Indian dance in a global age - East and West meet in Berlin
- Ashish Mohan Khokar
July 2, 2013
The Freie University (FU) is among the world’s top ten. Its dance and theatre research department is recognized as having a cutting edge approach even in the Western world. Prof. Dr. Erika Fischer-Lichte and Prof. Dr. Gabriele Brandstetter head its International Research Centre (IRC) as Directors. Both bring vast experience and expertise in their fields to the table, oops The Green Table (no discourtesy to Kurt Joos).
FU means the Free University (English for Freie Universität) and was set up when Berlin was partitioned into East and West and the famous Humboldt University went to East. Rudyard Kipling may have said, “East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet, Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat….”, but the two Berlins did meet and are now one and the Free University is a symbol of past corrections and future possibilities.
The IRC’s ‘Interweaving Performance Cultures’ (now in its fifth year and second term) was a pilot project to study interweaving of cultural performances. Its programs and participants, drawn from the world over, have contributed significantly in the process. Selected from many countries, its Fellows are distinguished names in the field.
FU/IRC is a case study for Indian dance and theatre-specific university departments, forever living in the past, without much dynamic debate or discourse. While we have had many universities like Baroda and Bombay, Bangalore and Delhi, except perhaps for the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU, whose Arts and Aesthetics department was a non-starter in the mid 80s, when it was started and soon closed down), few university departments are dynamic enough to note current trends and discourses taking place worldwide. Part reason ascribed to this approach and attitude is that there is enough to unravel in our own histories in India - a country the size of Europe - with as many States and cultures. It is only of late that Indians, who have won some international repute like Dr. Rustom Bharucha and Dr. Avanthi Meduri, are involved in responsible positions (JNU and FU) and may someday become catalysts of change.
Dr. Avanti Meduri put together this whole symposium with purpose and flair. A dancer, playwright, pedagogist, scholar of international repute, she helped structure the content and context of this two day symposium. The symposium showed her inclusivity and outreach. About twenty years ago, I too had discussed with the same guide, Dr. Richard Schchener, about my undertaking a Ph. D at NYU, but my father’s (and father-figure of Indian dance history, hence the mention here) cancer then did not make it possible for me to be out of India for long periods. I got my “Ph. D” at home, by recording him for hundreds of hours on tape, by learning first-hand the histories of many artistes and how forms had grown and evolved. This helped me in our quest for saving the Khokar Collection on Indian dance and heritage (www.dancearchivesofindia.com). In retrospect, the methodology of an NYU or FU type of experience would have enhanced my learning process.
Tagore Centre’s head Prof. Dr. H.S. Shivprakash is himself a theatre expert from Bangalore, on lien and loan from his teaching position at the JNU, currently posted at Berlin. Representing ICCR, which had sponsored my trip to the land of Max Mueller, he played a good host and his use of appropriate Sanskrit verses and interjections showed his vast canvas. Dr. Shivprakash released attendance and handed the first copy to Dr. Erika Fischer-Lichte. His presence on both the days of the symposium showed his involvement with the university and arts scene.
Reputed dance critic, scholar, historian and dance academic, Bangalore-based Ashish Mohan Khokar edits and publishes India’s only yearbook on dance - attendance - now in its 15th year. He has helped mentor young upcoming artists by giving them a platform and awards through the Dance History Society of India, which he chairs. His Dance DISCourse series is an academic interactive dance forum, in collaboration with the Alliance Francaise de Bangalore. He is the curator of the Mohan Khokar Dance Collection.
For more details: www.attendance-india.com