Saturday, September 21, 2002
M A I N   F E A T U R E

A celebrated choreographer
Aditi Tandon

Narendra Sharma          Photo: Parvesh Chauhan
Narendra Sharma 

CELEBRATED dancer and choreographer Narendra Sharma chose to adhere to his guru Pt Uday Shankar teachings, which advocated: "Human body is a miracle. Explore it and there is no end."

Narendra Sharma has always found himself questioning the overemphasis on mythology in Indian dance. Like his guru, he has been struck by the fact that classical dance projects a conception of beauty. "Why donít our dances reflect the truth? We have neglected in our dances the living man, who is a greater truth than the gods. Our dances donít reflect our social scenario," he says.

Even at 78, Narendra Sharma talks and thinks movement. "When a dancer begins to discover his body, he finds that it is impossible to register its unlimited movements. Each zone has a range. The exploration of this range allows the dancer to strengthen movement, which is his language for self expression." It is this principle, which Narendra learnt from Pt Uday Shankar at the Indian Culture Centre, Almora, which closed down after his guruís death.


Narendra, who ran away from home at the age of 13, was first refused permission for boarding at Almora. "They asked me to get the consent of my guardian, but I had closed all doors behind me. When that night I was sitting on a footpath, Dada (Pt Uday Shankar) called me over. He registered my zeal and accepted me as a student. I was the youngest in Dadaís first batch of students who were taught contemporary Indian ballet at Almora."

Remembering his guru, he says: "Dada was not averse to tradition. We had classes in kathakali, Manipuri, and bharatnatyam. But unlike others, he did not teach any complete dance to his students, but made them capable of creating dances on their own. His approach, which was different from the known methods of teaching that lacked the spirit of enquiry, gave birth to the movement of modern Indian ballet."

With such training little wonder that Narendra Sharmaís ballets draw exclusively from life. "Wolf Boy, based on superstition, was a reaction to decorative traditional dance; Antim Adhyay, depicting death, came to me by a chance visit to the graveyard; Conference was a protest ballet about our indifference to children; Antar Chhaya was another protest ballet which portrayed our lost directions; Kamayani was inspired by Jai Shankar Prasadís famous poem; Prarthana was an attempt to give form to Tagoreís poem Where the mind is without fear.

Although Narendra Sharma has popularised ensembles, choreographing hundreds of dancers at the same time, he fails to understand why a national school of choreography has not been established in India on the lines of the one that had been set up at Almora. He says, "As IPTA members we created a beautiful ballet, India Immortal, during pre-Independence days. Creative dance was contributing to the freedom movement. But it was not patronised later. No one understands that a dancer needs a vision for which he must think beyond tradition. The result is that dance in our country has an exclusive audience." For taking dance to people, Narendra Sharma has been relating dance with education. He elaborates, "In my opinion dance must join education, to make it more socially relevant."

Pursuing this cause, Narendra Sharma has been creating dances with ensembles. He says, "Ensemble is my instrument in dance theatre. I love to choreograph groups." As chief choreographer for the ninth Asian Games, he produced Antar Chhaya; he also choreographed "Shanti Parv" with 400 Indian and Russian dancers at the Festival of India in Russia. For his works, he has been honoured by the Sangeet Natak Akademi , Sahitya Kala Parishad, and been given the Soviet Land Nehru Award and Department of Culture fellowship. But he is still dissatisfied.

"We have no money to go on with what I call creative choreography. Dance theatre is the most expensive art. It requires money for costumes, props, sets and music. There is no investment in the field of real dance. That is why we have not yet been able to create fantasies for children," says this veteran choreographer.