December 26, 2009

Photos: Chella Vaidyanathan

Here they are…people for whom dance mattered! The 2009 Natya Kala Conference raised curtains for yet another edition titled “Dance Matter!” Dancers, musicians and connoisseurs congregated at their favourite venue Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, decked beautifully like a temple of dance!

Bringing the doyens to the fore…
Y Prabhu, Secretary, Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, while welcoming the gathering went down memory lane to way back in 1981 when the summit stared, where the dancing doyens like Dr Padma Subrahmanyam, Lakshmi Vishwanathan, CV Chandrashekhar, Dr Kanak Rele, Dr Sonal Mansingh, Dhananjayan, Chitra Vishweswaran, Kalanidhi Narayanan, Anita Ratnam, Leela Samson, MV Narasimhacharya and Bharathi Shivaji convened the show year after year to make it a perennial river of dance and related issues. Reintroducing the present convenor, Dr Ananda Shankar Jayant, who convened the NKC 2008 with a compelling theme titled “Ramayana in Performing Arts,” Mr Prabhu extolled Ananda for bringing freshness to the annual dance ritual–for this year it is called “Dance Matters”…and he let the ball rolling…
Delving in the kaleidoscopic matters of dance
Convenor, Dr Ananda Shankar Jayant, addressed the gathering by throwing light inwards… beginning with why dance matters to her as both a personal and a professional facet in life. Drawing from her experience of convening “Ramayana in Performing Arts” in 2008, Ananda extended her approach by creating a matrix in the present league bringing in every aspect of dance and the supporting concerns of dancers, musicians, technicians, critics and a host of others from across the globe as presenters and performers. The conference took off on a promising note by unfolding the hitherto unexplored issues on dance.

Such a long journey…
Jayant Kastuar, Secretary, Sangeet Natak Akademi, followed up with a keynote address. Interestingly this dancer/administrator, who participated in the conference way back in 1982 as a presenter, marvelled at the way the conference has evolved through the years. Speaking on “Dance Matters,” Jayant harked back to dance in India and their classicism as classical forms and more… of legendary maestros and dancers who took dance from the temples and beyond… and today how it still is awe-inspiring to see dancers living passionately from performance to performance–for only dance matters to them!!

Where have we come… where do we go...
Dance commentator, critic and historian, Dr Sunil Kothari, brings forth hidden gems from his Pandora's box of pictures, docu dramas and films. Those rarest of rare pictures and recordings included Balasaraswati's abhinaya and an elderly Rukmini Devi teaching under the famous banyan tree! One was awed to see the picture of young Rukmini in a ballet gown! More came from the documentaries of Kalakshetra dance dramas and the rituals of arangetrams. From Uday Shankar's photo archives to much more, Dr Kothari simply took the audience through a passage of yesteryear dancers, especially the intellectual dancers who paved the way for dance to evolve through the generations. Most compelling was the documentary of Chandralekha's commentary on dance, body and tantra, which sowed the seeds of interpreting ancient art and its timelessness for the modern day dancer...and, importantly, her contemporary views on understanding abstraction in dance. Sunil, sums it up neatly... where do we go from here?!

Joy in geometry
Talking of the 'Kinetics of Kitappa's Choreography,' Hari Krishnan and Srividhya Natarajan, ace Bharatanatyam dancers from Canada, owed it to their guru Kitappa who visualized dance for a proscenium stage. Thus, the guru artistically extended the choreography for complete coverage of the stage. The duo rhythmically took over to depict the same and showed the pure dance traversing across the theatre space with stretched limbs, making a plethora of flowery motifs. “ these complexities of rhythmic patterns, we seek harmony and balance–all in a controlled power.'' Indeed, the dancers seemed to have completely drawn themselves into the joyous spaces of sacred geometry!

Realizing those moments of truth!
Priyadarsini Govind takes an inward journey into dance and discovers “truth in the beauty and spirituality of art form.” Her choreographies spoke volumes of the same while dancing to the vibrant Kaliya Mardhanam and the intoxicating energies of Saptamatreka. Priyadarsini simply depicted this process of seeking beauty through dance!

Ravishing rangs...
All invitees were chic and elegant at the inauguration of the conference today. Red and purple were the colors of the day as Jayant Kastuar, Leela Venkataraman, Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, Lakshmi Vishwanathan, and Narthaki Natraj were all decked in ethnic wear with these hues. Dr. Ananda Shankar Jayant looked elegant in a double-toned bottle green and red Kanchipuram sari with a stylish embroidered designer blouse. Anita Ratnam was dazzling in an East Asian-inspired maroon tunic and churidhar while Pratima Sagar stood out in a pale grey and turquoise double-toned Bagalpuri sari accessorized with antique silver jewelry. Remember, gentlemen, there is no gender bias in looking chic! We, too, can be stylish!
-Kiran Rajagopalan

What they said...
“What do we expect from the conference? What can we do now in this era to maintain the authenticity of dance? But we also need to evolve and experiment. While we're here they will tell us about the past. From the past we have to build up the future. We saw Chandralekha's work and Rukmini Devi's work. They have done their own things. I think we have to take inspiring bits and pieces from them and build our new future”, Jaykumar, Kalakshetra Dance Student.

“This is a great homecoming, and I usually don't miss it. Having danced for close to five decades, it doesn't mean that I know everything. Every time I come and listen to someone or watch someone dance, I realize that the more I see, the more I learn, and the less I know. Therefore, there are blanks filled and new avenues opening, and it is a great lesson learned each time. I look forward to the conference each time because it replenishes my interest in dance again and again. This is a beautiful gift of Chennai to all the artists who want to continue learning about their own art” , Ratna Pappa Kumar, Senior Dancer & Teacher from Houston, U.S.A.

“I watched the presentation of [Dr. Sunil] Kothari, and the most impressive thing that I've always wanted dancers to have is the ability to sing and perform. So, the picture of Balamma singing should be inspiring for young dancers to develop art of that caliber. We must look upon dance as an integral part of dance which is not happening these days”, Vijay Madhavan, Dancer & Teacher from Chennai.

“The conference should have new ideas about Bharathanatyam for it the best way for youngsters to keep healthy because it has yoga, meditation, and exercise besides the devotional aspect. There is too much media diversion for youngsters, and Bharathanatyam creates a new mode of life [for them]”, J. Kannan, Former Civil Servant & Art Connoisseur.

-Kiran Rajagopalan