| Margaret Jenkins grooms students of Ananda Shankar Centre for Performing Arts. Picture by Pradip Sanyal
The slender, turquoise-eyed Margaret Jenkins breaks into an animated smile, as students of Ananda Shankar Centre for Performing Arts, huddled at her feet, unwrap a miniature bajra made of pith. The quaint gift is a memento for the US-based, globally-acclaimed choreographer, who has introduced the 22 dance enthusiasts to the concepts of modern dance for the past two-weeks-and-a-half at their Palm Avenue address.
Along with her assistant Mary Carbonara, who is also an independent choreographer, Jenkins has put the students through a hard regimen at the workshop, hosted in association with the United States consulate-general.
As the boys and girls swerve to and fro in unison, or roll on the ground under Mary’s instructions, Jenkins watches every move intently. “Our styles are so different. Indian classical dancers do not use their legs the way we do. Getting the correct pointed-foot movement of western dance, for instance, is slightly difficult for them, just as we find the detailing of finger movement in Indian dance quite challenging,” explains Jenkins. “But the students here have picked up my technique really fast,” she adds, before stepping in to correct a posture or two.
About half-a-century of training and teaching has given Jenkins the grace and agility to stretch and twist herself like a swan, even at 60. After an early training in San Francisco, Jenkins moved base to New York to study dance at the Juilliard School of Music, with the likes of Martha Graham and Jose Limon. Soon after, she started performing in several dance companies, including those of Jack Moore, Judy Dunn and James Cunningham. In the course of collaborating with writers and composers, Jenkins has evolved a distinct vocabulary and style, picking up laurels and fellowships on the way.
Over the past 20 years, she has been touring the world with the 10-member Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, the troupe she set up in 1970. “The Soviet Union, France, Germany, England, Switzerland, Damascus, Singapore and Japan roughly make up my map. In India, this is my first stopover,” she says.
Jenkins feels there have been precious few exchange programmes with the west on Indian soil. “Organising workshops with western dance companies is very expensive and so, the exposure, too, has been minimal. For instance, many western dancers visit China and consequently, the awareness level is also high.”
Tanushree Shankar, secretary of the Ananda Shankar Centre, feels her students are extremely lucky to have Jenkins teach them the footwork of western dance. “The fact that our dancers have had some amount of exposure to western choreography made matters much easy,” says Shankar. The dawn-to-dusk teamwork over the past fortnight has yielded a 17-minute choreography, titled Gate of Passages, improvised by Jenkins with suggestions from the students.
The curtains come down on the workshop at ITC Sonar Bangla on Tuesday with a symposium, at 3 pm, on the role of modern dance in today’s world, featuring Jenkins, Shiamak Davar, Priti Patel, Tanushree Shankar and a few other exponents. Later, Mary takes the stage for a solo, to be followed by Gate of Passages.