December 27, 2009

Photos: Chella Vaidyanathan

In love with legacy...
As the title suggests, “legacy” on the second day of the Natya Kala Conference probed into the individualistic styles propagated by legendary dance maestros. “I dedicate today's conference to our guru Rukmini Devi Arundale and to my mother, and to all the mothers of my co-dancers who made us what we are today…,” said the convenor Dr Ananda Shankar Jayant while humbly introducing the theme of the day as part of “Dance Matters!”

Back in time…
Nandini Ramani, in her presentation, brought back memories of the renowned dancer Balasaraswati. Tracing back this Maargam to the Thanjavur Quartet, Nandini said, “my guru Balasaraswati revealed the spiritual through corporeal… her style simple and unassuming… she was humble in receiving praise….” Nandini's and her daughter Sushama's demonstration of both pure and expressive dance showed the same understated elegance and grace. This form endeavours to retain the originality with a strict grammatical language. Most touching was Nandini's singing and dancing of an expressive piece, “Enneramum,” from Balasaraswati's Maargam. This first presentation as part of the “Legacy” was a humbling experience for the audience.

Propagating the Purusha
Dance like a man!! Naatyachaarya VP Dhananjayan makes a potent statement by introducing twelve well-trained male dancers who rhythmically invaded the stage and made a telling statment, that they were here to stay!! And this was only a sample of what was to come… as the Naatyachaarya went on to describe his own training as a male dancer under the able tutelage of Rukmini Devi at Kalakshetra. The maestro's branching out saw him establishing Bharata Kalaanjali. He developed a complete repertoire especially meant for the `man dancer' – with angular, geometrical and rhythmic body lines. It was awe-inspiring, to see his disciples, now spread across the world, some of whom were here to participate in his present demonstration of Purusha...more came when the maestro himself enacted an expressive piece where a man is seen suffering from the pangs of separation from his beloved!

Dancing once upon a time...
And `time' almost seemed to have been captured by a visionary who decades ago saw the importance of documenting dance! The one and only late Prof Mohan Khokar whose passion for documenting the performing arts has passéd on to his son, Ashish Mohan Khokar. Ashish took the audience down memory lane with telling grace...a young Punjabi boy taking up dance and traveling across the country to dig deep into the art and to realize the importance of documenting, writing, photographing and filming the performing arts. If it weren’t for him, we would have lost the dance manuscripts of the pre and post-independence era and how the evolution and classification of varied classical forms came about. Not just this, but included were those rarest of rare pictures of dance conferences way back in 1958 to pictures of yesteryear dancers and their newspaper reviews, invitations, brochures, books and more. In Ashish's own words, only 0.1 percent of the whole collection was made into a crisp documentary film for the present conference. The audience was indeed awe struck!!

Kuchipudi stylized
Dr Anuradha Jonnalagadda represented the legendary Vempati Chinna Satyam who researched, the Natya Shastra to rediscover Kuchipudi in its present stylized form. “The guru internalized the outward energy of those typical swinging and swaying graces of Kuchipudi movements,” she said while demonstrating this transformation of dance into a complete and focused body language of pure dance. Of gamanas and charis, sculpturesque stances and the elements of drama in both solo and dance drama choreographies, the presentation also had some of the rare video clippings of Vempati demonstrating an extract from the “Bhama Kalapam” and also of props and settings of those benchmark Vempati's Kuchipudi dance dramas.

Ravishing rangs...
It was all about tradition on the second day of the conference as the classic Indian shades of orange and green dominated the scene. Prof CV Chandrasekhar was dazzling in an offbeat emerald green kurtha paired with a white cotton dhoti while Dr. Ananda Shankar Jayant was radiant in a dark green and copper silk sari with a Kalamkari embroidery designer blouse. Both Gayathri Balagurunathan and Priya Murle looked classy and elegant in traditional Kanchipuram orange silk saris with contrasting borders. Whoever said that tradition is passé has not been to the Natya Kala Conference! Classic attire never looked better!
-Kiran Rajagopalan

What they said...
“Each session was interesting today, and I thought that Kalakshetra was very lively. Dhananjayan Sir's work I enjoyed, and he spoke beautifully. After that, it was a revelation; I thought Anuradha spoke very well and brought out most of the important features of Guruji's style. The last session was mind-boggling!” Jamuna Krishnan, Senior Dancer & Teacher from Delhi.

“I have attended the Natya Kala Conference since its inception almost every year. This conference and the last one I feel are permeated by the word ananda. I think the sessions have been designed in such a way that there is only sharing and not controversy. Last year it was all practice that was shown, and this year the conference is looking at history. It brings form to where we are contextually,” V.R. Devika, Senior Art Critic, Educationist, & Researcher from Chennai.

“Interesting sessions; great efforts of Ananda!” Nandini Ramani, Senior Dancer, Teacher, & Art Critic from Delhi. “Each one of the speakers brought out the concept of legacy really well. Although I found Dhananjayan sir's presentation insightful, I was hoping to see more about the concept of male dancing from the past. The last presentation on the documentation of dance was very telling. We are the torchbearers of just one legacy. It is only at the documentation level that you can preserve everything at one go,” Swarnamalya Ganesh, Dancer & Teacher from Chennai.

“The variety in the way each speaker addressed the legacy of these great gurus was awesome. Nandini Ramani presented the beautiful jatis of Balamma, but we were hoping to see more of her abhinaya. Dhananjayan Sir was mind-blowing! We can truly see how Rukminiji's vision has been passed down to her students and how they have taken it further. Anuradha's presentation, was very pleasant and soft like Kuchipudi. Ashishji’s was enchanting as it was a beautiful combination of the past, present, and future,” Nirupama & Rajendra, Dancers & Teachers from Bangalore.

-Kiran Rajagopalan