Day Four :
Rains on Saturday morning certainly dampened the spirits of many who wanted to attend the Natya Kala dance conference on at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha in T. Nagar..
There were less than 50 people in the hall when the curtains went up but the attendance improved as the morning wore on.
USA-based dancer and teacher Hema Rajagopalan chose to share her experiences on collaborations in dance in the West.
As her note said, “I felt a need to connect my own art to the other art forms around me so that I would not simply be a cultural curiosity.” Hema had moved to Chicago in the early 70s.
She told the audience of her collaborations and the challenges she faced when invited to work alongside western classical orchestras.
What happens if you use an upper body movements or vice versa?
Hema says these were challenges (while working with modern dance choreographer Jan Bartoszek) which helped expand the dance vocabulary.
Later, she played dance clips from a Kathak- Bharatanatyam production to illustrate the more recent collaboration.
Aravinth Kumaraswamy of Apsaras in Singapore, a well-known dance company founded by the Kalakshetra alumni, the Satyalingams was well prepared with his MacBook, a set of musicians and dancer Anjana Anand for his exposition which looked at a recent Apsaras production ‘Nirmanika’, a theme based on architecture.
This production that has done some tours, used dancers from UK, Singapore and India and its choreography looks at things like vaastu and kuthambalam theatre, the Konark temple and Taj Mahal, focuses on the unique Brihadeswarar Temple in Tanjore and the Borobudur Buddhist shrines in Indonesia, and finally on the architecture of one own’s self.
Video clips were used to illustrate the demo and Chennai-based dancer-teacher Anjana presented 2 short extracts from the performance.
Elisabeth Petit, a French modern dancer with a long association with India has learnt dance from the great V S Muthuswamy Pillai of Thanjavur (who had dozens of French sishyas) and later, Kalanidhi Narayanan and has incorporated it into her own productions.
Petit gently shared her experiences of learning and using techniques from gurus from outside her land, telling us how Pillai worked as a teacher. She recalled the time when she took Pilai to the famed Amercian modern dance guru Merce Cunningham’s performance held in Chennai. Pillai had said he liked what he saw but had one question, “Why do the men and women dancers look alike?”
Scholar Jayachandran of Kalakshetra took the session on a different trajectory, delving into literature, art and philosophy to expand on his theme ‘When Light Passes’.
More lec-dems and a round table was lined up for the Saturday proceedings.
The Samahit conference has published papers of the leading speakers and participants in a smart book published by the sabha. Edited by Akhila Ramnarayanan, the book could be very useful to dancers and dance enthusiasts. You can get copies at the sabha office in T Nagar.
Day Three :
We were back at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha in T. Nagar on Friday. Was the fog still over the city at the 9 a.m. hour or were we just imagining things?
The weekend can get really buzzing in what is the city’s shopping hub.
The sabha though had a calm of its own - with some foodies tucking in breakfast at the Gokulam restaurant here.
Gita Govindam has been among the favourites of classical dancers for quite a long time.
And the Dasavatara Strotra portraying the ten incarnations of Vishnu gives a lot of scope for the dancers to express their interpretations through Abhinaya.
Dr. Subhas Pani, a retired IAS officer based in Delhi, who served as secretary in the Planning Commission, took up this topic for his presentation today (Dec. 28) at the Natya Kala Conference.
He said he has close connections with the Gita Govinda from the time he was not even in his teens, but sang the Ashtapadis for his father Dr. Raghu Nath Pani’s dance drama in the Odissi style.
Explaining the key concepts of Dasavatara Stotra, he showed samples of choreography for the composition through pictures and a short video clip of the dance drama in Odissi.
The conference continued with the presentation of Dasavatara in Koodiyattam, a form of dance enacting Sanskrit dramas in the temples of Kerala.
Young Sooraj Nambiar, a Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar awardee, presented the ten avatars elaborately singing along the phrases.
A powerful presentation full of poise it was.
The Narasimha avatara portrayed by him was appreciated by the audience with a huge applause.
The flow took a slightly different turn.
It was then time for some music and stories of relationship of dance with Harikatha.
Visaka Hari, popular for her Harikatha with extensive rendering of songs traced the history of Harikatha to Narada
and then to the Ramayana, said to have been sung through Rama’s twin sons Lava and Kusha.
She took references from the ancient Tamil work Tholkappiam to show the existence of this form in the olden eras.
Visaka pointed out that dance is an essential component in Harikatha.
Marathi keerthanas of Samartha Ramadasa and Arunachala Kavirayar’s nataka keerthanas are all forms of dance dramas used in Harikathas as well as in dances, she added.
She traced the history of this art from the legendary Harikatha Pitamaha Adibhatla Narayana Das from Andhra Pradesh, Ananta Padmanabha Goswami who the royal composer Swati Tirunal considered his guru to Thanjavur Krishna Bhagavathar and Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavathar, who lived not long ago.
Vishaka sang ‘Eppo varuvaro’ by Gopalakrishna Bharathi to express the anguish of Nandanar to see Lord Siva, enacting it through the bhavas while singing.
She made her point that the dancers should know the ‘katha’ (story) well to express the emotions in their presentation.
She concluded her session with a song ‘Kanaka sabhai thirunatanam’ to a standing ovation from the audience.
After a short break, talks by Sadanand Menon, curator of arts and a journalism teacher followed by Dr. Chitha Madhavan, a research scholar in history and archaeology were scheduled for the day.
Day two :
What a rousing start to Day Two at the annual Natya Kala dance conference at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha in T. Nagar.
T. Nagar’s monstrous stores wake up slowly, salesgirls scurry, office-going crowds generate the peakhour traffic and the scene inside this auditorium is of about 250 or more people enjoying India’s best artistes in lecture and demo mode.
Bejoyini Satpathy and Swaroopa Sen from Nrityagram near Bengaluru have made a mark as wonderfully talented dancers. Even their short shows attract many dance rasikas.
This morning, Dec.27, Thursday Swaroopa explained to the audience how they looked at dance and how they tapped the things they saw, heard or came across into their own dance and why they chose to perform on certain themes.
This morning, the duo’s short performances, one on Krishna-Radha and the other on Shiva-Shakthi - depicted in the former the moment just before the surrender after Krishna’s dalliance with the gopis while the latter symbolized the duality in unison of this couple.
The dancers got a huge and many rounds of applause, well deserved. Up second was the ever-spritely dancer-actor Shobana. She surprised the audience by letting six of her little students dance classical to an excerpt from Bach’s music.
There was a reason to it Shobana soaked in western classical music in her early years because her dad was passionate about it and when the time came, she would dance to this music. This was indeed her first sample to illustrate the many influences and ways in which she had adapted these in her works, which are varied and innovative.
The show was stunning, as her group went in and out of these demo recitals on a stage that was bathed in colourful lights and shadows.
The demo also gave us a peek look at a classical theme play in which she is involved as choreographer, of a A. R. Rahman sound track for a foreign film which she used for a dance piece and a Malayalam film music-dance clip she starred in - a sample she used to tell her audience the challenges and ‘yucks’ a dancer faces when she works in cinema and on its fringe. She also used the occasion to show how she worked out the emotions and moves of pieces set to different music but based on classical dance idiom. The conference is on till Dec.31 and starts daily at 9.30 am. It is open to all.
Day one :
All the top end recitals / lec-dems of Day One at the 32nd annual Natya Kala Conference hosted by Sri Krishna Gana Sabha on Dec.26 morning were value for money events - I have not seen such a strong lineup at recent past conferences here.
If there is one thing that can be done away with is this long-winded, boring, exasperatingly dull inauguration.
Raise the curtain, say a prayer, light a lamp, say hello to your chief guests, mark 3 minutes at the mike and this ceremony can be wow.
It is 9.55 am and the opening is still meandering on stage.
Thankfully, the recitals/talks were good.
Up first was the celebrated Sadanam Balakrishnan, in his Kathakali costume and Leela Samson in her Bharatanatyam one. A one-minute introduction on the scene and its background was enough- taken from the Urvashi - Pururavas relationship.
The excerpt, taken from a piece created by Sadanam’s guru Kondiveetil Narayanan Nair flowed seamlessly, letting the audience know what happens ‘When Parallels Meet’, for Samahit is the theme of this dance conference. The duo have worked and performed together often in recent times.
Truly, a striking performance by India’s best known artistes complemented by a group of musicians including two who recited slokhas live on stage.
Up second was veteran dancer Lakshmi Vishwanathan who gave the recital her signature inimitable touch, making brief introductions which had anecdotal references and goading her concert musicians to get going for some quick but measured excerpts.
Lakshmi said that while people had been listening to Carnatic music for ages, many had looked questioningly at the dance form restricted to temples, but later they could see what they had been listening to when dancers went on stage when Bharatanatyam became acceptable.
She wound off with a tribute to the Arudra festival to follow, doing an extract from ‘ theruvil varaanO’, the padam for the occasion, which she said she had performed for her arangetram.
Up next was vocalist T M Krishna, a surprise on the list and yet a speaker eagerly awaited in a fairly packed hall.
Krishna, as is his wont set the framework for his lecture and went about it like a professor with 2 hours before him. His intro looked at what classical music and Bharatanatyam is all about in pure art terms and he looked at what parallels could be found and what lines ran on either side of these lines. Quoting historical and other sources, Krishna made the point that it was Bharatanatyam that had contributed much to every aspect of Carnatic music and not the other way round, giving examples of songs which were implicit to classical dance which later got into the music realm.
His other observation was the tendency for today’s dancers to seek advice from experts on languages and literature who suggested great extracts and lines to be used in productions but which lost the greatness of the music that had to be part of it.
Also, Krishna was critical of music accompanists for dance like mridangam artistes who offloaded their music baggage on dancers without any respect for the music composed for a piece.
Conference convenor, dancer Priyadarshini Govind, who was feted many times this morning on being named for the prestigious national Sangeet Natak Award stepped in in defence of thinking dancers, to counter Krishna’s arguments at the fag end of his lecture.
A panel discussion followed. Sadly, a documentary made by Adoor Gopalakrishnan on Koodiyattam, screened at the mini hall ran to a empty hall.
On Dec 28, the speakers at the Natya Kala meet include Dr Subas Pani from Delhi who has researched the Gita Govinda, Vishaka Hari, the wellknown Harikatha exponent, critic and writer Sadnanand Menon and scholar Chithra Madhavan. A panel discussion is also on. Open to all. Starts at 9.15 am.