Board the Maargazhi Express. Travel up North to watch the vibrant Kathak, move East to feast on the sculpturesque Odissi, go down South to gaze at the graceful Bharatanatyam and intricate Kuchipudi, finally, sail across the backwaters to drench in the beauty of the feminine Mohiniyattom and the colourful, robust Kathakali. The mahotsavam indeed is a meeting point of minds, movements, mudras and musical notes.“A one-of-its-kind cultural melting pot. Nowhere in the country do you have such a magnificent and mammoth festival that gives ample space to regional dance forms,” says Odissi exponent Surupa Sen. She is a choreographer, teacher and senior artiste of the Nrityagram (near Bangalore) ensemble that performs in Chennai almost every Season.
“The Music Academy’s exclusive dance festival (January 3 to 9) is manna from heaven. What more could we ask for at a time when we are constantly bombarded with questions on the future of classical dance forms,” she exclaims.
“A few more such festivals elsewhere in the country and we can pack home the sceptics,” says Aditi Mangaldas, Delhi-based Kathak expert. Aditi is presenting a group work ‘Unchartered Seas’ at the Academy (January 5, 7.45 p.m.).
As the convenor of the lecture-demonstration session for the past two years at the Krishna Gana Sabha, my mother and Mohiniyattom exponent Bharati Shivaji, invited sufi performers, chau, gaudiya and nangiar koothu artists. She had no reason to regret. Liberalisation is sweeping not just the economy but art forms too. So when the world is getting to see other classical and folk dance forms, why not Chennai?” asks talented Mohiniyattom performer Vijayalakshmi (she lives in Delhi). She will perform with her mother at the Academy on the opening day, January 3 (7.45 p.m.) Besides established sabhas such as the Music Academy, Narada Gana Sabha, Krishna Gana Sabha, Brahma Gana Sabha and Kartik Fine Arts, many new organisations too are widening the platform to showcase different classical dances. Says Surupa (the Nrityagram troupe will perform at the Academy on January 9): “The redeeming factor is seeing many young faces in the audience. The growing awareness and the keenness to rise above language and regional flavours could be attributed to the changing cosmopolitan profile of the city.”
Acclaimed Hyderabad-based Kuchipudi dancer Deepika Reddy owes it to media support, besides patronage by the sabhas. Deepika believes rasikas here are real. “They understand and appreciate. It’s always a challenge to perform in Chennai,” she observes. Do these dancers make compulsive changes to the traditional repertoire when they take their art outside the region? “The changes are never forced. We go by audience profile,” says Deepika. She chooses traditional compositions when performing in Chennai. “A rare occasion when I get to dance solo. Group productions are a big craze in other cities and abroad.” Agrees Aditi that group shows have become a staple of Kathak too. “When my mother started to perform there were limited compositions,” says Vijayalakshmi. “So she revitalised the Mohiniyattom repertoire and expanded the parameters of its technique and idiom.” The daughter, moving a step further, is busy introducing contemporary themes.
“Going by the ambience, encouragement and opportunities, it’s Advantage Artists,” smiles Surupa.
From the Hindu