If Chhau has traditionally been a man’s preserve, a Seraikela cradle championing the cause of the folk dance form now wants to change that forever.
Rajkiya Nritya Chhau Kala Kendra has, therefore, decided to promote Manbhum Chhau among girls in the district even though it is considered to be the more physically demanding of the three primary styles of the dance form.
The kendra, which teaches Manbhum as well as Seraikela Chhau, will now identify young girls from villages and teach them what was till recently pursued by men.
“Manbhum Chhau, also known as Purulia Chhau, imbibes body movements that weren’t attempted by girls,” said Tapan Patnaik, director of the kendra.
“For example, aakashchaari, in which dancers leap and turn in the air before landing on their knees, is a difficult movement. But, I think if we can train girls from a young age they will be able to do it,” he added.
Traditionally, more men have taken to chhau. Till a few years ago, roles of women even in Seraikela Chhau were performed by men wearing masks. But that is changing, albeit slowly.
In Silli block near Ranchi, of the 25 students at Manbhum Chhau Centre, seven are girls. But, at the government-supported kendra in Seraikela, there are no girls.
The kendra has two centres in Jamdih and Nimdih where there are few girls willing to take up Manbhum Chhau. But, there are many more in Seraikela Chhau.
Apart from deciding to embark on a talent hunt, the kendra has recently introduced theory classes for Kharsawan and Manbhum Chhau, something which it do not offer earlier.
It launched classes on the history of dance, drama and rhythm for Seraikela Chhau a year ago. Now, the classes will be extended to the two other styles of the dance.
Patnaik believes theory classes will help students understand the grammar of dance better. “Theory is a key part of other Indian classical dance forms, but Manbhum and Kharsawan Chhau did not have those. We have recently introduced these classes where students study about history of dance,” he said.
Patnaik has also worked out the syllabus for a nine-month Seraikela Chhau course for K.S. College which is about to launch it for Kolhan University students.