A welcome initiative to educate dancers and viewers
- Dr. S.D. Desai
June 21, 2017
There is an explosion of the visually explicit at every step in life, including art today and an easy success that brings fame and material gain rather than the ananda that the dedicated exploration of an art form affords, has become the final objective. The Indian classical performing art, Bharatanatyam, though seemingly pursued by many, is learnt by a few and readily watched by fewer still. A three-day compact Bharatanatyam Festival, named 'Understanding Bharatanatyam' which included a symposium in the morning and performances in the evening, at JG College of Performing Arts, Ahmedabad, thoughtfully conceptualized and successfully presented by Bijoy Shivram, Principal in charge, on June 16, 17 and 18 was a welcome initiative against this background.
The tone was set at the opening day's symposium. In her keynote address, the internationally famed classical dancer with contemporary communicative dimensions in her productions and performances, Mallika Sarabhai, traced the origin of the form and its introduction in Gujarat by Mrinalini Sarabhai, who brought it as a dowry, as she lightly said. She stressed the need to keep to the roots even while experimenting with it. Mahesh Champaklal with the involvement a close study of the subject enables explained how Natyashastra, written over two thousand years ago offers nuances of expression through the ang, upang and pratyang of the performer's body.
Uma Anantani, who also moderated the symposium every day, made an engaging power-point presentation on Ashtanayikas and explained the attributes of the uttama, madhyama and adhama nayika. Speaking on 'We are the audience' this writer said a rasika has a modest kinship with Bharata and Aristotle through observation and refinement and that as a sahridayi he/she shares the brahmanand sahodara status he/she is elevated to by the performing artist. There used to be a lively interaction with the audience, including dance learners and teachers, at the symposia all the three days.
Medical practitioner Dr. Annamalai emerged as a modern rasika in his talk on 'Understand the Dancing Body' so as not to cause damage to any of its parts unwittingly. An endearing Kalaripayattu artist and teacher from Darpana, the second speaker on day two, D. Padmakumar (Pappan) had some of the young dancers right on stage emulating his moves with interest during his talk enlivened with the demonstration of 'Body Kinetics'.
On the third day, with her initial observation that laya is integral to life, gifted Carnatic vocalist and scholar Ambika Vishwanathan (Mumbai) knowledgeably had the keen listeners' attention on the mathematical accuracy involved in understanding and practicing taal variations. The audience had a rare opportunity of knowing the entire Margam, which is rarely if ever performed now, from dancer and dance teacher Rema Shrikant. With an expressiveness that seemed greater than when at a formal stage performance with makeup and lights on, to Ambika's impromptu accompaniment she demonstrated subtleties of jatiswaram, geetam, varnam and daru (a sung narrative). Odissi dance Guru Sudhakar Sahu (Bhubaneswar), reserving an elaborate presentation of abhinaya for a three-day workshop to follow, briefly demonstrated nuances of it with emphasis on the richness of Oriya language. He had Odissi dancer Suprava Mishra as his interpreter.
Kumudini Lakhia gave another keynote address at the morning session of this concluding day. With her characteristic informality, the octogenarian legendary Kathak choreographer exhorted young dancers to be thoroughly familiar with the tradition and going beyond mere skills to get 'the soul to dance' and get aesthetics to their performance. Dance, she said, creates designs in space. She asked them not to confine themselves to mythological stories and, instead, 'say something' to the contemporary world.
A shared feeling was that the symposia offered learning beyond the boundaries of a classroom.
Dr. S.D. Desai, a professor of English, has been a Performing Arts Critic for many years. Among the dance journals he has contributed to are Narthaki, Sruti, Nartanam and Attendance. His books have been published by Gujarat Sahitya Academy, Oxford University Press and Rupa. After 30 years with a national English daily, he is now a freelance art writer.