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`Art is always timeless'

Odissi dancer Madhvi Mudgal and Bharatanatya exponent Prathibha Prahlad discuss dance then and now


WHAT I FIND CHALLENGING NOW IS ABSTRACT CHOREOGRAPHY PRATHIBHA

PHOTO: S. SUBRAMANIUM

SHINING STARS Prathibha Prahlad and Madhvi Mudgal strike the right pose PHOTO: S. SUBRAMANIUM

Dance is a tough profession. By the time one understands the nuances of the form, the body can't cope with the physicality of it. Odissi danseuse Madhvi Mudgal and Bharatanatya exponent Prathibha Prahlad, who represent the thinking and articulate among classical performers, are comfortable talking about themselves, their work and the present-day classical dance scenario.

ALKA RAGHUVANSHI records the conversation.

Prathibha: I have often been asked how valid classical dance is today. But it is so unnecessary, for the arts can't be discussed in terms of validity. They are as valid as breathing, valid forever! Until there is a need in someone to experience that rasanubhuti, the arts will remain valid and relevant. When we depict universal emotion, there is timelessness to it.

Madhvi: Who can say that Krishna is not valid today? It is rasanubhuti, which is valid for all times — for it is refined to perfection. It is a continuous expression, intrinsic to one's psyche. Then people wonder whether we get bored doing the same themes over and over again. It is interesting that as one matures, one's understanding of a particular piece deepens, and the way one might perform the same piece evolves. The way I did the piece when I was 20 or 40 or 50 will markedly differ. Parampara has to change for it to grow.



WHAT I FIND CHALLENGING NOW IS ABSTRACT CHOREOGRAPHY -- PRATHIBHA

Prathibha: Exactly. Every dancer enriches tradition. But the onus of enriching tradition falls on the gurus. I don't call myself a guru. It is too much of a responsibility. I like to teach six or seven students individually. I teach them pieces that I don't perform myself, so that I don't lose my cool when they don't perform them well. But what I do find challenging now is abstract choreography.

Madhvi: The sanskaras that I have inherited insist that I give back to society what I can. Unfortunately, the Odissi form is so nascent that it is still in the process of developing pedagogy and formatting it does take a lot of effort and energy. You change and so does your understanding. The desire to share the lyricism and subtlety of the form is so intense that teaching becomes a pleasure.

Prathibha: It is sad that we have inherited a rather fragmented dance culture and that perceptions of the dance scenario are so warped. We have had to do dispel these to carve a niche for ourselves.

Madhvi: Despite popular notion, I too have had to work hard to find my place. Though my father, Pandit Vinaychandra Maudgalya used to be on so many committees, I never got any programme from those organisations. But things have changed so much. Youngsters today have many more opportunities than we could ever dream of.

Prathibha: It is heartening that youngsters are conducting themselves with greater dignity and not competing in a disgusting way for programmes.

Madhvi: I think there is enough room under the spotlight for the really good performers. Instead of looking only at the Government for patronage, what we really need is a discriminating audience who in turn can provide the much needed sustenance.



AS ONE MATURES, ONE'S UNDERSTANDING OF A PARTICULAR PIECE -- DEEPENS MADHVI

Prathibha: Isn't it interesting that both of us have flirted with other disciplines before settling down to our respective forms? Madhvi, you trained in Kathak initially and architecture and I am a post-graduate in mass communication. Unfortunately, the education system in our country doesn't make it possible to pursue dance on a full time basis. Besides, my parents never believed I would make it as a dancer. They insisted that I get a post-graduate degree, before I could even contemplate dance as a career option. And shall I tell you, the first piece that I wrote was on twins (she has twins). I even worked as a production assistant in Bangalore Doordarshan to pay for my dance training. How about you?

Madhvi: Dance and music were an intrinsic part of growing up. So it came naturally. There was no compulsion but it was assumed that one would take up either dance or music. I was fortunate to get a wonderful guru in Kelubabu (Kelucharan Mohapatra) and he really helped me discover what was right for me, physically and spiritually. I think you have to go through the pangs of exploration until you find what is intended for you. And my training in architecture is coming in handy now in choreography.

Madhvi: You are far removed from the quintessential image of the conventional Bharatanatya dancer. Are you uncomfortable with this tag?

Prathibha: Far from it. I am a natural rebel. I value my freedom with all my being and I have had to suffer the backlash from the conventionalists who have tried to bring disrepute to me at every step. But it is okay. Life is a long game. I have made my own rules and lived by them. And paid the price for it.

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