On contemporary dance in India and a look at Bangalore’s dance scene

Sunday Vijay Times, Bangalore, 16 January 2005

DANCING is both ritual and entertainment. It involves using your body in creative ways and converting it into a vehicle for expression. It is a part of courtship rituals both in tribal and modern communities. But, most of all, its fun, both to watch and perform. It is one of the best ways of letting lose our constricted bodies.

Dancing in India was part of the royal courts as well as temple rituals. Today institutionalised classical dance,learnt and taught through the guru to the shishya is more neo-classical than purely classical. It was nurtured and built up due to the revival in the interest for Indian art forms, that happened as a result of the awakening of national pride and Indianness during the freedom movement. Artists like Uday Shankar, Rabindranath Tagore who introduced Kathakali and Manipuri in Shantiniketan, Vallathol who set up a school for Kathakali called the Kerala Kala Mandalam, E Krishna Iyer, Madame Menaka, Rukmini Devi who set up the Kalakshetra in Chennai and many others helped re-inspire the growth of Indian dance.But soon with the changing socio-political situations in India, there was a dichotomy between the dance form and the milieu within which it was performed. At the global market these dances became showcasesof the great Indian illusion, but said nothing of the lives of the lay Indian, our problems with tradition and modernity, and our endless creative ways of working around them. In the words of Chandraleka, in her essay titled New Directions in Indian Dance, “If our so called traditions are largely superficial post-colonial .inventions which subsume genuine experience and accumulation of the past, with its treasure house of complex and holistic concepts of body/energy/aesthetics, then our so called modernity has turned out to be a movement that privileged the bourgeois self, enabling an elite aesthetic to distort and de-eroticise the real and liberating energies of the body. Those of us engaged in a battle for recovery in several artistic and intellectual fields, therefore find ourselves simultaneously battling on two fronts often tending to get isolated and marginalised by national and international markets, by official state policy and dominant cultural constructs.

Any form evolves with its practitioners. Seminars on Indian dance like East West Dance Encounter in January 1984 organised by George Lechner, the then director of the Max Mueller Bhavan brought out the problems within the discipline of classical dance. Redundancy of subject matter and being bored of the same solidified styles and movements, spurred classical dancers to experiment with technique and subject matter.

Dancers like Daksha Seth, Chandralekha, Uttara Asha Coorwala, Aastad Deboo and others are well known for their inventive and challenging repertoires that have widened the vocabulary of Indian dance.

Bangalore has its own array of contemporary dancers.Our city, due to its access to southern classical styles and its cosmopolitan outreach for international and inter-cultural exchange offers upcoming dancers many training possiblities. While Jive, Merengue, Salsa and Bollywood dancing are popular as fun dances for partying, more classical forms like Ballet, Bharatanatyam, Kathak, and contemporary, etc are taken up as more than just pastimes.

Bangalore’s groups are diverse and interesting. ‘Stem’ is a group headed by Madhu Nataraj Heri and Brinda Jacob. Tripura Kashyap’s dance company is called Apoorva Dance Theatre. Tripura also conducts workshops on body awareness and is a dance therapist. The Attakalari Dance Company comprises of choreographer and dancer Jayachandran Palazhy and many young dancers/choreographers like Abhilash, Mirra, Veena, and Rohini, Deepak, Hema in the core team. Nrityarutya comprises of dancers Umesh, Harini, and Madhuri and Mayuri Upadhay who are the main choreographers.

Bangalore is also host to an international dance festival of contemporary dance called the Attakalari Bangalore Biennial, organised by the Attakalari Centre for Movement Arts located at Wilson Garden.Every two years, this festival showcases both national and international dance groups and events and discussions related to dance. Even upcoming groups from Bangalore get a platform at this festival.

Due to the opening out of Indian dance forms, you don’t have to be a Brahmin girl to start learning Bharatanatyam.A young aspiring dancer can draw from our various rich and powerful traditions and fashion his or her own vocabulary of dance.

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