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Dancing for oneself

May 7, 2018

Lately there have been festivals held at the ICCR premises in Delhi, which have made one ponder on a few points. Ultimately to have the kind of mindset where one dances for one's own joy, no matter who is watching or not watching the effort, is great. But when a festival is planned and one sees half a dozen persons seated in the hall, one is left wondering as to who benefits from an enterprise of this nature.

'Nritya Dhara' mounted by Sanskriti Bhuvaneswar, and publicised under the category India International Dance Festival, when I entered the auditorium at 6.30pm had just about half a dozen persons watching. Looking at the purposeful performance of Mayurbhanj Chhau dancers Alexandra and her partner (whose name was not clear) well trained disciples of Janmejoy Saibabu, presenting an Arjun/Krishna dialogue in complete costume regalia, I at first thought it was a dress rehearsal before the truth dawned on me that this was the festival in progress! Sitting through the evening one witnessed formalities of a special certificate of participation awarded to each performer by a chief guest (!) and all the courtesies were observed meticulously. But one was at a loss for so much being done ultimately for so little. Was this kind of an event which was mounted with a lot of effort with many talented dancers performing, really worth it in terms of getting hitherto unknown dancers into the radar of the Delhi circuit to be noticed by culture czars? Excepting for the venue's ICCR association, it is so far outside the usual complex of performance centres, that it is well nigh impossible to attract even modest audiences for events planned here.

And the evening presented finished dancers like Lipsa trained under late Guru Gangadhar Pradhan, Bichitrananda Swain and Aruna Mohanty, who with abhinaya flair presented Aruna Mohanty's designing of Krishna Madhuri based on Banamali compositions, strung together in snippets with the refrain line in Kalyan, "Dekhibo para asare" portraying glimpses of playful Krishna as a child, as an adolescent, as a romantic Gopi teaser with Radha. The item ends with a Jayadeva ashtapadi verse. The other fine dancer from the same Odissi school was Madhulita Mohapatra whose introduction was so long and filled with so many details that one was at a loss as to who was listening to this. Her presentation of the Ashtapadi "Madhave ma kuru mannini manamaya" saw Krishna urging the still unforgiving Radha to forego her pride by yielding to what her heart so earnestly desires. Particularly while interpreting with sancharis the line "sajalanalineedala sheetala shayane, Harimavalokaya saphalaya nayane." (Even with dark lotus pupils, your eyes are like angry scarlet lilies. As your love arrows arouse emotion, my black form responds with red passion), the dancer was almost in tears, so involved was she.

The Mohiniattam dancer Srija R. Krishnan performed with expressional control. From a start set to raga Nattai, she went on to pay homage to Ganapati in the composition in Bahudari, Bhajamanasa Vighneswara lalitam before concluding with an Irayiman Thampi lullaby "Omanatingal Kidao" wherein the mother lulling her infant to sleep is lost in the beauty of her child like a moonbeam or is what I see a lotus petal, she wonders. Billing and cooing mating birds and a peacock in dance are all part of the imagery.

The dancer, already a Bismillah Khan awardee, Ragini Chandrasekhar was one of the surprise entrees in this festival. She made her performance more abhinaya oriented, the interpretative effort being based on poetry of Vidyapathi and Meera, in Hindi and Braj bhasha. By far the best performer of the festival, she started with an Ardhanarishwar verse of Vidyapathi Jaya Jaya Shankara Jaya Tripurari, Jaya ardhapurusha Jayati Radha Nari, research and selection along with the music composition in raga Shankara being by her guru/mother Jamuna Krishnan. The recorded music too preserved all the classical verities with Ragini's rendition having all the merits of good technique and expression in abhinaya. The best of her interpretative dance came in the second composition, also based on Vidyapati, portraying a clever Krishna trying to explain away the obvious signs of romancing with other gopis on his person, his persuasive appeal winning over the angry khandita nayika Radha on to his side. Again the selection of the verse and music in Yamuna Kalyani are the work of her guru, "Suna suna sundari bina aparadha kahasi kare avadhan." Pretending an innocence where glib answers are given for every telltale sign he carries, the abhinaya evoking hasya rasa in the whole episode, was very convincing and more than anything showed a variety of ways of conveying each idea. The bloodshot eyes of sleeplessness are attributed to night long involvement in pooja, with even fingers and hands carrying marks of it! The concluding abhinaya work was built round Meera's ecstatic dance, marking her ultimate resistance to her royal connections and her marriage, "Giridhar age nachoongi." Meera dances in abandon, drenched in the colours of Krishna.

Six disciples of Vani Madhav, in a group presented the Pallavi in Chandrika Kamod. So much trouble for so little seems a waste. And are dancers so desperate to perform even when there is hardly anybody to watch?

Writing on the dance scene for the last forty years, Leela Venkataraman's incisive comments on performances of all dance forms, participation in dance discussions both in India and abroad, and as a regular contributor to Hindu Friday Review, journals like Sruti and Nartanam, makes her voice respected for its balanced critiquing. She is the author of several books like Indian Classical dance: Tradition in Transition, Classical Dance in India and Indian Classical dance: The Renaissance and Beyond.

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