Dance critic Ashish Khokar is fascinated by endangered species. Last year, Attendance, the annual journal he edits, turned its attention to a disappearing specimen of the dance community – the male performer. This year, Khokar has trained his sights on what he believes is another threatened order: dancing duos. “Just like the male soloist, the future of the dancing couple too seems to be in jeopardy,” he said. “This is because audiences are looking for performances that fulfil the requirements of massive stage productions, which have pushed dancers to choreographing group shows.”
According to Khokar, the popularity of tourist-friendly galas mounted every year at classical dance festivals in Konark or Khajuraho, combined with the amount of time it takes for a soloist to be stage-ready, and the demand for experimental work, has contributed to the decline in solo, duo and trio performances. Kaushalya Reddy, a dancer who organises performances by the kuchipudi duo Raja and Radha Reddy, who are featured in the latest edition of Attendance, agreed with Khokar’s assessment. “There is a demand for group work because it is seen as fuller and more dynamic,” she said. “But the idea diminishes the scope for the dancer to showcase his or her technical skills.”
While Khokar was intent on redressing this trend by dedicating Attendance to India’s dancing duos, he was clear that not everyone would make the cut. Apart from critical acclaim and respect garnered within and outside the community, the duos featured, he said, “all spent a minimum of two decades as personal and professional partners.”
Though it seems only natural for Khokar to pick dancers who have spent years performing together, the idea that they may also share intimate personal lives was just as important a criterion in the selection process. “Being married creates a deeper understanding of each other, resulting in a tighter performance,” said Sandhya Kiran, a Bangalore-based bharatanatyam dancer who shares stage with her husband Kiran Subramanyam. “This understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses allows us to highlight and downplay them respectively.” Her husband said the intertwining of personal and professional lives actually helped them in creating a significant body of work.
The kuchipudi performer Raja Reddy echoed Subramanyam’s views. “Being married to the person you’re dancing with breaks down inhibitions and allows for a show of intimacy, which is important in the depiction of the shring-ara rasa, or erotic aspect of classical dance,” he said. This, according to him, is only bolstered by the fact that these performers are familiar with the other dancer’s physicality. “We know how the other walks, sits, talks and feels, and this has a positive effect on the process of choreography,” he said.
Although he remains a staunch supporter of dancing duos, Kiran Subramanyam insisted that it was imperative for artists who perform in pairs to carve out individual spaces for themselves. “It is magical to perform as a duo, but there is still a distinct need to maintain one’s singularity of style, otherwise something is lost,” he said.
By Joshua Muyiwa on April 14 2011 6.30pm