Natya Kala Conference 2023


The Natya Kala Conference (NKC) led by dancer Rama Vaidyanathan brought forth the sensibilities of the capital city to life through music, presentations, dance, food, glamour, and numerous conversations. The conference which aimed to embrace both pan-Indian and international flavours was dedicated to Saroja Vaidyanathan, her mother-in-law and guru, who founded Ganesa Natyalaya in Delhi.

Chairman of Sangeet Natak Akademi, Sandhya Purecha inaugurated the 41st Natya Kala Conference and senior dance exponent Rathna Kumar was honoured with the Natya Visaradaha title at the inauguration. The attendees showcased the diverse colours of India through vibrant saris, jewellery, and well-dressed individuals utilising retro and inherited looms. The session that followed the inauguration was by dancer Meera Sreenarayanan, Founder of Tatdhii Arts and Learning, along with singer Sudha Raghuraman. ‘Invocation: flying inside your body’ was the topic. The duo explored the concept of being in one's body and being in the moment. What is that space created in that one moment - when there is nothing but the self? Navtej Singh Johar, in his work ‘Beyond perfectionism’, prompted to question the existence of perfection. If something is always evolving, won’t there be rough edges and corners? Ideally, the term ‘perfect‘ shouldn’t be used at all—everything is a continuous work in progress, whether it’s people, dance, or concepts. Johar’s concept, discussed with a demonstration, emphasised the ongoing synergy between the body and evolving ideas.


Aditi Mangaldas in her ‘Abstract narratives: elements observed and transformed into nritta’ showed what a magnificent artist she is. Her abundant confidence was evident in her effortless movements, blurring the distinction between her limbs and her entire persona.

‘Footprints in Blood: The Untold Saga of The Women Warriors of Manipur’- a session by Bimbavati Devi was nothing short of brilliant. Not so much for the dance but for the tempo, the tenor and the unarticulated and articulated pain. Her production was an artistic blend of three stories of the Suffragette Uprising of Manipur. The First – about the 2nd Nupi Lan in 1939, the second Meira Paibis of Manipur and the third, about the nude protest against the rape and murder of an alleged terrorist Thangjam Manorma. 

Sangeeta Iswaran’s session ‘Katradi method of community development’ was about her Katradi method of empathy, based on social transformation working on five levels - physical, sensory, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. Once you get these divisions you will realise that these are mere boxed terms of speech and that all of them constitute a whole that is the artist. She shared what she calls tools of transformation. ‘Beyond body, Beyond form; surrendering to exhaustion’ was Mavin Khoo’s presentation. In three brief clips, he showcased his collaborative efforts with Akram Khan, a UK-based artist. Through this collaboration, he emphasised the importance of observing, absorbing, and understanding legends. He highlighted the value of harnessing the power of accumulated memories. His insights touched upon themes like trust, internal connections, threshold levels, and the ability to let things flow and extend beyond the physical body.


Sohini Chakraborty’s session highlighted the impact of dance movement therapy on individuals. `Diary of a dance healer: Dance- movement therapy for psychosocial rehabilitation and well being’ was all about change, liberation, gender violence, and saving lives through dance. The focus is on using practice for healing, well-being, and empowerment, with a feminist perspective that avoids objectifying the body. The session - `Genderless dancing body: making Bharatanatyam a part of the lives of transgenders’, was deemed excellent for the honesty and the direct approach to truly what it means to dance regardless of background or any other definition. Dancer Shanmuga Sundaram expressed a perspective that transcends gender boundaries in art. He spoke on how art doesn’t differentiate between genders; it is inclusive and belongs to everyone. Vaishnavi an auto-rickshaw driver, engaged everyone through her pithy humour and all that goes with the transformation of becoming what she is. It was an incredibly heartwarming experience.

`Some dance to remember, some dance to forget - pursuit to make dance education accessible to seniors living with Parkinson’s’ by Hrishikesh Pawar was powerful. The session was all about showing the step-by-step process of working with an ageing population - not many would want or are inclined to do so - especially those with cognitive issues. The movements include warmup routines, Kathak and contemporary dance movements, cardio and choreographic routines. Pawar mentioned that years ago, when he began working with people affected by Parkinson’s, he took the time to observe, understand, and devise ways to address issues related to balance and stability. Any theme can seamlessly find its way into the realm of Bharatanatyam, as demonstrated by Mythili Kumar’s ‘California wild fire,’ which portrayed the destructive consequences of rampant forest fires. The dance performance highlighted how climate changes and natural disasters can serve as catalysts for artistic expression, allowing artists to convey their innermost emotions through the familiar medium of their chosen art form. Clad in vibrant costumes of yellow and orange, a group of dancers led by Mythili’s daughter, Rasika Kumar, executed the performance with skill and aesthetic appeal. The session on `Stillness in fluidity: the fascinating technique of rasavayu, navigating breath and emotion’ was insightful.  


Koodiyattam exponent G. Venu, highlighted the concept of the subtle body transcending gender and achieving extraordinary feats. For instance, simple eye movements, guided by imagination, can expand to vast perspectives. Trained by gurus such as guru Gopinath and guru Ammanur Chakyar, G. Venu is an expert in navarasa sadhana, focusing on the importance of breathing. He demonstrated its impact on expressions in raudram, bhibhatsam, and sringara.

Ambika Kameshwar’s presentation on ‘Natyam with a vision and a mission: Bharatanatyam pedagogy for the differently abled’ inspired introspection regarding the potential incorporation of her methods into our own lives. Her work illuminated the transformative influence of dance, particularly for those with different abilities. Ambika expressed her passion with emotion, exemplified by the graceful portrayal of Swami Sivananda’s hymn on Ganga. Her approach involved natya, storytelling, and theatre for holistic development, all while placing emphasis on enjoyment. The touching story of Tyagaraja and the lively rendition of the RASA song added charm and depth to the presentation.

`Manodarpan: reflections of the mind’ by Sharmila Biswas, was a good illustration of natya from the Natya Sastra on bhava rasa. Not based on mythology, but human stories with all their foibles, was the centre of this session. It was stark and intense and she did not deviate from her core that is Odissi. Research for this was by Tamonash Charkravarthy with music composition by Rajeswari Ganguly was lovely and it was extremely nice to watch! Divya Devaguptapu’s exploration of `Kshetrayya beyond the pining nayika: philosophical tenets of the emperor of pada kavita’ offered a pleasant perspective, especially amidst the heightened devotional fervour during the monthof Margazhi. Divya Devaguptapu’s interpretation delved into the human experience, with Kshetrayya’s padams expressing profound sentiments about the intricate dynamics of 3D relationships—capturing the myriad emotions and fluctuations.

The event ‘Natyarambha to Mungkah Lawang’ featured Aravinth Kumarasamy from Singapore and Balinese dancer I Wayan Dibia, offered noteworthy moments. Another engaging session was led by Rajika Puri, along with Shruti Gopal, Shashwati Garai Ghosh, and Bhavajan Kumar, focusing on ‘Multi-faceted storytelling: bringing epic stories to life.’ The conference concluded with a beautiful presentation by Sonal Mansingh, ‘Natya Katha: idea of women in Buddhism.’ The five-day dance conference, a mixed bag of experiences, delved into transformative sessions centered around rehabilitation and personal ideologies on dance. A divergence of opinions emerged among attendees. Some found the emotional depth of content overwhelming, while others, particularly the old-timers, expressed a desire for exploration into uncharted concepts within dance. The conference, despite its varied responses, served as a platform for both introspection and anticipation, showcasing the multifaceted nature of the dance world.