May 9, 2011

Finer aspects

At the International Dance Day, the performances truly reflected the current trends all over the world

By Sarwat Ali

It is always a matter of surprise, and a pleasant one, when a dance performance is held in the country -- as it was on the International Dance Day last week at the Avari Hotel in Lahore under the auspices of the Pakistan National Council of the Arts.

The items on the International Dance Day included ‘Yeh Rang Hai’, contemporary pieces ‘Raaga Rock’ ‘City Lights’ and Salsa as well as the more traditional ‘Peacock Dance’, including dances based on folk songs, a film song and on a poem of Faiz. Also included were Kathak and Anarkali, the two numbers approximating the classical versions.

Dance in Pakistan has developed in all possible directions. In the absence of any mediated design it has borrowed and imitated with impunity from all sources to have a variegated shape all its own. It has been ironic that while the censors permitted dance in film it was not permitted on the state-sponsored television or by the arts councils, which too depended for finances and directions from the government.

In Pakistan film is meant to be for the masses. Much is done to please the gallery, while television and arts councils are supposed to be arbiters of taste. In films, dance is borrowed from all sources most of all from the Bollywood and is presented with much less finesse.

The choreography in Bollywood too is not very original. There is much that is borrowed from all over, especially the West. And the more popular and current forms of dances, and its impact on Pakistan, can be said to be twice removed. Only that the final touches are absent and it all seems rather half done -- it does not have the maturity of moves which years of practice bring.

Recently, some music videos have hit the market with unprecedented success, which besides the music contain rapid bits of dance, inserted at great speed and regularity. If one is generous then one can say that it is the beginning of a new form made possible by the video and the computer. Technology has propelled or initiated many a new form in the arts and this one seems to be going through its birth pangs right now.

The exposure to the world performing arts through the media (the satellite channels) has made the task of sticking to a purer tradition all that difficult. It was therefore not surprising that the number of dance performances at Avari were varied in style, keeping the door open to the current trend in dance all over the world.

The National Performing Arts Group was initially set up in Karachi on the rump of the PIA Arts Academy of the 1970s. Two more chapters were opened in Lahore and Islamabad; the Lahore chapter started functioning in 2006 and has been nurtured by Roshan Ara Bokhari, the choreographer, and Zafar Dilawar, the dance master. A total of 16 dancers, equally divided between men and women, have been on the pay roll. Nadia Iqbal, Rozina Iqbal, Sobia Ayaz, Farah Naz, Laaraib, Samia Saleem, Uzma Ashraf, Nazia Ramzam, Yasir Abbas, Imran, Rehem Ali, Najmul Hasan, Ehtisham, Arsalan, Muhammed Jameel and Imran Masih are supposed to clock in at 10am, five days a week, to learn and practice for three hours. They have performed over these five years in the country and abroad, both for state-run organisations and in the private sector.

The programme also included a number of music numbers. Muzaffar Akbar Khan played raag des on the sitar while Nayaab Ali Khan sang raag purya dhanasari, both accompanied on the tabla by Shabbir Jhari.

Like in music, the classical dance tradition has suffered the most. And the lack of a reference has allowed dance to adopt a freewheeling approach which has not really had time to find a maturity of form. In this age of globalisation the most difficult aspect is to bring it into any kind of discipline and order all the various influences that one is subjected to all the time.

Dance was probably the last major discipline to be taught at the Alhamra. Feroze Nizami and Khalid Anwer taught the shagirds the finer aspect of classical vocal music while Sharif Khan toiled with his veena and sitar in an effort to pass on the intricacies of string instruments to the next generation. Dance classes started in the 1970s when Maharaj Ghulam Hussain Kathak took up the assignment with his usual flair. Naila Riaz was one of the first shagirds of the Maharaj, and after his death, she took up the responsibility of teaching the shagirds the finer aspects of kathak.

The few dancers around have faced an uphill task. Naheed Siddiqui, starting as a young enthusiast, found her first ustad in Ghulam Hussain Kathak in Lahore. After her sojourn with Birju Maharaj in Kathak Kander in Delhi, her true potential found the right expression and style. A traditional kathak dancer, with the stamp of the Lucknow ang visibly printed on her style, she has mostly performed abroad. While Sheema Kirmani and Nighat Chaudry had to battle it out, fighting more the adverse circumstances than paying due attention to their creative work, it carved some space for dance at the expense of their own work.

It appears that the National Performing Arts Group has catered more to group dancing than solo numbers. But with the passage of time, hopefully, the group will concentrate on grooming individual virtuosos.

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