mainstream audience.
The folk artists performed 10-minute sets to audiences of 100-300 persons,
most of them Indian Americans, many from New Jersey, who settled down to
watch the performances all day and into the setting sun.
was an overarching target for the folk dance presentations as well, though
no claim was publicly made that they all owed their origins to common roots.
Sadly, there was barely any interpretive commentary to accompany the presentations.
And Moitree Pahari, the founder-director of Lok Chanda, the 15-yr-old New
Delhi based folk arts company that coordinated the folk dance presentations
was so laconic that not only could I barely get a couple of words of explanation
out of her when I spoke to her one on one, but she also deigned to take
a bow when the emcees pressed her to come out after the choreographed 'Call
of Peace' massed dancers finale that brought all the folk artists together
while percussionist Sivamani pounded the drums on the closing night at
the South Street Seaport.
it was a treat to see a folk dance trio from Uttar Pradesh perform the
mayor dance with elaborate peacock feathers, the audience was none the
wiser for who they were, from whence they hailed, what was the purpose
of the dance, and what were its roots. Ditto for lavani dancers from Maharashtra,
langa and manghaniyar musicians and kalbelia dancers from Rajasthan, and
the numerous troupes from the north-eastern Indian states who performed
Magh Bihu (from Assam), Thang Tha and Dhol Chalam (from Manipur), Cheraw
(from Mizoram), Singhi Cham (from Sikkim), to name a few. The Sangeet Natak
Akademi, the sponsoring body for all the dance presentations, had produced
an informative and illustrated monograph on most of the folk dances that
were presented, and I picked up a copy on the opening day, but did not
see it in the hands of audience members on the following days.
The folk dancers
had to share the stage with Bollywood dancers choreographed by Saroj Khan,
and musical performances by bands led by Remo Fernandes, Hariharan (Colonial
Cousins), and Sivamani. The bands, particularly Remo Fernandes’s troupe,
threw the folk dancers' programs off-schedule and further limited their
already brief appearances, while consuming vast amounts of time in sound
check while the audience sat and twiddled their thumbs. Snippets of Kathakali,
Theyyam, Mohiniattam, Thiruvathira, and Kerala Natanam were labeled in
a printed program as "folk dance and music" and thrown into this mix.
public presentations in the Incredible India programs were the fashion
shows by Raghavendra Rathore, Wendell Rodricks and Ritu Kumar. I saw the
latter two draw prolonged applause from the over 3,000 people (once again,
mostly Indian Americans) who crowded the sides of the stage into the late
evening for their Bryant Park shows. (A few weeks later, Kumar opened her
first store outside India in Edison, New Jersey with two collections, a
traditional one that includes saris, wedding trousseaus, and evening outfits,
and a younger line.)
cultural presentations at Incredible India were well presented, supported
by dramatic props and excellent sound, lighting, and stage facilities,
and very obviously they were meticulously planned both in India as also
at the various site locations in New York. The overall budget for all cultural,
business and commercial activities for the four days was rumored to be
in excess of $10 million. The troupes included 45 classical dancers and
accompanying musicians, 140 folk dance performers, 10 master craftspersons
who displayed their trades in spacious booths at Bryant Park, 15 chefs,
15 technical assistants, and sand sculptor Sudarshan Patnaik who created
an imitation Taj Mahal at the Port Authority Bus Terminal.
If Sunil Bharti,
head of the CII, was hoping to present American business leaders locked
in private deal-making with a public assertion of India's claim to cultural
quality and diversity, the presentations would have more than delivered
the goods. But if he wanted to really get New York City, let alone the
whole of America, to stand up and take notice, this was poor return on
investment. This is a city where entrepreneurs and artists and governments
from all over the world compete for attention, and without mass turnouts,
and without elaborate editorial print and TV pre-and post-event coverage,
even two full-page New York Times advertisements at a cost of around $150,000
each to herald the start and the end of the four-day showcase can be and
quite probably were lost and forgotten in the blink of an eye.
A full listing
of all the events and activities that made up Incredible India @ 60 was
available at www.IncredibleIndia.org