Dance | In step with the times

Early encounters with the world

The 1940s and even the ’50s saw pioneers like Uday Shankar, Ram Gopal, Madame Menaka, Rukmini Devi Arundale and Guru Gopinath start companies that toured the world with elaborately mounted ballets, taking Indian dancing far and beyond. By the 1960s, however, ballet as a concept began to fade. Today, mostly government-funded institutions like Kathak Kendra in New Delhi, Kalakshetra in Chennai and Kerala Kalamandalam in Thrissur still stage such productions.

Where tradition meets modernity

The guru-shishya parampara [tradition], a distinct facet of Indian classical dance, gave way to uniform, structured dance teaching at institutions such as Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda and Nalanda Nritya Kala Mahavidyalaya in Bombay. Not that the tradition is entirely obsolete (take the Protima Bedi-founded Nrityagram), but teachers have factored in its limitations as well as its noteworthy tenets to build a more structured approach to dance education.

The impact of television

Classical dancers were the harbingers of India’s rich performing arts traditions, aided by organisations like the Sangeet Natak Akademi (1952) and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (1950). Their influence on popular imagination began to wane as Indians were exposed to new dance styles on television. It led practitioners like Gopi Kishan, Kumudini Lakhia and Birju Maharaj to choreograph for Hindi films.

Dance as reality TV

By the mid-2000s, desi dance reality shows like Boogie Woogie, Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa and Dance India Dance played a key role in introducing viewers to more dance forms such as ballroom, lyrical, variants of hip hop and more. They, in turn, gave birth to a whole new legion of choreographers who set up their own studios and are well-versed with social media to spread their art. Some like hip hop crew Kings United have gone on to make an international impact.

Back to the temple

Site-specific work is more common now, a practice that dates back to dance’s origins in temples. Many temples and state boards benefitted from this ‘platforming’ as is evident in dance festivals held in temple towns like Khajuraho and Konarak. Lately, corporates have entered the fray with the Neemrana group promoting dance in its heritage property.

The more the merrier

The art of the soloist is now increasingly becoming the art of the group. Group choreography and the razzmatazz of group presentations are now mostly seen in festivals. Parental aspirations are high and gurus know that students are eager to get on stage and put their best feet forward. Even festival organisers, keeping audience tastes in mind, are more interested in group choreographies than in solo recitals. However, a few institutions in Chennai such as The Music Academy and Narada Gana Sabha ensure that the solo tradition lives on.

The online stage

The pandemic forced dancers to take their classes and even performances online. While it has come at the cost of quality, it has provided a level-playing field with easy accessibility. However, staying power is short and there is too much competition. Today’s internet star is tomorrow’s potential history.

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