A skilled dancer, even an excellent performer, does not automatically have an equal ability to teach or choreograph. There are pedagogies of teaching choreography that give dancers solid foundations upon which to build. I was very nervous about creating my own choreographies at university even after courses in choreographic composition, improvisation, music and related arts for dance and dance production.
Without fledgling choreographers understanding methodologies of the aesthetic and architectural structures of their dance genre, traditional or contemporary, we often see the sink or swim/trial and error compositions which may leave audiences wondering why they are unmoved by supposedly “high art”.
If a dancer is fortunate enough to have good mentoring in the creative process, where are the opportunities to present their new work to a discerning audience?
The very first time I had a need to choreograph in Odissi was for the inaugural television broadcast of the Doordarshan Central Production Centre after the 1982 Asian Games brought state-of-the-art production technology to India. This was an Odissi-Bharatanatyam-Kathak Triveni composition with each doing sequential Geeta Govinda stanzas and dancing to each other’s music portions as well as creating our own. It turned out to be so much fun, especially with Pt. Bhubaneswar Misra who was scheduled to accompany my Odissi on violin being asked to do the full music arrangement given his being over qualified to do this.
After this C.P.C. Doordar-shan presentation, which is still shown on DD National over 35 years later, I have repeatedly loved the challenge of going deeply into a text relevant for a particular location, festival or focus program and choreograph for that occasion. For some time I have been considered how to provide an opportunity to my students to develop their own choreographic abilities. This summer a unique workshop was offered to young dancers of all dance genres. It provided guidance to create their own choreography with original music. Out of this workshop some of the results will be presented on July 26th at the India International Centre, New Delhi as part of the Manasa-Art Without Frontiers dance festival: Looking Back to Move Forward-Continuity and Change in Classical India Dance.
Smt. Kamalini Dutt , a professionally trained Bha-ratanatyam exponent knowledgeable in Shastra and multi-lingual literature of India, was the director of DD’s CPC dance, music and theatre productions from its inception. For any language or location, her encyclopedic familiarity with both text and spiritual practice has facilitated my choices in several dozens of choreographies from Hanuman dhyana shlokas for Sankat Mochan to Swati Tirunal selections for Kalamandalam’s Diam-ond Jubilee. Her friendship over the decades has resulted in the creation of Manasa-Art Without Frontiers along with visual artist Chevalier Naresh Kapuria. The Sum-mer poetry intensive workshop we offered allowed dancers of any style to discover the process of unfolding the poem of their own choice.
The participants chose compositions from 20th and 21st century literature. A large volume of works in various languages was considered before choosing one poem by each artiste. There were two criteria given to them for selecting the poem - It should belong to the time period (20th and 21stcentury) and it should be suitable for dance and music.
Premieres of some of these choreographies will be showcased at the India Inter-national Centre, New Delhi on July 26th. This performance is sandwiched between the performance on July 25th of Brigitte Chataignier’s traditional Mohiniattam and her contemporary work based on this tradition and the July 27th Odissi performance of my disciples, Vishw-anath Mangaraj, Nitisha Nanda, Madhur Gupta and Arunima Ghosh performing new and traditional compositions of mine and Padma Vibhushan Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra.
The creative journey going deeply into abhinaya was begun for some while others moved out of their usual comfort zones of working on traditional pieces as they explored contemporary literature.
Patrick Suzeau, professor of dance at the Univers-ity of Kansas, uses all his holidays to attend my Odissi workshops for years, takes home his two new Odissi choreographies to poetry of Rumi and Stanley Kunitz.
By chance, every one of the six premieres on July 26th is poetry from a different language. All but one were deve-loped under the guidance of Smt. Kamalini Dutt and are shorter versions of the original compositions to accommodate the works of six artistes.
The myth of El Dorado and the insatiable desire for power, wealth and success is the theme selected by Carol-ina Prada, a Colombian national living in India to pursue both Chhau and Odissi since 2008. The Spanish poetry will be performed to English translations in Mayurbhanj Chhau.
Beeti Vibhavari Jaagri, a Hindi poem by Sri. Jaish-ankar Prasad (1889-1936) was selected by Divya Goswami Dikshit, an accomplished Kathak dancer from Lucknow gharana. The poem welcomes the new dawn, the beauty and hope it brings and asks her sleeping friend to wake up.
A Bengali poem about the two rivers, Ganga and Padma, flowing from India and crossing Bangladesh to meet in the Bay of Bengal, personify the agony of Bengal partition cultural fraction. Tanya Saxena, a young talented Bharatanat-yam, was inspired by this poem of Shibdas Banerjee and Bhupen Hazarika’s mus-ical composition. Another young Bharatanatyam dancer, Katyayani Gupta chose a poem by the living legend in the world of modern Sanskrit literature, Dr Ramakant Shukla.
In Kroora Hridaya Megha from a compilation ‘Sarvas-huklottara’ the poet and dancer ask the clouds to show sensitivity to the earth again and shower with compassion for the sake of flora and fauna. Dr Sridhar Vasudevan set the music for Katyayani.
In another language and another style, Purvadhana-shree interprets a “flower song” of legendary Telegu poet Dr Devulapalli Venkata-krishna Sastri (1897- 1980 in Vilasini Natyam. It delightfully compares the jasmine, hibiscus and insignificant grass flower.
Dr Sonal Mansingh recently declared Dr. Sridhar Vasudevan the best male Bharatanatyam she had seen in India. An all rounder in the field of performing arts: singer, composer, nattuvanar, accomplished dancer and accomplished choreographer, this workshop and festival provided the opportunity to explore 21st century poetry.
A brilliant new age poem in Tamil by Sri. Ravi Subra-manian, ‘Layittavan Kadhai’, describes the king without a kingdom, thinking of creation as the fire ball cooled, creating one by one, vegetation, life, then humans; happy with his new creation, he smiled, closed his eyes and has not opened them till date.
Thoughtful dancers receiving expert and viable support and encouragement to share their creative expression is essential for the continuity and mindful change in our classical performing arts. This is the theme of the Looking Back to Move Forward Festival from July 25th at IIC. Your input in the seminars and as rasikas is invited.
Sharon Lowen is a respected exponent of Odissi, Manipuri and Mayurbhanj and Seraikella Chau whose four-decade career in India was preceded by 17 years of modern dance and ballet in the US and an MA in dance from the University of Michigan. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org