Bangalore Diary  
- Dr Sunil Kothari 

 May 14, 2009 

I arrived in Bangalore on April 29, 2009 by morning flight from New Delhi. The new airport is impressive and everything looks 'spic and span.' I was coming to the new airport for the first time. A co-passenger advised me to go to Malleswaram where I was to stay, by Meru taxi. The new road is smooth and connects to the city without traffic jam, till one enters the city limits.  Guru Lalitha of institution Nupura and her husband D Srinivasan, the organizers of the three-day event, were awaiting me, to join Mahamahopadhyaya, the renowned scholar Dr. R Sathyanarayana from Mysore for lunch. He has been honored with the Sangeet Natak Akademi award for overall contribution to the performing arts. The award ceremony will take place in Delhi after the elections are over and when the President gives a suitable date in next month or two. Nupura decided to felicitate him during their annual Nitya Nritya dance festival, and also requested him to inaugurate the World Dance Day celebrations.  

We met each other after a long time. I was aware of his latest work, the editing of Pundarika Vithala's Nartana Nirnaya for Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA). He is a legend and as a scholar has contributed immensely to the shastric knowledge of classical dance, music and cognate studies. We used to meet during the UGC meetings for curriculum and compare notes, staying together at University campuses during those days. Associated from the beginning with Nupura, his discourses on dance and music are a treat! We recalled our meetings during Nitya Nritya conferences, which have been revived since last year by the Srinivasans in a big way. I had delivered a keynote address last year and attended the three-day festival, enjoying the hospitality of Srinivasans' friends and neighbors Dr. Padmanabh Rao and his wife Dr. Nandini Rao. Therefore it was like coming back home after a year.  

Six months ago, Srinvasan had started working on the festival and wanted to feature an outstanding troupe from abroad. Therefore it was decided to invite Kuala Lumpur based Ramli Ibrahim and his Sutra Dance Theatre. Since Ramli and troupe were to present their work 'Spellbound' at The Music Academy festival in January 2009 at Chennai, I had suggested to Srinivasan to visit Chennai and see that performance, which had received great praise at the Carnegie Hall event in New York last year, and work out the nitty gritty of bringing the troupe to Bangalore. It worked out well as Ramli was to present his latest choreographic work 'Rasa Unmasked' during India tour and also in Bangalore.  

Come April and all over India dancers are agog with plans to celebrate World Dance Day on 29th. Declared by International Dance Council, UNESCO, (Paris), as a World Dance Day since 1982, it has been celebrated world over. The President of International Dance Council sends a message suggesting the theme. This year the theme was 'Inclusivity in Dance.' Last year the theme was 'Dance and the Media.' But the countries are free to decide on a theme they like. However, most countries work on the theme announced. Srinivasan invited me to moderate the morning seminar on 3rd May at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. The other  participants were Ashish Khokar, editor 'attendance' and dance historian, Dr. Choodamani Nandagopal, the noted art historian and at present Professor of Cultural Studies at Manipal University, Manipal, renowned  film musician and composer Hamsalekha, who runs the College of Performing Arts for deshi forms, and Lalitha Srinivasan.  

On 29th April at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Nupura honoured Dr. R Sathyanarayana, who inaugurated the World Dance Day and gave a scholarly discourse on Indian dance tradition. Justice Manjula Chellur of Karnataka High Court presided. Felicitating Dr. R Sathyanarayana, I conveyed greetings from the Chairman of Sangeet Natak Akademi, and recalled our happy association in the past when to the memorable explanations by Dr. R Sathayanarayana, the legendary exponent of Mysore School of Bharatanatyam, Venkatalakshamma used to enact abhinaya to Sanskrit stanza from Amarushatakam. Lalitha Srinivasan is the worthy disciple of Venkatalakshamma and has rendered a yeoman service passing on the precious legacy to two young generations of dancers learning under her over several years. Nupura School of Bharatanatyam was established in 1978 under her direction and she popularized the Mysore School of Bharatanatyam. She has choreographed several dance-dramas and Nupura has conducted national seminars and dance festival Nitya Nritya for 16 years and once again have taken it up after an interval of 5 years. 

Bangalore's leading Kuchipudi exponent Vyjayanthi Kashi and her daughter Prateeksha Kashi presented a delectable program of Kuchipudi. It would be like 'gilding the lily' to praise Vyjayanthi Kashi for her outstanding performance. Along with Prateeksha, she presented duet 'Ardhanareershwara' and the story of Kubja, herself impersonating the role of Kubja admirably. What a seasoned exponent she is. She has groomed Prateeksha thoroughly in the idiom of Kuchipudi. It is a matter of few years from now and Prateeksha is bound to go places. She has attractive stage presence, mobile visage that registers varied bhavas and has command over both nritta and nritya.  Together, mother and daughter danced complementing each other with understanding, highlighting the inner beauty of the Kuchipudi form.  

World Dance Alliance Karnataka Chapter 
30th April was off day. Last year during my visit to Bangalore, World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific Karnataka Chapter was inaugurated. I was Vice President of WDA AP South Asia India from 2000 till 2008 and my term ended last year in August. During an informal meeting earlier last year, at Odissi exponent Sharmila Mukherjee's residence, the Bangalore dancers evinced great interest in having a Karnataka chapter of WDA. Thanks to the dynamic work of Sai Venkatesh, the well known stage and lights designer, the chapter was inaugurated last year at Seva Sadan. The World Dance Alliance serves as a primary voice for dance and dancers throughout the world, and encourages the exchange of ideas and the awareness of dance in all its many forms. 

World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific (WDA AP) was established in Hong Kong in 1990 by Ausdance (Australia); WDA Taipei (Chinese Taipei), Hong Kong Dance Alliance (Hong Kong, SAR China), WDA India, WDA Indonesia, WDA Japan, WDA Korea, My Dance Alliance (Malaysia) and WDA Philippines are Society's founding members. We are among the founding members of WDA AP. 

The objectives cover a large area of general interest for dancers internationally. To promote, recognize, develop mutual understanding of all forms of dance, facilitate communication and exchange among dance individuals, institutions and organizations; provide a forum for discussion on matters relating to dance; encourage and support the research, education, criticism, creation and performance of dance; liaise, coordinate and participate in activities with other dance organizations in the world. 

During this year, WDA India chapter has announced an international dance conference in November 28, 29, 30 and December 1, at India International Centre, New Delhi. In a separate article, I shall give details of this conference. 

Back to WDA Karnataka Chapter:  
Since I arrived late on 29th April by noon, I missed the day long dance presentation by young local and out of station Karnataka dancers at Seva Sadan, specially organized to celebrate World Dance Day. Thanks to the Secretary, Sai Venkatesh and the Treasurer Satish Suri, this festival brought together on one platform so many young dancers of different dance forms, performing for about thirty minutes each and created an awareness amongst audiences, the need to promote dance and encourage young talents. Satish Suri had organized an exhibition of dance books, magazines, cassettes, and jewellery also. I was given to understand that the performances ended by 9pm. Seva Sadan is centrally located in Malleswaram and has become now a hub for dancers to meet.  

On 30th April, some of the members of WDA AP Karnataka Chapter met at Koshy's restaurant on MG Road. The owner Prem Koshy has been generous enough to offer the place for meetings and also for get-togethers. Not only that but also for specially organized events, he offers gratis after 7pm, a packet of delicious food and coffee. Sai told me that during the course of the year, Karnataka chapter had organized some interesting events at Koshy's.  From Chennai, the Telugu scholar, dance critic and aficionado VAK Ranga Rao conducted a workshop on Padams and Javalis at Koshy's at the insistence of Vice President, Veena Murthy Vijay. Vani Madhav, a young Odissi exponent and a member of WDA Karnataka Chapter, took an initiative to organize Seraikella Chhau dance workshop by Pandit Gopal Dubey. Another noted event was a workshop on dance injuries by Dr. Kannan Pugazhendi, an expert Sports Medicine Consultant from Chennai. At Koshy, one more talk on Kathak by Mysore B Nagaraj was arranged. 

Sai Arts International in collaboration with WDA Karnataka Chapter and support from Ananya organization, organized Mahashakti dance-drama and a week-long series of Ekvyakti (solo) Yakshagana presented by Mantap Prabhakar Upadhya.  

This year taking advantage of Ramli Ibrahim's visit to Bangalore, Vani Madhav took the initiative of organizing a workshop on Odissi by Ramli for three days. I inaugurated the workshop complimenting all members of WDA Karnataka Chapter for their splendid work. Indeed it is heartening to see the activities of the Chapter. Of the five networks, the Bharatanatyam exponent Anuradha Vikranth heading Education and Training with Shama Sanjay does a splendid work of bringing out bi-monthly Drishti magazine on dance and music in Bangalore covering several events and offering a sumptuous fare of reading material, and introducing dancers and musicians. 

Odissi workshop by Ramli Ibrahim
Whenever I am in Bangalore, I make a bee-line for this excellent journal which helps me get an overview of what is happening in this part of India. Anuradha and her husband Vikranth, who heads Anvi Graphix, a graphic design and printing company, are the publisher of Drishti Magazine. WDA Karnataka Chapter has now planned dance performances on 1st of every month and have several projects in their pipeline.  

On 1st May, all roads led to Chowdiah Memorial Hall, where a large crowd had gathered to see Ramli Ibrahim's presentation of 'Spellbound' with his Sutra Dance Theatre. With exquisite lights designed by Shivarajah Natarajan of Sutra, the performers consisting of two male dancers Ramli and Guna, and female dancers January Low, Rathimala, Sivagamavalli, Geethika Sree and Michelle Chang, opened with prayer in praise of the Goddess of learning. Saraswati's iconic images in Deba Prasad's Odissi style were arresting. The quick tempo and covering of the stage in a flawless manner, the groupings, formations of arches of a temple, circles and lotus like opening were captivating. Pallavi in Khamas saw dancers in their element, describing the 'dhyanarupa' of the raga. Guna as a male raga, with attributes of the raga and others as notes, the configuration was like a rasalila. January Low with her commanding stage presence and natural beauty stood out for her renderings of Odissi's typical sculpturesque poses. The uniform training of dancers enhanced Ramli's choreography. The Oriya song of Balkrishna Das dwelling upon Krishna's playing flute under a kadamb tree transported rasikas to Brindaban. Guna as Krishna in one sequence was carried in a palanquin by the gopis and other cameos were memorable.  

Photo: Syed Sallauddin Pasha
Photo: Sivarajah Natarajan
Photo: Syed Sallauddin Pasha
Photo: Syed Sallauddin Pasha
But the piece de resistance was 'Spellbound' in praise of Surya. In a breathtaking choreographic design, the Sun God's myriad forms, described in Sanskrit prayers came alive. The most effective were the sequences when Sun was driven in a chariot with horses. The female dancers formed, in Natyashastra terminology, various pindibandhas, the choreographic formations like shrinkhala - chain, gulma - cluster, latabandha - entwining creepers and so on. Visually these formations were stunning. In a seamless manner dancers moved, the Sun God and the chariot, the horses, the lifting of the dancers a la Western ballet, but adopted with finesse, left an indelible impression. No wonder, the choreography and excellent dancing cast a spell and the dancers received standing ovation. Guru Debaprasad Das's legacy is seen in these works and it displays another style of Odissi:  energetic, powerful and hypnotic. Bravo Ramli and Sutra dancers! No wonder, they have won the hearts of rasikas in India. Their repeated visits, in particular, during the last three years are an indication of their outstanding performances. Also one can now discern distinct 'Malaysian' features, as during last twenty years Ramli has groomed a generation of multi-racial Malaysian dancers. The Sutra brand of Odissi is a living testimonial of cross-cultural and global Malaysia at its best. 

On 2nd May at the same venue, Rhythmotion, a performing dance company and a temple of art presented their experimental contemporary work conceived and choreographed by Chitra Arvind. She has received training in Bharatanatyam, Kathak and Contemporary Dance (UK), including Graham, Cunningham, Release and martial arts of India. She uses Chhau, Thang-ta, Kalaripayattu also. After an Ode to Mahaganapati, the group performed to Sanskrit shloka Asatomam sadgamaya and it was followed by Spectrum. 

It often happens in contemporary dance that the desired effect is not achieved, despite sincere efforts. It was an array of several imageries, and tried to interpret nine sentiments through various movements, colour scarves, stage props, big wooden hoardings of human head and dancers also used paint on a canvas in one corner. Too many elements did not gel. Whereas some sentiments (of the nava rasas) found comprehensible movement statement, others remained on an effort level. The work needs reworking and conceptual clarity. One wished the work had succeeded in conveying what it aimed at. 

Nupura's major work 'Marga Taranga,' conceived and choreographed by Lalitha Srinivasan, was based on the theme of holy rivers. It was in Bharatanatyam form and the treatment brought together allied arts: literature, stage craft, lighting, costume design. The lyrics were written by Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh, music was by T S Krishnamurthy and the lighting was by Shirish Mohan. The dancers were well trained disciples of Lalitha, full of spark and scintillating movements, portraying different rivers. After Pushpanjali, Yamuna had picturesque description of Brindaban, Krishna's rasalila, capital of Pandavas Indraprastha, and it also referred to the love monument Taj Mahal. It was a Prabandha in Hindi in Raga Desh. Male dancer Ajay performed with gusto and stood out for his clean lines and manly impersonation. The female dancers acquitted themselves well.  

Ganga had the narrative of Bhagiratha's request to Ganga to come to earth, Shiva receiving in his Jata, and there were references to its present state of pollution and misuse. The text was in Sanskrit. Lalitha chose a pada in Telugu for rivers Godavari, where Lakshmana had lovingly built Panchavati for Rama and Sita, where Maricha came in guise of a golden deer, and when Rama chased it, Maricha misled Sita, Lakshmana went to rescue Rama and Ravana kidnapped Sita, bringing disaster and separation between Rama and Sita. Their tears added to the turbulence of Godavari. That was an imaginative touch by the poet to describe Godavari river.  

Tunga and Bhadra, the twin rivers were interpreted as one for Hari and Hara, joining to encircle the Hoysala temple; Kaveri, the daughter of Kavera Muni flows through Karnataka and Tamilnadu bringing the people of both states together in bonding and conflicts. Tillana and Mangalam were conceived to show that all rivers lead to sea like all salutations reach Mahavishnu. The finale had all dancers performing in unison, revealing the beauty of the Bharatanatyam form. A laudable presentation. The participants in Marga Taranga were Sahana Dasrathy, Srividya Somayaji, Chandana, Aditi, Ajay Vishwanath, Poojitha Padmanabh, Rashmi RajShekhar, Rashmi Rao, Mansa Rao, Suma Anurag, and Anusha Ganagadhar. 

On Sunday the 3rd May at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, the morning session featured a group of four male Bharatanatyam dancers, consisting of Ananth BN, C Somashekar, Srinivasan R and since Karthik S Datar (son of Usha Datar) was away, another dancer substituted him. They presented Tandava, the vibrant dance, which had some imaginative and interesting sequences like 14 syllables emanating from Damaru, and which were later on known as Panini's sutra, the mesmerizing kriti 'Nada Tanumanisham,' ending with Tani Avartanam, various charis, karanas. Their energetic execution won them rounds of applause by the appreciative audience. They are a group of excellent dancers and deserve to be seen in other cities. Nupura did a commendable job of presenting them in the present festival. 

The seminar was attended by a sizeable audience in the morning and the Q& A session was indicative of the interest of Bangalore dance aficionados. The speakers discussed various aspects of dance, education, pedagogy, guru shishya parampara, university schemes, games, folk dance forms and how to generate interest in dance irrespective of class, creed, colour and age. It was suggested that each speaker should develop ten points which could be forwarded to various schools and inclusivity theme can thus be furthered meaningfully. 

In the evening at Chowdiah Hall, Dr. Mathoor Krishnamurti (Executive Director of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bangalore) was honoured for receiving Padma Shri award. I was asked to felicitate him. Way back in 1973, when London branch of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan was established at Oxford Street, I had met Mathoorji there for the first time. With his untiring zeal, efforts, learning, erudition, scholarship, administrative experience and an ability to win people over to support the cause of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mathoorji in no time succeeded in putting it on a sound footing in London. Today, under the able stewardship of his son-in-law Dr. Nandakumar; Bhavan is a major centre of Indian culture.  From 1973 onwards during my annual, regular visits to London, Dr. Mathoor used to arrange my lectures on classical Indian dance forms. London branch of Bhavan used to invite leading dancers including Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, Sudharani Raghupathy, Chitra Visweswaran, Mrinalini Sarabhai and Mallika, Tara Rajkumar, the legendary Ram Gopal, and we had lec-dems and seminars, visits by Lata Mangeshkar and Pandit Ravishankar. I had arranged week-long screenings of films on dance. Our association goes a long way and I was delighted that I was able to pay tribute to Mathoorji for his excellent services. On television every morning, he gives discourse on Kumar Vyasa's Mahabharata and even though he is nearing 85, he still travels to several places and carries on his work with amazing energy and spirit. Manu Baligar, Director of Kannada and Culture, was the chief guest and he promised to extend all assistance to   Nupura for their cultural activities. 

Late Guru Narmada's brilliant disciple Sathyanarayana Raju in a brief traditional Bharatanatyam recital impressed one and all with his superb dance. He is a leading dancer with an excellent track record. In Varnam on Krishna theme, he depicted Puthana's character in a fascinating manner. Whenever Puthana looked into the mirror she was repelled by her own demonic image. The she turned into a pretty Gopika and came to Gokul to kill Kirshna. He gave imaginative touch by turning his back to audience, took Krishna to feed him and while doing so Puthana died! It was a powerful depiction. The Gitopadesham, with projection of  DVD image of Vishwaroop was also very impressive. Sathya's movements are light, he covers the stage easily and with exquisite lines his Bharatanatyam leaves an indelible impression.  

Kalanidhi Narayanan and Krishnakumari Narendran's disciple Parvathi Ravi Ghantasala from Chennai presented as finale, her dance-drama 'Annamaiah' with her disciples. Annamayya's soul stirring, melodious keertanas were used imaginatively to tell the story and since these songs are a shared tradition, its appeal was instant, carrying audience along with imaginative choreographic sequences. The screening of opening of the doors was very effective. The image of Garudavahana lingers long in the memory. It was soaked with bhakti and its appeal is eternal. Parvati and her disciples did a good job of weaving various keertanas and building the mood of devotion. The festival ended with the mood of bliss. 

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.