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Sharing the world through dance


Shovana Narayan performs in Yudhishtar and Draupadi.

Shovana Narayan performs in Yudhishtar and Draupadi.


Certainly one of the most enthusiastically anticipated of international days is the April 29th World Dance Day. It is celebrated in every country of the world by millions of dancers, professional as well as amateur, since it was established by Unesco in 1982.

Dance, being a central part of every culture, constitutes the ideal means for bringing together people from different countries, according to

President of the International Dance Council, Unesco, Paris, Professor Alkis Raftis. For vividly illustrating cultural diversity, for embodying rapprochement, there is no better means than dance.

International or World Dance Day-related events span more than 2 weeks, as there are so many performances, festivals, lecture-demonstrations, seminars and open classes to involve millions of people in the joy of movement. The first flash mob of Indian classical dance with around 50 dancers was performed in Chennai two years ago to celebrate. Here in the National Capital Region dozens of school and college classical dance lecture-demonstrations were organised by the Society for the Promotion of Indian Classical Music And Culture Amongst Youth (Spic Macay) between mid April and early May.

Besides a few of my own programmes before and after and Doordarshan’s Aaj Savera morning show interview on the 29th, I had to reject International Dance Day invitations from Natya Tarangini and others as my mother (who learned tap dance growing up!) celebrated her 99th birthday the same day.

One memorable evening I did attend was the second day seminar and performance presented by the Sangeet Natak Akademi and Asavari entitled “Vividh Mat: Perceptions”. The concept successfully offered new insights to our assumed perceptions, intellectually and experientially, through both seminars and related dance presentations. The carefully selected panellists for each evening provided a simulating look at new understandings of our established and perennial perceptions of “Dharma-Adarma” the first evening and “Can the Twain Meet” on the second which I attended.

Rudyard Kipling’s well-known The Ballad of East and West was interpreted though the lens of history, poetry, art, journalism and dance. Though everyone is familiar with the opening, “Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet”, few recall that it goes on to emphatically declare “But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth, When two strong men stand face to face, tho’ they come from the ends of the earth!”

Dr Pushpesh Pant, distinguished Padma Shri historian, shifted the question from the colonial apologist perspective of Kipling to a look at the extensive East-West and global interactions of ancient times. He referenced the Gandhara blend of Greek and Indian art, the temple architecture and sculpture of Indonesia’s Borobudaur and Cambodia’s

Angkor Wat. He questions the meaning of an artificial east-west divide along with the currently fashionable north-south global divide. In Tagore’s Kabuliwala, human connections trump nationality and where would the divide place one of the greatest Western classical music symphony conductors of all time, Zubin Mehta, who retains both his Parsi heritage and Indian passport?

For those who feel chauvinistic about cultural ownership to feel superior, Prof. Pant demolishes such binaries as ridiculous in the Indic context. Like Ardhanarishwar or the left-right brain theory, there is only unity. The father of Indian modern dance, Uday Shankar, started his dance career with the great ballerina Pavlova. In sum, whether in dance or Buddhist heritage or Tagore bringing batik techniques from Indonesia, there has always been a melding and meeting culturally and geographically of East and West.

As another example of the artificiality of an East-West mentality relevant to this celebration of dance worldwide, I’d like to share and compare the words of modern dance pioneer, Ruth St Denis, “I see dance being used as communication between body and soul, to express what is too deep to find for words.” With those of Kathak maestro Pandit Birju Maharaj: “Dance is nature. Listen to your heart; it dances with its own rhythm. The biggest thing that classical dance and music does to you is help attain balance between your mind and soul.”

Artist, art curator and writer Alka Raghuvanshi’s focus related modernity and tradition as the question of “Can the twain meet?” She sees the traditional visual and performing arts incorporating modern concerns, yet traditional artists suffer from being considered unevolved. I loved her reference to the scene in K. Vishwanath’s film Shankaravaram when the response of the traditional vocalist to the disparagement of modern young pop singers was to demonstrate that he could do what they did, but they could not do what he could.

Folk and traditional artisans are innovative and creative in use of materials and themes, for example visualising water pollution in the Ganga as it falls from Shiva’s hair or nuclear holocaust in a Bengal scroll painting, yet the gap between arts and crafts, urban elite artists and rural traditional one, is pushing tradition based arts to oblivion. Alka made a plea to support and enable traditional crafts skills in the rural pockets dotting the Indian landscape where a generation of lumpen unemployed trouser wearing boys is unfit for either farming or crafts.

One of my favorite poets in school was Charles Baudelaire, who had said, “Dancing is poetry with arms and legs.”

I enjoyed the way Padma Shri poet Keki Daruwala danced around the theme of a world flailing with binaries, where tolerance is not tolerated. With examples from Herodotus and Hector representing millennia old myths of western superiority (no need to mention similar superiority myths of the far east), he also decries the myth of the spiritual east and materialistic west spoken of in Tagore’s

Nobel Laureate acceptance speech, citing St Francis and St. Bernadette.

Keki’s main question was simply, what is need for fusion? Why can’t Native American culture, for example, remain separate? Translators, musicians and dancers have created successful fusions here and there and which soon fade out. The binaries in collective imagination remain and it is good to stick to our cultures if it is done without jingoistic chauvinism.

Shanta Serbjeet Singh, senior columnist, critic and author, provided excellent moderations to bring together these superficially disparate views. She also conjectured that the urge of the moment to universalise things and become part of globalisation has led to many wonderful experiments, though perhaps over enthusiastic praise has led to every artist jumping on the bandwagon with less than great results.

“You live as long as you dance.” said by the great ballet dancer, Rudolf Nureyev who defected to the United States of America for freedom of dance expression. It could equally be said by Shovana Narayan, who orchestrated this artistic and intellectually stimulating celebration of East and West, both meeting and staying true to roots as she shared her choreographies related to the theme.

In general, I am not a great fan of fusion. I also believe that the content of what the choreographer wants to convey is of primary relevance and that fusion can work if well motivated and not simply for the sake of novelty. Shovana’s 1993 Kathak choreography for six students based on a folk tale of a harsingar blooming in the moonlight, set to Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune, was lovely and worked for me. The pure Kathak performed without gungroos became balletically lyrical accompanied by the romantic 19th century classical western music. The scalloped lenghas designed by Seerat Narinder were fairy or pari-like and Nitish Jain has supported both the evenings dance productions with first-rate lighting.

I remember the premier of Yudhishtar and Draupadi in 1997 and this excellent production is now burnished to perfection. Everyone is, in general, familiar with the moving story of Draupadi, Princess of Panchala, married to five brothers and lost in a game of dice. We have all seen dance representations of Draupadi repudiating the court and Krishna supplying never-ending sari to cover her modesty.

The text of Yudhishtar and Draupadi is taken from Pavan K. Varma’s book explores the fascinating relationship between Yudhishtar and Draupadi. He looks directly at the dismay bordering on horror of a woman who commits to marry Arjun and then finds herself to be shared like a sack of grain, her first husband to be Yudhishtar who justifies his desire for her with evocations of tradition and convenience.

Sunit Tandon is simply superb as the narrator of the philosophic questions posed by the Yaksha, in reality Yudhishtar’s father, Dharma at the pool of death where his answers bring back his Pandava brothers to life.

The fusion of Kathak abhinaya with English text as well as with traditional live accompaniment created a powerful dynamic. Shovana was superb as she showed her realisation that Yudhishtar was the only one of her husbands who was truly only hers, enabling her to put aside his earlier failing in the Kaurava court.

All in all, I found International Dance Day-week-month a fabulous celebration of sharing heart and mind through movement and I hope you all keep dancing!

Sharon Lowen is a respected exponent of Odissi, Manipuri and Mayurbhanj and Seraikella Chau whose four-decade career in India was preceded by 17 years of modern dance and ballet in the US and an MA in dance from the University of Michigan. She can be contacted atThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Dance Day        يوم الرقص       Journée de la Danse       舞蹈日       Día de la Danza       День Танца 

a program of the International Dance Council CID at UNESCO
the official organization for Dance world wide

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