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Commoners, kings and courtesans

india Updated: Jan 22, 2009 18:15 IST
Renuka Narayanan

Justin McCarthy is no stranger to the Delhi dance scene, but if you’re new to town you’re probably intrigued by his name.

Justin is a Western classical pianist who’s been the route as a dancer of Bharata Natyam. These artistes were once a vibrant service sector in the feudal, patriarchal construct of traditional Hindu society.

The devadasis and their musician community were practically hounded out of existence by the Victorian ‘Anti-Nautch Movement’ led by a Miss Helen Tennant. They were actually abolished in 1937 by the Devadasi Abolition Act.

But a feisty fellow called E. Krishna Iyer campaigned stubbornly for the revival of this dance, originally called Sadir in Tamil.

It caught on and a tide of nationalism hoisted it back on the flag as ‘Bharata Natyam’, helped considerably by ‘Kalakshetra’, the dance institution founded by the late Rukmini Devi Arundale in the 30s.

Justin McCarthy is a graduate of that school (it takes five years). Justin teaches his dance at Shri Ram Bharatiya Kala Kendra in Delhi.

Of his previous productions, I particularly liked ‘Aandaal’ about the girl-saint who adored Krishna, while the one I partly saw in 2006 on the late medieval composer Kshetrayya was cosi-cosi. But his taste — and that of Shobha Deepak Singh, the boss of the Shri Ram show — is impeccable, so his ballets are always very visually pleasing.

In his new production, Rajavilasam, choreographed for six dancers and four musicians, Justin “locates Bharatanatyam in the courtly context, re-imagining how the dance and the dancer may have functioned under royal patrons. Kings and courtesans are the protagonists, their possible loves and probable daily rituals the basis of movement sequences. Period music and poetry provide the soundscapes of this piece.”

At Max Mueller Bhavan, 7 pm, on January 23 and at 7 pm at the India Habitat Centre on January 31.

The only Mr Gandhi
Delhi-based impresario Seher, the folks who enable local performing art festivals like Ananya (group dance), Bhakti Utsav (all-India devotional music) and Guru Maanyo Granth (Sikh devotional music) have a sweet one-day event on offer: a World Ahimsa Day programme at the India International Centre on January 30 (Mahatma Gandhi’s death anniversary). From 3.30 pm to 5.30 pm, a panel of speakers: actress Nandita Das, educationist and director of NCERT Krishna Kumar and historian-activist Dilip Simeon, will debate the future of ahimsa (non-violence). The moderator is the learned Jesuit, Father George Gispert-Sauch. After the Q&A, Sawani Mudgal will sing Nirgun (Formless God) bhajans at 6.45.