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ANEKA-38th Natya Kala Conference at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, Chennai

This is the third time in a row I attended Natya Kala Conference convened and conceptualized by Dr. Srinidhi Chidambaram. The conference in 2016 was themed “Sthiti-Gathi” which focused on different aspects of Bharatanatyam. It was a place wherein most popular artists in the field of Bharatanatyam were invited to share their dance journeys and talk about several burning topics in the field of dance. The conference honored Dr. Pappu Venugopal Rao with Natya Kala Visharadha title. Though the conference is aimed at exploring Bharatnatyam, the work is applicable to all the dance forms and I thoroughly enjoyed attending each and every session of this.

In 2017, Krishna Gana Sabha hosted the 37th Natya Kala Conference which focused on Sringaram, the King of Rasas, and all its hues and layers. It celebrated Sringaram in all its glory and explored why this Rasa, one of the Navarasas, has enjoyed the privilege of being hailed as the supreme Rasa, capable of constant innovation in creation and expression. Srinidhi expanded the horizon of the conference to all the Indian classical dance forms. Since the conference included exponents from all the dance forms, it was icing on the cake for me to witness the viewpoints of each art form towards sringaram. "Natya Kala Visaarada ha" award was conferred on Ashish Mohan Khokar during 2017 natya kala conference.

This time in 2018, the conference themed as “Aneka” aimed to showcase the world of Indian dance in all its infinite hues and moments. It focused on a variety of dance styles, through three distinct verticals categorized as Timeless, Transformed and #Trending. The Timeless aimed at precious and rare treasures from the past showcased in their pristine form. Transformed vertical focused on how artists have transformed presentation techniques, content or interpretations. #Trending included mostly panel discussions and interactive sessions that largely focused on current issues in the world of dance. While the earlier conferences included popular artists like Lakshmi Viswanathan, Alarmel Valli, Devdutt Pattanaik, Vairamuthu, Guru Sadanam Balakrishnan, Sharmila Biswas, V Sriram, Geeta Chandran, and Anita Ratnam, amongst others, this year's conference mostly included young generation artists who are making their mark in the field of dance.

With a slight delay, the conference started on Dec 26th conferring "Natya Kala Visaarada ha" on S Janaki and 'Yagnaraman Award of Excellence' on Yoga. Srinidhi began the conference with the keynote address that summed up last two years of her being the convener and the sessions that are planned for this year’s conference.

The first session in the timeless category was “The Karanas Decoded by Mahati Kannan”. Mahati summed up the history and journey of a dancer learning karanas and Guru Padma Subramanyam’s work in Karanas. She explained how subtle the karanas should be expressed and without proper control how awful it would look. Hence, she was highlighting the importance of learning the art only through Guru and not copying from YouTube videos. She explained this by presenting how the dance would look like when rechakas are included and when they are not.

The next session “Manodharma in Kathak and Dance Theatre by Sanjukta Wagh” showcased her work. What impressed me was the way she got involved while she is presenting and that basic concept still holds good. The eyes do speak.

Next session is a panel discussion by V Balagurunathan, Guru Bharadwaj, Meenakshi Srinivasan, Pavithra Srinivasan, Swamimalai Suresh, moderated by Priya Murle on “Jathis - The Long and Short of it”. Kuchipudi always had relatively short jathis and I agree with the opinion of panelists that short jathis are better. The panelists came to this conclusion at the very beginning of the discussion. Long and short are very relative terms and establishing what is considered to be a long jathi and short jathi would have helped me understand the panelists' opinion better.

Inauguration of 38th Natya Kala Conference at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, Chennai

Day 2 of the conference began with Film screening by Dr. Sunil Kothari “Mrinalini Sarabhai - The Artist and her Art” a film by Yadavan Chandran. The movie showcased Mrinalini’s work on several socially relevant themes and how she used dance to raise awareness about the environment.

The next session “The Modern Dance Ensemble by Apsaras Arts, Aravinth Kumarasamy” showcased the usage of modern techniques- stage space, lights and sets to enhance the audience experience of mega Indian dance productions. Being a Kuchipudi artist, the art form which has dance dramas as its base, this session was informative on how to make those already existing productions more attractive through the modern techniques. Aravinth in his presentation highlighted the importance of having a Dramaturge- a person who is involved in the production right from the start but doesn’t give you direction or any solutions. He is there asking questions to the artistic director and plays a pivotal role in shaping the production. Aravinth also emphasized the importance of having a lighting person as a co-choreographer. One point I really liked in his presentation is the shift in highlighting the entire ensemble rather than heroes and heroines.

Next session “Millennial Adavus by Apoorva Jayaraman and Shweta Prachande” was like fresh air. Apoorva and Shwetha showed some new adavus (combination of existing ones in a new format) which enthralled the audience. I particularly liked one formation Apoorva did- going from a sitting posture to a high jump and coming back to a sitting posture pose. Amazing!!

Next was the panel discussion on “Caste, Gender, Privilege and their roles in the Bharatanatyam landscape” by Akila Krishnamurthy, Prof CV Chandrasekhar, S Janaki, Nrithya Pillai, Tulsi Badrinath and moderated by V Sriram. The summary of this panel discussion is that there were differences shown based on caste, gender but the situation has been changing. The discussion also highlighted the fact that Indian classical dance is not accessible to lower middle class and economically poor sections of the society.

The timeless section of day 3 witnessed “The Beauty and Legacy of Vilasini Natyam by Purva Dhanashree”. Purva Dhanashree, a student of Swapna Sundari showcased the beauty of the art form by performing two pieces. She paid respects to Telugu devadasis- Maddula Lakshmi Narayana, Anasuya, Manikyamma and many more who worshiped the art and nurtured the art despite the resistance from society. I wish there was more time to brief on what makes vilasini Natyam different from other art forms!

The next session on “Netrabhinaya in Kutiyattam by Sooraj Nambiar” showed excerpts from the productions which are related to nature and animals which made the session interesting. Though I could enjoy the art form in total, I feel I need to learn the language of Kutiyattam to appreciate the art form more. I wished there was some explanation of the process of learning the art form and some important eye movements/gestures to appreciate the art form more.

The next session “Bhakti Re-imagined by Pavitra Bhat” focused on his work on Lord Ranganatha. The summary I could get from his session is how he used nature and use of famous works which everyone could relate to for bringing the audience to his level of understanding of Bhakti Bhava. For this Sanjukta Wagh expressed her opinion of shedding our layers of self-consciousness to reach to the audience instead of bringing them to dancer’s level of understanding.

Next session was on “The Crux of Copyright in the Performing Arts Dr. Anita Ratnam in conversation with Gladys Daniel, IPR Attorney”. A very informative session as this is a grey area to many dancers. The main points that are useful for any dancer to know are

  • The sole ownership of any production lies with the producer and if the choreographer needs to retain his/her rights, he/she should get into a contract with the producer.

  • When a performance is live streamed, producer owns the rights and not the broadcaster and the work should not be duplicated in any other media without the permission of producer.

  • If any performer wants to adapt a certain piece of work, they need to take permission from the owner of the work. Copying the entire theme of the production by introducing their own pieces of work doesn’t make the work their own.

  • The idea cannot be copyrighted but the way of presentation can be.

  • Any photographer who takes photos of the dancer needs to take dancer's permission before taking the photograph. After taking the photograph, the dancer has every right to demand the photograph either to delete or to submit to them without the need to pay anything to the photographer.

  • Any work that is first published (shown in public to the audience) can be copyrighted.

  • To attain copyright for costumes, one needs to drape it on a mannequin and take photos from 6 angles and submit as design to legal. The copyright can behold for ten years and can be extended for five more years.

Next session was “The Imperativeness of Artistic Legacy: A Panel Discussion by Aniruddha Knight, Hema Rajagopalan, Malavika Sarukkai, Roja Kannan, moderated by Chitra Sundaram”. Roja Kannan and Aniruddha Kight spoke about the legacy of their gurus while Hema Rajagopalan and Malavika Sarukkai spoke about the legacy they created to the next generation.

Day 4 started with the presentation “One Varnam, Many Banis: Performances and a Panel Discussion by Narthaki Natraj, Meenakshi Chitharanjan, Urmila Sathyanarayanan”. It was a treat to watch three nritya choodamani’s performing one varnam “Swamy, ninne ne korinanura” in three different banis.

Narthaki Natraj, Urmila Sathyanarayanan, Meenakshi Chitharanjan after their varnam presentation

Next session “Manipuri for Modern Times by Shilpika Bordoloi” showcased her journey of contemporary work than Manipuri for modern times.

Next session “Choreography for a Mobile Generation by Rukmini Vijayakumar” was very interesting. One aspect she emphasized is how she is moving away from gesture codified language of dance to emotion-based choreography to connect to the audience better and break the barrier of complexities that act as barriers between classical performers and audience.

Next session “Manodharma: Of Spontaneity & Improvisations” was very interesting. The dancers were given a phrase with 5 minutes of time. They need to coordinate with the musicians and express their concept before enacting. This session came out very beautifully. I really liked the way singer Dr. Sridhar Vasudevan followed the dancers and created vocals on the spot according to what they performed. Being a dancer himself, he was able to create magic. Sudharma Vaithiyanathan was given the phrase “journey” and she chose to showcase the journey of a flower from its birth to death and different situations where flowers are used in their journey. Dakshina Vaidyanathan was given the phrase “A rainy evening” and she chose to describe Kerala floods to pay tribute to all the brave souls that survived the drastic situation. Indu & Nidheesh were given the phrase “Kids play” where they enacted different games as kids we all play during our childhood. Meera Sreenarayanan was given the phrase “Comic Relief” and she chose to depict the failure of Ravana in lifting Shiva’s bow during Seetha swayamvaram and how his assistant got comic relief. This presentation made everyone in the audience have a good time with laughter evoking in each and every one. K Sarveshan was given the phrase “If I were Surya” and he showcased how Surya acts as a witness to all that is being done on earth. Amazing session and I thoroughly enjoyed.

Day 5 started with a session on “Gondhali to Gujili: ‘Woke’ Traditions of Sadir Music, Dance, and Literature by Dr. Swarnamalya Ganesh”. She showcased a Parsi javali which was very impressive. Next session was “Bhaav in Kathak: Juxtaposition of Artistry & Re-imagined History by Madhu Natraj” wherein she showcased the work of her mother Dr. Maya Rao and how important is Bhaav in Kathak unline the understanding of people of today who think footwork and turns is the main aspect of Kathak. Next session “Evolving Complexities in Laya by Madurai R Muralidaran and Kavya Muralidaran” was in Tamil and I was not able to follow the session.

There were four afternoon sessions that were held as part of the conference and I shall try to share another post on the same.

On the whole, for 5 days I soaked myself on these different aspects of dance and this led me to concentrate on several aspects I need to work in my dance journey. Thanks to Dr. Srinidhi Chidambaram and Sri Krishna Gana Sabha for this wonderful conference and I look forward to attending the next conference to be convened by Rama Vaidyanathan.

Credits: Natya Kala Conference Social Media Pages, Internet, Kutcheri Buzz

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