By Kedar Mishra
No artist is ahead of his time. He is his time; it is just that others are behind the times- said Martha Graham, the towering dancing diva of twentieth century. And for a viewer this is the best definition of contemporary dance. In a newly designed festival, aptly named as Samakala, a festival of contemporary dance presented by Department of Tourism and Culture, Government of Odisha and organized by State Sangeet Natak Academy enabled to devise a new aesthetic sensibility and gave exposure to a brilliant creative world where experiment and exploration are supreme. The festival organised at Rabindra Mandap from May 11-13, 2012 attracted a large crowd.
Deconstructing Time and Tradition
The grand legacy of Uday Shankar flourished on with new branches and Indian contemporary dance as a genre coming up with great promise. At the beginning it was east meeting west and more or less that trend still continued. Watching second generation of choreographers like Madhu Nataraj, Mamata Shankar, Tanusree Shankar, Bharat Sharma, Ronu and Mitul brought about a new sensibility. Good work, brilliant blend of body, mind and technology, a body language with new world and imagination, above all a creative mixture of global dance forms like Sufi, Darwish, Ballet, Ballinese, Kung fu, Kalarippayattu,Thang Ta, Chhau and many of our classical dance formswere a few impressive points to be noted. The genre of Indian contemporary dance started with Uday Shankar has flowed on since then with many branches led by his followers and disciples. Going beyond the creative compound of Uday Shankar there were many more valuable additions like Chandralekha and Kumudini Lakhia. Though Indian contemporary dance is basically borrowed from likes of Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, it has gone beyond west and is trying to discover its own root in Indian soil. Therefore in this festival we could see more Indian theme and style, slowly minimizing western influences. Interpreting Indian classics and looking for its contemporary relevance through an energetic and innovative body language were visible in all the productions. A process of deconstruction is happening through new choreography.
Barefoot is a significant word in terms of contemporary dance and new dancers wanted to be free from stiff shoes prescribed for western ballet dancing. Barefoot dancing was a kind of protest and metaphorically signifies the arrival of a new era of free dancing. In Indian context one could see it as a rupture from strict grammar and classical rigidities. In this festival Bangalore based Madhu Nataraj and her group (They stood out best of this festival) presented their work Vajra, which means lightening and illumination unfolds layers of meaning and thinking. Their strength, clarity and precision (Merce Cunningham said these three are essential component of contemporary dancing.) created magic. One could still see the influence of Martha Graham in Mamata Shankar’s choreography. Mamata, the daughter of legendary Uday Shankar came up with her work titled “Amrutasya Putrah” which was a beautiful continuation of his father’s legacy. Tanushrre Shankar, another proud inheritor of Uday Shankar’s legacy presented “the Child” a poem of Rabindranath Tagore, through a smooth and soulful choreography. Victor Banerjee’s recitation added charisma to Tanushree’s work. Kolkota based Ronie and Mitul composed a new philosophical ballad by mixing up few east and western dance styles. There presentation “white” was a pure delight.
Bharat Sharma, prodigy of iconic Narendra Sharma disappointed through his lack luster presentation. All his compositions were just unimpressive and lacked clarity. Their inaugural production was devoid of clarity and precision. Another dull presentation by Ananda Shankar Jayanta could have been avoided. Actually Ananda’s “Panchtantra” was a simple dance drama fit to be presented in a primary school show. There was nothing contemporary or creative.
Before concluding I would like to quote Martha Graham once again. She writes, I did not want to be a tree, a flower or a wave. In a dancer’s body, we as audience must see ourselves, not the imitated behavior of everyday actions, not the phenomenon of nature, not exotic creatures from another planet, but something of the miracle that is a human being. I strongly believe this festival went beyond usual reality and made a mark of its own.