Despite the challenges posed by globalised commercialism and popular culture, 2018 brought solace to the classical performing arts genre. The year saw an increased number of young artistes doing their manch pravesh or arangetram. It was also satisfying to see the youth of today prove their dedication to both dance and academics. Among them, two youngsters left a deep impression — 12-year-old Odissi dancer Anika Tandon and 15-year-old Kathak dancer Dhriti Swarup.
This year, the soft power of performing arts was recognised by the Ministry of Culture and the ICCR, which sent various groups of dancers to Festivals of India organised abroad, reaching out to audiences in far-flung countries. The international and national workshops showed tremendous interest in our classical performing arts heritage. Within the country, several festivals such as the Rashtriya Sanskriti Mahotsav and festivals dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi and Swachch Bharat were held across the country that highlighted both the folk and classical genres.
It was heartening to see such dedication to classical dance form in the popular culture environment of today. Several dancers poured forth their imagination through challenging dance productions many re-interpreting mythologies. River Ganges, Yoga, Swachch Bharat and the Bhagavad Gita were recurrent themes in several productions.
The year saw a great spurt in stage performances of Dastangoi, an Urdu oral storytelling art that was popular in the 19th century. Revived by Mahmood Farooqui in the 21st century, today there are several groups that have played to packed houses bringing with it renewed interest and experience of a culture of bygone eras.
The classical performing arts field did not remain untouched by the tribute to legendary artistes both from the classical field and from the field of Bollywood by fledgeling societies or by members of the families. Sahar Zaman, the grandniece of Talat Mahmood was tireless in her efforts to pay tribute to the memory of the great singer holding a series of performances in different parts of the country, involving local artistes in this production, creating a bridge between the classical and popular genres of art.
If Gandhi and Swachch Bharat were flavours throughout the year, the end of the year saw an entire five-day festival dedicated to the memory of the great national poet, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar held at his native place, Simariya, Bihar that saw litterateurs pouring forth on Dinkar’s works, while musicians and dancers made productions based on Dinkar’s literary works.
Along with Murari Bapu’s Ram Katha, literature and performing arts shows, it was a heady mixture for a crowd of 35,000 which thronged the venue daily! Bihar was also the scene for the year-long celebrations of IPTA’s Platinum Jubilee that culminated with a series of theatre, dance and music performances at Patna in October.
An unusual fusion of arts was Kalidasa’s great poetic work Shakuntala that was composed as an opera in the early 19th century by the famous Austrian composer Franz Schubert. In the three cities performances to packed houses at Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai, the music was played live by the Austrian Chamber Orchestra and sung by the members of Shillong Choir while the dance was performed in Kathak style.
What 2018 showed was the great spirit of resilience and pride in our cultural heritage while moving forward with an open mind and heart and that withstood challenges. Individual and small efforts were recognised by the public. We look forward to 2019!