Time for song and dance

October could not have begun on a more exciting note for Delhi’s culture enthusiasts. The slight winter nip in the air, an almost full moon week and the all pervading festive spirit was just the apt ambience that made two of the most awaited cultural fests of the year a lingering memory for days to come.

With a picturesque heritage monument as the backdrop and a diya-lit night casting its milky glow on the stage below, there could not have been an evening more beautiful than one witnessed on the opening of the five-day long Ananya Dance Festival  at Purana Qila last week. Held almost at the same time every year, the eighth edition of Ananya, hosted by Seher and Govt of Delhi lived up to its fame of creating a mesmeric synergy between group choreography and heritage monument.

The opening evening saw the veteran Odissi danseuse Madhavi Mudgal perform a special choreography for the festival. Madhavi Mudgal has wowed audiences in India and abroad with her delicate postures and strong rhythmic footwork. Watching her on stage with her group was like watching sculptures in movement. One of the foremost disciples of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, Madhavi had created three distinct pieces for the festival. She began with an exploration of Orissa’s percussion diversity which was aptly brought out through abstract dance while her second piece was from Kalidasa’s evocative Kumarsambhava. “The purpose of selecting this was to highlight the natya or dramatic element in dance while I wanted to conclude the evening with the more lyrical invocation to the sacred river Ganga,” said Madhavi.
 
While Odissi set the mood, it was the Mohiniyattam performance by Gopika Varma and her troupe on the following evening that took the festival to a new high. Unlike the stunning Kathak or the rhythmic Odissi, Mohiniyattam is all about geometric precision with rapturous facial expressions. The highlight of the evening was, however, the piece which narrated the love triangle between Lord Shiva, Goddess Parvati and Ganga. Looking resplendent in her cream and beige costume, Gopika Varma gave a new meaning to the various nuances of love with her portrayal of both the amorous Shiva and the angry Parvati.

Nothing delights the eye than the dazzling and sensuous court Kathak with its exotic costumes and vigorous footwork. With a near-perfect weather adding to the charm of the open-air venue, the sister-duo Monisa and Moumala Nayak performed Nartan, a musical journey that showcased the journey of Kathak as it evolved through old, medieval and modern times. Monisa Nayak said: “Our performance was divided into three stages — from the period it started in temple courtyards to the period when the royal courts of the Muslim and Hindu kings of India started patronizing it and last to the current times where it has been elevated to the stage with other traditional dance forms.”

No wonder then, the stage came alive during the climax with a jugalbandi of percussion and instruments and concluded with a bandish that portrayed a beautiful synthesis of all that is best in the two distinct cultures belonging to both Hindu and Muslim periods of political rule and consequent social ethos of the Indo-Gangetic belt.

But it was not classical dance alone that enraptured the audience that had come from as far off as Raja Garden and Gurgaon to witness this grand spectacle. The avant-garde contemporary fusion by Astad Deboo and his troupe of eight Pung Cholom drummers of Manipur created its own aura of delight. The stage looked like a visual poetry — the oriental music and dance of the drummers slowly picking up the tempo with perfect synchronization once they beat the drums.

As the fest concluded with a Bharatanatyam performance by Rema Shrikant on the fifth day, it was evident from the audience turnout that even in this age of inane reality TV, classical dance forms will continue to delight thousands of people who have an eye for aesthetics and a love for their heritage.

And if this five-day love affair with our classical dance forms was not enough to satiate the appetite of culture watchers, there was the Delhi International Arts Festival, now in its third year, which saw artists from Canada, Australia, Tanzania and Malta perform at the festival. Spread over twelve days from Oct 3-Oct 14, the fest was held at over 40 venues as diverse as malls to historic sites.
“We wanted to make the fest interactive with more spotlight on children and related activities in public places,” said festival director Prathibha Prahlad. No wonder then, DIAF 2009 had something for everyone that included a bands fest, exhibitions, sacred Indian music, western classical music, Sufi festival, theatre festival, folk dances and lots more.

The fact that DIAF is still in its early years and fairly dependent on astute linkages with various art institutions across the city cannot negate the credit it deserves for putting together a mammoth roster of events. For instance, while DIAF 2008 had just one film festival, DIAF 2009 had five. The first was a retrospective of Akira Kurosawa classics like ‘Rashomon’, ‘The Red Beard’, ‘High and Low’, ‘Sanjuro’ and ‘Doomed’ while the Bimal Roy Centenary Film Festival saw crowds turn nostalgic with  ‘Bandini’ as the opening film followed by ‘Madhumati’, ‘Sujata’, ‘Do Bigha Zameen’ and ‘Parakh’.

But it was the Jammu and Kashmir Festival which witnessed 180 artists performing at Sri Ram Centre, Mandi House and DLF Mall, Saket which got the city talking. Presenting a breathtaking repertoire that brought to life the culture of the Indian state that has been described as ‘Paradise on Earth’, the event overshadowed almost everything else, including the Bands festival which could never match up to the more popular SAARC Bands festival that has the city grooving in December every year.
While performing arts played an important part in DIAF 2009, visual arts was in abundance for the more sedate. In an exhibition titled ‘Handmade in Britain’, 10 British designers, artists and craftspersons committed to protecting the environment showed their work; ‘Young Polish Print — Ways of Imagination’ was a Polish exhibition at Mati Ghar, IGNCA; an Australian Photography Exhibition by Melbourne based photographer Michel Lawrence titled ‘All of Us’ was a photographic tapestry of people who have made Australia their home.

While the Indian classical dance section also saw some of the brightest names perform at Sri Ram Centre like the opening act by the internationally known Manipuri exponent Bimbawati Devi followed by a solo performance by the Bharatanatyam danseuse Urmila Sathyanaraynan culminating with Birju Maharaj’s Kalashram group performance, it was the choice of musicians who performed at the India Habitat Centre that made each of three evenings memorable.

The first evening opened with a solo Hindustani vocal by Sumitra Guha followed by a jugalbandi between the Grammy winner Pt Vishwamohan Bhatt on Mohan Veena and violinist Mysore M Manjunath. The second evening had a solo Dhrupad performance by Ustad Wasifuddin Dagar; performances by flautist G Raghuraman, Sitarist Shubendra Rao and Saskia Rao Haas on the cello in an interesting and never presented before tribandi. The last evening saw a solo by O S Arun, jugalbandi by Ustad Hashmat Ali Khan, Ustad Akram Khan on the tabla and Tiruvarur Bhakthavathsalam and Sairam Sundaram on the Mridangam.

The Fringe Festival, which was introduced in DIAF in 2008, provides a space for avant-garde and experimental performances and the ‘fringe’ arts, which do not find advocates easily. Each presentation is under 15 minutes and features collaborative works in art forms like puppetry, masks, street arts, magic, acrobatics, storytelling and very short films etc. As a result the experimental work within the mainstream and collaborations between more than one art forms work. This year, the Sutradhar was a magician!

Sufi and ghazal lovers were not forgotten either. A big draw with people of all ages, the Sufi festival is about spiritual ecstasy and shared traditions across borders in this region. Manpreet Akhtar, Hans Raj Hans and Zila Khan enthralled Delhiites with their renditions at the Ashoka Amphitheatre this time.

A large dose of theatre was also part of Delhi International Arts Festival with as many as eight plays located at Epicentre, Gurgaon; India Islamic Cultural Centre, Lodhi Estate and the Sri Ram Centre.

All this and more, in a mere 12 days! Need we say more?

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