January 27, 2017
Thomas Hardy remains the most enduring novelist writing stories based mostly on pastoral England. His Far From the Madding Crowd and Tess of the d'Urbervilles remain compulsory school readings for students of English literature. Mimi Partha Sarthy's return to the stage was no less meaningful. A hiatus of 14 years is like Ram's vanvas and Mimi left the stage for family reasons. Nay, she was forced on stage because of her persistent mother who saw her potential then and now.
Seeing her return to stage performance was like a mini wedding event, full of assorted socialites and stars of dance in Bangalore. The night of Jan 16th (Ayn Rand, another classic), Mimi chose that day to be back in reckoning. Her daughter Hamsini did the intros and then her guru Padmini Ravi conducted the show by walking on stage casually and regaling the audiences with her dead pan delivery. She is the eternal aunt of dance, having taught many in Malleswaram area. (What Mylapore is to Madras, Malleswaram and Basavanagudi - hence Mal-gudi - are to Bangalore). Padmini "aunty" can count two generations of dancers as students to her credit because she started teaching very young as the "neighborhood dance class aunt." That she has class and is not crass (like new teachers calling themselves NATIONAL when they are notional) shows solid work has no substitute or competition. Corporate honchos Kiran Mazumdar, Sunil Alagh, (Padmini did state corporate Bangalore does precious little for dance culture) super bureaucrat and patron Chiranjiv Singh, educationist Vimala Rangachar and many local dancers like Sridevi Unni, Lakshmi Gopalaswami, Subashini Vasanth were in attendance, filling the Chowdiah hall to the brim.
Mimi may have left dance but the dance never left her. Period. From start to finish, here is one dancer whose every pore dances. Easily etched poses, her nritta (technical) sequences showed poise whereas her nritya (expressive) portions showed poetry. But the Meera varnam in Hindi just didn't gel, though Mimi danced ably. Hindi makes no sense to BN. A North Indian born of a South Indian mother is saying this. Mimi is a serious dancer to be considered now on Bangalore's stage. She is far ahead of her pack, some fat some fast. Her light footedness and her easy delivery showed what fine and firm foundation Padmini had vested her with. Congrats to both the teacher and the taught.
Of late, many dance festivals have started calling themselves NATIONAL dance festival, little realizing that the Home Ministry has a circular that no NGO, association, organisation, festival or school can call itself NATIONAL unless it qualifies with the given provisions. When I tell this to a dancer who runs a dance cloning factory, she retorts with a smart answer, “Ours is not merely national but we are giving awards to internationally reputed dancer-gurus so our festival is INTERNATIONAL!” This, when she has not even performed perhaps in the NATIONAL capital of India! And out of 4 presentations slotted that day in this NATIONAL (or notional) festival, two were her own! Another celebrated local group danced too. So 3 out of 4 were Bangalore based and she calls it a national dance festival. Such dancers sadly remain frog in the well mindset and local. What values will they impart to their students? Sad.
Monica is the most sorted out Orissi dancer one has come across in her generation, which is forty plus. She knows her marbles, is a professional and values each individual enough not to make her students touch her feet or even call her a guru. Yet, she gives generously of her time and talent. What a refreshing change from fake gurus of India, the upstarts and the plain egoistic ones. When will some Indians grow up?
Growing together with so many dancers I'm happy to see their lives' trajectories. Prerna Shrimali, my gurubehn in Kathak (same age group, we learnt from guru Kundanlal Gangani), curated and mentored a big gathering in Jaipur last month in Jaipur gharana with youngster Manisha Gulyani doing all the ground hosting and organizational work. Many gurus and gunijans attended and contributed papers and shows. My gurubehn in Bharatanatyam, Geeta Chandran (we learnt from guru Swarna Saraswathi) celebrated her dance school Natya Vriksha's silver jubilee in style (covered in last column) and saw many talents unfold.
Sitting on many national govt. bodies committees, one sees hundreds of groups, individual dancers and trends. One disturbing trend one saw last month watching 300 entries in productions, group works and folk traditions was the mix and match approach, what we call tourist attractions! So Rajasthani means langyars and manganiyars together! Bollywood Braj! Karagam attam! Anyone and everyone is calling themselves choreographers. Total mess and khichdi. Orissi is being Bharatanatyamised, Kathak Bollywoodised.
Dance committees and festivals need curators. What form works with what. Which artiste of what level will be suitable. How much time in what sequence to be allotted. What kind of evening or daytime show it'd make. Audience profile or location specificity.
Tushar and Pooja Bhatt mounted their second edition/year of a one day festival Kathaakar in Bangalore. It was a mish mash of ideas and styles. Not a wholesome evening. Curation means a well thought out plan of CONTENT and CONCEPTs. There was balletic yoga set to western music; some Kathak; add substandard Kandyan and Kathak by Srilankans and one quasi modern quasi professional group Left Foot Right Danceworks. Tushar - Pooja need not have danced if there were so many items by Sri Lankans whose one hour plus recital was tad too long, coming as it did in end of the show. Net result, near empty hall in the end.
In the Moksha group from Srilanka, only one (bearded) dancer had some serious professional stage ability, others just filled stage and space. The lead teacher dancer Moksha was unfinished and unsure in dance. She also was centrestage in each item, doing two solos to add to audience's misery, tolerance and woes. Why show basic Kathak ability in India? They came with rich Kandyan costumes but even the little of what they did in that style showed it was not their core competency. One item worked when half of the group did Kandyan and other half did Kathak. It brought about contrasts and close links of the two forms and dance cultures.
Before the Srilankans, a motley group of local dancers, clearly untrained in any one form, thus lacking vocabulary, wearing cheap looking costumes, tried to dance (another TREND! Dancers without Dance: part time hobby; full-time wannabes) and mauled and murdered Meera the Saint poet beyond belief! Why even take up a traditional theme and not contemporary? Their second offering - Waiting - was akin to same name production done by Uday Shankar's cousin Sachin Shankar in 1976! The poetry was good in this new offering. But dancers were uniformly substandard. Not one position clearly enunciated. Leaps, jumps and falls were amateurish. Their teacher Atul Kumar from Bihar is a reasonably good modern dancer. What was he thinking while creating this mess? More is less!?
Tushar - Pooja saddled with much hosting and organizational work need not have danced two items at all. Fatigue showed. Among their students, Bhavana Sripad and Chandana showed promise. The opening yoga by father-daughter duet of Rudraswamy and Neha were fetching, stylish and the most artistic act of the entire evening. One of the two comperes (both speaking English, what was the logic there?) also gave instant reviews! (After an item would finish she would say "Now, wasn't that superb?!! Please clap.” “What a great performance!” etc). Tushar is a good male dancer. He should THINK why he is doing such a festival. To what end?
Male dancers continue to be in the minority and marginalized. Flip side is it is impossible to find a good solo Manipuri dancer outside Manipur. Or Orissi outside Odisha. Few can fly them all the time for small show or performance. Another very bad trend is many young teachers are teaching items, not basics/ foundation. They then form a group and travel here and there and get shows because they are cheap, as in affordable. Odissi in Bangalore, Bharatanatyam in Chennai and Kathak in North are the main culprits and also the casualty. One can see students can't even stand properly but do an item somehow. Such under 30/40 year old teachers are doing damage and disservice to art.
The Padma awards list is out. Gangadhar Pradhan's disciple Aruna Mohanty got lucky and 101 year old Kathakali artiste Chemanchery Kunhiraman Nair. Only 2 out of 89 awards were given to dancers! Last year also only 2 got. It seems the acche din for dancers in Padma awards list are over. Sports and films to the fore.
A critic first and last, Ashish Khokar wears many hats - that of a historian, scholar, editor, curator and mentor. 43 published books and numerous articles in the last 40 years of dance writing, vests him with a wide, ringside view. Films, festivals, seminars, exhibitions, committees on dance are also his domain. Mainstream media and mofussil mehfils engage him too, as also visiting universities to teach special modules on dance history.
With respect to training in basics, I wholeheartedly agree. Those who do cannot stand up to the factory types though, it gets harder to keep the motivation going. Maybe a job better done outside of "Mera Bharath Mahan", from personal experience.
- Poornima Gururaja (Jan 28, 2017)
Very informative about dancers and festivals that are happening in the country. I appreciate your frankness about the trends that are happening."National programs" and young dancers doing so called productions taking other dancers who hardly have any experience or trying to take away others' senior students with very tall promises. My views of course...
- Devjani (Jan 28, 2017)
It's always enjoyable to read your articles. It's good to give frank feedback for dance and dance festivals. I guess, they would get disappointed but would help them in the long run. I felt the artistic Yoga did not fit in a classical dance concert. As an independent event, it might be fine.
- Saroj Kumar Mishra (Feb 2, 2017)
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