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Out of Rajasthan, into the world

Like the gypsies, believed to have originated in India and settled across the world, Indian artistes too are discovering new vistas. ANJANA RAJAN speaks to Abhimanyu and Vidha Lal on the eve of their visit to the International Dance Theatre in Amsterdam.



Abhimanyu Lal conducting a workshop at the International Dance Theatre in Amsterdam.

ARTISTES ARE used to treading new paths, but when Abhimanyu and Vidha Lal presented Kathak for the first time in history to audiences in Egypt and Seychelles recently, they felt more than the usual surge of adrenaline. Recently returned from the extensive tour that also took them through West Asia, the Reunion Islands and South Africa, this dancing duo is not about to relax away the rest of the summer though. After a brief stopover, they have winged their way to Amsterdam, where Abhimanyu has been conducting classes and helping to choreograph productions for the International Dance Theatre for some years.

Right now their focus is on `Wanderers from Rajasthan', the production they have been helping prepare with Maurits Van Geel, Director of IDT. The theme of the production is the history of the gypsy people, who are believed to have originated in Rajasthan and later spread across the world. It provides enough scope for different dance styles from European countries too. The music for the portion choreographed by Abhimanyu has been composed by Gitanjali Lal.

Disciples - besides son and daughter-in-law - of Gitanjali Lal, a celebrated practitioner of the Jaipur gharana of Kathak at the Kathak Kendra, New Delhi, Abhimanyu and Vidha have discovered a whole new perspective on dance through their interactions with the artistes of the World Dance Theatre. Abhimanyu is especially struck by the difference in how the needs of artistes are addressed there, as compared to India. "Their artistes are so well looked after," he says. "They even have an in-house masseur, etc. No wonder they are so committed. An artiste works only for 10 years at the International Dance Theatre. But because they have given the best years of their life to it, after they retire, the IDT finances their training in a career of their choice. One dancer told me for example, that he would be retiring next year and plans to be a pilot."

Abhimanyu, whose visits began in 2001, reflects, "I was so happy to be in that luxury, but I also felt sad that so many of our great dancers, there is no future for them." It is not that Indian artistes are not pampered, he adds, but only those who manage to pull the right strings. If Indian performers had the assurance that their needs would be taken care of, they would be able to give of their best freely, he feels, and also refrain from dancing well past their prime. Referring to the perennial controversy over aging dancers who exemplify the adage about the spirit versus the flesh, he exclaims, "That's why our artistes don't retire!"

But discussions and controversies can wait. For Abhimanyu and Vidha, it's wanderlust time.

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