December 29, 2009

Photos: Chella Vaidyanathan

Testing new waters…
Taking on new directions, dancers from across the world gathered to share their experiences of diasporas on the fourth day of Natya Kala Conference. Not just on diaspora but on classical dance branching out into newer tracks from its homeland - whether its entrance into the entertainment world of television or dancers collaborating with other forms of art for a contemporary expression…Welcoming the audience, Convenor, Dr Ananda Shankar Jayant brings in yet another facet to this artistic summit called “Dance Matters!”

Inspired by the images
Chitra Vishweswaran, shares her experiences of years of learning and reading, that have compelled her to “re-imagine the image.” She says, “dance for me is an innermost expression of being, an aesthetic representation of the cosmic truth.” The thinking danseuse thoroughly believes in “researching, recreating, reassessing…” For here is a dancer who strives to find meaningful answers each time she delves into a particular subject. Her diverse inspirations include: sculpture, painting, literature and music that have always collectively enriched her approach towards dance. The seasoned dancer ponders on the importance of learning and continuously stirring the imagination, “Every moment you learn; every moment you feel smaller…”

Classical dance for the masses
Dancing through the camera means having to engage with an invisible audience, and yet, the performer has to be imaginatively interactive. Radhika Shurajit breaks new ground by venturing into the world of entertainment to create a platform for classical dance. She says, “The journey was odious for programming a classical dance-based reality television program against existing popular Bollywood/Tollywood programs. But the way we packaged 'Thaka Dhi Mi Ta' successfully reached the masses.”

Diaspora delights!!
Six Indian, international dancers/gurus, who have made their home country proud, sat together and shared their experiences. Moderated by Anita Ratnam, the panel shared their challenges and celebrations to keep their passion alive in a foreign land.

Dance professor, Hari Krishnan from Canada, makes a valid comment. “I do not believe in the compartmentalization of art. It is not time logged into classical or modern, and neither am I into cultural preservation...It is about pure art and its excellence and exploration,” says Hari, who not only practices Guru Kitappa Pillai's style of Bharathatnatyam but also contemporary dance. He works globally with eclectic ideas, and the baseline is simply dance and excellence. Rama Bharadwaj, from the United States, had to go through a process of recreation for reaching out to the younger generation- to begin with Indo-American kids. “I have created the Panchatantra in the Indian classical idiom in collaboration with puppet theatre which has been seen by almost 15,000 children, alone.”

Aravinth Kumaraswamy from Singapore, on the other hand, astonishes the audience by saying, “In Singapore, we have home-grown gurus who practice the margam and conduct hundreds of arangetrams each year. Surprisingly, many of these dancers have never visited India but have been subtly influenced by local culture. And yet, I see them wholeheartedly practicing what they call it- the margam.

Interestingly, Ratna Pappa Kumar, from Houston, is one of the first generation artistes to have immigrated and successfully establish dance institutions. “I totally believe in preserving culture. I have been teaching for more than two decades in America and had to go through my own ups and downs to eventually make it as a guru with hundreds of students dedicatedly learning and propagating the classical dances of India.”

Lata Pada, from Canada, took her art to a professional level by establishing a systemized academy with a pedagogy of rigorous training and certifications, arangetrams and graduations. “The serious students who have graduated are pooled into my dance company to perform along with me. At the same time, I allow them to branch out and work with dancers if they have to.”

Siri Rama, who teaches in Hong Kong, often faces circumstances where classical dance is used for popular entertainment. “I have taught dance to good-looking young girls participating in beauty pageants. At the end of the day, for me it is about teaching classical dance.”

The panel generated an interesting dialogue between the audience and the dance gurus working abroad.

Uniting thoughts…
Two of India's ace contemporary performer, Anita Ratnam and Astad Deboo, came together to converse on creative collaborations. A healthy, stimulating dialogue, mediated by Dr Ananda Shankar Jayant, saw the artistes agreeing on the joy of sharing artistic space.

“It's important that an artiste understands his strengths. For instance, I know I am a better performer than a choreographer. So, I rely on another artiste whose choreography compliments my sensibilities. The result definitely is an evolved product,” says Anita who strongly believes in crediting her artistes for their respective creative contributions.

Astad Deboo, in continuation, agrees. “Way back, I had collaborated and choreographed a complete piece with Pung Cholam artistes. Surprisingly, the guru included my modernistic choreography into his repertoire. I was more than happy, and I thought that was a compliment for having accepted my work.”

Ananda questioned the artistes about the challenges of moving away from tradition and into the contemporary format in which such collaborations feature. Anita responded, “It was initially difficult as there were moments of confusion for I was in search for a new language for a newer expression. But today, I am happy that I have an audience which accepts me and my works.” On the other hand, Astad says, “I had to cultivate an audience to look at my work. They were sceptical initially, but I was true to my work.”

For these artists, collaboration signifies not just the sharing of artistic space and credits, but also a healthy atmosphere of learning and evolving as creative persons.

Ravishing rangs...
The fashion scene on the fourth day reflected the diversity of the conference's presenters. Astad Deboo was exceptionally stylish with his funky, yet understated hairstyle, and it was complimented by a tasteful white kurtha and churidhar. Lata Pada's bright yellow sari, paired with a yellow and black designer blouse, made quite a statement. Young Pragnya Ramesh, who compered for yesterday's “Twinkle Toes,” looked charming in a green silk pavadai with a gold tissue dupatta offset by a green bead necklace. Ratna Pappa Kumar's mother, Vinjamuri Anasuya Devi, was amazing with her tri-colored Kanchipuram sari with three matching bindhis and stylish reading glasses. The vivacious 90-year old is proof that age is just a number and that good fashion is timeless!
-Kiran Rajagopalan

What they said...
“I've been attending [the conference] for the last two years regularly. I think organizationally it has improved by leaps and bounds. Unfortunately, it feels like a squeeze that there are four sessions rather than three. What I miss about the previous conferences were the question and answer sessions which were as educative as the lecture-demonstration itself. Aesthetically speaking, I'm thoroughly enjoying it. This year's content and decorations are beautiful!” Vidya Subramaniam, Dancer & Teacher from California, U.S.A.

“Art is flourishing during the December season. New items, new ideas, new spaces, everything should be new so that one can attract the younger generation. Yet, it is heartening to see many youngsters are still attending dance performances.” Zakir Hussain, Dancer & Teacher from Chennai.

“This [conference] is enlightening because today there was a lot of food for thought. It was nice to see two different artistes, a South Indian and a North Indian. Their styles may be different, but very often they think alike,” Balasundari, Dancer & Teacher from Australia.

“What young contemporary dancers should do is to further extend their guru's style by adding elements of their own individual style to it. Ultimately, the credit goes back to the guru for giving the student the foundation and the freedom to stand confidently in their own right,” Pradeesh Thiruthiya, Young Dancer from Kerala.

-Kiran Rajagopalan