Two things stood out for me amidst the multitude of International Dance celebrations, contagious enthusiasm and admirable professionalism.
I have a sign on my studio wall that says, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” Each year, the presentations by prominent gurus for this special day and the weeks before and after, are elegantly produced and shared with enthusiastic rasikas, including dance school parents and the public.
One enjoyable performance that I attended was by Kathak disciples of Shovana Narayan’s Asavari Kathak School. It is vitally important to experience the beauty and cultural expression of classical performing arts as part of childhood and schools days in order to be a fully rounded personality as an adult. The energy bounced off the walls as little ones prepared to share their dance. This enthusiasm would be reflected across the country and globe as dance schools proudly present the results of hard work and disciplined learning.
Mahesh Pawar’s choreographic use of dholaks by the boys and manjiras by the girls in a Mangal Dhawani added a delightful dimension to the usual rhythmic play of Kathak footwork, with a resonance to the Manipuri Sankirtana traditions where dancers also play Pung, Kartal and manjiras.
Tirath Ajmani contributed an innovative Tarana choreography for nine dancers and it is gratifying to see a senior student, Karika Singh, knowing that there are even students of 23 years with some opening their own dance schools here and abroad.
From the enthusiastic celebration of International Day by students, I travelled in space, time and energy to the consummate professionalism of Sonal Mansingh’s Kala Yatra 40th year celebration of the establishment of her Centre for Indian Classical Dance.
A milestone like this was an opportunity to bring together a celebration of Sonal’s iconic contributions to Indian arts traditions. The brochure itself is a collector’s item with great cartoons, historic photographs, and kind acknowledgements of supporters over the decades. I especially loved the photo of her Mayurbhanj Chhau pose in shorts and a top with Guru Anantcharan Sai. I never considered Chhau practice in anything other than salwar kameez in the 70’s and Sonalji looks terrific in this no nonsense outfit; very practical practice wear for a dancer with her courage to buck norms, blaze ahead and fear no criticism.
The spectacular three day festival naturally included well deserved accolades from the movers and shakers of India, the book release of Sujata Prasad’s “Sonal Mansingh: A Life Like No Other” and topped by a much appreciated performance of Pancha-Kanyaa.
The solo dance-theatre format is a superbly effective format when the culmination of years of classical dance is a strong stage presence and acting ability, enhanced by a well honed kinesthetic ability to communicate with no need for the physical agility of youth.
Given that the classical dancer is also an actor and interpreter of text as codified in the Natya Shastra and that so much music is intrinsic to traditional Indian drama traditions like Jatra, the parameters between a mono drama or one man or woman show using movement music and text spoken or sung is an opportunity to blend the edges creatively.
I have immensely enjoyed presentations in this format this past year by Lakshmi Viswanathan and Anita Ratnam and Sonal Mansingh’s was equally, and uniquely, effective in reinterpreting mythological traditions for today’s audience. In simple an effective staging she placed herself at the apex of a triangle with musicians on either side: three percussionists to her left, Odissi mardala, khokar and tablas and vocal, flute and synthesiser to her right. Varying dupattas over her mekhela chadar accented the women analysed with wit and selective gestures available from a repertoire of decades of dance in Indian genres.
Bankim Sethi’s Odia music base gave a lyrical support that was enchanting and comfortable to listen to as the familiar identities of Ahalya, Draupadi. Ku-nti, Tara and Mandodari were revisited, reinterpreted recontextualised .
I had to miss Geeta Chandran’s second day Young Dancer’s Festival as my mother’s 100th birthday was also on April 29 th and that was a priority for those few days. It was wise to tap into the International World Dance Day energy to offer introductory wo-rkshops in Bharat-anatyam and Seraikella Chhau, a dance lecture by Dr Sheela Nambiar and host a book release of Dr Sunil Kothari’s Dance in Retrospect Part-II by Vidushi Dr Kapila Vatsyayan and Dr Shekhar Sen, chair SNA.
What especially impr-essed me about the professionalism of Geeta’s festival planning was the thoughtful choice of artists to perform. Bala-sarawati’s grandson, Aniruddha Knight is seldom seen in Delhi and carries on a precious legacy. Aniruddha’s father Douglas was in India on a Fulbright, the year after mine started, and I recall meeting in Mussoorie at the annual conference. Though my Manipur and his Carnatic paths were different trajectories, I have always followed the arcs of his family Gharana with occasional intersections like dinner with Bala at a 1978 Hawaiian Dance conference and connecting wi-th her musician bro-th-ers T. Ranganathan and T. Viswanathan when we performed on the sa-me programmes somewhere in the US or here.
Every day is dance day, just as everyday is Mother’s Day, but its nice to have a focus on dance schools to marshall their extra efforts to share the joy of dance. This year’s celebrations were better than ever.
The writer is a respected exponent. She can be contacted at email@example.com.