In 2007, Dr Sonal Mansingh had performed at the opening of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (formerly known as the Prince of Wales Museum) following a much-needed re-development. The first female dancer to receive the Padma Vibhushan in 2003 remembers a couple of mangoes hanging from a branch over her head, forming a beautiful natural backdrop to that classical act.
“The recital drew an overwhelming response from the audiences. Some were speechless, some in tears and some fell at my feet,” she reminisces.
The 67-year-old returns to the city of her birth this evening with her show, titled Sundaram, that has Shiva as the focal point and presents the ‘navarasas’ (nine moods) that she has written in Sanskrit. The performance will end with the last ‘nayikaa’ (act) from her latest choreographed work that presents a picture of a woman in different shades through a string of lyrics culled from the dance dramas of Rabindranath Tagore.
Dr Mansingh, in a career spanning 51 years, has performed and given motivational lectures in 87 countries across five continents. Her dance institute, started in 1977, has moulded dancers many of whom are teachers today. “It’s not enough,” she says, ruing the lack of corporate support that is forthcoming for sports and education, but not for the arts.
“In the West if the Metropolitan Opera runs into the red, they host a million dollar charity dinner and are back in business. But has any corporate house in India shown an interest in setting up a Rockville Center or Carnigie Centre here?” she questions. “In Mumbai, we have a Nehru Centre and a NCPA that keeps the suburbanites away.”
Dr Mansingh refuses to blame the West or Bollywood influence for the slow demise of the pure arts, insisting there’s still a dedicated audience for classical dance, but little exposure. “The electronic media has a great hold on the public imagination with over 100 TV channels airing ‘Munni…’ and ‘Sheila…’ songs 24X7, but only DD Bharti showcases classical dance. No wonder every Tom, Dick and Harry is a dancer today. I prefer to call myself an artiste,” she rues.
Pointing to the fact that there’s a lot of dance around, particularly on TV, she admits that despite being amongst the seniormost ‘gurus’ in the country, she hasn’t been invited to judge any talent show on television yet. “It’s all so superficial, with little to differentiate between the dancers,” she sighs.
“Dancing is not just about movement, it’s about thinking and creating. It’s not so much about networking as much as it is about researching. Like love, it has to ooze out of every pore and be mirrored in your expressions. You cannot fake it.” Dr Sonal Mansingh performs today at Nehru Centre, Annie Besant Road at 6.30 pm.