The Purana Qila is no longer just a backdrop to the dance festival, Ananya: The Unparalleled. It’s playing a central role in many performances
A keep of memories, a silent spectator to the rise and fall of empires, Delhi’s majestic Purana Qila is slowly stirring to life. Soon, its spacious ramparts will resound with the thumping beats of Manipuri drums and the melodious strains of thumri as accomplished performers like Astaad Deboo and Madhavi Mudgal perform at this 16th century fort as part of the annual dance extravaganza, Ananya: The Unparalleled, between 3 to 7 October.
Currently in its ninth year, Ananya has managed to resurrect much of the fort’s glory. “India is known only by the Taj Mahal, but there are so many beautiful heritage sites like the Old Fort that people completely ignore. Through Ananya, we are trying to highlight this classical and architectural heritage of the country,” says Sanjeev Bhargava, director of Seher, which organises this festival in association with the Delhi government and Sahitya Kala Parishad.
This time round, artistes are even putting their minds to choreographing their dances around the fort itself. “A space as powerful as this has it own presence. I believe architecture has dance in it, and vice versa,” says Odissi exponent Madhavi Mudgal. She believes that the breathtaking jharokas and the elegant mihrabs or prayer niches breathe magic into every movement that unfurls on stage. From being a mere ornamental backdrop, the Purana Qila has now become a central character of sorts in many choreographies.
“Interestingly, we thought of our theme thanks to the Purana Qila. This heritage monument has seen a lot of ups and downs in history. Similarly, Kathak, too, has witnessed drastic changes across centuries,” says dancer Monisa Nayak who, along with her sister Moumala, will be presenting a musical journey of the dance form through three periods: temple, Mughal and modern. While Monisa will be presenting the devotional spirit of the temple period through the Jaipur Gharana, her sister Moumala will be showcasing the sophistication of Kathak as seen in Mughal courts through the Lucknow Gharana.
In some cases, the grandiosity of the fort has also inspired the artistes to keep their choreographies simple. “With a backdrop as gorgeous as this, one doesn’t really need props,” says Bharatnatyam guru Rema Shrikant. She will be giving the classical natya a contemporary treatment for the festival. “I will begin with the Ganapati Stuti and then move on to the Sristi Tandavam, which shows Lord Shiva as the creator of animals, humans, emotions and art forms,” she says. The highlight will be the Shrichakram, which portrays Goddess Lakshmi as the centre point in a chakra.
Bhargava, too, realises the extent to which the venue will force dancers to choose the pieces they perform carefully. On a practical level, he believes that what they can do in a compact auditorium may not be possible on a 30 foot long stage, where the distance between the dancer and audience is nearly 20 feet. “The artistes can’t really get into abhinaya as the monument takes a lot away,” he says. So, they will have to conceptualise group choreographies that focus more on natya and less on bhava.
Though this isn’t the first instance of a heritage monument being used as a backdrop for dance performances, it’s probably one of the few venues that has had such an influence on modern choreographies. “Of course there is the Khajuraho festival, but there the temples are so far away. Here, the connection with the monument is much stronger,” says Mudgal.