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A spring in their step
Some of us have been lucky enough to listen to Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhat create magic on his Mohan Veena. But few know that he’s also an ustad at juggling phones!
Lynn Fernandes, managing trustee at Nrityagram, recounts an incident when the maestro happened to walk into the Nrityagram reception area just minutes before Vasanthahabba was to begin. He was horrified to discover Bijoyini Satpathy, due to perform that night, manning the non-stop calls pouring in. He packed her off and took over.
Multi-tasking seems to be the secret behind the success of this unique dance village. Surupa Sen, who dances to rave reviews across the globe, also doubles up as Artistic Director, choreographer, resident guru to the younger crop of dancers and food manager.
When you watch Bijoyini Satpathy perform at the habba, looking poised and composed, you wouldn’t guess that she’s stepped onto stage straight out other role as Transport Manager for the festival!
This year, Nrityagram’s all-night spring fest, Vasanthahabba is set for February 7. Last year’s crowd through the night was over 40,000. But Lynn doesn’t look too perturbed. She claims that over the years Vasanthahabba has turned into a truly ‘people’s festival’.
Not merely in the way that high culture, folk traditions and fusion experiments are served up all on one night to connoisseurs, villagers and empty-pocketed college students alike.
But Vasanthahabba actually happens because of a wonderful chemistry between Nrityagram, the villagers and a motley crew of volunteers.
Last year the Nrityagram team decided to do away with typical forms of publicity. For the first time expensive hoardings were not hired and the team explored a more folk idiom, much like the hoopla associated with village fairs.
A week before the habba, Belliapa and his Dollu Kunitha performers ventured out into important streets of Bangalore. The roll of drums did stop traffic and pedestrians in their tracks. Since the festival ushers in the Spring season, colourful kites were used instead of pamphlets as give-aways.
A larger-than-life dummy sculpture stood out above this noisy and colourful procession, attracting even larger crowds. This year too, Lynn plans an unconventional curtain-raiser. And hopes to take the road show into campuses and other haunts of the young. Novel ideas seem to bloom in this village.
According to Bijoyini Satpathy, Gaurima’s vision was to turn her dancers into complete performers, not mere dance practioners who’ve spent years learning the movements by rote.
So here girls learn as much about mythology as they do about experimental choreography from across the globe. Surupa Sen’s choreography for ‘Sri’, a dance ballet exploring the essence of the female principle, explodes the Odissi practice of individual dancers performing in their own spaces. Here, dancers stack up on each other and slide off each other to enhance the dramatic impact of the dance.
To ensure enhanced physical fitness for the dancers, they even practise excercises from the martial arts tradition and explore other techniques from across the globe. Borrowing from ballet, a wooden floor has been fitted into the Odissi Gurukul, to take the strain off the dancers’ knees.
The dancers are are also trained to articulately present their work, making it that much more accessible to younger audiences and the interested non-cognoscenti.
A couple of years ago, students of the Mahaveer Jain college were so smitten by the festival that a handful of them turned up the following year to volunteer. The subsequent year saw 40 students arrive at Nrityagram’s doorstep. And last year Lynn Femandes had 75 able hands at her disposal.
For years, the mind-boggling security arrangements for that one night has been unobtrusively synchronised by an IT engineer, mysteriously referred to as just ‘Sachin’, who surfaces only once a year, for the habba!
Some people lend their cars and drivers for the weekend -- a great help in ferrying the 60 odd artistes who descend on the city for the festival. Others offer their time. Mr Biren Das of K C Das generously serves up a buffet of Bengali delights for the artistes during their stay. Coffee Day dispensers are strategically placed to take the burden off the kitchen -- again, courtesy a well-wisher.
Vasanthahabba has also consistently featured India’s best talent. Artistes confess to a special fondness for the event and take great pains to accommodate it in their itinerary. In a career that spans over 30 years at the top, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia has gone on record to say that he’s enjoyed the Vasanthahabba audiences the most. Even down to the whistles at the end!
This year too, the 35 kilometre drive out of Bangalore on terrible roads, promises to be well worth it.
On the dance front, there will be Priyadharshini Govind (Bharatanatyam), the all-male Odissi troupe, Rudrakshya, and Astad Deboo, India’s path-breaking contemporary dance soloist. The musicians who will perform are the Hindustani duo Shubendra Rao on sitar and Saskia on cello; Kadri Gopalnath on saxaphone, vocalist Bombay Jayshree and, wrapping up the show at dawn, will be the fusion group, Indian Ocean.
Incidentally, “dawn” last year occurred only at 8.30 a.m. - the longest Vasanthahabba in its 14-year history.
Over the years, there are certain habba traditions established. Arundhati Nag will compere the show. Belliappa and his folk troupe will set the festival rolling to the rhythms of Dollu Kunitha.
The village children who comprise the Nrityagram Village Dance Ensemble will perform Bharatnatyam, Kathak and Odissi. These kids enthusiastically take over the quiet dance village on weekends, when training is provided free.
Protima Bedi’s seemingly impossible dream of empowering village girls through dance, has come true. Pavithra Reddy, a village girl trained at Nrityagram for 13 years, was proudly launched as a soloist.
She now dances along with the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble in the US, Europe and the Middle East. Will she be there when Nrityagram’s Odissi gurukul performs on the 7th?
Lynn Fernandes promises another surprise - she’s only willing to reveal that there’ll be one more artiste who’ll step on stage on February 7. We have to wait.
For information, directions or potential volunteers, the Nrityagram numbers are 8466313/ 314.