India’s widely read dance historian-critic and columnist, internationally. A simple Google search shows his outreach and impact. He is not on Facebook etc., because he is too busy writing real books! 43 till date, on Indian dance culture, the arts and spirituality. He learnt Kathak from Guru Kundanlal Gangani (1970-75); Bharatanatyam from last devadasi in Delhi, Guru Swarna Saraswati (1967-72) Orissi (1974-75) from Mayadhar Raut and Western ballet from Marianne Balchin of London. Thus, he knows theory and practice. His writings on dance have empathy and experience; depth and distinctness. He has served govt. cultural bodies (Delhi Academy; Festival of India, INTACH) and is on many panels and committees, including Governing Council of the ICCR; INTACH, IIC, Doordarshan Dance panels and a Visiting Professor to many universities teaching dance heritage and history, with rare films he has made from archival materials of Mohan Khokar Dance Collection, of which he is the custodian-curator. He is the editor-publisher of India’s only yearbook on dance – attendance - now in its 18th year and mentors many young talents and serves dance in many, many ways. He is called the gold standard of Indian dance.
Loud Applause feels privileged to be associated with such an eminent personality and to share his words of wisdom! Here is the first one, to coincide with Guru Pournima month- July!
Immediately upon attaining independence in 1947, India sought to put many aspects of its cultural and artistic aspirations, in order. In the field of arts, the most important state initiative was the setting up of three national academies called the Lalit Kala Akademi (for Fine Arts); Sahitya Akademi (for Literature) and Sangeet Natak Akademi (for Dance, Music and Drama). This was done in 1950 by an Act of the Parliament. These three academies were housed in Delhi and today sit in Rabindra Bhawan. These national bodies were to be facilitators, not controllers of artistic and cultural aspirations of a race and its people.
Indian dance had suffered debasement and disrepute under 800-year long alien then colonial rule, making many forms almost die. Foreign rulers (and these include not just white-skinned variety but of Persian –Islamic stock too) did not comprehend the underlying spiritual content and connect of these art forms - based as these were in Indian mythology and religious practices – and discouraged their practice. Thus, in absence of patronage, most classical forms were languishing when India became independent.
It was left to few nationalistic individuals to help restart and help revive most dance forms. Rabindranath Tagore, Vallathol Narayan Menon, Madame Menaka and Rukmini Devi Arundale can be called pioneers who helped revive and platform various dance forms. Visiting foreign dancers like Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova; American dancers Ted Shawn and Ruth St. Denis, La Meri and Ragini Devi (in the period 1920-40s) too helped open our eyes to the beauty of our classical forms. They teamed and partnered with upcoming Indian dancers like Uday Shankar, Ram Gopal and Gopinath and took them on tours within India and abroad, making them and Indian dances, widely known.
Seeing its appreciation internationally, a few Indians too decided to help revive some of the forms. The chief players were Vallathol Narayan Menon, who in 1930 established the Kerala Kalamandalam, near Shoranur, to revive Kathakali and Mohinattam. Rukmini Devi Arundale, who set up Kalakshetra in 1936 in Madras to help structure the art of the devadasis, then called sadir, now Bharatanatyam. The courts of north India had all but declined and Kathak was reduced to dance of nautch girls, so individual efforts and fledgling institutions like those initiated and run by Madame Menaka in Bombay, Sadhona Bose in Kolkata, the Sangeet Bharati and the Bharatiya Kala Kendra in Delhi took initiatives in Kathak teaching. Later, under Sangeet Natak Akademi the Kathak Kendra was established to teach Kathak systematically. These then were the three principal forms of dance immediately after India became independent.
Orissi was not recognised as a classical form by the national academy until 1958 and Sattriya of Assam as late as in 2000! Manipuri, Yakshagana, Kuchipudi and Chhau, remained melam (group) arts at village levels, and its structuring and organisation took place later in the sixties and seventies. Thus, we see that seven main classical forms came into prominence after independence and today, with addition of Sattriya, there are 8. Bengal for long has been trying to call a classical form its own but hasn’t succeeded as Bengal gifted to India, its modern dance! Uday Shankar, elder brother of sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, created India’s first steps in “modern” dance and his followers Zohra Segal, Sachin Shankar and Narendra Sharma carried the mission forward. Today, Mamata Shankar and Tanushree remain its custodians in Calcutta.
In the sixties and seventies, Indian classical dance forms got a major boost from all quarters: government, the print media and international exposure. The reasons were many: a resurgent India, best expressed its new nation status with its art forms and musicians and dancers became the main proponents. The main dancers in this period were Bala, Indrani Rahman, M.K.Saroja, Vyjayanthimala, Kamala Laxman, Yamini Krishanmurthy in Bharatanatyam; Shambhu Maharaj, Damayanti Joshi, Roshan Kumari, Maya Rao, Kumudini Lakhia, Rohini Bhate, Uma Sharma and Birju Maharaj in Kathak; Vedantam Satyanarayan, Vemapati Chinna Satyam, Yamini Krishnamurthy and Kamadeva in Kuchipudi; the Jhaveri sisters and Binodini Devi in Manipuri. Orissi had Indrani Rahman, Ritha Devi, Minati Mishra, Yamini Krishamunrthy, Sanjukta Panigrahi, Kumkum Mohanty, Aloka Panikar and Sonal Mansingh. This period also saw many dance-dramas, loosely called “ballets” (dancers did not speak words but the narration was inbuilt in dance and music) and the main dance companies were Bharatiya Kala Kendra with its Ramlila; Natya Ballet Centre with its Krishanleela; Kathak Kendra with many productions like Shane-Oudh,under Birju Mahraj; Puppet Ramayana by Little Ballet Group; Sachin Shankar’s and Yog Sunder’s productions. In south, Nataraj Shakuntala created many tamil epics in ballet form and the Kalamandalam dished out regular Kathakali dance dramas. The Yakshagana traditions continued in rural Karnataka and Andhra. Temple related festivals continued through Bhagvata Mela Natakams.
The eighties were more of the same stuff with two clear new highlights: organisation of dance festivals by the state. First, the tourism angle took over and thus bureaucrats created the Khajuraho Dance Festival and now each state copies that model with the Konark, Ellora, Mahabalipuram, Pune, Modhera dance festivals. Second initiative was The Festivals of India - a state-sponsored mega cultural projection of India abroad. The Festivals of India in UK (1982); France (1985) USA (1985); USSR (1986); Sweden (1987); Japan (1988); Germany (1991) gave many dancers great opportunity to arrive internationally. Malavika Sarukkai was discovered suddenly for Festival in France; Aditi Mangaldas for USA. Some dancers who are still regularly performing abroad regularly since then are Alarmel Valli and Madhavi Mudgal.
Chandralekha and Kumudini Lakhia had performed their forms (Bharatanatyam and Kathak) in the sixties and seventies but did not succeed much as soloists. They came centre-stage as choreographers of dance thanks to smart reinvention and positioning by a set of circumstances: A German diplomat posted in Bombay named Georg Lechner (who was married to Sonal Mansingh, for some time, her first husband being Lalit Mansingh) initiated the East West Encounter and thus helped reinvent them. It gave them new lease of life as dancers-turned-choreographers. The second milestone of the eighties thus became this East West Encounters in 1984. This set off a trend in “contemporary dance’ which basically meant those dancers who had trained in one or more classical forms tried to create away from set repertoire.
In the nineties and more so now, the art of the soloist has become the art of a group That’s the biggest change in Indian dance. This has come about due to many reasons: Earlier, the dancer had the training and foundation to perform for minimum two hours. They had a repertoire to interest such an audience and able gurus who knew what to teach each prized pupil. Not any more: Gurus have become teaching factories where clones are churned out; dancing schools are many with no quality control and as against ten greats in each form, we now have hundred greats! A generous media, with ample space to fill, has not helped sift sand from gold and thus anyone who moves a limb, gets written about and often, glowingly. Reviews having gone out of most mainstream newspapers and in absence of an expert, a qualified critic, the generalist now can write on dance, music and drama in the same vein as the same generalist can write on food, fashion and films.
This century has seen anyone and everyone who dances, trying to “innovate”! This has come about because dancers claim sponsors want something new, something different. That way, films with violence and excessive titillation can be justified too! (that audiences want it). But what’s the end result? The art-form suffers and tastes degenerate. Innovation also means, in simple terms, that one does not have patience to learn and perform any one classical form properly and thus a smattering of various forms and cultures is mixed up and served as a new dish! Many proponents have tried their hand (and feet) at it with no real results.
Modern dance in India is just a contemporary response to tradition. Unlike in America, which created a genre of modern dance, largely because it had no tradition of classical ballet (as in Europe), India does not have “modern” dance. What does that mean? It means, just as we need alphabets to make a word to form a sentence that makes sense or meaning, in dance too we grammar, structure comprising of units, movements and postures to make sense or convey meaning. More on MODERN DANCE in my future columns!
The robust film industry both in Mumbai and Madras (and now Bhojpuri and Malyalam) have offered a veritable feast of dance and over the years, with dance-masters (Bhagwan, P.L.Raj, Gopi Krishna in past, to name a few) and current crop of choreographers (Saroj, Khan, Remo and Farah Khan, to name a few) having provided much fodder for popular consumption. This genre in truly Indian, there is no other description for it, though in last ten years gymnastics have replaced true dancing abilities as most film actors have no time for proper training and thus group gyrations and gymnastics make the task easier.
The spin-off of film as mass media is best reflected now through the invasion of the cable television and in the last five years, an abundance of dance related TV shows. While puritans may debunk Boogie-Woogie as precursor of bad taste in dance (and thereby ruining a whole generations of young Indians), the sheer ratings and survival of the show has ensured several copies, each more glamorous and opulent. Nach Baliye; Aaja Nachle; Dancing Queen, India’s got talent! …suddenly the studios of Mumbai churning out these competitions, makes one feel that the whole nation is suddenly dancing. In some ways, thanks to these shows, Indians have loosened up a bit and feel less conscious of their bodies, and dance is no more a reserved, preserved or a dirty word. The Dance Bars of Bombay also provided employment to out-of-work cabaret artistes who may be waiting to get a foothold in the film industry. The success of school-level gymnastic-salsa combine of Shaimak Davar types has spurned several spurious copycats as far as in Delhi and Kolkatta. Dance has become health-related and the Vandanas and the Chandanas of the world are encashing on this trend by offering loose-weight-thru-dance and maybe a distant (and desi) cousin of Jane Fonda has been found right here in India!
Our rich and varied folk forms that have continued to be performed in rural setting basically to celebrate seasons or harvest. Seen only on festive or harvest occasions, in its own settings, these forms, from Rauf of Kashmir to Kavadi of Kanyakumari, tell us the richness of rural India. But there too, films and its version of folk dance are making inroads because the television has reached the remotest corner of India, levelling out trends and traditions. Costumes have undergone change and one sees the senseless tinsel and synthetic textiles replace cultural symbols connected to weaving, seasons and mother earth.
Indian dance today remains at an interesting crossroad: classical traditions have fewer takers, both in audience and by way of sponsors support and modern dance hasn’t come of age. India’s best export item – Nataraja – the Lord of Dance wonders why a country with a continuous links with its past needs to break away just to be new? This is also a question that concerns dancers, historians and critics. From this manthan – churning, surely something new and magnificent should emerge as response to our times.
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The Bengali Renaissance brought in a big change in the outlook towards women in society. Many social reformers like Rammohan Roy, Vidyasagar etc took different steps like introduction of widow remarriage, abolition of child marriage amongst women, stopping the practice of “Sati” as well as opening the doors of formal education for women. A substantial change had taken place and more were to come, when Tagore came of age.Read more
Ruchira Kedar(nee Ruchira Kale) is one of the leading young Hindustani vocalists in India today and has established herself as one of the most promising torch bearers of Gwalior-Jaipur gharana. She is a foremost disciple of the Hindustani music legends Pt.Ulhas Kashalkar & Vidushi Girija Devi.Her performances are acclaimed for her exceptionally skillful & emotive renditions of a variety of Hindustani musical forms like Khayal, Thumri, Dadra, Kajri, Hori etc.Read more
India’s widely read dance historian-critic and columnist, internationally. A simple Google search shows his outreach and impact. He is not on Facebook etc., because he is too busy writing real books! 43 till date, on Indian dance culture, the arts and spirituality. He learnt Kathak from Guru Kundanlal Gangani (1970-75); Bharatanatyam from last devadasi in Delhi, Guru Swarna Saraswati (1967-72)...Read more
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Senior disciple of Kathak exponent, Guru Shama Bhate, Vidula is a part of the performing troupe of Nadroop (kathak institution headed by Shama Bhate) and has performed in several choreographies. An art historian and researcher, Vidula has special interest in interdisciplinary studies. Being a topper in indology masters, she is currently pursuing her Phd and presented research papers on relevant subjects at international level.Read more
Jonathan Hollander, president and artistic director; founder and choreographer of the US-based Battery Dance Company, is more than an inspiration for every dancer around. In 1982, he created the Downtown Dance Festival (now renamed Battery Dance Festival) which is known to have become New York City’s longest-running dance festival. After decades of collaborations with Indian art forms, he thinks that there is still a lot left to be explored.Read more
Tagore’s birth centenary inspired Uday Shankar to work on the poet’s poem SamanyaKshati. According to Bose, Shankar’s creativity in SamanyaKshati is still incomparable. With SamanyaKshati, Bose got to witness first hand the genius of Uday Shankar – the perfectionist, performer, choreographer, teacher, visualizer, his keen sense of what would be the apt music to express particular sentiments and themes, his aesthetics, his sense of usage of stage spaceRead more
Dr. Poorva Shah, primarily a dermatologist from Pune, is a young and promising Kathak dancer creating a niche for herself in the realm of Indian Classical Dance. A student of Guru.Yogini Gandhi, she is currently also taking guidance from Pt. Birju Maharaj. She runs her private practice by the name of ‘Derma Centre’ and also on the faculty and a Consultant Dermatologist at The Ruby Hall Clinic, Pune.Read more
It is observed that studies on health, fitness, and injuries of dancers are conducted mainly on professional adult dancers especially dancers from the western countries, pursuing western dance forms like Ballet, Jazz and Contemporary Dance. Data on adolescent dancers, from South Asian countries like India, pursuing Indian classical dance, is in dearth.Read more
Indian music has undergone a phenomenal change in the course of its evolution due to the change in patronage systems. Royal patronage, followed by state and public patronage, altered the course of Hindustani music forever. Among these systems, royal patronage has confirmed to be the most conducive system for the growth of Hindustani music as an art; nevertheless, A.I.R. has been conducive for its propagation which otherwise would have been confined to the elite.Read more