As we await a series of interesting dance workshops, a peek into the era of residencies at the NCPA that guides what is in store for the future.

By Aishwarya Bodke

This International Dance Day, the walls of the Dilip Piramal Art Gallery at the NCPA were covered in movement and expression. A testament to work spanning decades, the walls spoke of Astad Deboo’s ardour, Leela Samson’s elegance and Malavika Sarukkai’s precision with nearly 50 photographs. Pillars lined with suspended threads at veteran costume designer Sandhya Raman’s charming exhibition To Stitch or Knot informed visitors of the memories weaved into them.

Against this mise en scène of dance and drapery, insightful workshops unfolded inviting passionate participants. In Aditi Mangaldas’s workshop on ‘Reimagining Dance Costumes’ as part of the NCPA Mudra Dance Festival, she explained how fabric and form can become a catalyst for reform. We explored the paintings and art pieces that gave birth to some of the most memorable costumes she has donned onstage. The NCPA has always strived to enable these exchanges through the medium of dance residencies, masterclasses and workshops.

Walk into a workshop and the concentrated energy and curiosity is palpable. The room is not an easy one to be in. Students here are willing to go above and beyond their regular training. The motivation is to learn, imbibe and absorb. For a few hours, the room becomes a space where everyone is equal, and the discomfort dances its way to growth.

Kathak exponent Rajendra Gangani recounts the time a Russian participant had stunned everyone with her thumri and abhinaya. In a post-workshop panel discussion between students and mentors, Gangani discovered that she had been learning Hindi alongside Kathak to comprehend the delicacy of emotions. The riches of such revelations are the essence of workshops. They allow one to borrow from someone else’s journey. Being a skilled artiste comes with rigorous training but being an empathetic one comes with these experiences.

During the 1980s, the NCPA was a mecca for dancers with these experiences as an indispensable feature of the learning process. Young dance practitioners descended upon the newly built campus standing on reclaimed land from the Arabian Sea for month-long residential workshops. Stalwarts like Kelucharan Mohapatra stayed on campus to teach disciples, who are now coveted experts in the field. Sarukkai, Chitra Visweswaran and Jhelum Paranjape would spend hours honing mudras in rehearsal rooms. Staying at the guest house on the premises, meals with hospitable staff members and mentors, and strolls by the Marine Drive made the NCPA more than a workshop venue. It was home.

Renowned Odissi artiste, Sujata Mohapatra, reminisces, “I have treasured these unforgettable memories for years. In addition to learning, you would get to spend time with your mentor; the relationship was so pure. I remember dancing till we were exhausted, taking breaks by the sea enveloping the NCPA and meeting exceptional performers. You learn so many things over a few days. It is the food that nourishes your soul for the whole year.”

Sujata Mohapatra conducted a workshop at the NCPA recently

Life had a different pace then, making it possible for both the mentors and students to commit themselves to month-long pursuits such as these. The multidimensional nature of our existence today may have inspired newer ways of learning but the essence of seeking and imbibing the knowledge of an art form calls for the same rigour.

The upcoming series of workshops at the NCPA seeks to recreate this culture of learning, starting with masterclasses by Gangani and Mangaldas. The two artistes, who represent a contrasting approach towards Kathak, directly indicative of the immense possibilities of dance, spoke to ON Stage about what dance means to them and what participants can expect from their upcoming workshops.

Aditi Mangaldas

I cherish the learnings from my gurus, but my biggest teacher has been life itself. Human life is made of diverse experiences. It is crucial to expose yourself to multiple forms of learning and feelings as an artiste. Workshops fulfil the requirement of stepping outside the confines of comfort. It does not necessarily have to be a class of the dance form you practise, but a completely different medium or art form. It is what expands your vision and adds colour to your dance palette.

After teaching in various parts of the world, I have learned that people are inherently the same. Even for international workshops, my approach is fine-tuned not by the place they come from but by their level of training and performance. Every so often, happy surprises come my way. I recently taught dancers pursuing different styles and it was a very interesting experience. Students, too, have taught me so much with their own lived experiences.

Regular dance training follows a certain structure, and workshops can break through that. You have to step in with a willingness to suspend that structure and have an open mind. I do not want my workshops to be like school, but a walk in a forest of new experiences.

As a teacher, I strive to be open to embracing students in the classroom who are not the usual takers of my training. They may be the ones to offer something extraordinary after all. An exchange like this can only happen in a workshop.

With my upcoming workshop at the NCPA, I hope to do something dynamic that reflects the diversity and colossal capacity of our emotions.

Rajendra Gangani

It is fulfilling to know that the wealth of artistry I have inherited from my mentors can now go places with students. It is the art that is carried forward to places I may never reach.

Each class is different from the other. Everyone is busy in metropolises like Mumbai and Delhi. It is common to have another class lined up right after the workshop. However, when I travel to smaller cities and towns, the class goes on for much after it has ended. Students like to linger, interact and ask questions. My experience of teaching students from abroad has also been rewarding. They take a keen interest in learning about the history and origins of the art form too. They are so curious.

The atmosphere at the NCPA, though, is something else. It is a sanctuary for the arts that so many hope to perform at. That you are surrounded by art from all sides—music, theatre, photography and painting—also adds to the experience.

My workshop in July will explore the Chaturang, which encompasses the elements of bhaav, sargam, tarana and trivat. I believe that rhythm resides within all of us. It could be the beat of your heart onstage or the tapping of your feet. Rhythm guides all my classes.

The art of performance, too, is invariably infused in the learning. I go about the technique in a way that would make students vulnerable onstage. That is the key to not only understanding but appreciating abhinaya. Their emotions must translate and reach the audience. That they enjoy being onstage is my intention.

Kathak has a vast number of learners today. It helps to understand that each dancer will have a different way of expressing the same dance form. Tradition has always grounded me, but my vision can still be contemporary. The language of Kathak remains on the same solid bedrock. For example, Bollywood is such a powerful part of the popular culture machinery, especially in Mumbai. Dance is but an art form, bound to interact with its surrounding culture. You can place the weight of the classical form within popular culture with dignity and care. The outcome is, more often than not, beautiful.

Classical forms are not to exist only within the silos of the artistic community. They can find a place with the masses. I try to inculcate that understanding in my workshops.


This article was originally published in the June 2024 issue of the On Stage.