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Kartik Fine Arts, a 42 year old organization which was started by a band of ardent and enthusiastic lovers of arts is a sabha devoted to the development of fine arts. It has been striving hard to keep alive its motto of providing sumptuous variety of programs at affordable rates. Natya Darshan was an initiative started in 2001 to broaden the discourse around dance in India and beyond. It is an annual dance seminar Kartik Fine Arts holds during the December music and dance festival every year. It aims at understanding the underlying reasons of the present day challenges and brings the opinions of several stalwarts in the field of Indian classical dance.

This year, the 17th edition of NATYA DARSHAN was conducted over 3 evenings and two mornings at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in Mylapore from Dec 22 - 24, 2017 at Chennai. It was wonderfully curated by the Bharatanatyam dancer Krithika Subrahmanian. A ticketed event, it costs Rs. 1500 for attending all the sessions and each session costing Rs. 300 each.

I had the fortune of attending the ND 2016 as well as ND 2017. I would like to present my views and the take-aways I had from attending this conference. ND16 was titled “New Dimensions” and explored the emerging aspects of classical dance in performing art space from past to present. The second edition ND17 was themed “NOW OR NEVER” focused on all that is current. ND 2017 had three segments: Confer, Revive and Explore. CONFER had Ramli Ibrahim sharing his experiences with Building Brand , and experts speak on panels that discussed on Curating Festivals, Creating Concepts and Winning Audiences. REVIVE was a collaborative work between media artists and dance groups to dramatize the interpretation of poetry. EXPLORE events had performances in the evening sessions by child prodigies and companies like Samudra, Attakkalari, Spilling Ink and Apsara Arts. There were solo performances by Rukmini Vijaykumar and Sanjukta Wagh present solo. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend Explore part of ND. The life time achievement award was conferred upon Datuk Ramli Ibrahim- the dynamic force in Malaysian theatre and possesses open-mindedness for both the Old and the New. Trained in classical ballet, modern dance and Indian classical dance, Ramli is a creator and a visionary in the arts who sees unity within the diversity of all of Sutra's artistic endeavors. In Malaysia, Ramli is acclaimed as a pioneer dancer and choreographer of international standing in the major fields of dance that he has mastered - Bharatanatyam, Odissi as well as Contemporary Dance. During my stay at Malaysia, I had the opportunity to witness some of his productions and I was amazed the way different aspects of productions such as stage sets, lighting is given equal importance. They give a visual treat to the audience.

The Saturday morning started with Ramli addressing the audience on “Building Brand”. Ramli shared his thoughts on how he gets inspired by the photography, Architecture and visualizes his work. He spoke on how artists should present themselves and how to take up their work to the audience. Smt. Vyjayanti Kashi, Kuchipudi exponent was invited on stage to felicitate Datuk Ramli Ibrahim after his session.

Photo credits: Sant's Fotos

This session was followed by the discussion on “Curating festivals”. While the stage was getting set for the next panel discussion, Krithika quoted one of her experiences wherein her performance was reviewed as one of the most beautiful performances but lacked in energy. She quoted that in the architectural field which she specializes in, she seeks help from different sectors like plumbing, electricity, structural design etc. She made the platform open for discussion whether the same is applicable in dance. Can a trained dancer approach different gurus for specializing in a particular aspect of dance? For this well known dance scholar Smt. Leela Venkatraman mentioned “why not”. It is always good to go to the abhinaya experts to learn abhinaya or to the people who are strong in technique to learn nritta aspects. The same opinion was seconded by dance scholars Sr. Sunil Kothari and various senior dance artists.

The next session of CONFER i.e. “Curating festivals” had Smt. Chitra Sundaram, Sri. Sunil Kothari and Sri. Cleveland Sundaram as panelists moderated by Smt. Pratibha Prahlad. The session started with Smt. Pratibha Prahlad explaining different festivals she has curated and how the Delhi International Arts festival was formed and reached the stage of India’s biggest classical dance festival. Then V.V. Sundaram, co-founder and secretary of the Aradhana Committee spoke about how Aradhana was formed and the services it does to the Indian classical dance and music fields. Affectionately known as Cleveland Sundaram to rasikas and artists across the US and India, he has been instrumental in championing North American children and youth to learn and perform Indian classical music and expanded the reach of the festival beyond Cleveland through outreach with artists, media and sabhas in India and helped put "Cleveland" on the global map for South Indian classical arts. Successfully completing 40 years of “Cleveland Thyagaraja festival” he shared his experiences on how he grew up developing positive hatred to music to being instrumental in conducting this world famous festival of music and dance. He mentioned that tradition is given utmost importance in selecting the works and he highly follows the recommendations given by the legends to select the performers from India to stage their work in the festival. Sunil ji spoke about the importance government plays in curating the festivals. Chitra Sundaram, whose research and teaching interests include the problems and potential of classical forms in cross-cultural and inter generational transmission of narratives threw light on the Indian classical dance scenario in the UK and the challenges Indian dancers are facing to be in the main stream dance.

The next day’s CONFER session started with a discussion on “ Winning Audiences” which was planned with Smt. Hema Rajagopalan, Smt. Gopika Varma & Smt. Kausalya Raja Reddy to be moderated by the convener. Instead of Smt. Kausalya, we have seen Smt. Rama Vaidyanathan on stage sharing her views on winning audiences. The session was moderated by Krithika who summed up well after the panelists gave their views. The session started with Smt. Hema Rajagopalan taking us through her work and it was absolutely fantastic to see her speaking and listening to her experiences. The main point she mentioned was it is good to collaborate with other style dancers to increase the audience base and expose the Indian classical dance forms to the audience of other arts. She also spoke about the costuming and the contemporary work she undertook over the years. Gopika Varma, when asked on how she manages to have a packed schedule, says that she prefers taking dance to the people instead of demanding people to come to the theaters and thus increases her audience base. She also spoke on expanding the variety of the items to be presented within the traditional structure of the art form in order to attract people. She shared on how she experimented on different colors of costume in Mohiniattam to suit the relevant characters she created in her works. Later Rama Vaidyanathan shared her views and told that its absolutely fine to put efforts on winning audience and we should accept that fact. She also highlighted on the importance of giving audience on the required information without making it preachy in order to win audiences.

The next session of CONFER is PechaKucha type of presentation in which 20 slides are shown for 20 seconds each (6 minutes and 40 seconds in total). This format is used in corporates which keeps presentations concise and fast-paced. Bringing this concept to Indian classical dance, Krithika extended the time limit to 40 seconds for each slide. This session showcased a dancer- Shantha Ratii from Singapore, famous cine actress Suhasini Maniratnam and curator of Indian Heritage Center, Singapore - Nalina Gopal. The session gave insights into each of the panelist views on how they curate concepts. While Shantha Ratii focused on how she curated different concepts for her work in different spaces, Suhasini gave us the formula of “Keep it simple” and showed us glimpses of how an idea took shape into concept and how it came to production stage. Nalina Gopal threw light on how she curated concepts in the heritage center to attract the audience.

I have attended the REVIVE part of ND which is a concept performance co-curated and moderated by Krithika and Dr. Anita Ratnam. This part gave us a fresh take on collaboration with artists in different fields other than dance. Different poems were given/chosen and they interpreted them in a 8-10 min production. This part showed how important and refreshing it is to include different other forms/technologies into Indian classical dance to make it much more interesting and approachable for the present day generation.

For me it is a great experience attending this conference and I wish to attend many more in the future. This conference in particular focused on several current aspects which every dancer can learn from. It is a great platform to see the stalwarts of Indian classical dance on a single stage. Kudos to Krithika Subrahmanian and the entire team of Kartik Fine Arts for giving us this wonderful conference.

Photo Credits: Sant's Fotos

Content reference: Internet, Natya Darshan, Narthaki.

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