NEW (in the) YEAR
January 16, 2018
Trending all through the year - end and New Year beginning were New Year's greeting cards of and from dancers with their own photos, of course! No promotion like self promotion. Our young, internet savvy dancers are very good with technology. Since, no one else is likely to do so (promote them) in this age of FB and blogs, why not help yourself? After all, a bard said long ago: God helps those who help themselves!
Helping themselves or how to help dance reach out, especially in an over- saturated form like BN (Bharatanatyam), was the focus of Music Academy's opening day seminar on 5th January, and easily the most important academic discussion in the New Year. On small stage in its mini hall, nicely refurbished, filled huge talents like the one and only Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, diva Alarmel Valli, activist-artiste Anita Ratnam and a rather reticent, yours truly. I was more shy than switched off, as I was being put on the same stage as two of BN current greats - Padukka and Vallima (as I fondly call them) - and I was also reluctant to add my two bit because I dreaded another drivel-filled seminar on a Friday morning of mealy-mouthed pontifying but thanks to all of us and an excellent theatre talent called PCR (for Delhiites that only means Police Control Room) a husky-voiced, polished gentleman, who moderated such diverse talents very well, so the proceedings were fulsome and informative (as many shared later, privately).
The idea of these morning academic sessions created by Music Academy and curated under benign guidance of N. Murali and team that runs the Music Academy and this special focus curated by Kami Vishwanathan and Sujata Vijayaraghavan was done to focus on topical issues concerning dance.
BN being the only popularly practiced form in Chennai (Bangalore has additionally Kathak, Modern, Kuchipudi, even Kathakali and Yakshagana to make it a real dance metro; Delhi has all forms of exaggerated talents because it's the city of sins, I mean djinns, as all patronage is centered there; Bombay has Bollywood plus past divas of Manipuri and Mohiniattam and lots of bad BN, plus some passable Odissi; Pune is the new centre for Kathak, not Lucknow or Jaipur and add loads of franchised BN and Kolkata has all forms and none classical to call its own) the 3 morning focuses limited itself to mostly BN. The usual past-their-expiry-date suspects from New Delhi or New York sat trying also to look relevant or important, since no one deemed meaningful to include them in the panel anyway. This is Madras. It takes long to be accepted here, not merely due to caste and creed but also due to need to be pucca, solid in one's work and material. However, ONCE one arrives, then one stays. I'm half Tamil by birth, ask me.
Vallima can't be ignored in any serious, starry seminar and even at Music Academy on this occasion, she was the epitome of eloquence and meaningful inputs, while Padma Subrahmanyam was Padma Subrahmanyam. She has a way with words. There is something so wholesome about her entire being that even if she puts down anyone, it sounds like praise. Now, that's an art form.
Where is BN going today? A real stock-taking is needed. Not just BN but all forms. Sruti January issue - its 400th - has tried to profile most forms but rather sketchily (in few pages it can't do more. Also, there are hardly any data or qualified writers left with credibility or authority).
Trending all through 2018 are collaborations. Jonathan Hollander with his Battery Dance Co. of New York City is visiting India with a 5 city tour beginning 11th in Mumbai through Delhi on 31st via Pune 13th; Bengaluru 20th; Kolkata 24th. He brings Shakti the source. This maverick do-gooder in dance (yes, there are still some left!) has a 50 year connection with India, when he came as an AFSer. AFS is or was, a happening student exchange body, now mostly a cultural exchange franchise type set up in many countries. Students basically go stay with a family in another culture and go to school for a year. Thus get integrated. Jonathan came to India in 1968. By strange coincidence, my wife too is an AFSer who went from America to Sweden. This program teaches adjustment and understanding. As my wife settled well in India (I have always been too Indian and patriotic to live anywhere else) AFS found her and we helped restart AFS in our own home in India twelve years ago and set up systems and chapters in many cities. Today, it is on auto pilot. So Hollander is in India and happy to be here. So were Mark (Morris) and Misha! Seems New York is invading India in January, that's what was trending!
Brunei is best known for its Sultan, whose riches once made world news some 25- 30 years ago, I remember. From his kingdom came a doctor Kabeer whose daughter Kirti performed at the refurbished R.R. Sabha hall, Mylapore. I recall this sabha was so ramshackle and run down 30 years ago that even pigeons avoided it (didn't it burn down too?) but today it seems to have got some real grand make-over courtesy some local arty Sultan? So from this kingdom of Brunei, came an oncologist no less (I learnt the hard way once that only one alphabet separated dancer from cancer) secularly called KKK. No, not the dreaded USA organisation of yore or SRK's Kkkaran, but Kirthi Katherine Kabeer (shades of Amar Akbar Anthony?), a disciple of Guru Padmini Dorairajan. Which bani she represents is difficult to identify, as most banis now look blurred. Just as well. I'm against divisiveness anyway. "My guru is better than yours. My bani is more beautiful." It's the same two hands, legs, feet and eyes we all use in dance, no? Indian dance is avidly and supposedly divine. We humans have made it politics. We Indians excel in making politics of anything.
Those of us growing up in Delhi in the 70s recall General Sundaram and his daughters Maya and Padmini. His wife Shyamala played the violin for active BN dancers of Delhi those days, including my mother, Guru M.K. Saroja, once. Looking at this finely chiselled, perfectly proportioned for BN dance, one was amazed how an active cancer surgeon can maintain equal focus in a very demanding world of dance. From start to finish, she acquitted well in most aspects, except laya (tempo), which was either early or late. She has to develop a better grasp of rhythm. Her wrists are a delight to watch because the whole beauty of her dance comes across in her hastas and wrist movements.
Kirti or her guru did not choose the items that sat well on her personality or temperament, especially the opening ode to Ganapati or the folksy Valli's ode to her lord Murugan. The evening's mood got somewhat fractured. But Krishna nee begane baro and concluding Tillana showed her range in both nritta (technique) and nritya (abhinaya). Excellent live orchestra added to the occasion. Mridangist Shaktivel was in his element, in top form and occasionally the singer too showed that trait, though he forgot lines twice and jumbled up once, which the alert dancer covered up easily! What was the nicest part of the evening was there were no sabhapatis or long Madras-style speeches! The hall was full of new audience, especially young ones, so one left with a feeling BN is alive and kicking. Audiences will come, if the artiste is good. Kirti is a potential, long distance talent, if her medical career now and consequent marriage later, does not come in the way, as is case with so many talents.
How do you define good or bad dance? One David asked this question of Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam at the Music Academy seminar. She replied simply, "Ask a villager. They know best." The point being (and I had made it before questions were asked), "Don't be judgmental. There is no good or bad. It just is. Even in dance." That Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam has been appointed chairman of the prestigious Bharat Bhavan is heartening. This huge cultural complex of Bhopal has lacked direction and guidance for long. Finally a complete artiste has been found to head it.
With a new Culture Secty Raghavendra Singh in place - a man of letters and curator of many museums and former DG of the National Archives - Culture dept may have some vision it was lacking in Modi's very happening govt. It shows this govt. has finally woken up to the importance of our soft power, the arts and culture. ICCR has a new head too - Vinay Sahasrabuddhe. Finally, ache din aye hai. Amen to that! Or is it Jai Sri Ram!? Akbar be praised for spotting Tansen and having him in his court as one of the nine gems - Navaratnas. Do you know how he invited Tansen? I conclude with this important lesson for our over-bloated netas and their betas! And dancers and other artists full of their own greatness.
Akbar goes to Tansen's house. Imagine... the emperor goes to a languishing musician's house and introduces himself: Nacheez ko jahan panah kehte hai. Aap hamme shobhit karenge? Loosely translated: This nonentity is called the king -emperor of Hindustan. Would you honour my kingdom with your presence in my court?
As yet another bard (Shakespeare) said in Henry V: Oh lord, I dance attenDance here. So do I.
The author is a senior critic, historian with interest in cultural policy, international exchange and helps dance in many ways. He edits attenDance, now in its 20th year and mentors many.
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