Tango with tandava

Tango with tandava

In addition to traditional dance forms such as Bharathanatyam and Kuchipudi, Bengaluru now boasts a diverse new variety. ‘Foreign’ is no longer shunned

In the last two decades, Bengaluru’s geographical and cultural borders have expanded, resulting in a vibrant new diversity.

Plays, music and dance recitals, stand-up gigs, performance labs and workshops abound.

Cosmopolitan, everyone calls it. And this cosmopolitanism has enabled the assimilation of many art forms into the life of the Bengalurean.

In dance, earlier, a few big institutions taught Indian classical forms such as Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kuchipudi and Odissi. The city now also boasts centres to teach contemporary, belly dancing, salsa, jive, bachata, hip hop, ballet and more.

What’s desi Bollywood dance has been contemporised, classical forms are riding the ‘neo’ wave, and Western forms have lent themselves to localisation.

But for dance teachers and practitioners, the journey to a ‘dance diverse’ Bengaluru has not been easy.

In 1987, Kathak exponent Dr Maya Rao brought the north Indian form to a city that mostly had Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi. That was the year she set up the Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography (NIKC),

Madhu Nataraj and team

She also created India's first course in choreography. In 1995, her daughter Madhu Nataraj started STEM Dance Kampni, creating, practising and teaching the unique vocabulary of Indian contemporary dance.

“I studied for some time in New York but... I didn't want to come back and dance like a contemporary American or Western dancer. Why don't we find something that is contemporary Indian, I thought. So I revisited our movement disciplines like Indian martial arts and hatha yoga, and created a vocabulary—a new language had to be created,” says Madhu.

But a south Indian city rooted in its traditional forms was hard to please. “Initially, there were a lot of purists in Bengaluru and I was ostracised for a bit, but the audiences just loved us,” says Madhu.

In the last 10 years, dance reality shows, like Dance India Dance, have revolutionised how dance is perceived in India. Embracing newer forms from a foreign soil is no longer frowned upon. For an aspirational Bengaluru, internationally accredited and experienced instructors means quality training and exposure, without the added cost of foreign travel.

“When I started, there were hardly any teachers. I thought I could be the first generation belly dancer in the city or in the country… I was lucky to go abroad and get quality training. When people saw how international training changed my dancing, they realised its value,” says Payal Gupta, international belly dance artiste, who started Payal’s Dance Academy in 2011.

The rise of social media in the last 10 years also gave a boost to the visibility of less known dance forms — adolescents and 20-somethings with access to smartphones could now virtually sample them through YouTube and Facebook videos, or take online classes.

“But of late, the city has become more serious. Students know it's a proper structured art form that you really need to be disciplined about and commit to,” says Payal.

The city has not only seen a spurt in the number of dance schools and performing units but also in performance spaces. From just three or four major auditoriums, currently, venues number around 10-15 and have also become more intimate spaces.

Historian, author and mentor Ashish Khokar, a ‘Bengaluru-vasi’ for two decades, credits the big shift to its cosmopolitan audience. He says the city has grown from witnessing three shows a month in just a few forms to three shows a day, with a strong audience for all forms. 

Ashish Khokar

“The Bengaluru audience is amazing in that it attends everything. They're not biased. Language is always an issue but they're equally at home with all that is happening,” says the dance critic, and editor-publisher of India's only dance yearbook, attenDance, for 20 years.

Even something abstract like contemporary dance has been able to grab people’s attention by encouraging interaction between the performers and the audience. “That’s a good shift. Plus theatre and dance are joining hands. It’s becoming more interdisciplinary,” says Ronita Mookerji, recently part of a dance-theatre performance.

The most cosmopolitan city, a committed audience and great avenues and halls. So what’s missing?

Ronita Mookerji
Pic credit: Dannilla Donald Correya 

Funding. Patronage remains crucial to ‘dance diversity’ in Bengaluru. The government grants go to institutions that promise to propagate traditional Indian and folk forms, but even then, the funding is too little. While performance and practice venues have proliferated, they have also become more expensive, making them unaffordable to most independent performers without financial support.

“Because contemporary dance is in that abstract space, they are scared to invest in us. People combine contemporary with traditional forms to be able to gain funding. Or we have to exotify it. For example, my piece will have to talk about the problems I face as a Nepali today to be funded,” says Ronita, an alumna of Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts (ACMA).

“Corporate Bengaluru, which is benefiting from this soil, has to step in. Free culture should also go,” says Ashish.

Could corporate cultural responsibility be a solution?

In the age of abundance, people are also seeking avenues that provide years of dense knowledge in easy-to-consume packages. Workshops and intensives then are simple solutions for the working Bengalurean.

But they have a flip side.

“After people do a class for four months, they get a certificate. And once that is done, they open their own class and start teaching. This is not healthy,” says Ronita.

The influence of reality shows and Bollywood has commercialised dance forms way too much, some feel. Today, contemporary is associated with being able to do acrobatic or gymnastic stuff.

Yet, despite all that, “Bengaluru has tried its best to maintain that artistic value in contemporary dance,” says Ronita. “In Delhi, it's becoming too minimalistic and too intellectualised. And dancers are going through a revolution of ‘why dance?’ Bombay is very commercial, very reality show based, very acrobatic, very Bollywood.”

But the more open-minded, aware and multicultural Bengaluru becomes, dance will have to continue to reinvent itself to stay relevant. A city that embraces change and influence is also a city that demands more experimentation. And herein lies the answer to the future of dance in Bengaluru.

Madhu encapsulates it in her mother Maya Rao's words, “If today's innovation stands the test of time, it becomes tomorrow's tradition.”

Where to learn dance

* Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography, Malleswaram,  080-2334 8645
* Payal's Dance Academy, Vijaynagar,  9739744818/ 8722553951
* Lourd Vijay’s Dance Studio, Vasanthnagar, 9845239123 / 9880772572 
* Raadha Kalpa, LshVa Art Space, Koramangala, 98454 07574 
* Vyuti, Frazer Town, aranyanibhargav@gmail.com/vyuti.dance@gmail.com
* Shoonya - Centre for Art and Somatic Practices, Lalbagh Road, 77608 32226
* Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts, Wilson Garden, 080 4146 7690/ 080 2212 3684

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