Calcutta, Nov. 16: Sheer grace of movement now conveys tales of varied cultures, and heals.
Exponents of Manipuri dance believe that the prosperity of art requires the canvas of an open sky rather than solitary confinement.
Over the years, Calcutta has fostered those who infuse the traditional form of Manipuri dance with special touches. Termed both a religious and spiritual experience, the movements are said to be one of the most subtle, yet most meaningful genres.
With institutes like Manipuri Nartanalaya (founded by Bipin Singh, Kalavati Devi and Darshana Jhaveri), Anjika and Chalormi, the dance is no longer confined to a chosen few.
If you ask the artistes, the rewards are many. For some, it's a pathway to healing or a sacred art. For others, it is a doorway into a world of unadulterated joy.
Baisali Basu Sarkar, dancer and founder of Chalormi, says their motto is to promote Manipuri dance in all possible ways.
"I dance for joy and not for money. Our constant endeavour is to present traditional dance to suit this day's audience and to break the notion that classical dances are on the wane. I won't say that our dance is a fusion but my presentation definitely has a modern approach," she said.
On the innovations she has tried out, she adds, "I have earlier used the Bengali folk song Sohag chand badani dhwani, using suitable Manipuri dance steps for my students."
The story does not end with her.
Bimbavati Devi, of Manipuri Nartanalaya here, a pioneer organisation of Manipuri dance and music in India, has been preserving its essence for 37 years. "All that we do is based in, within or around Manipuri. In 2006, I had used movements from the martial dance forms of Bengal, raibeshe and paik. It was blended with the movements of our martial art and performed by some of my students and other artistes."
"Experiments are on to enrich our performance through research, rigorous training and practice, new choreography, regular workshops on dance, Manipuri percussion and Manipuri martial art," she said.
Priti Patel, founder of the Anjika, has taken dance to the higher plane of healing.
After a visit to the Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy, where the children responded wonderfully to dance and movement, she was inspired to do the same at Anjika Centre for Manipuri Dance and Movement Therapy.
The grace and delicacy of the form help to create a smoother motor co-ordination and in inducing a sense of rhythm, she states.
"Since classical Manipuri dance is my forte, it has become the medium of my therapy. By understanding the relationship between movement, dance and emotional expression, I hope to help the children to move and be moved," she said.
Simple rhythmical dance movement and games enables the differently abled to identify parts of their bodies and relate to them as their own. However, for some, the lights have not been so bright onstage.
Baisali rues how Manipuri dance is often not included in festivals because of a lack of communication.
"It is really sad when some people term Manipuri dance as repetitive or slow. For this, we dancers are partly responsible as our presentations lack variety at times. As the lyrics are mostly in Manipuri and not always understood by the audience, we dancers must take it upon ourselves to reach out to the people," she said.
And while the hands articulate feelings to the tunes of the pung and the pena, the rhythm of change must proceed undisturbed, without distinguishing the dancer from the dance.