Odisha Sangeet Natak Akademi organized a Festival of Contemporary Dances named ‘Samakaala’ from the 11th to the 13th May, 2012 and I had the good fortune of attending it.
Bharat Sharma’s Bhoomika Creative Dance Centre, New Delhi and Ananda Shankar Jayant’s Shankar Kalaakshetra, Chennai presented beautiful dance numbers on the first day.
Sharma’s first presentation called ‘Hans Balaka’ , based on Rabindranath Tagore’s poem, represented the winter-migration of birds from Siberia to various parts of India. His second presentation called ‘Street Boys’ showed the uninihibited spirit of youth. The third presentation called ‘Rangabali’, presenting the three colours and the chakra of the Indian National Flag, was a well-choreographed number. The dance-movements revolved around imagined characteristics of each colour and the centrality of the chakra in the flag’s formation. The Group’s last presentation was ‘Jatak Mala’ based on the evolutionary cycles of the Buddha’s previous lives.
Dr. Ananda Shankar Jayanta’s dance-presentations lead her audience on a spiritual and ethereal journey. Her presentation in the evening was ‘Dancing Tales – Panchatantra’. This five-part presentation was based on the legendary Bishnu Sharma’s epic tales Panchatantra, which through fables and allegory, talks about friendship, bravery, foolishness, leadership and freedom.
In the second evening, Madhu Nataraj and her troupe from Natya Stem Dance Kampani of Bengaluru presented ‘Vajra’, as ‘the diamond, lightening and a weapon, connecting the qualities of indestructibility, Shakti, brilliance, unbridled power and enlightenment’.
The second presentation of that evening was ‘Amritasya Putra’ by Kolkata’s Mamata Shankar, daughter of Uday and Amla Shankar. It showed ‘how we all are a spark of that divinity born of the 5 divine elements, Fire, Space, Wind, Earth and Water and how the soul moves in various forms in the cosmic world before entering the human body. The very first emotional experience we have in our life is that of Love, mother’s self-less, untainted and ever caring love. The second stage of Love is that of a friend, having no gender barriers, pure, innocent and sparkling with happiness. The third stage of Love is the awareness of love between a man and a woman, like a flower’s longing for the sun and the rain, sacred and pure. Then gradually, ignorance and delusion creep in, and moves us away from our own true self. The same love, which so far was divine, innocent and pure, changes into lust, greed, desire and ego breeding hatred, jealousy, anger and violence. At the end, we are left with pain, suffering and sorrow. It is then, out of repentance, that our inner search begins for the ultimate truth, and someday, we realize that we are all a spark of that Divinity, we are all Amritasya Putra.’ It was a brilliant performance.
The first presentation of the third evening was ‘The Child’ by Tanushree Shankar and her troupe from Kolkata. ‘The Child’ is the only the only poem of Rabindranath Tagore written originally in English. The dance number presented how ‘man’s journey from the darkness of ignorance, hopelessness and desperation of life, to the light of knowledge and understanding, is difficult, full of turmoil, doubt and treachery. It is fragile hope and faith that takes him along. Even that faith seems inadequate to the rigours of this journey. Yet, this faith carries him through to enlightenment and the newness of life represented by the child, full of innocence, simplicity and potential. Tanushree’s interpretation depicts a flowing rhythmic, spiritual journey of Man through ages, from the bondage of ignorance, ultimately to the freedom of enlightenment and self-realisation.
The last presentation of the 3-day Festival was ’White’ by Ronnie Shambik Ghosh and Mitul Sengupta. ‘Life is an odyssey, a canvas of various emotions captured in numerous fragments in time. It unfolds in phases, beginning with neutrality, and then follows up with a surge of emotions, anecdotes and imagination. We view life as WHITE – a colour epitomizing truth, purity and enigma. It is an amalgamation of all the hues in our life, which is a blend of myriad moments, united together to become one entity in one’s life time. WHITE can also be interpreted as an ocean, as do emotions and moments in life’
It was my first exposure to contemporary dance and I was looking forward to attend the Festival, particularly to the presentations of the internationally famous danseuses like Mamata and Tanushree Shankar, both trained by Amla Shankar. I love to watch classical dance forms like Bharatanatyam, Odishi, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Mohiniatam, Kathakali and Manipuri. I was looking forward to attend and did enjoy the dance numbers presented during this Festival but some intricacies and nuances of the contemporary dance forms were incomprehensible to me. In the narrative, I have mostly used the words of the booklet which was provided to the viewers at the Festival.
Of course, I do not mean to say all the dance numbers were incomprehensible; a few portions were so.
As I, an ordinary viewer, see it, in classical dance forms, the intricate nuances of the dance are brought out mostly through expressions of the face, particularly the expressive eyes which speak. This is supplemented by the movement of the hands, particularly the fingers, and the other parts of the body. Mudras (intricate hand gestures), bhabhas (facial expressions) and deft foot-work play important roles. The music provides the back ground. In modern dance forms, light, sound and other technology and props play a vital role. These complement and supplement the skill of the artist. The viewer also has to transport herself/himself to a higher level of imagination above and away from mundane life. The viewer has to be a participant to appreciate this art form.
That evening also reminded me of modern poetry and modern art.
Sometime ago, I read in a newspaper, the interview of a literary figure well-known for her modern poetry. She was asked why it was that many modern poems were difficult for the common educated people to understand. She replied by way of an example. If you are to understand Tamil, you must know Tamil language, she said.
This takes me to the reply of a painter of modern art. A friend of his, a ‘commoner’ asked him why the faces of human beings in his works of art did not look like real faces. The artist took out a photograph of a person and asked, “Should a piece of art be like this? Is this photo exactly like the person it represents? No, it is rather flat.” Perhaps the artist meant that the photo had only length and breadth and did not have the third dimension which a real person had.
Whenever I come across modern poetry, I read it and try to comprehend it but most of the time it goes over my head. I regularly visit art galleries whenever there is a painting exhibition but as far as modern art is concerned, I am an ignoramus