Pulse south asian music and dance
SUMMER 2017 - #137
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INSIDE • Dipstick of Dance in India • BBC Young Dancer 2017 Reviews • Ravi Shankar and David Murphy Odissi Ensemble Mandeep Raikhy Preethi Athreya Nandini Sikand
The Changing Face of Dance Leela Venkataraman
Kathak Kendra-Then and Now Sushmita Ghosh
Music in Pakistan Arieb Azhar
sound in print
connecting asian dance and music communities
Billingham International Folklore Festival of World Dance
SWAN LAKE Where ice, Russia and India meet - Balbir Singh Dance Company, in partnership with Billingham International Folklore Festival of World Dance, presents a showstopping experience for all the family.
Billingham Forum Ice Arena Saturday 19th August / 7.30pm Sunday 20th August / 4.00pm www.balbirsinghdance.co.uk www.billinghamfestival.co.uk
137 / Contents
Summer 2017 — Issue 137 ISSN 1476-6019 Published by Kadam Asian Dance and Music c/o The Carnival Centre 3 St Mary’s Road, Luton LU1 3JA +44 7905 268887 Editorial Team Commissioning Editor Sanjeevini Dutta
2 Editorial/News 6 Listings 8
The Changing Face of Classical Dance in India – Leela Venkataraman brings wisdom and insights born from a lifetime of watching dance.
Editorial and Marketing Assistant Parbati Jill Chaudhury
Young Pulse BBC Young Dancer 2017 Pamela Covey responds to the latest series.
Design Art Director Pritpal Ajimal
A Dipstick of Classical Dance in India Today – We hear from a range of voices: Debanjali Biswas, Aditi Mangaldas, Arshiya Sethi, Urmimala Sarkar Munsi and Suhani Singh.
The Changing Contexts of Dance in India – Kathak Kendra then and now. Sushmita Ghosh, former director of Kathak Kendra, looks at changing approaches in training and sensibility.
Attakkalari – Some Reflections Ian Abbott was at the Attakkalari India Biennial 2017 in Bangalore. Is it the ‘coming of age of contemporary dance in India’?
Pakistan’s Music Industry – An Historical Perspective Arieb Azhar recounts the vicissitudes undergone by music in post-Independence Pakistan.
Naseem Khan – Pioneering Figure in British (Asian) Arts An appreciation by Suman Bhuchar.
Reviews – Music Performance Sukanaya – The Opera (Ravi Shankar Opera Project)
Dance Performance Beyond the Frame and Gods and Mortals (Odissi Ensemble) Queen Size (Mandeep Raikhy) Conditions of Carriage (The Jumping Project)
Assistant Editor Gopa Roy
Photography Director Simon Richardson Subscriptions, Advertising & Info firstname.lastname@example.org Contacts email@example.com Disclaimer Pulse is published by Kadam Asian Dance and Music. Kadam are a part of SADA (South Asian Dance Alliance). No part of the magazine may be reproduced in any form without the written permission of the publisher. Copyright of the text is shared with its authors. Copyright of the photographs/images reside with contributing photographers/ artists. All other rights reserved. The views/opinions expressed in Pulse are the authors’ and not necessarily those of the editor or publisher. While reasonable effort has been made to avoid errors, no liability will be accepted for any that may have inadvertently occurred.
Annual subscription £32 with free delivery Cheques payable to Kadam, c/o The Carnival Centre 3 St Mary’s Road, Luton LU1 3JA. For online subscriptions and payments please visit www.pulseconnects.com
Book Review Languid Bodies, Grounded Stances (Nandini Sikand)
connecting asian dance and music communities
Pulse serves the arts sector by recording, critiquing, profiling and archiving South Asian dance and music in the UK through Pulse magazine and the website: www.pulseconnects.com. The magazine relies solely on income from subscriptions, advertising and donations. All donations welcome through our website www.pulseconnects.com Kadam forms part of the SADA Alliance
Contents Page Photo Credits FC 5 8 15 18 22 26
Piyal Bhattacharya’s Margya Natya | Photo: Debojyoti Dhar Phoenix and the Crow | Photo: Cory Gilbert Leela Venkataraman | Photo: Courtesy Author Nafisah Baba | Photo: BBC Kathak Kendra | Photo: AvinashPasricha Naseer Ud Din Saami | Photo: Coke Studio Susanna Hurrel as Sukanya | Photo: Bill Cooper
SUMMER 2017 PULSE 1
UPFRONT — LETTER FROM THE EDITOR/NEWS
Letter from the Editor Dear Reader
In two accompanying articles, the problems that beset dance in India are discussed by Sushmita Ghosh in connection to the Kathak Kendra and by a panel of commentators approached by Pulse. We hear the cry that “Knowledgeable audiences are diminishing.” The necessary groundwork of building sympathetic audiences is severely lacking. The attendance of dancers and students at performances is poor and as a result a healthy culture of dance criticism does not exist. One wonders if the same performance of Guru Ammanoor Madhava Chakyar would have caught the imagination of the uninitiated. Without the patience built up over a period of time of listening to contemplative music and the eye interpreting dance, would an individual be able to enjoy dance in which the action takes place only on the face, as in kutiyattam? The South Asian arts scene in the UK this summer is buzzing, thanks to the funding streams made available by Arts Councils and the British Council, marking the seventieth anniversary of the independence of India and Pakistan. It is a feast right now, but will it be followed by famine in 2018?
This bumper summer issue marks the independence of India and Pakistan and looks at where dance stands, seventy years on. We asked India’s foremost dance writer and critic Leela Venkataraman, now in her 80s, for her view on how dance has transitioned over this time. Pulse feels privileged to have received a distillation of Leelaji’s four decades of dance-watching compressed into this extended meditation. We hope that readers will take the time to absorb the insights offered. She articulates what dance means to her: the ability to make one see the familiar with new eyes. She recalls some of the shining moments, foremost of which is the kutiyattam guru Shri Ammanoor Madhava Chakyar, whose performance at the National School of Drama in Delhi, towards the end of the guru’s life, is etched in her memory. Chakyarji’s use of drishti bheda (eye control), suggesting first the depths of the gorges and then the dizzying heights of the Himalayas as Ravana surveys the abode of Shiva, which he then proceeds to shake, was a moment Have a good summer of pure suspension of disbelief. Is this then the essence of Sanjeevini classical Indian dance ‒ the narrative, powerfully conveyed, that seizes the imagination of the viewer? The North-East Enjoys She is equally enthusiastic about the nritta of Birju Maharajji, Masala which without a story still has Congratulations to GemArts expression ‒ a quality, a weight, a – GemArts Masala Festival 2016 connection to life. Creativity, she suggests, is an ‘intellectual exercise’ was named the Arts Council Award even though it is conveyed through winner at the Journal Culture Awards. These awards annually the physical body. reward the best of north-east While Leelaji bemoans the culture which, judging by the passing away of the great gurus event and all the nominations, is (Pandit Birju Maharajji is still lively and thriving. with us, thankfully), the new With 2017 marking the generation of dancers gives 70th anniversary of India and hope to the writer: Kapila Venu, Pakistan’s independence, Vaibhav Arekar and Meenaskshi “Masala Festival 2017 will Srinivasan are some that she explore partition, migration, names. She also presents to us globalisation, identity, heritage, an artist that we have not come tradition and modernity” (Vikas across before: Piyal Bhattacharya of the Chidakash Kalalay Centre in Kumar, GemArts director). The programme includes Kolkata whose reconstruction of readings by award-winning Marga Natya had a jaw-dropping effect on audiences. Images shared poet Daljit Nagra; a speciallycurated short film programme on Facebook alerted us to the ‘Changes: Stories on the Edge’; event and we acknowledge the ‘Sacred Sounds’, a concert photos received from Debojyoti showcasing the music that Sikh Dhar that grace our cover.
Glancing Back Pawar Power!
Men of the 15th Sikhs performing Kirtan (devotional songs) in a French barn at Le Sart 24 July 1915 Photo: H.D. Girdwood/British Library UK/ Bridgeman Images
soldiers took with them to camp and battlefield; the 31-strong Gandharva Choir from India, which specialises in classical forms such as dhrupad, as well as patriotic, devotional and folk; Siddhartha Bose’s No Dogs, No Indians, a new play exploring the effects and legacy of the British in India; music from the Sarathy Korwar Quintet; plus exhibitions, food events, workshops and talks, with events to appeal to all ages.
It was a huge privilege to watch an inspiring performance by Padmashri Guru Pratap Pawar at the Nehru Centre on Monday 22 May, celebrating his 75th birthday and sixty-year career in dance, organised by his disciple Balbir Singh. Accompanied by Aniruddha Mukherjee on tabla and vocalist Prabhat Rao on harmonium, Pratapji’s passion, energy and
GemArts Masala Festival 17‒23 July 2017 www.gemarts.org
A UK First – Bedford Odissi Fest For the first time in the UK a two-week long festival, with workshops, performances and
2 PULSE SUMMER 2017
Photo: Simon Richardson Madhavi Mudgal and musicians | Photo: Simon Richardson
an exhibition dedicated to odissi, will take place under the auspices of the Bedford-based 21st Century Education Trust. Worldrenowned odissi exponent Madhavi Mudgal, accompanied by her disciple Shalakha Rai, will lead workshops, and there will be an exhibition on the history of odissi at the Higgins Art Gallery and Museum specially curated by Nisha Somasundaram. There will also be a special ghungroomaking workshop in which participants can learn to make ghungroos (Indian bell anklets) and take them home. 25–31 August 2017 Further information: Parvati Rajamani firstname.lastname@example.org
love for kathak came alive on stage through his expressive abhinaya and impeccable footwork, which won the hearts of a packed audience, including many young and aspiring kathak dancers. Elegantly dressed in beautiful costumes, Pratapji shared various episodes of his dance journey in India, Africa and the UK. In a video message, Pratapji’s Guru Pandit Birju Maharaj sent his wishes on this special occasion and spoke of his dedication to kathak. It was great to hear his disciples Akram Khan, Balbir Singh and his daughter Asavari Pawar share their experience of learning from him. In a true guru style, Pratapji proved that when there is love, passion and dedication in your dance, age is not the limit! Anita Srivastava
NEWS — UPFRONT
Examining Dancers in Dubai TV viewers in the UK may have seen kathak dancer and teacher Kajal Sharma last month as a judge on BBC Young Dancer 2017. Kajal has recently been appointed as examiner for the ISTD (Imperial Society of
Akademi Accolades Akademi, the London-based South Asian dance organisation, has won the Most Enterprising Charity of the Year award at the
Paradiso at Alchemy Festival | Photo: Simon Richardson
Kajal Sharma | Photo: Courtesy Kajal Sharmal
Teachers of Dancing, London). We asked her how training based on the ISTD syllabus compared with her experience of training in India (Kajal trained with Birju Maharaj). “The ISTD syllabus is very good, compact and of a high standard, but the classes are less frequent and there are no theory/written exams here as there are in India.” Earlier this year her role as examiner took her to the UAE (12‒23 April). The examinations were held at
Photo: Courtesy Kajal Sharmal
Gurukul Dubai, where a total of 206 students opted to take exams ranging from Primary to Grade 6. The standard was high, she told us, because the syllabus has been designed to keep it so. A quote from the official statement from the director of Gurukul shows the impact the examination system has made on the practice of kathak: “Going in groups of two to four, depending on the schedule, the students were seen coming out of the examination room with ear-to-ear smiles. Some felt elated whilst the others felt that they could perhaps have done a little more. However, the one common factor…was that each felt that they were encouraged to perform their best and take back memories that will help them to improve further. All their years of hard work with their mentor and guru Pali Chandra had paid off.”
Asian Voice Charity Awards this May. Akademi has developed partnerships in the fields of healthcare, schools, higher education and community engagement. It was nominated alongside Providence Row (a charity that aims to tackle the root causes of homelessness), Rural India School Enterprise
has authored eighteen books on dance, including seminal texts in each dance form illustrated with photographs by Avinash Pasricha. This fruitful partnership has made a huge contribution in providing the history, the social and political contexts for the dance forms and in elucidating the technical aspects both for performers and for the interested public. Pulse congratulates the stalwarts and thanks them for providing the scaffolding supporting the structure of South Asian dance.
It was the start of a gradual recognition of minority arts. Naseem Khan trained in bharatanatyam from U.S. Krishna Rao and Chandrabhaga Devi, and
Naseem Khan | Photo: Simon Richardson
dance always had a special place in her heart. She was on the board Naseem Khan of Aditi, the national umbrella organisation for South Asian dance, Pulse learned with sorrow that and became the first editor of Aditi Naseem Khan had passed away News, the precursor to Pulse. on 8 June 2017 (born 11 August Naseem Khan’s advocacy of 1939). Naseem’s contribution diverse arts through her work to South Asian dance and arts with national and international was acknowledged by the dance bodies made an impact that is profession at the Navadisha still felt today. We will miss her Conference in May 2016. Author gentle presence, and the love she of the seminal book The Arts that had both for the art form and for Britain Ignores, Naseem brought to the many individuals with whom the attention of the arts funders and she crossed paths. policy-makers the rich traditions A fuller tribute to Naseem that the immigrant communities Khan by Suman Bhuchar follows had brought with them to Britain. on page 25.
Mira Kaushik | Photo: Vipul Sangoi
and Netball Development Trust (delivering netball in less developed countries). Double congratulations are in order as Akademi’s Director Mira Kaushik OBE has been named as one of the top 100 most influential people in UK-India Relations by India Incorporated in conjunction with UK-India Awards.
Pulse salutes Sunil Kothari and Avinash Pasricha Two veterans of the Indian classical world, one contributing the words and the other the pictures, have been awarded Sangeet Natak Akademi honours for their services to dance. Sunil Kothari
Do you teach Bharatanatyam or Kathak? Join ISTD this August for a specialised training course in Kathak and Bharatanatyam and take your teaching to the next level! The course will provide professional training for teachers in ISTD Grades 1- 6, Intermediate and Advanced syllabi, including the latest syllabi updates. A wide range of content will be covered by expert tutors, including Teaching Methodologies, Safe Dance Practice, Biomechanics and Movement Analysis and Musicality, while there will be opportunities to take part in group activities and meet others in the industry. The course will run from Monday 7th – Friday 11th August in Guildford and residential packages are being offered at very reasonable rates. It is also possible to attend specific days.
Sunil Kothari and Avinash Pasricha | Photo: Inni Singh
For more information and to book your place, email email@example.com or speak to the Education & Training team on: +44(0)20 7377 1577.
SUMMER 2017 PULSE 3
UPFRONT — NEWS
Summer Festivals/Melas The Darbar Festival The Darbar Festival 2017 was in Ravenna from 22 to 24 June.
from her album, Land of Gold, created in the context of the humanitarian plight of refugees. Qawwali singer from Pakistan Faiz Ali Faiz will open the evening. The concert is part of the International Festival and British Council season Spirit of ’47. 16 Aug | Usher Hall www.eif.co.uk Edinburgh Fringe Festival
Elephant in the Room | Photo: C. Ganeshan/ Rafeeq Ellias/ Viraj Singh
NB. Venue = vn Dance
In London, the festival is being presented at Southbank Centre (Sept) and Sadler’s Wells (Nov). www.darbar.org Indika Festival This music and dance festival runs in conjunction with Dance India. Musicians include Tarang, Carnatic
Border Tales Protein Dance’s Border Tales looks at post-Brexit Britain seen through the eyes of an international cast and gazes satirically on stereotypical thinking about migrant outsiders and bigoted homelanders. 4‒6 Aug (previews) and 8‒13, 15–20, 22–26 Aug Summerhall (vn 26) India Flamenco Gypsy meets Indian classical dance. 4‒27 Aug except Wednesdays Alba Flamenca (vn 237) Majuli Majuli, a picturesque island in Assam’s mighty Brahmaputra River, is also the world’s biggest
Slut | Photo: Simon Richardson
with women’s groups from Birmingham, London and the south-east. 2‒6, 8‒13, 15‒20, 22‒27 Aug Summerhall (vn 26)
Limited (India) reinterprets the ancient legend of the elephantgod, Lord Ganesha. 3‒13, 15‒26 Aug Assembly Rooms (vn 20) The Last Burrah Sahibs Storyteller Max Scratchmann brings the lost world of the
Music Sacred Music at Beyond Borders International Festival The beautiful walled garden of Traquair House provides the backdrop for music and arts with a focus on the Indian subcontinent as part of this two-day International Festival of Literature and Thought. 26‒27 Aug | Traquair House www.beyondbordersscotland.com Theatre Lal Batti Express (Red-Light Express) Kranti (Revolution) empowers girls from Mumbai’s red-light areas to become agents of social change. In 2014, Kranti’s girls
Last of the Burrah Sahibs - Staff at Kankanarah jute mill Photo: Courtesy Max Scratchmann
infamous Hooghly River Scottish colonies vividly to life in this entertaining hour of autobiographical tales about the Scots in India, accompanied by stunning and previously unseen archive video. 12‒16 Aug Bar Bados Complex (vn 32) The Offering A curious boy, full of wonder, dreams of great warriors of
Indika Festival | Illustration: Pritpal Ajimal
vocalist Abhishek Raghuram, Tarun Bhattacharya (santoor), Neyvelia Venkatesh (mridangam), H.N. Bhaskar (violin), Anil Srinivasan (piano), Jyotsna Srikanth (violin), Vijay Rajput (Hindustani vocal); and among the dancers are Rama Vaidyanathan (bharatanatyam), Rajendra Gangani (kathak), Sujata Mohapatra (odissi), Vaishali Trivedi (kathak) and Dakshina Vaidyanthan (bharatanatyam). The Odissi Ensemble will perform Gods and Mortals with live music. 21‒28 Jul | Capstone Theatre, Liverpool | www.milapfest.com Edinburgh Festival Anoushka Shankar Sitarist Anoushka Shankar’s performance will include works 4 PULSE SUMMER 2017
Shilpika Bordoloi in Majuli | Photo: Roby Das
river island. This performance tells Majuli’s tale and that of its people through an intense and evocative solo of dance and theatre. Performed by Shilpika Bordoloi (India). 11‒13, 15‒20 Aug | Dance Base (vn 22) Slut Issues of cultural perceptions, sexual grooming and stereotyping across race are explored in this provocative new kathak dance-theatre piece created by Amina Khayyam Dance Company in association
Lal Batti Express | Photo: Courtesy Kranti
wrote, directed and performed a play in dozens of theatres and festivals, helping to change the mindsets of thousands of people about sex workers and their children. Their latest play is a compilation of their life stories and experiences. 5, 8‒9, 11‒12, 15‒16 Aug Just Festival at St John’s (vn 127) Elephant in the Room This humorous solo performance from Teamwork Arts Private
The Offering | Photo: Kriti Bagga
the past and wants to be one of them. Performer Aditya Roy brings together his explorations of martial arts and his work in
theatre and music. Presented by Teamwork Arts (India). 2‒13, 15‒28 Aug | C Royale (vn 6)
Middlesbrough Mela 15 & 16 Jul www.middlesbrough.gov.uk
The Phoenix and the Crow This play by Pragati Bhatia (Australia) presents a mystical
Southampton Mela 15 Jul | www.southamptonmela.com Manchester Mega Mela 22‒23 Jul | Platt Fields Park www.manchestermela.co.uk Luton Mela 5 & 6 Aug | www.lutonmela.co.uk Southall Mela 6 Aug | Southall Park www.southall-mela.org.uk Leicester Mela 20 Aug | City Centre www.leicester-mela.co.uk Belfast Mela 27 Aug | Botanic Gardens, Belfast www.belfastmela.org.uk
Phoenix and the Crow | Photo: Cory Goldbert
tale set in a fictional land of wealthy merchants, warriors and dark dancers. 14‒20 Aug Sweet Grassmarket (vn 18) Exhibition Showcasing Indian Crafts & Art Forms Indian crafts will be showcased, with performances and storytelling. August: dates tbc Assembly Rooms
Dance, music, food, fashion, family events and bazaars are a feature of summers in the UK. ZEE Sandwell & Birmingham Mela 1 & 2 Jul | Victoria Park, Smethwick www.birminghammela.com
Bagri Foundation Birmingham Indian Film Festival 23 June‒2 July | Cineworld Broad Street & mac Cinema, Cannon Hill Park | www.facebook.com/ BirminghamINDIANFilmFestival
Performances in the Cultures of Decolonisation (4 November). 9 Jul–3 Sep / 4 Nov Horniman Museum and Gardens, London SE23 3PQ www.horniman.ac.uk
India in the UK 2017
Prom 41: Philip Glass & Ravi Shankar The meeting of these two men and musical traditions led to the creation of a hypnotic flow of sound, blending cello, saxophone and other Western instruments with sitar. Passages is presented here in its first complete live performance. The Britten Sinfonia and Karen Kamensek are joined by Anoushka Shankar on sitar. 15 Aug | Royal Albert Hall www.royalalberthall.com
India Season at the Science Museum A season of exhibitions and
Marking Seventy Years of Independence Globe Theatre: Festival of Independence The Globe Theatre and Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is hosting
events titled ‘Illuminating India’ dedicated to the people, culture and skills of India runs from September 2017 until March 2018. At the Heart of the Nation: India in Britain A photographic exhibition will tour from August to December around the United Kingdom, including in London and Edinburgh.
Bagri Foundation London Indian Film Festival 23‒28 Jun | BFI Southbank, London whatson.bfi.org.uk
Newcastle Mela 27 & 28 Aug | Grandstand Road newcastlemela.co.uk
Edinburgh Fringe Festival 4‒28 Aug | www.edfringe.com
Look out for Parvathy Baul with classical instrumentalist Somjit Dasgupta, from India. Parvathy is a multi-instrumentalist as well as dancer and singer, and one of the most exciting contemporary performers of Baul music and the leading female voice in a maledominated tradition. 27‒30 Jul | Charlton Park, Malmesbury, Wiltshire womad.co.uk
India – from Bollywood to Tollywood (home of Telugu and Bengali cinema) – in cinemas and online. Till Dec 2017 | BFI Southbank, London whatson.bfi.org.uk
a range of events curated by playwright Tanika Gupta, with spoken word, music, dance and theatre. Look out for music from Soumik Datta and Nitin Sawhney and plays by Vijay Tendulkar and Tanika Gupta. Until 21 Sep | Globe Theatre, London www.shakespearesglobe.com India on Film Throughout 2017, the BFI celebrates the diversity of Indian film-making and films about
Street Art at the Pocko Gallery, London One of India’s rapidly-vanishing art forms will be showcased via a unique experience through indoor and outdoor engagements spread across key locations in and around the city. Presented by St*art India Foundation and the Pocko Gallery. Dates until Dec 2017 Indiaatuk2017.com
Prom 55: Classical Music of India and Pakistan This concert represents the classical music of India and Pakistan, Hindustani and Carnatic. The Sufi music of Pakistan provides an ecstatic climax to this Late Night Prom. With Budhaditya Mukherjee (sitar), Soumen Nandy (tabla), Kumaresh Rajagopalan (Carnatic violin), Jayanthi Kumaresh (Saraswati veena), Anantha R. Krishnan (mridangam), Fareed Ayaz and Abu Muhammad Qawwal & Brothers. 25 Aug | Royal Albert Hall www.royalalberthall.com
New North and South A three-year programme of artistic commissions, exhibitions and intellectual exchange will celebrate the shared heritage of South Asia and the north of England, bringing prominence to Horniman Museum Indian the work of leading Bangladeshi, Summer Season Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan and Outdoor festivals and live UK artists with exhibitions and performances will celebrate the performances in Manchester, diversity and influence of South Leeds and Liverpool and in Asian music from the traditional Colombo, Dhaka, Lahore, Karachi and classical to the electronic and and Kochi. urban, with dance, screenings, www.whitworth.manchester.ac.uk displays and crafts inspired by the region. The season will be followed by a conference, South Asia and its Diaspora: Musical SUMMER 2017 PULSE 5
UPFRONT — NEWS
Summer Schools Improve your skills or try something new. Classical Indian Singing This course with Mehboob Nadeem is suitable for all levels. It offers an introduction to classical Indian voice culture and singing styles, as well as the melodic concept of the raag. It will include basic theory, traditional warm-up exercises, learning about the rhythmic structures, in-depth practical work on two raags and more.
Company, working individually and as a group to create a short work to be presented on Friday, 28 July at the British Library. 24–28 Jul | www.theplace.org.uk Music and Dance at The Bhavan Teachers visiting from India this summer are Rani Khanam (kathak), who will be assisted by Nahid Siddiqui; Bala Devi Chandrashekar (bharatanatyam), assisted by Prakash Yadagudde; O.S. Arun (Karnatic vocal), assisted by Sivashakti Sivanesan; and Nagaraj Rao Havaldar
Anjana Anand (bharatanatyam), Sujata Mohapatra (odissi) and Rajendra Gangani and Vaishali Trivedi (kathak). 22‒29 Jul 2017 | Hope University Creative Campus, Liverpool | www.milapfest.com Dhrupad Summer School This is a residential course
Pandit Uday Bhawalkar | Photo: Dhrupad UK
Indian Tabla This course with Sanju Sahai is an introduction to the rhythmic
offering total immersion in the guru-shishya tradition with Pandit Uday Bhawalkar. 30 Jul–4 Aug 2017 | Oaklands College, St Albans AL4 OXS | www. dhrupadmusic.org.uk SAA-UK Music Summer School Learn the sitar, santoor, tabla, dilrubha and classical vocals at the SAA-UK’s Music Summer School. It is open to all to attend, from
Listings JUNE Till 1 Jul Exhibition You Get Me? :: Mahtab Hussain Rivington Place, London www.autograph-abp.co.uk/exhibitions Till 23 Jul
Exhibition The Singh Twins: Mersey Miniatures Wolverhampton Art Gallery, Wolverhampton www.wolverhamptonart.org.uk
Till 20 Aug
Exhibition/Lectures Threads of Empire: Rule and Resistance in Colonial India, c.1740-1840 Lakeside Arts, Nottingham www.lakesidearts.org.uk
Till 21 Sep
Music/Theatre Festival Of Independence Globe Theatre/San Wanamaker Playhouse, London www.shakespearesglobe.com
Till Early 2018
Exhibition Home in the City, Bombay 1976-Mumbai 2016 :: Sooni Taraporevala Whitworth Gallery, Manchester www.whitworth.manchester.ac.uk
Till 3 Jun 2018
Exhibition Beyond Borders Whitworth, Manchester www.whitworth.manchester.ac.uk
Dance Odissi Yatra :: Jaya Mehta and Swaati Vivek Nehru Centre, London www.nehrucentre.org.uk
Music Women in Music Festival Symposium + Music :: Roopa Panesar, Guest Artists From India & Pakistan SOAS, London www.sama.co.uk
Lecture My Dance My Life/Bharatanatyam & Odissi Dance Abhinaya Workshop :: Sonal Mansingh Bhavan Centre, London www.bhavan.net
Theatre Tales Of Birbal :: Mashi Theatre & Spark Arts Royal Theatre, Bath www.theatreroyal.org.uk
Dance Dance India Asia Pacific Singapore www.milapfest.com
Dance Bharatanatyam & Odissi Dance Abhinaya Workshop :: Sonal Mansingh Bhavan Centre, London www.bhavan.net
The Bhavan’s Summer School | Photo: Bhavan
Tabla Classes with Sanju Sahai | Photo: Pritpal Ajimal
structures (taal) of Indian classical music as well as basic playing techniques, embracing both the theoretical foundations as well as hands-on drumming. It is suitable for beginners and instruments will be provided. 26–30 Jun | SOAS, London www.soas.ac.uk/music/ summermusicschool Youth Residency with Akram Khan Company Celebrate the UK-India Year of Culture 2017 with The Place and the British Library. This week-long youth residency
(Hindustani vocal), assisted by Chandrima Misra. They will be joining resident teachers Rajkumar Misra (tabla), M. Balachandar (mridangam), Balu Raguraman (Karnatic violin) and Sanjay Guha (sitar). The visiting teachers will be presenting showcases. 15 July–6 August | The Bhavan, London 0207 381 3086/4608 | www.bhavan.net Dance India Dance India is a week-long intensive training programme offering participants training in all aspects of dance including
SAA-uk Tabla Classes | Photo: SAA-uk
absolute beginners interested in picking up a new instrument to those who wish to spend time nurturing and deeply focusing on their chosen discipline. 31 Jul–4 Aug 2017 | Leeds 0113 244 5523 firstname.lastname@example.org
TO SUBMIT A NEWS STORY OR EVENT LISTINGS PLEASE EMAIL/ TWEET/FACEBOOK US WITH ALL THE DETAILS
Music Women In Music Festival: Dhrupad :: Amita Sinha Mahapatra & Aliya Rasheed Tara Arts, London www.sama.co.uk 20
Music Shakti–Classical Vocals :: Aparajita Dasgupta – Brahmaswar Choir Nehru Centre, London www.nehrucentre.org.uk
Festival Summer Solstice Festival Howard Assembly Room, Leeds www.saa-uk.org
Film/Music King of Ghosts :: Soumik Datta, Talvin Singh Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London www.shakespearesglobe.com
Dance India | Photo: Milapfest Akram Khan Company | Photo: Louis Fernandez
led by Sadé Alleyne will give participants (ages 11 to 15 years) a unique insight into Akram Khan 6 PULSE SUMMER 2017
skills development, abhinaya, yoga/fitness, music, career development and performance. On the faculty this year are Bragha Bessell, Rama Vaidyanathan,
LISTINGS — UPFRONT 22
Music Junun :: Shye Ben Tzur, Jonny Greenwood and The Rajasthan Express Sage, Gateshead gemarts.org/whatson
Music Hariprasad Chaurasia Union Chapel, London bit.ly/Hariprasadji Symposium The Indian heroine in history, art & performance Weston Library, Bodleian, Oxford www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk
Music Ravenna Festival :: Darbar, Shobana Jeyasingh Dance, Anoushka Shankar, Jonny Greenwood, Shye Ben Tzur, and The Rajasthan Express Ravenna, Italy ravennafestival.org
Dance Bharatanatyam Margam :: Sujit Vaidya Nehru Centre, London www.nehrucentre.org.uk
Dance Kathak Aayam :: Kajal Sharma Nehru Centre, London www.nehrucentre.org.uk
Music Samswara :: Jon Sterckx & Ricky Romain Stroud Sacred Music Festival, Stroud www.jonsterckx.co.uk/events
Festival Indian Summer Horniman Museum, London www.horniman.ac.uk/visit/ summer-season
Theatre Jungle Book :: Meta Theatre Cast, Doncaster www.castindoncaster.com/ whats-on/dance/jungle-book
Dance Navadal 2017: National Youth Dance Competition :: Akademi, OneDance UK, Sampad Hippodrome, Birmingham www.akademi.co.uk/whats-on/ navadal-2017/
Dance Bharatanatyam Recital :: Janani Murali Bhavan Centre, London www.bhavan.net Drama/ Music The Tagoreans Present :: Pramita Mallick Bhavan Centre, London www.bhavan.net
Dance Kuchipudi :: Siddhendra Kuchipudi Dance Academy, NJ Kala Sangam Arts Centre, Bradford www.kalasangam.org
Music Soulful Sitar :: Azeem Ahmed Alvi Kala Sangam Arts Centre, Bradford www.kalasangam.org 2
Music Music For The Mind And Soul: Sitar & Sarod :: Sanjay Guha, Sudeshna Bhattacharya, Kousic Sen Capstone Theatre, Liverpool www.milpafest.com
Music Music For The Mind And Soul: Sitar & Sarod :: Sanjay Guha, Sudeshna Bhattacharya, Kousic Sen Bhavan Centre, London www.milpafest.com
Dance/Film/Music Dastaan :: Sonia Sabri Company featuring Royal Ballet Associate Director Marion Tate Theatre Space, British Library, London www.bl.uk/events In Conversation Gurinder Chadha on The Viceroy’s House British Library, London www.bl.uk/events
Workshop Classical Indian Singing :: Mehboob Nadeem SOAS, London www.soas.ac.uk/music/events
Exhibition Khyal: Music & Imagination Durham University & Gem Arts New Walk Museum & Art Gallery Leicester www.visitleicester.info/thingsto-see-and-do/arts-museums/ exhibitions 16
Dance Shivoham :: Akshay Prakash Bhavan Centre, London www.bhavan.net
Music Sacred Sounds :: Kirpal Singh Panesar, Keertan Kaur Rehal, Christella Litras, Ravneet Sehra, Prabhjot Singh Gill, Joe Williams and Vijay Venkat. Poetry and images by Imtiaz Dharker, animated by Jack Lockhart Sage, Gateshead www.gemarts.org
Music Women In Music Festival :: Tanya Wells Tileyard Studios, London www.sama.co.uk
Music Sitar-Vina-Sangam :: Punita Gupta Bhavan Centre, London www.bhavan.net
Dance/Music Summer School Bhavan Centre, London www.bhavan.net
Dance Paradiso/Circulate Tour :: Akademi Bell Square, Hounslow www.akademi.co.uk
Dance Samarpan: A Celebration Of Indian Classical Dance :: Jaivant Patel Dance & Arena Theatre Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton wlv.ticketsolve.com/shows/873568966
Dance Raqib Shaw Whitworth Gallery, Manchester www.whitworth.manchester.ac.uk
Music Samswara :: Jon Sterckx & Ricky Romain St Laurence Church, Stroud www.jonsterckx.co.uk/events Dance Akaar – Performance Showcase, with Sonia Sabri Company Old Rep Theatre, Birmingham www.oldreptheatre.co.uk
Dance Devi Sarvamayam :: Sahana H. Balasubramanya Nehru Centre, London www.nehrucentre.org.uk
Music Veena Recital :: Kasthuri Sahathevan Bhavan Centre, London www.bhavan.net
Film London Indian Film Festival :: Bagri Foundation Various, London/Birmingham londonindianfilmfestival.co.uk
Music Summer Solstice Festival Left Bank Leeds, Leeds www.saa-uk.org
Festival Tamasha: Indian Summer Garden Party Horniman Museum, London www.horniman.ac.uk/visit/ events/tamasha-indiansummer-garden-party
Dance Kuchipudi Nrityanjali :: Siddhendra Kuchipudi Art Academy Nehru Centre, London www.nehrucentre.org.uk
22 then Music touring Delhi 2 Dublin Tour The Hat Factory, Luton asianartsagency.co.uk 22-24
Music Women In Music Festival Double Bill :: Roopa Panesar, Amrit Lohia Tileyard Studios, London www.sama.co.uk Dance Kathak Recital :: Nahid Siddiqui & Students Bhavan Centre, London www.bhavan.net
Exhibition Splendours of the Subcontinent: A Prince’s Tour of India 1875–76 New Walk Museum & Art Gallery, Leicester www.visitleicester.info/ things-to-see-and-do/ arts-museums/exhibitions/ splendoursofthesubcontinent/ Music Melodies From Tagore: Love and Loneliness :: Imtiaz Ahmed, Eric Schleander, George Sleightholme, Alice Barron Poplar Union, London www.saudha.org Dance 12th Annual Summer Production :: Nikita Dance Company & Students Bhavan Centre, London www.bhavan.net Music Samswara :: Jon Sterckx & Ricky Romain Diversity Festival, Barnstaple www.jonsterckx.co.uk/events
17 & 23 Festival Masala Festival :: GemArts Various, North-East www.gemarts.org 18
Music/Poetry Heritage & Identity / Gandharva Choir :: Daljit Nagra Culture Lab, Newcastle University / Sage, Gateshead www.gemarts.org
Theatre No Dogs, No Indians :: Siddhartha Bose Live Theatre . Newcastle www.gemarts.org
Music Sarathy Korwar Quartet The Black Swan, Newcastle www.gemarts.org Music Punjabtronix Rich Mix, London www.rich-mix.org
Music Punjabtronix mac, Birmingham www.macbirmingham.co.uk
Dance/Music Indika 2017 Capstone Theatre, Liverpool www.milapfest.com/indika
Music Sacred Sounds – Sikh Music Traditions and the First World War Town Hall, Birmingham www.sampad.org
Dance Bhavan Summer School Showcase: Hindustani Vocal | Kathak | Bharatanatyam | Karnatic Vocal :: Nagaraj Rao Havaldar | Rani Khanum | Bala Devi Chandrashekar | O.S. Arun Bhavan Centre, London www.bhavan.net 23
Music Shapla Salique Town Hall, Birmingham www.sampad.org Dance Masala Festival Mini Mela Live Garden, Newcastle www.gemarts.org
Festival Indian Summer Baaja Horniman Museum, London www.horniman.ac.uk/visit/ events/indian-summer-baaja
Workshop Dhrupad Summer School :: Uday Bhawalker Oaklands College, St Albans www.dhrupadmusic.org.uk
Music Samswara :: Jon Sterckx & Ricky Romain One World Festival, Dorchester www.jonsterckx.co.uk/events
Circus Circus Raj mac, Birmingham www.macbirmingham.co.uk
Dance Teacher Training ISTD Teachers Summer School :: Kathak & Bharatanatyam University of Surrey, Guildford email@example.com
Music In Spotlight :: Prabhat Rao and Pulkit Sharma mac, Birmingham www.macbirmingham.co.uk
Music India & Me :: Nitin Sawhney Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London www.shakespearesglobe.com
Music Prom 41: Philip Glass and Ravi Shankar :: Anoushka Shankar Britten Sinfonia, Karen Kamensek Royal Albert Hall, London www.royalalberthall.com
Music Anoushka Shankar Usher Hall, Edinburgh www.eif.co.uk/2017/shankar
Music Lions & Tigers :: Tanika Gupta Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London www.shakespearesglobe.com
Music Prom 55: Music From India & Pakistan Royal Albert Hall, London www.royalalberthall.com
Music Afrindo Strings :: Jasdeep Degun, Tunde Jagde, Renu Hossain Bradford Festival, Bradford www.kalasangam.org
SUMMER 2017 PULSE 7
THE CHANGING FACE OF CLASSICAL DANCE IN INDIA
The Changing Face of Classical Dance in India By Leela Venkataraman
Scholar, historian, dance critic and commentator Leela Venkataraman has been writing about dance in India for more than thirty years, her distinguished reputation built on her possession of that rare quality, dispassionate observation. Her publications include Indian Classical dance: Tradition in Transition (with photographer Avinash Pasricha), A Dancing Phenomenon â€“ Birju Maharaj and, most recently, Indian Classical Dance â€“ the Renaissance and Beyond. Pulse is honoured to carry this article.
8 PULSE SUMMER 2017
ow does one define and decipher creativity in Indian classical dance forms wherein one uses a symbolic language to re-invoke the perennial through the distinctiveness of time and space?
Kapila Venu | Photo: Courtesy Artist
“The eyes were then raised slowly upwards, the pupils climbing higher and higher…an awesome feel of the towering Himalayas... through a minimal movement-language with an ageing body…”
Thinking back on nearly forty years of watching and writing about the dance, there are two episodes that stand out in memory like beacon moments of what one could only think of as being totally out of the ordinary and representing what I perceive as artistic creativity. One happened when watching a kutiyattam (or koodiyattam, the dramatised dance form from Kerala) presentation by the late Guru Ammanoor Madhava Chakyar (1917‒2008), who was by then all of a feeble 80+, being escorted on to the stage with two disciples supporting him on either side. Appearing slowly from the wings, he came to the centre of the performance space at the National School of Drama’s Abhimanch auditorium (Delhi), with the disciples helping him settle down on an 18inch-high stool. Moments later, after an unblinking stare at the flaming torch held before him for prolonged seconds, he remained as if in deep contemplation. Most of the packed, expectant hall was thinking in terms of a demonstration of mudras with some strong facial expressions. But to their wonderment, after about ten minutes, galvanised by some inner force, in one purposeful movement the guru suddenly stood up on the stool and began to demonstrate the scene of Ravana lifting Mount Kailash, the home of Shiva and Parvati. His eyes spoke. One downward gaze with eyes wide open and the pupils seeming to go down endlessly, and the audience saw in the mind’s eye a deep gorge with a valley below stretching for miles. The eyes were then raised slowly upwards, the pupils climbing higher and higher till they disappeared into the upper eyelids and the audience got an awesome feel of the towering Himalayas, their peak reaching for the skies. Ravana lifting the mountain and juggling with it like a ball was performed and what followed for about twenty minutes is, after all these years, still etched on my mind. How long could the slender frame stand such frenetic movement without toppling off the stool? Every member of the audience
at the National School of Drama sitting on edge wondered if the final moments were being witnessed of a legendary performer who, with a powerhouse of inner energy, was creating history – through a minimal movement-language with an ageing body and just a stool top for performance space. What Ammanoor Madhava Chakyar had communicated through a spartan vocabulary of gestures and movement was the consciousness of a whole ecology – the largeness of Kailasa – an abode of the Gods! I thought of Dr Kapila Vatsyayan’s sentence in an essay in Metaphors of the Indian Arts: “‘Creativity’ is the sudden luminous spark which makes the familiar unfamiliar, or unfamiliar familiar each time giving it a new significance.”
“…the person incapable of contemplation cannot become a great artist…” Our traditional dances are concerned with an interpretation of life. Recapturing an incident through retrospective reflection, with distance of time lending a new vision through detachment of mind and restraint, presupposes a mental cultivation and a preparedness, making art creativity more an intellectual exercise, even in dance, which is such a physical art; which is why Ananda Coomaraswamy, the great commentator on Indian art, maintained that the person incapable of contemplation cannot become a great artist, though he may well be a skilful workman – as many efficient dancers prove to be when unable to go beyond very correct technique. Where does creativity rest and what transforms a dormant urge into a vital force? One can take the instance of Valmiki in a turmoil of emotions roaming within the forest. But it was watching the hunter’s arrow killing the krauncha bird (crane) followed by the wailing of its mate that suddenly triggered a storm of feelings, making poetry pour out in the form of the epic Ramayana. This experience was like clarity emerging after inexplicable mysticism. The late scholar K. Chandrasekharan in his writings on creativity explains this through an example. He describes it as going through a fog without knowing one’s destination till one suddenly discovers oneself standing before one’s own house! It is the sudden expansion of the consciousness in the supra-personal world of man.
“…it seemed as if the entire room was revolving with his body as he executed a slow and immaculate bhramari.” SUMMER 2017 PULSE 9
THE CHANGING FACE OF CLASSICAL DANCE IN INDIA
Yet another unforgettable instance was when watching the late great Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra (1926‒2004) in a class teaching a bunch of students who were told to demonstrate a bhramari 1 (pirouette), maintaining the body in the half-seated chauka 2 position. The onlooker was predictably treated to varying degrees of proficiency till the guru got up from his place in front of the pakhawaj and himself demonstrated the movement. For me, it seemed as if the entire room was revolving with his body as he executed a slow and immaculate bhramari. Here was the evolved power in one movement extending into space far beyond the physical limits of the dancer’s body. This ability to transcend the
“…a body movement by itself is nothing…” physicality of the body suggesting through symbolic language a larger-than-life world outside of oneself is what creativity is all about in Indian classical dances. For me, the greatest challenge as a critic has been to acquire the ability to look at each performance separately in 10 PULSE SUMMER 2017
isolation, without trying to mentally compare or connect it with what one has seen of that genre before. One cannot go to a performance with preconceived notions of what one wants to see. One suddenly finds an unexpected something lifting a recital above the ordinary, investing it with a certain freshness. Illconditioned ungainly bodies, barely able to move due to their being overweight or for other reasons making for a total lack of visual aesthetics, could still hold the viewer’s attention with some other redeeming feature, like communicating emotions and ideas in a manner so gripping that poor physicality ceases to matter. In this connection, I cannot help but recollect a recent experience in Pune when I was treated to an enactment of Marga Natya, a reconstruction of ancient nritta (abstract dance) and natya (the dramatic aspect) as envisaged by Bharata Muni in the Natya Shastra, the result of seventeen years of undiluted research and contemplation by Piyal Bhattacharya (alumnus of the Kerala Kalamandalam and who heads the Chidakash Kalalay Centre of Art and Divinity, transmitting art in the time-honoured Gurukul pattern, in a suburb of Kolkata). Few in the audience knew what to expect. The ‘Chitra Poorva Ranga’ of the Natya Shastra, with sangeeta (music)
created by musicians seated behind a curtain playing unfamiliar instruments, resembling what Bharata mentions as the ‘Ashravana Vidhi’ was followed by the entrance of the skimpily-clad dancers looking like creatures stepping out from a second-century temple sculpture, in the ‘Asarita Vardhamana Vidhi’, with gyrating movements, creating a shock at first as if there were some kind of burlesque theatre in the offing; and finally came the ‘Uparupaka Bhanaka’ with the entry of the Sutradhar (narrator), whose extraordinary histrionic power with the Sanskrit soliloquising soon had the gathering eating out of the hands of the performers. The Sutradhar – representing omniscient consciousness with the one-stringed veena in hand – endorsed all to banish agnan (ignorance) through prajnana (wisdom). The entire audience was lost in an evoked world, which had opened spaces of experience to us that we never knew existed, through great art. I realised that a body movement by itself is nothing for it is the mover’s intention which imparts to it a meaning. Here the story was about the retelling of the tattva or ‘Reality of the Universe’ and contrary to what one imagined, the kati (waist to hip girdle area) movements and the pulsation gradually built up to an elevating feeling. I rate it as one of the most extraordinary
experiences as an art lover, for all my long-held ideas collapsed after being treated to such an uplifting experience. The thundering applause from a captivated audience spoke volumes.
Today’s constant obsession with the beautiful body and costuming for the dancer has made it more difficult for the dancer to obliterate the persona and become just the dance. The less physicallyendowed dancer has been rendered almost dysfunctional. One is reminded of Achhan Maharaj, the father of Birju Maharaj, whose pot belly and ordinary physique ceased to exist when he danced. A foreign visitor in the Lucknow Nawab’s court had problems in imagining the very plain man in front of him as the intended dancer for the evening reception till he saw him taking the slipping end of the top cloth draped over his torso and putting it back
Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra | Photo: Srjan
Piyal Bhattacharya’s Marga Natya | Photo: Debojyoti Dhar
“…to obliterate the persona and become just the dance.”
on his shoulder in one gesture. That one movement had enough grace and beauty to convince him that he was indeed in front of a born dancer. Balasaraswati’s bewitching dance poured from the inner dancer who neither cared for nor depended on physical features or even aspects like stage aesthetics. I have seen Birju Maharaj hold an audience at the Kamani spellbound with just a performance of Thata 3 for an entire performance. One cannot forget the kind of artistic experience created by the late Kelucharan Mohapatra. One experiences a sense of nostalgia that the age for that kind of genius seems to be passing and we will see very little of that kind of creativity. Many of my favourites were among the generation now lost to us. The scenario today comes with its own compulsions and yardsticks. Now one looks for the ability to communicate with a cosmopolitan audience, the aesthetics of presentation, the covering of stage space effectively, designing a recital covering all important elements within the allotted time span, and instead of improvisation, the accent is on what is loosely referred to as choreography. While watching a performance today, where does one put technique and a well-
“Correct technique is the starting-point of a long journey in dance expression…” honed body? Grammar and technique are very important and certainly give to movement a finish. Correct technique is the starting-point of a long journey in dance expression, like the knowledge of language and grammar if one needs to write poetry. If one does not have even this basic requirement, what is built on a faulty inadequate foundation will also lack perfection. Bodies badly held, insufficient attention paid to the central stances on which a dance form is anchored, like a bharatanatyam araimandi 4, an odissi chauka and tribhangi 5, the mohiniattam araimandi; Manipuri, where the dancer mastering the light-footed dipping and raising of body constantly weaves a figure of eight, or a kathak dancer whose knees must be held straight while doing a tatkar 6 – all these are important. But once the technique has been mastered, what is more important is what the dancer has to say with it.
“One sees rhythmic sequences being presented by an automaton.” Without involvement, even the best technique will be dry. Sometimes the body seems to be moving without the mind and heart of the dancer involved. One sees rhythmic sequences being presented by an automaton. One comes across this aspect very often, particularly when the overwhelming nritta razzmatazz creates a virtuosity-replete performance, the dancers looking for all the world like puppets who have been keyed to move. Even pure rhythm cannot be just an arithmetical exercise. As Pandit Birju Maharaj says, “Even in a hand tracing a ‘Tat tat thai’ the abstract movement, unless in perfect coordination with mind and spirit, will become empty geometry with nothing to say.” His demonstrations in class trying to impress upon the disciple this vital aspect of mind/body connection are most revealing. He asked a student: “What is this hand doing? Is it not your hand, part of your body? Do not treat it as an unconnected something outside of you. Treat it with love and show the concern that you are behind the movement.” So too, the element of sahitya (literary content), when incorporated, needs to have proper representation in the dancer’s interpretation. The language of word and movement needs to conjure up a picture that has SUMMER 2017 PULSE 11
THE CHANGING FACE OF CLASSICAL DANCE IN INDIA
Ammannur Madhava Chakayr rehearsing death of Bhali Photo: G Venu
“…eradication of the self, or burning up of the ego… does not come easily to dancers of today…”
Leela Samsom i Photo: Courtesy Artist
immediate access to our hearts. So technique and physical perfection can be an instrument of dance and not its fulfilment. Kalidasa maintained “Vakarthaaviva sampruktau vak artha pratipattaye” 7 wherein word, its meaning, sound and sense have to unite perfectly. When all these come together in a perfect union, the persona of the dancer ceases to exist in itself. The dancer then becomes the dance. To erase the feel of the dancer’s strong individual self is difficult in a performance. I have always been impressed by how Leela Samson, an individual with strong ideas, ceases to exist as an entity when she performs, with the dance completely taking over. This eradication of the self, or burning up of the ego, I find does not come easily to dancers of today, brought up to believe that the individual in the persona is important. In the case of many of the star dancers, the persistent feeling of so-andso dancing never goes away. I have a penchant for dance that has an underpinning of serenity, and performances that have the sense of musicality and poetic quality are for me special. These qualities seem to unveil the invisible links of a cosmic consciousness wherein contrary and remote aspects seem to cohere in a sense of completeness. A performer who can catch the abstraction of a line like ‘You are the sound as well as the voices. You are the blooming flower of fragrance. You are all the incandescent stars of Eternity’ 8 is for me a sensitive artist. The ability to improvise on stage while a line is being sung is more or less a dying art. There are a handful of dancers whose abhinaya ability one admires, like Braga Bessel and Lakshmi Viswanathan, both very different types of dancers. The first is a true disciple of Kalanidhi Narayanan who concentrated on mukhabhinaya 9 and who was responsible for giving back to abhinaya a place it had almost lost in the post-devadasi period. Lakshmi’s sophisticated approach, aside from what she obtained from the gurus like Ellappa Pillai under whom she trained, is a style shaped by the musicality she acquires from her family background, with her scholarship giving it a certain character that delights in angikabhinaya. 10 A dancer who also stands very high in abhinaya presentation is Swapnasundari, the kuchipudi/vilasini natyam specialist, who has studied under the Andhra devadasis to master a very wide repertoire extolling the sringar 12 PULSE SUMMER 2017
(sensuous love) aspect. Padams (lyrical songs) and javalis (lighter, livelier songs) in her dance can extend into hourlong compositions, so endless are the elaborations her interpretative skills can conceive. Her portrayal of Shoorphanaka (sister of Ravana, her name means ‘sharp, long nails’) on the occasion of the Ramayana-based Natya Kala Conference at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha in Chennai brought to the fore a rare excellence. Never had I witnessed the enormity of Shoorphanaka’s physical and emotional get-up brought out so tellingly in dance. The dancer’s netrabhinaya 11 as the demon’s eyes summed up the handsome figures of Rama and of Lakshmana, losing her heart to one and then the other too, is still fresh in many minds. As a trained vocalist, Swapna’s singing adds a special dimension to her presentations. The other dancer whose abhinaya depth takes on an exceptional quality, drawing on nothing but the limitless expertise in pure classicism, is Guru A. Lakshman whose interpretation of items like the Usseni Swarajati has few equals. He makes one of the best nayikas of any denomination that I have seen. These artists could sustain a whole programme on abhinaya alone, without any nritta relief.
being effeminate, transcended gender consciousness, his male presence never disrupting the portrayal. As for the nritta (abstract) interludes, they had originality in the grouping even while within the bharatanatyam adavu (movement unit) vocabulary. Whether presenting dance theatre based on Tagore’s children’s poetry, the tragic parts so moving that there was not a dry eye in the auditorium, or a presentation based on the river Narmada, or on compositions of the seventeenthcentury Marathi poet Tukaram, or humour ‒ which is so rarely treated in our dance ‒ there is a feel of visceral involvement in his dance. His dance, based on a very traditional movement idiom, bristles with
a sense of immediacy with time, past and present, strung into continuity. Nina Prasad, the Mohiniattam dancer, is another artist whose performances, suffused with the typical Kerala magic, never compromise with the slow haunting quality of movement in her dance style. Well-selected themes, and the constant musical backdrop provided by her vocalist Changanasseri Madhavan Nampoothiri with whom she works constantly, give her performances an edge. A dancer who never tries anything beyond what her Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra taught, Sujata Mohapatra’s odissi, as the epitome of what this dance should be, never fails to charm audiences.
Among the younger dancers of today, a male dancer whose performances I look forward to is bharatanatyam artist Vaibhav Arekar based in Pune. Endowed with a fertile creative imagination that can take on any theme and build on it, giving even margam items he presents an ever fresh feel, Vaibhav commands excellent technique, rare communication skills, a fine presence without an overwhelming sense of self, and a sensitivity to poetry and music. Having studied theatre, he is able to bring to the dance a subtle dramatic sensibility that heightens viewer interest without seeming to be violently unorthodox. Dancing to a Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar varnam (a technical piece with expressive sections), ‘Dani korikenu niraverchutakide tagina samayamu raa Tamarasaaksha’ set to a rare Misra Jhampa tala, which, at least in the recent past, has never been presented, I was struck by his interpretation of the lovelorn nayika (female protagonist), entreating her friend to convey her message of love to Lord Vishnu, pleading that he answer her call of love at once. What is set in the very traditional varnam mould in Vaibhav’s dance, visualisation was totally without the much-rendered hackneyed feel. Rarely does one see a male dancer so unselfconsciously present nayika bhav (expression) with such conviction. And what is more, the dancer, without any part of the rendition
Vaibhav Arekar i Photo: Kaustubh Atré
“…the dancer…transcended gender consciousness…”
SUMMER 2017 PULSE 13
THE CHANGING FACE OF CLASSICAL DANCE IN INDIA
“The segment from an ancient epic has a message as relevant for women’s empowerment today as then.” A fast-rising bharatanatyam dancer, Meenakshi Srinivasan, has composed Sita’s Agni Pravesham, which I consider as one of the extremely well-conceived items. First is the selection of a sequence which has tremendous dramatic potential, comprising in a way a whole philosophy on the treatment meted out to women in a patriarchal society. The selected Sanskrit verses from Valmiki Ramayanam translated into Tamil by a scholar and the nuanced music composed by Hariprasad provide the right foundation. And Meenakshi’s interpretation preserves the poignancy of the episode by not exaggerating and without any didactic padding, allowing the moment to speak for itself. The concluding circumambulation of Sita by Agni, who tells Rama that his flames cannot ever touch or purify someone as blemishless as Sita, says it all. The segment from an ancient epic has a message as relevant for women’s empowerment today as then. And this is the way to underline the eternal present in myth and epic. This is the direction in which classical dance should spread.
14 PULSE SUMMER 2017
Meenakshi Srinivasan i Photo: Courtesy Artist
Apart from being able to visualise the well-known repertoire in recitals, the need to fashion new compositions poses challenges. Many dancers of today commissioned to present new packages are engaged in this task in varying degrees and have met with success too. One dancer in her 30s who has excelled in the rare kutiyattam form is Kapila, the disciple of Ammanoor Madhava Chakyar, who as a solo woman performs narratives fashioned and designed for her by her gurus with father G. Venu helping. While she calls herself Kapila Nangiar, she does not come from the female tradition of these performers in temples. These female performers have their own vocabulary of hastas (hand gestures) and a repertoire which is special to Nangiar Koothu. Under Guru Ammanoor Madhava Chakyar in Irinjalakuda, Kapila was trained in kutiyattam and showed herself to be a fine talent. Apart from ‘Subhadra Dhananjayan’ and other typical Krishnabased items, Kapila’s performances in segments of ‘Shakuntalam’ as Shakuntala and in the narrative of Sita being left to live in the forest by Lakshmana on the orders of Rama are done with great power and control. She is certainly one of the highly creative figures in this art form!
Glossary 1. Bhramari – pirouettes, also called ghera in odissi; both clockwise and anti-clockwise are common. This can be with one leg anchored on the floor while the other is in the air as the circle is taken. 2. Chauka – half-seated plié with weight balanced equally on both feet and the two feet maintaining a distance so as to form a square geometrical motif ; one of the basic stances in odissi. 3. Thata – reposeful start of a traditional kathak performance, with minimal movement as the dancer allows herself to absorb the musical refrain (lehra), preparing the body for the strenuous dance to follow. 4. Araimandi – the half-seated plié which is the main stance of bharatanatyam, with the two feet placed closer to form a triangular motif. 5. Tribhangi – one of the main stances along with the chauka in odissi where a sharp deflection of the hip from the horizontal kati sutra (the
section between waist and hip), an opposite deflection of the torso and the head deflecting to the same side as the hip produces the three bend or tribhangi, a very graceful posture. 6. Footwork in kathak. 7. Kalidas in Kumarasambhavam showing how closely Shiva and Parvati complement each other as a couple. 8. “Osai olimellam aanai neeye...” Tirunavukkarasu, one of the celebrated Nayanmars living in the seventh century, sang thus of his perception of Shiva in mystic poetry. 9. Facial expressions used to convey meanings and emotions. 10. Bodily movement (without face) communicating feelings through its stances and attitudes. 11. Conveying emotions and meanings through eye movements.
BBC Young Dancer 2017 — YOUNG PULSE
BBC Young Dancer 2017 By Pamela Covey
was expecting to see much more finesse and fluidity of movement. Anaya Bolar – what a stunning girl – clearly has potential but seems currently lacking in core strength in her classical performance. However, her Woven duet was an intriguing piece so perhaps her future lies more in contemporary South Asian dance. Regarding the category winner, Shyam Dattani, I was frankly shocked that the judges singled him out as the best. He certainly has great performance style and stage presence, but unless my eyes were deceiving me he seemed to have a distinct loss of balance in one of his performances; only a momentary flaw, but surely enough to rule him out as the best? Last but not least, I was most pleasantly surprised by Anjelli Wignakumar. Having described herself in the pre-performance interviews as ‘short and stubby’, she greatly impressed me by overshadowing these physical drawbacks with her fluidity, extension and grace. She also struck me as one of the most expressive dancers in her storytelling and, much to my surprise, I think I enjoyed watching her most of all. It would be marvellous to see some feedback on the series from other readers. Pulse always welcomes ‘Letters to the Editor’, yet we see so few of them. So don’t be afraid to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard)!
SUMMER 2017 PULSE 15
All Photos: BBC
his year’s BBC Young Dancer surely begs the question: is my eyesight failing or was I watching a completely different series from the judges??? The gender bias was purely unbelievable, but at least it was a welcome relief to have a deserving female overall winner! For me, the absolute shining light of the whole series was Uyu Hiromoto whose effortless transition between classical and contemporary ballet simply took my breath away and she can surely go far in either direction, if not both. Fingers crossed on that score, as in the last series I would have selected Vidya Patel as the overall winner and she seems to have been going from strength to strength ever since. Unfortunately I couldn’t really see a future star among this year’s South Asian finalists. Each of the dancers had their strengths and weaknesses, but none had Vidya’s outstanding performance quality. Akshay Prakash was clearly impeded by his recent injury (perhaps rather foolish to have been playing football before such an important competition); however, I thought he had the most remarkably expressive face capable of telling a story all by itself! Jaina Modasia was as charming and engaging to watch as ever, yet I felt disappointed not to see more improvement in her general technique. In the 2015 series she had been juggling her studies with dance practice, but as she has now decided on dance as a career I
A Dipstick of Classical Dance in India Today
Arshiya Sethi Debanjali Biswas
All Photos Courtesy The Artists
A Dipstick of Classical Dance in India Today
We asked a range of dancers, including choreographers, journalists and academics, from established practitioners to those at earlier stages in their careers, for their perspectives on classical dance in India now and in the future. As one might expect, there was agreement in some areas, dissent in others. We summarise their responses here.
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Is Indian classical dance evolving, or does it risk becoming a museum piece?
Who is learning classical dance and are there enough highquality teachers?
There is a consensus that, as Debanjali Biswas says, “artistry in classical practices is a long continuum. There are many hands and voices which give classical dance its shape.” Suhani Singh is optimistic: “The current crop of young dancers ensures that it won’t be a relic of the past that’s exclusive to only a few. Through their performances, dialogues and teachings, they want audiences to see an ancient tradition through a fresh perspective.” Aditi Mangaldas agrees: “Yes, it is most definitely evolving. Which means that eventually it may evolve into something quite different from how we know it today! That is the basic tenet of evolution and as long as we are aware and sensitive to inevitable change, dance will never become a museum piece.” However, Urmimala Sarkar Munsi comments that “in the realms of classical dance, the resistance to any evolving mechanism or individual innovation is almost as strong as the anxiety for its survival… Among established dancers there is a very strong sense of territoriality and related resistance to any change.”
There is no shortage of students of classical dance. For some, dance and music are a hereditary tradition (DB). Others are keen to learn, but may or may not have high-quality teaching (AM); and there are those who learn but need the commitment to pursue the form and an awareness that “the journey to be financially independent is a fraught one” (SS). Aditi Mangaldas tells us she only has four students: “But I am very happy to say that each of them has over thirty to forty students! I feel that there are enough youngsters who want to learn classical dance.” This seems to be a common pattern (USM) and “many small schools have mushroomed in all big cities as well because many aspiring dancers start teaching small numbers of students in order to make a living” (USM); but too often “the problem is mediocrity again in the teachers. We do not have institutions that can nurture and give an overall but excellent quality education in dance. Most institutions lack visionaries, their tunnel vision again breeds mediocrity rather than excellence” (AM).
Can dance be a viable career?
Where do you think Indian classical dance will be in fifty years’ time?
It is difficult for dancers to make a living from dance – “only a handful of practitioners – the most gifted, the most devoted, the most determined – can make a living out of it” (SS); although “passion coupled with preparedness and practice [can] make it an enriching career, if not entirely viable” (DB). “Unfortunately in India, dance is not a viable career option if the meaning of ‘career option’ means to earn money. One dances because one has to, there is no other option… There is a vibrant and dynamic corporate sector in India and tons and tons of dance talent… what one needs are bridges between the two. Then it will be a viable option!” (AM). There is limited patronage of dance at the moment (USM), but perhaps there is hope for the future – Arshiya Sethi argues that following the Indian Company’s Act of 2013 mandating a 2 per cent spend of profits for Corporate Social Responsibility, “never has there been such a wide open world”. We do not yet have information about how helpful this has been for dance.
DB: It will flow naturally, both replenishing and exhausting itself, informed by new practitioners, choreographies, texts, poetry, politics and as testaments of a past well lived. AM: If we have the courage to see that change is the only constant, that preservation lies in harmonious change… If we are open to let our dance breathe the air of today, if we let our dance age and thus grow with us… I see our dance flourishing and being right there on top of world dance, where it should be. USM: A creative yet respectful understanding of the beauty and form these dances offer will hopefully lead dancers to engage in newer ways of exploring these forms of dances in their choreographies. AS: It will be alive, flourishing and more engaged with the world and other arts, I hope in the pursuit of creating a more just and responsible world order.
Is there is a paying audience for dance? A culture of ticketed performances is lacking in Delhi or Mumbai (AM, SS) and the willingness to pay for tickets often depends on the fame of those participating in an event. “Unless there is some legendary dancer involved, the number of people buying tickets to watch performances is a small one” (USM). Also, unfortunately “there is way too much mediocrity. Hence audience-building [becomes] very difficult” (AM). Excellent work is needed if a paying audience is to emerge (AM, AS). Suhani Singh has been a programme director of the Raindrops Festival of Indian Classical Dance (Mumbai) for the last five years. She writes that free performances engage audiences less and do not encourage respect for the art forms: “Last year we put our foot down and said that we would no longer have free entry. I was frankly tired of being part of a movement that says ‘we want more people to attend so let’s keep it free’. It isn’t fair either to the artist or the independent cultural organisation that viewers don’t pay for the classical arts…we were asked why we suddenly decided to charge – it was mostly free for the last twentyfive years, but we knew it was time for a much-needed change. I don’t think audiences can be cultivated for dance by spoon-feeding them with free recitals. We need to encourage their participation in the arts and one is to say ‘Please respect the art form and pay the donor card/ticket fee for it.’”
SS: I can only hope that it sustains itself. I’m frankly more worried about the solo tradition. There is a craze for group choreography which I think is adversely affecting solo dancers… There needs to be appreciation for those who stand tall on their own. DB - Debanjali Biswas is a graduate student in social anthropology and dance studies at King’s College London; she is a manipuri dancer. AM - Aditi Mangaldas is a leading kathak dancer and choreographer who has used her knowledge and experience of kathak as a springboard to evolve a contemporary dance vocabulary, infused with the spirit of the classical. She has performed in major festivals across the world and heads the Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company – the Drishtikon Dance Foundation, based in Delhi. AS - Arshiya Sethi is Managing Trustee of Kri Foundation, arts commentator, dance critic, columnist, author and currently post-doctoral Fulbright-Nehru scholar of dance and cultural studies from India, at the University of Minneapolis. USM - Urmimala Sarkar Munsi is a faculty member at the School of Arts and Aesthetics of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She is a social anthropologist, dancer and choreographer trained at the Uday Shankar India Culture Centre, Kolkata. SS - Suhani Singh is a Senior Associate Editor of India Today magazine, the leading English weekly in India. She is also the programme director of Raindrops Festival of Indian Classical Dance in Mumbai. She learns kathak from her mother, Uma Dogra.
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Kathak Kendra then and now
The Changing Contexts of Dance in India – Kathak Kendra then and now By Sushmita Ghosh
Over the years, changes in approaches to dance, to its teaching traditions and performance practice have been taking place. The physical context also has its impact. Sushmita Ghosh, former director of Kathak Kendra, shows how the Kendra has been keyed in to some of these changes, from its early decades of rich, creative cross-fertilisation.
athak Kendra was established in 1964 in New Delhi as a constituent unit of the Sangeet Natak Akademi (India’s National Academy of Music, Dance and Drama). For a short while, kathak enjoyed the grand privilege of being the only Indian classical dance that received patronage from the Central Government. Manipuri, in the form of the Jawaharlal Nehru 18 PULSE SUMMER 2017
Manipuri Dance Academy in Imphal, joined the league soon after. Kalakshetra (Chennai) and Kutiyattam Kendra (Tiruvananthapuram) came decades later.
“Surrounded by creative energies…”
The 1970s and 1980s were the heydays of artistic expression and exploration at Kathak Kendra. The grand premises of the institution housed at the famous Bhawalpur House complex shared its boundary walls with premier establishments like NSD (National School of Drama that produced stalwarts such as Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri and Anupam Kher), and CCRT (Centre for Cultural Resources and Training, the Central Government agency entrusted
The impact continued well into the next decade. The renaissance of the format of a kathak performance was well under way in the 1960s as kathak graduated to the proscenium stage. The nationalist movement around the time of Independence rekindled the interest in the cultural heritage of the nation. The classical arts were now finding wider acceptance, outside the gharanas, into the contemporary, Western-educated, urban audiences. The transformation, however, does not seem to have had much impact on the training material or teaching pedagogy of the art form except that students could no longer live in the guru’s home and imbibe the tradition. The traditional mode of education through this gurukul system had disappeared over the three centuries preceding Independence. Nothing had replaced it.
“…a partial replacement for the gurukul system.”
Maharaj, who danced, sang, painted, wrote and composed. Though a syllabus was created and a
“…the system was not meticulously overhauled to accommodate contemporary concepts…” system of examinations was put into place along the lines of assessment structures in schools and universities, the system was not meticulously overhauled to accommodate contemporary concepts of dance education, evaluation, feedback assessment and its tangible criteria. It was simply the charismatic art and tireless dedication of the gurus that created enough food to nurture the next few generations of younger dancers. The institution did not prepare itself for the times when the charisma would no longer be available to sustain the institution. The change crept in thus:
Kathak Kendra, to some extent, served as a partial replacement for the gurukul system. The government created the infrastructure that allowed a handful of masters, who had a team of musicians and working space at their disposal, to create, to teach and to share their work with the wider world. Some of the best names in the field were brought in as gurus.
“…a nurturing and safe haven…” These gurus and masters, who were products of the guru-shishya (gurustudent) days, found a nurturing and safe haven amid the chaos and shifting sociocultural values in post-independent India, to give expression to their creative flight. The parampara (the guru-shishya tradition) therefore, indirectly, fed the training of young dancers, even a few decades after its essential form was vanquished.
“The masters brought with them infinite skill… an innate sense of the underlying interconnection between the arts.” with the task of connecting with the entire nation through arts and cultural dialogue). Surrounded by creative energies all around, the Kendra students enjoyed the opportunity to make the best of many worlds.
“…kathak graduated to the proscenium stage.”
Several generations of kathak dancers took shape simply from this rich ambience of artistic buzz. The masters brought with them infinite skill, total dedication and an innate sense of the underlying interconnection between the arts. Young dancers grew up experiencing Durga Lal on his mesmerising Pakhawaj, Munna Shukla, who was a treasury of poetry and quotes; and of course the legendary Birju
1. One by one the great gurus retired or passed away. 2. Eventually all but the National School of Drama were driven out of the buzzing Mandi House scene. Kathak Kendra found itself in a halfcompleted grand structure in the posh diplomatic area of Chanakyapuri. The Kendra today still functions along the same lines as it did four decades ago – the daily dance classes with live musicians, the subsidiary or allied subjects of Hindustani vocal, tabla and pakhawaj, examinations twice a year, the occasional theory lectures, the grand Mahotsav and the peripheral Utsavs (festivals).
“…one doesn’t find much change in the professional avenues available…” Each year Kathak Kendra produces between five and ten graduates who have had at least five years of full-time training, including in music, yoga and theory as well as dance, for six days a week, seven to eight hours a day. In spite of the rising number of artists as well as audiences, one doesn’t find much change in the professional avenues available to these highly-skilled graduates. Many of the graduates set up their own little schools, encouraging their students to train once or twice a week and take examinations conducted by the various independent boards such as Prayag Sangeet Samiti and Gandharva Maha Vidyalaya. (Kathak Kendra’s degrees are not officially recognised anywhere in the world, not even for various appointments at its parent SUMMER 2017 PULSE 19
Kathak Kendra then and now
Gopal Das, Director (Extreme right, with his back towards us), Gauri Shankar (holding the microphone), Kapila Vatsyayan, Govind Vidyarthi, Birju Maharaj, Kundan Lal Gangani, Munna Shukla, Reba Vidyarthi, Kumudini Lakhia (in glasses), Sunil Kothari, Rohini Bhate.| PHoto: COURTESY AUTHOR
organisation, the Sangeet Natak Akademi.) As group choreographies gain in popularity (reality shows on the small screen adding to their attraction), young graduates are now beginning to find employment opportunities in dance groups led by senior artists and choreographers. The demand, however, far outweighs the supply. Working as dance teachers in schools does bring some financial security, but at the heavy cost of one’s performance dreams as well as the individual creative leaps. Although the graduates of today seem more skilled than their earlier counterparts, their training lacks the bandwidth to equip them to venture beyond the traditional opportunities to explore other related avenues; for example, dance writing, dance therapy, music composition, event designing and curating. Success is still counted by the number of students, performances and the tours abroad. The past is over… the future is yet to begin… The task of upgrading the training structure at Kathak Kendra to address the present-day demands of the profession at a global stage seems painfully slow, especially with several visionary directors resigning in quick succession amid protest actions and other political crises each time. Although the gharanas of kathak are named after the cities from which they evolved, post-Independence kathak definitely has a marked Delhi-centric 20 PULSE SUMMER 2017
emphasis, with Kathak Kendra as its centre. A quick glance at the list of alumni of the Kendra over the last fifty years points at a figure of around 30 per cent who came from other states. Of these, many have made Delhi their home, though a few have returned to the metropolises from which they came. Access to affordable quality training and education in kathak, however, remains a dream for the smalltown aspirants, who flock to the Kendra.
“Each child needs to be educated about his/her vast and rich heritage and helped to reconnect with it.” A tremendous effort is now required to turn the tide and recreate the classical sensibility, not only in the artist but also the audience. The colossal grass-roots work that has been neglected all this while needs to start before it is too late. Mere festivals are not enough. Each child needs to be educated about his/her vast and rich heritage and helped to reconnect with it. Any takers? We finish with extracts from exchanges between Sushmita Ghosh and Geeta Chandran (bharatanatyam), and Madhavi Mudgal (odissi):
profession in dance. There is no structure for progress or assessment. Dance in India operates in the feudal way based on who you know and how much you can spend. This is a terrible situation. “I guess optimism is seen in numbers of learners. But that is myopic. I prefer better indicators. What facilities for growth of a professional dancer have we put in place? Are there facilities easily hireable for practice? Are dancers paid? Is there a support system of healthy dance criticism? Is there a growth in numbers of eclectic audience members who know the dance? Mere numbers of dancers does not a profession make!” – Geeta Chandran “It is a challenge for the dedicated soloist in Indian classical dance today to create a strong enough financial base from where to dive deep within his/her creative realm. But this strong focus is essential for the soloist. “The physical fitness of the dancer is important, but that cannot be the only determining factor. Where is the rasaanubhuti (aesthetic experience)? Even though there is a lot of spread, a truly discerning and knowledgeable audience that values the essence of the art is diminishing.” – Madhavi Mudgal
“The crux of the matter is that while we have dance professionals, we do not have a
Attakkalari – Some Reflections
Attakkalari – Some Reflections ISHH | Photo: Darshan Manakkal
Bhinna Abhinna | Photo: Darshan Manakkal
By Ian Abbott
Here is a window and set of reflections on contemporary dance in India viewed through the curated programme of the Attakkalari India Biennial 2017 which self-defines as the largest and most important international festival for contemporary movement arts in South Asia.
he power of a festival lies in its choice of works and the ability to pull programmers and curators towards it creating FOMO, seeing works for the first time or being part of a network of peers to debate, discuss and make deals for future festivals of their own. There were no programmers from the UK in attendance.
“…audiences/programmers view the work through a particular frame…” Attakkalari clearly defines its programme so that audiences/programmers view the work through a particular frame: Centre-Stage (internationally-acclaimed dance companies), Platform Plus (Indian artists who have carved a niche with their work), Platform 17 (independent and emerging choreographers from the South Asian region) and a number of other strands of work including a Writing on Dance Laboratory (which I was invited to be part of), Conversations, Facets Residency and Off-Stage Interventions.
“…[it] plays a significant role in the dance ecology.” There are a number of opinions on the role of Attakkalari: it has been at the forefront of training, performance and presentation for the last fifteen years in India; it has a large influence and plays a significant role in the dance ecology. A UK equivalent would be Breakin’ Convention – an organisation that brings a host of international artists to the country, scaling up, touring the country and having a monopoly on the mainstream debate and frame of their community, led by a charismatic and well-networked male figurehead.
“…unspoken conversation…” On the ground, among the audience, artists and writers in Bangalore, there is also an unspoken conversation about how Attakkalari Repertory Company is often the only India-based company in the high-
profile Centre-Stage programme. At the festival there’s an interesting dynamic in play as the Attakkalari Repertory Company dancers perform in Bhinna Vinyasa (choreographed by Jayachandran Palazhy) and ISSHH (choreographed by Cie Nicole Seiler); the difference could not be more stark. Bhinna Vinyasa is a lumbering, clunky production with unnecessary Windows screen-saver-like projections distracting from the movement; mixed with a lack of sensitivity and coherent red thread in the composition of how an audience receives the movement, it ends up as a series of disconnected mixture-scenes featuring kalari, contemporary dance and bharatanatyam. In the foundation of the choreographic language there is a leaden quality to the majority of the dancers as their bodies execute instructions rather than flesh out and deliver engaging performances. ISSHH by Seiler takes the same set of dancers along with one extra and transforms into an end-of-festival celebratory and uplifting performance that had lashings of humour, offered a re-imagined skewering of the odd Bollywood big dance number and demonstrated a craft of being attuned to an audience and how to lift and pull out performances from the same cast that had SUMMER 2017 PULSE 21
Attakkalari – Some Reflections
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Pakistan’s Music Industry – An Historical Perspective
Aslam Azar | Photo: Courtesy Author
By Arieb Azhar
Arieb Azar | Photo: Courtesy Author
seemed so leaden before. The Facets Residency Programme offers emerging choreographers (four from India and three from elsewhere) a five-week residency with access to seven different mentors (from sound design to dramaturgy to choreography to lighting design) and in return asks them to present a ten- to fifteenminute work as part of the festival. As a development model it is supportive, bespoke and offers the chance to present a work to a series of international programmers who are invited for the first five days of the festival, catered for and housed together in a local hotel. As a platform split over two nights, the choreographic and performance quality of the work from India is like a night of Resolution at The Place where a series of graduate companies and emerging artists pay for the privilege of performing at the London venue but you’re unsure of the quality of work before you enter. Sujay Saple’s Ghar Ki Murgi allowed the audience the choice to decide the component parts of short performative sections from a prescribed list (e.g. lighting red, choreography solo, soundtrack four); this could have been a light-hearted and semi-interactive piece but he asked his performers to represent and perform as cleaners. This choice (which had no bearing on the choreography or integrity of the work) inadvertently raises questions of caste/power/privilege of the largely affluent audience, the history of dalits and how they have been forced to clean and collect human waste. It was an insensitive misuse of power to make the cleaners the subject of his work. Tahnun Ahmedy’s underdeveloped solo Samrakshana was the weakest work out of the seven; sitting somewhere between kathak and contemporary dance Ahmedy was the only choreographer from Bangladesh (which has little in the way of contemporary dance training) and although his kathak technique was stronger I wonder why the mentors (who have an overview of all the works in progress) attached to Facets did not encourage him to present differently as the work suffered in comparison to the others. Structurally the Attakkalari India Biennial is in rude health, and some of the international programming, like Tordre (Wrought) by CCN2 Grenoble, France and Ketima by Vuyani Dance Theatre, South Africa, shows a keen eye for smallscale experimental as well as large-scale audience-pleasers that would grace other international dance festivals. However, it’s hard to see the Platform Plus work by Preethi Athreya and Company or the Facets work programmed outside of India or an Alchemy context. Outside of Bangalore and Attakkalari, Gati Dance Forum in New Delhi offers an alternative through the Ignite Festival and they’re about to launch a new MA in Critical Dance Practice. While the growth of contemporary dance in India is an exciting step for this vast country, it will take time for the form to mature before it can take its place on an international stage.
Repression, resistance, Coke Studios and music festivals – musician Arieb Azhar leads us through the vagaries of post-Independence Pakistan.
akistan, like the rest of the subcontinent, can boast of a vibrant and deep-rooted tradition of poetry and music. Even though appreciation of refined poetry and music is ingrained in Pakistani society, the state has been inconsistent in its role as patron of the arts and has at times attempted to stifle the free flow of culture. This has not, however, stopped the generation of master musicians and the development of interesting new forms of music in several genres. Pakistani music is usually categorised as folk, classical, semi-classical (ghazal and geet), Qawwali, pop, rock and contemporary (including electronic). ‘Fusion’ is a newer term widely used for any type of music that combines folk or classical music with electronic instruments or guitars.
I myself am often categorised as a ‘Sufi singer’. The term ‘Sufi music’, just like ‘fusion music’, is also a newly-popular expression. While growing up, musicians who would sing the poetry of the manifold Sufi saints of Pakistan would be simply called ‘folk musicians’. Today, the term ‘Sufi music’ is used loosely to describe all music that makes use of Sufi poetry or terminology including folk.
“Sufi shrines and folk festivals…bastions of the poetic musical heritage of the land…”
Pakistan’s Music Industry – AN Historical Perspective
Great folk music can still be found in almost every region of Pakistan, although local venues in which to perform have become scarce. Sufi shrines and folk festivals continue to be the bastions of the poetic musical heritage of the land, despite being under constant threat from terrorists and extremist sections of society.
“...a burgeoning film industry…employed a lot of musicians…” The development of the urban-based music of Pakistan, on the other hand, has been much more erratic. From the partition of the subcontinent to the late 70s there were bars and nightclubs in the cities of Pakistan with live jazz and rock music bands, mostly composed of musicians of Anglo-Indian and Goan ancestry but also a lot of Westernised youth from Muslim families. Several notable jazz and rock musicians from the West (Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, The Beatles…) used to travel through Pakistan during that time and many performed in local clubs and jammed with the house musicians. There was also a burgeoning film industry that employed a lot of musicians in its orchestras and provided a platform for several classically-
the film industry, such as Tufail Niazi, Pathaney Khan, Shaukat Ali, Reshma, Alam Lohar, Muhammad Jumman, Faiz Baluch, Mai Bhagi, Abida Parveen, Salamat and Nazakat Ali Khan, Amanat and Fateh Ali Khan, Roshanara Begum, Munni Begum, Malika Pukhraj, Noor Jahan, Mehdi Hassan, Sabri Brothers, Aziz Mian Qawwal, Allan Faqir and many others.
EMI, the major record label, also played a huge role in sustaining the livelihoods of hundreds of musicians, while institutions like the Arts Council and Lok Virsa recorded and founded music libraries. The big changeover in Pakistan happened when the centre-left populist leader Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was overthrown
Abida Parveen | Photo: Coke Studio
“…General Zia…closed down all bars and nightclubs… forcing a lot of musicians onto the streets.”
Some notable pop musicians, however, managed to break through in mainstream media even in the 80s, when the state-run television was mostly promoting religious hymns and patriotic songs. Teenage sisterbrother duo Nazia and Zohaib Hassan are shining examples of pop resistance in this otherwise culturally barren era of Pakistani state-run media.
“...resistance art was thriving on the streets…” bit.ly/137pak06
“…Pakistan Television… brought all the great folk and classical music talent into people’s living rooms…” trained vocalists to become popular singers. Radio Pakistan was also a hub of musical activity and source of income for scores of talented musicians. When Pakistan Television came into being in 1964, headed by my father Aslam Azhar, it brought all the great folk and classical music talent into people’s living rooms and gave a platform to several already recognised voices of radio and
music apart from selective Qawwali music was looked upon as vice and dance was practically outlawed. Several artists left their profession or left the country, and many became alcoholics.
by General Zia-ul Haq’s military coup in 1977, backed by the USA and Western powers as part of their Cold War strategy. Bhutto had already banned the consumption of alcohol in public spaces in a bid to appease right-wing religious parties, but when General Zia took over he introduced brutal punishments for alcohol consumption and closed down all bars and nightclubs, thus forcing a lot of musicians onto the streets. The film industry, with its orchestras, continued for a while as films became more propaganda-based, selling the new religious patriotic image of Pakistan in order to survive.
“...dance was practically outlawed.” If the next eleven years of General Zia were bad for musicians, they were disastrous for dancers. This was the first time that religious radicalisation of society started taking place on a state level. All
But despite state repression in the 80s (or because of it!), resistance art was thriving on the streets of Pakistan. Artists and intellectuals were gathering in public meetings, study circles and demonstrations and taking strength from revolutionary poets like Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Sheikh Ayaz and Habib Jalib. Folk singers in the villages were singing the humanist poetry of the Sufi saints directly aimed against state institutionalisation of religion. Theatre groups like Dastak (which my whole family was part of) and Tehreek e Niswan in Karachi, and Ajoka, Saanj and Lok Rahs in Lahore were organising bold performances on stage and street, questioning the status quo.
“The return of democracy in 1988 saw a resurgence of musical activity…” The return of democracy in 1988 saw a resurgence of musical activity erupting among the urban youth of Pakistan, although there was a marked disconnect with the pre-Zia music era. My father was recalled by Benazir Bhutto, the new prime minister, to head television and radio, and he started by commissioning a number of cultural, scientific and educational programmes. One such programme was Music 89, produced by the very talented SUMMER 2017 PULSE 23
producer Shoaib Mansoor; that introduced a local flavour of rock music for Pakistani audiences in the form of bands like Jupiters and Vital Signs. Soon the band Junoon also came into being and the term ‘Sufi Rock’ was coined. The 90s were the most thriving period of Pakistan’s urban music scene postZia, which saw the advent of private television stations, music channels and FM radio networks hungry for new content. Corporate sponsorship started flowing into the music industry and public concerts started taking place in all the urban centres. This was the period that I missed out on due to my thirteen-year sojourn in Croatia where I was first living as a student and then a musician playing mostly Balkan and Irish music in a music scene completely different from that of Pakistan.
successful pop band in Pakistan’s history, Rohail knew the ins and outs of the music industry and produced a masterful show.
“[Following 9/11]… Music channels closed down in favour of news channels…” Coke Studio Pakistan became so successful that it prompted Coca-Cola to launch a Coke Studio India as well. Although the project has also been criticised for turning some old folk and Qawwali masterpieces into pop covers, it is undeniable that it has introduced a lot of folk artists and Sufi poetry to younger urban generations. In fact, after nine seasons, the
because of security and business concerns. Music channels closed down in favour of news channels as the country went on to a war footing against an unseen enemy and institutions started blaming each other. Culture and arts are still suffering in a country that is divided in its approach as to how to deal with the menace of terrorism and religious extremism. The internet has provided new space for young artists to share their work, and local music websites like taazi.com and patari.com are trying to create new streams of revenue for artists. But recent pressure by state organs against liberal and secular thought is restricting the free flow of ideas and cultural expression. Most of the funding for music and
“...music festivals help to create artist communities that can work together for the uplift of the music industry.”
culture in Pakistan today comes from foreign donor agencies instead of local government or business enterprise, and although the federal government has had a meaningful culture policy paper drafted, it seems to lack the political will to create a consensus for its implementation. A positive development that has taken place recently is the burgeoning of several new music festivals being organised by artists and musicians themselves. The pioneers of this new cycle of music festivals are Music Mela Islamabad, which I started with a friend in 2014; Lahooti Melo Hyderabad; When I returned to Pakistan in 2003, during the ‘Enlightened Moderation’ programme of General Musharraf, I found a new urban generation with material values and no recollection of the pre-Zia Pakistan. I decided to study and use Sufi humanist poetry in my compositions to reconnect with my own cultural source, and since I played my songs on the guitar, I came to be known as a contemporary Sufi musician.
“...a musician is not considered mainstream unless he or she has performed in Coke Studio!” It was in 2008 that the first season of Coke Studio came out in Pakistan, which quickly became the prime music project of the country. The formula of connecting Sufi folk music with rock ‘n’ roll that producer Rohail Hyatt used wasn’t a new one, but as former keyboardist of Vital Signs, the most 24 PULSE SUMMER 2017
project is still so influential that a musician is not considered mainstream unless he or she has performed in Coke Studio! But this boom in the music industry was short-lived. The destructive onslaught of terrorist attacks in post-9/11 Pakistan was a new crippling blow to the country’s music industry. In some towns and neighbourhoods, musicians and promoters started receiving death threats from anonymous groups. A cracker bomb attack at the Rafi Peer World Performing Arts Festival in 2008 (while I was on stage!) brought the grand ten-day Arts Festival of Lahore to an end for several years. Corporate sponsors started pulling out of live music events
Lahore Music Meet; and I am Karachi Music Festival. The Rafi Peer Festival Lahore has also branched out into several smaller festivals. These music festivals help to create artist communities that can work together for the uplift of the music industry. So far Pakistani musicians of all genres that make good money from their music do so by playing most shows abroad. Art has and always will survive. History has often shown us that the quality of art has little to do with economical and even perhaps sociological conditions. Meanwhile it’s the wellbeing of artists that I’m concerned about, and society that needs to listen to each other’s music.
Saieen Zahoor and Sanam Marvi | Photo: Coke Studio
Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Momina Mustehsan | Photo: Coke Studio
Pakistan’s Music Industry – A Historical Perspective
Naseem khan — Obituary
Naseem Khan – Pioneering Figure in British (Asian) Arts
Photo: George Torode
By Suman Bhuchar
Naseem Khan, commentator, policydeveloper and a pioneer at the forefront of cultural change in the UK, has died aged 77.
aseem Khan’s report, ‘The Arts Britain Ignores’, published in 1976, drew attention to arts and cultural activity being undertaken by Britain’s Asian and African/Caribbean communities as being integral to British culture. The report, jointly supported by the Community Relations Commission, Arts Council of Great Britain and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, was the first major study of this nature, mapping the extent of ‘ethnic minority’ arts being produced up and down Britain. Together with other events, the report initiated a debate around cultural diversity. The report raised the question of institutional support for artistic work from Britain’s black and Asian communities and argued that Britain was a much richer place culturally due to the contribution of artists from these communities. It led to the formation in 1976 of the Minority Arts Advisory Service (MAAS) of which Khan was originally the director. (The agency ran until 1995.)
Khan was born in Birmingham on 11 August 1939 of Indian and German parents who met in London as students. Her father, Abdul Wasi Khan, was a doctor and her mother, Gerda Kilbinger, was studying English. The couple couldn’t return to their respective homes due to the Second World War and the Partition of India, so they settled in the UK in the West Midlands, where a younger brother, Anwar, was born. Naseem’s parents felt that the best way of getting their children to integrate was to send them to a top boarding school, so Naseem went to Roedean School, where she never felt she fitted in. (She was an original ‘second-generation’ Asian, although that phrase had not been coined at the time.) Born a Muslim, she developed an interest in meditation and Buddhism. Khan later went to Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford to read English. She then worked as a journalist and became theatre editor for Time Out. She left this to undertake the research into her seminal report. She had a lifelong interest in dance and took lessons from Pandit Ram Gopal (it is said that she appeared in a few films as a dancer). He is the man largely credited with bringing Indian dance to Britain. She then went on to train in bharatanatyam with Professor U.S. Krishna Rao and U.K. Chandrabhaga Devi in their years in the UK. With Tara Rajkumar she founded the Academy of Indian Dance in 1979. In 1982 Khan organised a protest event ‒ the Alternative Festival of India in Holland Park, London ‒ showcasing and highlighting the talents of British Asian artists based in the UK, while the government-led Festival of India was going on which promoted India’s past heritage and visiting artists from India. Khan spent many years working as a journalist for the Guardian and the Independent, covering stories on Asian arts, writing a weekly column in the New Statesman and also working as a freelance arts consultant. She worked on a large number of local authority arts and cultural plans for Bedford, Gravesend, Redbridge and Newham, and for institutions including Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum. She set up her own consultancy for a while called Asian Leisure and Arts Planners (Alaap), for which I also did some work. She was a senior associate with the consultancy Comedia for many years and team leader for sections of their influential studies on ‘Parks and Urban Open Space’ (1995), ‘The Future
of Public Libraries’ (1993), and ‘The Social Impact of the Arts’ (1997). She was Head of Diversity at the Arts Council of England from 1996 to 2003. In between she coedited (with Ferdinand Denis) Voices of the Crossing: The Impact of Britain on Writers from Asia, the Caribbean and Africa (Serpent’s Tail, 2000). Khan married the journalist John Torode (not to be confused with the Australian chef) and the couple had two children, Amelia and George, and lived in Hampstead. Later, after they split up, she moved to the East End and began to carve out a new chapter in her working life. She championed local community development and became involved in regeneration projects aimed at creating creative spaces where people lived and worked. An example of this can be seen from when she was a patron of the Friends of Arnold Circus, an organisation dedicated to the regeneration and upkeep of the Arnold Circus bandstand and surrounding Boundary Gardens located in Shoreditch, for the use of the local community. She also wrote a monograph about Arthur Arnold, his brother Edwin and his circus: www.spitalfieldslife. com/2010/07/17/who-is-arnold-circus Naseem Khan was one of five Women of the Decade in the Arts in 1993 and was awarded the OBE for her work in 1999. More recently, in 2016, she undertook a project ‘What Difference Does Difference Make?’ This explored how cultural policy and practice responded to the changing ethnic diversity of Britain. Its aim was to understand the evolution of cultural practice since her 1976 report ‘The Arts Britain Ignores’ and whether it was inclusive and multicultural, as well as setting agendas for the future of arts policy and practice in the UK. More on this can be seen on the website www.walkbeforeme.org Khan was diagnosed with cancer more than a year ago and had been spending time with her family and grandchildren but was indefatigable in her championing of South Asian arts. She participated in the Navadisha International Dance Conference, focusing on South Asian Dance, held in Birmingham from 20 to 22 May 2016 where she was honoured by her peers: “We salute Naseem Khan as the game-changer who shifted the debate around diversity and the arts in the UK.” She passed away peacefully on 8 June this year, just after hearing the news that her memoirs had been accepted by a publisher. They are due out in November 2017. There will be a memorial service in September. www.arnoldcircus.co.uk 11 August 1939–8 June 2017 First published, 14 June 2017 on www.asianculturevulture.com.
SUMMER 2017 PULSE 25
REVIEWS — MUSIC PERFORMANCE/DANCE PERFORMANCE
Music Performance Sukanya – The Opera 19 May 2017 Ravi Shankar Opera Project Part of Alchemy Festival Royal Festival Hall, London Reviewed by Ken Hunt
yth, music and dance meet in Ravi Shankar’s operatic love story’ ran the Southbank Centre’s May Listings brochure. The London performance of Sukanya – The Opera was the fourth of four stagings. Its world première had taken place on 12 May at the Curve in Leicester – understandable as its director is Curve associate director Suba Das. There followed ones at the Lowry in Salford and the Symphony Hall in Birmingham. Its London debut happened as part of the eighth Alchemy Festival at the Royal Festival Hall. In a neat symmetrical turn Ravi Shankar had given his ‘Only London Appearance’ and first major British recital at the venue on 4 October 1958 with Ustad Alla Rakha as billed accompanist on tabla. Parenthetically, the Bob Dylan- and Paul Simoninfluencing, genre-changing English folksinger-titan-butthen-schoolboy Martin Carthy, his curiosity piqued by a sir’s absentminded tāl finger-drumming in class, attended the recital. So much has changed in six decades. In 1989, the year Panditji married the real-life Sukanya, his Ghanashyam (‘A Broken Branch’) dance drama needed more than one pass to evaluate it objectively. Its storyline reeled around an individual’s decline into narcotics. Good politics or intentions do not automatically make good art, goes the time-tested truism. Time pronounced that Ghanashyam to be too simplistic to be a great work of art.
Thankfully, Sukanya already packs a substantially greater punch. Given some tweaking and road-testing, it could deliver far more. Pulse pretty much quartered its concept and conception in the last issue. But here goes… Chyayana (Alok Kumar) goes into centuries of meditation. An ant nest forms around him. A princess, Sukanya (Susanna Hurrell) passes by, spots two jewels – his eyes – and pokes them with her fan, blinding the meditating sage. To make amends, King Sharyaati (Keel Watson) offers his daughter’s hand in marriage. Meanwhile, overlooking this whole Midsummer Night’s Nightmare are the Ashwini Twins (Njabulo Madlala and Michel de Souza), who, mesmerised by Sukanya, decide to test this beauteous maiden’s love for a crinkly sage. Chaudhuri’s libretto departs inspirationally from the Mahabharata episode – his tanpura-tuning scene lifted from his own writings is the best example. The Ashwini demigods transform Chyayana as a third look-alike twin. Chaudhuri sly-winks to the in-on-the-gag audience who can see the (multiracial cast) ‘twin trio’ aren’t identical. Sukanya sees through the subterfuge and Love with a capital l triumphs, though with this small dash of end-of-pier pantomime or music hall humour to leaven the operatic dish. David Murphy’s musical settings and orchestrations for Western classical and mixed Indian instrumentation and voicings work very well. The Hindustani shehnai (shawm), played by Ashwani Shankar, is deployed in scenewelcoming guises, much like in temples and ceremonies. A tarana piece enables choreographer Aakash Odedra to let the kathak dancers shine, perhaps (dare I say?) in a transferred kathakali story play kind of way since M. Balachandar added konnakol (South India’s
counterpart of the Hindustani bols recited rhythmically). Representing the presiding spirit of his guru, Parimal Sadaphal played sitar. My appreciation of theatrical set design was radicalised through the British theatre designer William Dudley and, in a specific RFH context, the staging of Tod Browning’s 1931 talkie Dracula, with live music by Philip Glass and Kronos Quartet, in 1999. During Part I (‘Present-day India, the temple of the Goddess of Love’) of Sukanya, the lighting and backcloths advanced, augmented and added to the narrative. Two examples… Lighting designer Matt Haskins created ants out of moving lights darting across the Chyayana anthill. The production design team, 59 Productions, used backcloths to depict the passage of centuries as the sage meditated. Saplings turned into mature trees behind him. Haskins and 59 should have been given their head in Part II (location unspecified). Maybe, for reasons of the heart, images of Ravi Shankar dominated the stage for far too long. Their going from monochrome to colour hardly consolidated or advanced anything. Instead, images of Panditji should have been the valedictory projections. Sukanya is truly too big a work to take in on first or one pass. It deserves and demands a more retrievable opportunity, the better to appreciate it more fully and the better for it to be analysed and dissected (certainly than in this review). Talking directly afterwards to Amit Chaudhuri (incidentally, attending Sukanya for the first time), its librettist was little the wiser about next steps. Cross fingers, let’s hope this multi-media work gets preserved properly.
Dance Performance Beyond the Frame and Gods and Mortals 7 May 2017 The Odissi Ensemble The Hat Factory, Luton Reviewed by Stacey Prickett
T Sukanya | Photo: Bill Cooper
26 PULSE SUMMER 2017
he Odissi Ensemble opened Luton Hat Factory’s Beyond the Frame Sunday afternoon performance series with an improvisatory exploration of the spaces of the venue’s café, moving between the packed tables to make their stage the broad window sills. The quartet of dancers offered
a literal interpretation of the series theme – breaking out of the theatrical frame of the black box and transcending the interior space of the venue by dancing in front of the tall windows, attracting viewers on the pavement outside. Short solos by Elena Catalano and Kali Chandrasegaram gave a taster of the rhythms and abhinaya that followed, while Katie Ryan and Maryam Shakiba‘s duet offered a playful moment between friends. Violinist May Robertson’s strings offered a lyrical background for the danced prelude. Moving into the theatre, the dancers were joined by live musicians in an interchange rich in sight and sound. Robertson’s violin was joined by percussionist Gurdain Rayatt on the pakhawaj drum instead of the usual tabla, with Ranjana Ghatak’s vocals supplemented by Parvati Rajamani’s vocal rhythms. The sonorous tones of the pakhawaj added an unusual layer, explored in depth in a solo interlude in addition to laying the foundation for the accompaniment throughout the event. The Odissi Ensemble’s Gods and Mortals programme is subtitled ‘Beauty, Depth and Drama’ and the six items fulfilled the promise. Exquisitely costumed, drama and joy alternated with technically-complex pure dance elements across the pieces. The dancers are well suited in style and talent; individual personalities stood out, yet blended with each other in moments of tight unison in the group passages. The ‘Gods’ component of the programme emerged in multiple manifestations, seen in the opening ‘Mangalacharan’, a traditional dance acknowledging the space, the universe and the audience. Lighting emphasised kaleidoscopic patterns when the dancers gathered together under a shaft of light, only to separate out to scatter flower petals on the four corners of the stage. Paying tribute to Ganesha, the elephant-headed remover of obstacles, a sense of ensemble extended to both musicians and dancers. Elena Catalano’s solo Srita Kamala was an insightful evocation of Lord Vishnu, moving through vivid portrayals of iconic scenes. In ‘Bhagavati Ashtaka’ Kali Chandrasegaram channelled the goddess Shakti, transcending genders in an exploration of destruction and creation. The ‘Mortals’ are celebrated in moments such as the ‘Hari-lha’,
DANCE PERFORMANCE — REVIEWS
Katie Ryan and Maryam Shakiba’s evocations of playful gopis or milkmaids loved by Krishna, and in passages of dance that explored the dynamics, joy and passion
19 May 2017 Mandeep Raikhy Part of Alchemy Festival Royal Festival Hall, London Reviewed by Kali Chandrasegaram
“W Odissi Ensemble | Photo: Simon Richardson
of movement. Ryan’s solo Batu explored the sculptural qualities of the dance that flowed through her body, matched by a clear musicality. The quartet of dancers are at home in their own creations and in the traditionallychoreographed pieces that they helped to arrange, revealing a deeply-embodied understanding of the key components of odissi. Expressive faces, fluid arms, percussive footwork and sculptural poise dominate, as the dancers move through the offset posture that distinguishes the classical form. There is a freshness and unaffected quality to the dramatic component. Mimetic actions reveal flowers and nature, the jewellery, the sense of play between friends, love and power of the gods. Chandrasegaram choreographed a sloka (Sanskrit verse) embodying the goddess Kali, bringing to life a grounded vision of destructive intensity. Joined by the three female dancers in Moksha, the show closed in an intense display of rhythm and power that built in complexity. The dancers seemed to thrive off the energy of the musicians, revelling in the live accompaniment and unusual grouping of odissi dancers culminating in a vibrant display of musicality and physicality. The Odissi Ensemble succeeded in revealing how the spiritual and human are intertwined, shifting between the power and serenity of gods and the sensuality and love of life of mortals. A further performance will take place on Saturday, 22 July 2017 as part of the Indika Festival in Liverpool: Capstone Theatre, Liverpool L6 1HP. Tickets 0151 2913949 www.milapfest.com
hat I do in my bedroom has to be your business, my sophisticated friends. For you have made my sexuality a public matter before I was born.” Nishit Saran This quote from Saran’s article ‘Why My Bedroom Habits Are Your Business’ is the trigger for the creation of this insightful, thought-provoking, gutsy and confrontational contemporary dance choreography by Mandeep Raikhy in response to Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalises homosexuality in India. The performance is set in a black box, with minimal lighting of just forty-nine tiny bulbs hung on a bamboo rig from the ceiling in the centre of the space. Below each bulb was a huge wine glass that was hung with wire, filled to the quarter with water. This was supposed to create a ripple effect on a light surface on the floor but unfortunately, as it was a black box with a black dance
performances’ and rolled into the third set. I was told by the usher that some of audience had stayed on from the very beginning, however. I totally understand, since it is a compelling and engaging performance where every ten-minute loop is different from the others. In each short loop the two dancers lift and shift the position of the charpoy, which is a wooden-framed rope woven bed, which for me reflects the simplicity of life without the comfort of a comfy mattress ‒ a normal living situation in India, and perhaps the heat plays a role as well – creating new set designs each time. The charpoy was a rustic touch and beautifully manipulated by the dancers who used it in every way possible: to bounce off, to lie on spooning each other, to create distance, and of course hardcore sexual intensity which got the whole room vibrating; we were meant to think that when the technicians were tugging at the bamboo rig that held the precariously-hung wine glasses in rhythm to the intense gyrating movements on stage. It was a shame that they didn’t tug the rig hard enough for the water to spill on the floor which I think would
Queen Size | Photo: Hari Adivarekar
floor, we didn’t see this effect; however, I can just imagine that it must have been stunning on a white dance floor. The delicate nature of forty-nine wine glasses hanging precariously above the performance area reflects the delicate, intimate and very personal sentiments of the performance. It was a collection of short, transient performances in a loop where one of the two dancers will open the door after every ten minutes to let audiences in and out, although it says in the programme ‘three 45-minute performances’ – that was a little unclear. I would have entered during the last ten minutes of the second set of ‘the 45-minute
have been more dramatic! The close proximity of the audience and performance area gave the performance such depth that it was like actually being within the private space of the two individuals who are totally involved with each other in mind, spirit and body. At moments the dancers had unfazed physical contact with the audience, which was just brilliant and shows the absolute involvement in the piece. The most interesting part for me was how Raikhy managed to create dance movements from the act of sexual intercourse and other sexual positions from the Kama Sutra, translating the ordinary to an intense dance
vocabulary. Kudos to Raikhy for being able to extract the essence of sexual activities and presenting it in a beautiful, nonpornographic dance movement with such intimacy. The chemistry between the two male dancers is impeccable. There were moments when they sensed each other from across the dance floor without having to see the other, which to me were the magical moments of this piece. After the performance, hearing an audience member say “I don’t feel like just having sex any more, I want to fall in love”, to me describes the pure intention of this piece; homosexuality is based on love and the penal code criminalises human beings for being in love!
Conditions of Carriage 21 May 2017 The Jumping Project Part of Alchemy Festival Southbank Centre, London Reviewed by Nicholas Minns
t is a game played by an invisible hand with one team of ten players on a square, red-carpeted floor with a broad, raised rim on all four sides, like a trampoline without the elastic. The height of the rim is determined by the height the players can jump, landing in a deep squat, and its width is just enough to take three players standing one behind the other. The dimensions of the floor area are roughly equal to the height of three players. Even though I am imagining these dimensions, such mathematical rules are at the heart of Conditions of Carriage – The Jumping Project, conceived by Preethi Athreya, who is also one of the players. Jumping is a dynamic physical action that is expressively neutral, and while the repetitive nature of Athreya’s game focuses our attention on the act of jumping, the patterns of the performers reveal the implicit rules governing each player’s game. Like a chamber orchestra of athletes whose bodies are their instruments, each player has their own score but the composition of the work is evident only when they all play together. The performers are thus in a constant state of alert, watching intently when to join the game, when to leave and when to SUMMER 2017 PULSE 27
REVIEWS — Dance Performance/Book Review
Photo: Yannick Cormier
accent the score with their individual variations. In music we tend to take for granted the complexity of an orchestral score in the listening, and similarly the complexity of Conditions of Carriage is concealed in the seeing. The rhythmical texture of the ensemble has a meditative quality, enhanced by the transcendent look in the eyes of the performers. Since there is no conductor, timing is provided by a recorded musical score, by individuals calling out numbers or by internal choreographic rules. At one point the jumping turns into variations on a traditional Indian game of kabbadi where one contestant strives to tag his or her opponent while the opponent vigorously defends from any touch by fast foot and body work. It is an exciting, virtuosic interlude played in pairs that leads into the final section that is slower, more circular, more harmonious. The men and women are dressed alike in singlets, shorts and trainers but the massed, non-competitive nature of the choreography allays any suggestion of a sport while the repetitive use of a sports movement allays any suggestion of dance. In addition, Athreya has chosen performers who do not immediately suggest the ostensible effects of training in either sport or dance, and with an age range of mid-20s to mid40s she has also thrown out the familiar social make-up of sports teams and dance companies. Conditions of Carriage is thus a performance that rises up from the fabric of society and brings audience and performers together through a common activity in an uncommon format. Even the venue, under Hungerford footbridge, places the context of the performance beyond sport and dance, in a public space where any passerby can stop to watch, a reflection of Alchemy Festival’s mandate to ‘showcase the dynamic creativity 28 PULSE SUMMER 2017
and cultural connections between South Asia and the UK.’ Nevertheless, the site’s shade and air currents are not conducive to the performers’ muscular exertion; far from their habitually warm climate, they prepare as if about to run a marathon and tend to their legs afterwards with equal diligence. But for us it’s worth all the effort.
Book Review Languid Bodies, Grounded Stances: The Curving Pathway of Neoclassical Odissi Dance
December 2016 Nandini Sikand Berghahn Books ISBN 978-1-78533-368-2, 2017 Reviewed by Nisha Somasundaram
dissi has blossomed in recent decades with an increasing number of performing artists, festivals and choreographic works being produced in this dance form, both nationally and internationally. From its roots in the ritual of temple worship by maharis at the Jagganath Temple in Odisha in eastern India to the advent of male gotipua dancers to formal codification in 1958 by members of Jayantika, odissi is now a global phenomenon. Despite this transformation and growth, odissi has not benefited from the depth of scholarly research and critical discourse that other Indian dance forms such as bharatanatyam have experienced. Languid Bodies, Grounded Stances by Nandini Sikand is an inspired and essential scholarly study of the dance and one of the recent endeavours to counter this disparity, based on ethnographic field work and interviews conducted primarily
in India and the United States between 2005 and 2013. The book is part of the ‘Dance and Performance Studies’ series and addresses a range of issues and debates that will be both familiar and of much interest to odissi practitioners, choreographers and scholars of South Asia. The introduction to Languid Bodies, Grounded Stances begins with a statement by the dance critic Leela Venkataraman who expresses concern about the future trajectory of odissi. Venkataraman states that while the number of people learning odissi will grow, she suspects that those who learn outside India will primarily focus on the technique and have little knowledge of Odia language and poetry, leading to a split between the dance content and its form (p.1). Embedded within this statement are many of the issues that Languid Bodies, Grounded Stances goes on to probe. These include questioning the underlying assumptions about any possible ‘loss’ of odissi, the distinction between those who learn and create works within and outside India and Odia culture as the cornerstone of odissi. The first chapter presents a history of odissi, focusing on the early and mid-twentieth century, with detailed analysis of the formation of Jayantika and the process that led to this group’s codification of the dance. In particular it scrutinises the way in which maharis, female temple dancers, were sidelined
building on existing scholarship that has demonstrated the relationship between nationalist ideology and the development of art. The next chapter focuses
on choreographic practices of female choreographers such as Madhavi Mudgal, Rekha Tandon, Ananya Chatterjea and Sharmila Biswas. Most useful is the exploration of the nexus between new choreography and philosophies such as sadhana, parampara and rasa. Chapter Three looks at an incident in Bhubaneswar in 2005, where Malaysia-based odissi guru Ramli Ibrahim faced criticism for female dancers in his Sutra Dance Theatre company performing without an odhni (fabric worn over the blouse), thus exploring ideas of regionalism, authenticity and female agency. Chapter Four looks at the marketplace of odissi and the ways in which it is treated as a commodity and Chapter Five presents the idea of odissistan, ‘a fluid and mobile notion of sacred space that can be individual, communal, or both’ (p.177) which is occupied by dancers in the practice of odissi. Languid Bodies, Grounded Stances proposes that dynamism and change, artistic and otherwise, are inherent to odissi and that the demarcation between tradition and innovation is one that is difficult to locate. This argument is made with conviction and I believe that this is a significant work of scholarship as Sikand also draws attention to important methodological approaches in the future study of odissi, its historiography and sources such as paintings and palmleaf manuscripts which have only been studied by very few scholars such as Kapila Vatsyayan. Moreover, she probes why scriptural, sculptural and archeological sources are still favoured when the dance is an embodied and ephemeral form based on movement (p.37). As an odissi dancer and researcher, where Languid Bodies, Grounded Stances is most compelling and novel is in its exploration and documentation of new choreographic approaches, particularly the work of those artists who are creating works specific to their local and political environment and using the idiom to say something that they believe is urgent and essential. These are the voices who are attempting to answer the question, how does an art form continue to flourish for generations to come? May such work continue to be explored and appreciated.
Amina Khayyam Dance Co Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2017 4 to 27 Aug / 11.45am (except Mondays)
festival17.summerhall.co.uk venue 26
21st Century Education Trust presents
The Bedford Odissi Summer School
Photo: Simon Richardson
(as part of The Odissi Festival)
A unique opportunity for intensive training under the acclaimed Odissi soloist and choreographer, Madhavi Mudgal, in the pleasant campus and studios of Bedfordshire University. Madhaviji is known as a performer, creator and teacher. She is an excellent guru who relishes passing on her love of odissi to students. Madhaviji will be assisted by Shalakha Rai. Beginner through to advanced level classes offered. The content covers basic technique, repertoire item suitable for level, music theory and history of the form.
25 – 31 August 2017 University of Bedfordshire (Bedford Campus)
Polhill Ave, Bedford MK41 9TD Fee for week £375 On-site accommodation with meals £375 Further info firstname.lastname@example.org The Summer School is steered by Parvati Rajamani, Nisha Somasundaram, Bipin Shah and Kadam/Pulse Related events > A landmark exhibition covering the history and visual culture of Odissi at Cecil Higgins Gallery > Performance by Madhavi Mudgal and Shalakha Rai > Lecture by Madhavi Mudgal on archiving choreographic works
connecting asian dance and music communities
Dancers, actors and musicians tell a moving story of love and acceptance of the outsider as they lead you through museums and gardens this summer. Meet the Rose and the Bulbul, who come truly to understand their present only through a journey into each other’s past. Back this summer by popular demand. The work is dedicated to the memory of Jo Cox: “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”
14, 15 & 16 July / 12pm & 3pm / Stockwood Park Stockwood Discovery Centre, London Road, Luton LU1 4LX / 01582 548600 www.lutonculture.com £5 and £3 (concessions) under 5s free 20 July / 7pm / Geffrye Museum 136 Kingsland Road, London, E2 8EA 020 7739 9893 www.geffrye-museum.org.uk £12 and £10 (concessions) 23 July / 12 pm / Horniman Museum & Gardens www.horniman.ac.uk Part of Indian Summer/Baaja Free Entry 30 July / Lauderdale House, Waterlow Park Highgate Hill London N6 5HG 020 8348 8716 / email@example.com Free Entry
“It was an exquisite piece of artwork – I will come back again and again to see it.”
Photos: Simon Richardson
Dancers Kali Chandrasegaram, Manuela Benini and Lola Maury | Music Arieb Azhar, Nick Cattermole & May Robertson Script Kamal Kaan | Choreography Kali Chandrasegaram | Directed by Sita Thomas
A SAÏD FOUNDATION PROJECT
Dancers, actors and musicians tell a moving story of love and acceptance of the outsider.
Illustration by Diana Mayo, Journey through Islamic Arts, Mantra Lingua
The issue marks the seventieth anniversary of the independence of India and Pakistan, with seminal features on the changing face of dance in...
Published on Jun 30, 2017
The issue marks the seventieth anniversary of the independence of India and Pakistan, with seminal features on the changing face of dance in...