Whom shall we applaud for?

Fiona Fernandez“Aren’t you going to attend the show? All of Mumbai’s culturatti will be there.”

One of my colleagues from the fraternity, remarked, in shock, when I mentioned that I was still toying with the idea of attending what ended up being a brilliant, memorable live performance by the celebrated British-Bangladeshi dancer, Akram Khan, held at Bandra’s St Andrew’s auditorium.

Yes, Mumbai’s culture czars, and their mothers were in full attendance, as we noticed when we arrived at the venue, eventually. So were the name-droppers, the pile-ons and the Johnny-come-latelys. As one scoured the venue during the 20-minute wait, one noticed that the crème-de-la-crème of the city’s cultural brigade were present. That the city had turned up to watch what was not your typical musical or dance performance came across as somewhat of a pleasant surprise. For one, the stage was stripped bare, barring an earthy backdrop. No flashy costumes, no dance troupes either. In a refreshing departure unlike at most big-ticket events, the organisers invited the lower-priced ticket holders to occupy a sprinkling of empty seats in the front rows.

Akram Khan

Show underway, Khan, who seemed in a trance, as he gradually, took over the stage, with his moves and energy, treated us to a mesmeric kathak performance in the first segment. We loved the sense of unpredictability and edginess that raised the act to another level altogether. Stunning choreography of an Indian classical dance performance with gifted Western and Indian live accompanists added to the brilliant synergy that left the audience in awe.

During a session break, the dancer-extraordinaire in his thick British accent, donned his storyteller avatar as he revealed to the crowd of his roots, his choices and living in the West. The audience lapped up all of it. He had managed to strike a chord, clearly. Applause was generous for the second segment as well; this, a haunting contemporary duet with an Oriental woman dancer who matched him, step for step, mood for mood. The show was a success; a standing ovation ensued and the culturatti departed, armed with enough information to flaunt at upcoming social dos.

Somewhere during the first segment on that electrifying night, a realisation had surfaced. While at one hand, the terrific turnout is a reflection of the city being starved for such world-class performances, a doubt lingered of it being a near-full house merely because a non-Indian performer who was “doing fab desi stuff” (as we overheard during the intermission).

This journalist might not be an expert but can vouch for a fact of having noticed less-than-encouraging crowds at venues that host Indian classical performances in the city, barring a few exceptions when bigger names take the stage, or when it is held at larger, public spaces, like at the annual Kala Ghoda festival. Why aren’t any of our cultural biggies spotted at these dedicated events? Even chief guests for such festivals belong to the aging/retired personality bracket, in the field. If heavyweights shy away from such events, leave alone throwing their weight to back such honest platforms that support Indian performing arts, one question remains unanswered throughout — who are the real supporters of Indian Classical music and dance?

— The writer is Features Editor, MiD DAY

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