The secret of all art is self-forgetfulness. Once the dull opiate has been emptied to the dregs, what remain of a performance are its traces in memory. The lived experiential body becomes its first archive. What survives beyond this is the subject of the inaugural event of the Dance Matters II conference organized by the School of Media, Communication and Culture at Jadavpur University. In collaboration with the National Library and the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, this exhibition was co-curated by filmmaker and associate professor in the department of Film Studies, Jadavpur University, Madhuja Mukherjee, and dancer- choreographer-theatre director, Vikram Iyengar.
Inaugurated by the noted art critic, Samik Bandyopadhyay, this eclectic collection was divided into two main clusters: one portion of the artefacts corresponded to on-stage performance and included brochures, photographs, promotional material, cards, posters, sketches, articles in magazines and so on; the other focused on film, mostly posters and clips from popular dance numbers in Hindi films. The National Library had been generous in displaying rare books and magazines pertaining to performance studies from its collection. It was sheer pleasure to come across seasoned copies of Film India, Film Flash and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Bulletin.
The array of exhibits created a collage of artistic expressions which transformed the exhibition hall itself into a performance space. It succeeded in provoking a search on the theme of the transition of tradition. The awe-inspiring picture of Guru Mayadhar Raut as Krishna and Sanjukta Panigrahi as Radha performing Geet Govind way back in 1963 was witness to the transformation of this text. It started as a part of the daily prayer ritual in the Jagannath temple and was later adapted to the modern stage.
A similar ethos is evoked in the photographs of Kalanidhi Narayanan, who was one of the first non- devadasi Brahmin girls to learn and perform Bharatnatyam during the 1930s and 1940s. Set against the photographs of devadasis ranging from the Kalyani daughters to Balasaraswati herself, the series depicted a story hitherto untold; a narrative lost in the shadows of the backstage. Art looks at its own reflection later as Sharmila Biswas is portrayed in a costume inspired by devadasi attire for her production, Sampoorna.
The production stills of Uday Shankar’s 1948 classic, Kalpana, was another high point of this initiative. The spellbinding gestures captured in a shot took one back to Susan Sontag’s observation: “To collect photographs is to collect the world.” These exhibits, then, served as a point of entry into “The shadow of the dome of pleasure/ [which] Floated midway on the waves”. They were, as if, instrumentalized to revisit a past which exists in anecdotes; they held up a mirror of gesture so that the contemporary world may bask in the light lit by the ancestors.