Song of Surrender

Monday, 3 September 2012

Dance India means business

By Akhila Ramnarayan
Singapore
Days 2 and 3: September 1-2

On the second and third days, students realise that Dance India Asia Pacific means business. The mornings at the Goodman Centre for the Arts begin with yoga sessions led by Arti Daryanani specifically geared to dancers’ bodies and needs. Priyadarsini Govind and Leela Samson launch their respective training sessions soon after, in spacious airconditioned studios. The sessions combine passion, professionalism and personalised interaction in a way that speaks volumes for both artistes’ commitment to propagating the art form. They each impart the specialized nuances of their respective bani-s, insisting on classical rigour while accommodating and acknowledging a wide range of styles, influences and cultures among the participants. What is especially remarkable is that each of them manages to combine inherited ways of teaching and knowing with innovative pedagogies.

An impromptu chat with senior dance critic Sunil Kothari follows lunch. Kothari imparts lessons learnt from such icons as Yamini Krishnamurthy, Rukmini Devi and Balasaraswati. Dancing, he says, provides the unique challenge of bringing “a metaphor into space.” He shares with the students how he acquired a vocabulary for and deepened his understanding of different forms of Indian dance. He asks dancers to relish poetry, to broaden their emotional and intellectual canvas through research and reading.


Next comes Aditi Mangaldas’s lec-dem, reflecting her versatile sensibility even as it testifies to her staunchly classical training. Mangaldas urges students to internalise, personalise, go beyond accepted definitions (“What does the word invocation really mean to you?” she asks) while learning. Her insights range from philosophical to practical, and her brutal candour about choreographic process and performance is a revelation.


Arushi Mudgal’s evening performance at the Esplanade studio theatre showcases the choreography of Kelucharan Mahapatra, guru Madhavi Mudgal and the artiste herself, providing an individualised journey through Odissi’s innovations and evolutions through decades. Shantha Ratii’s Kuchipudi performance follows, a poignant tribute to her guru Vempati Chinna Satyam who passed away recently.

On September 2, the intermediate and advanced training sessions continue. Priya Govind smiles sweetly, as the intermediate students gasp for breath after a difficult nritta section at rapid speed: “Excellent,” she says, “And it will be even better if you can do that in araimandi!” At this point, they are beginning to recognise the implacable, steely insistence on standards that lurks behind that smile. In the advanced class, Leela Samson urges students to be aware of their bodies’ needs and limitations as they work on their art. As progressive as she is in terms of articulating her expectations and giving context for each action and move, she is a martinet too! Cries of “kuluku! kuluku!” intersperse singing and sollu, resumed without missing a beat. Her characteristic cackle—warm, infectious, with varying subtexts depending on what produces it in the classroom—is often heard.


After lunch, Arushi Mudgal puts the participants through the paces of basic Odissi stances, hand gestures and footwork, even as her deceptively relaxed and unfussy presentation traces the complex history of Odissi—origins, development, recent revival—without being reductive or linear in thinking or delivery. Asked how she finds her own sense of identity with artistic heavyweights in the family (grandfather Vinaya Chandra Maudgalya, father Madhup Mudal, aunt/guru Madhavi Mudgal) Arushi jokes about her musician-composer father waking her up to work at 1 am if inspiration strikes! When the laughter subsides, she says simply, unassumingly: each person’s creative journey is her own.

A special screening of Shanta Ratii’s documentary film And Miles to Flow comes next, allowing students to experience a wide-ranging cross-cultural conversation between Kathakali, Chinese opera, Kabuki and Noh. Shantha Ratii herself is on hand to introduce the film, and to point out significant parallels and contrasts between idioms. During all the guest sessions, Leela Samson gallantly steps in now and again to steer the conversation in a productive direction for participants and presenters alike, to rekindle enthusiasm and focus among us all.

Archana Shastri, Milapfest marketing/ finance manager and dance lead, a participant in the advanced sessions, sums up the day for us: “We learned our pieces in class with their attendant philosophies, mythologies and poetry. We tried another style during Arushi’s lec-dem. We noted patterns across cultures during the film. It was a day of discovery, of varied experiences. We did a lot!”

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