Ashish Mohan Khokar’s 20th edition of Attendedance is about dance and mysticism – 71Bait

The 20th issue of AttenDance, the yearbook on dance by Ashish Mohan Khokar, has mysticism as its theme

The 20th edition of the participationthe yearbook on dance by Ashish Mohan Khokar, has mysticism as its theme

Over the years, the performing arts have not received media attention or have been poorly documented. Aside from some newspapers’ coverage of arts and culture events, the artists suffered from a lack of attention/publicity. That was until scholar and art critic Ashish Mohan Khokar conceived an annual dance book titled participation. In accordance with the desire of the renowned historian, art collector and his father Mohan Khokar to chronicle all art-related activities in the country, the first edition of participation became a reality in 1998. The 20th edition, themed ‘Dance and Mysticism’, was recently published with art critic and journalist Ranee Kumar as guest editor.

In an exclusive interview, Ashish shares the two-decade journey of participation and the status of dance today.

How has your book “AttenDance” developed in 20 years?

It had no plan, no real goal. I was merely fulfilling the wish of my late father, Prof. Mohan Khokar, who had cancer, that there should be a record of the past year. That was in 1998, when there was no internet; we were still in the carbonless era! Even those who worked in the field of dance art could not readily remember who had died and when; What were the milestones of a year or what books were published? We tried to close the academic gap, because the universities didn’t have dance literature either. Each edition evolved as a process of osmosis.

The annual dance chronicle participation
| Photo credit: special agreement

Do you see that this yearbook is serving its purpose?

Yes. Honest and humble, it helps connect the past to the present. We also feature history-related articles to help build bridges. My father created India’s largest dance archive called the Mohan Khokar Dance Collection (worth ₹7 crores, now donated to the Indira Gandhi National Center for Arts (INGNCA) Delhi. Many rare photos and historical materials from there have been featured in previous editions of to see participationwhich also showcases emerging talent, helps Indian dance reach the international academy and, most importantly, contributes to the woefully inadequate body of knowledge.

Who are your target readers?

Everything we can reach: the practitioner, the supplier, the customer and the press! We are so small that we are happy when an order comes from Japan or Jalandhar. I didn’t even know where Xalapa was until we had to send a copy to Mexico 20 years ago. Sweden or Mauritius, we have dedicated readers. In India there is nothing better than a yearbook of this kind. Nowadays many PhD students refer to it and some even copy or translate it without any credit to us. We don’t sue them because we believe knowledge must travel. We are pure transporters.

Was it a challenge to find good writers?

Like all arts, writing is also a gift. Real knowledge is not a quest or a fad. Most teenagers cannot write a 3000 word article. Where I failed, Ranee Kumar, guest editor of this most difficult issue, succeeded. She found many good young people like Aniruddh Knight or Himanshu Shrivastav and had them make very readable copies. She also found one in Finland! She has tackled a very difficult subject and I must confess that this 22nd year edition is by far the best of the last decade. All credit to her.

Do you repeat your authors?

Depends on the topic, although there is no rule. Art is more important than the artist. For us, the technical core competence decides on the author, although we must not be too picky, because unfortunately there are not even 10 qualified or good authors on the subject of dance in the whole of India.

How do you choose your guest editors and how often do you change them?

Only once in five years or so, I have. The idea is to find a new voice and give readers a respite from a boring self. Topic, region and experience decide. For example 20 years ago for a Gujarat Special we needed someone on site who was familiar with the material and his marbles. Ditto for Northeast 15 years ago. Or dance in movies. The first guest editor was 15 years ago from Odisha, Shyamhari Chakra, who dealt with “Traditions of the East”. Second, 12 years ago, SD Desai on Traditions of West. The third was seven years ago with “Telugu Traditions” by Ananda Shankar Jayant and now with “Mysticism” by Ranee Kumar. Without Ranee there would be no 20th edition! After writing about dance for 40 years I’m a bit tired of my voice and post Covid there was fatigue. I had no focus. Ranee Kumar took overall responsibility: finding competent writers, supervising the illustrations and proofreading each article, even rewriting some very bad articles, and finding sponsors.

Born into a family of renowned dancers and a pioneer of the concept of arts stewardship, how are you observing the changes in classical dance?

It has changed from the art of the soloist to the art of the group. Increasingly we are seeing fewer dancers have the stamina or material to dance an entire evening as many others previously did. Dancers accuse the organizers of demanding variety in the program in order to fill a hall. Another important change is the speed of the concerts. Dance forms apparently compete with the shatabdi (express train). Even sluggish forms like Orissi (the old name of this form) have this lality (Mercy) now try to beat Kuchipudi or Bharatanatyam in speed. After all, there are very few paying organizers, with the exception of state patronage. Corporate India doesn’t do much for classical dance. Most of them support cricket or fashion. India has rich traditions, but people have poor taste or pursue folk art. Television has also ruined the art of dance.

At home as a guest editor

Journalist and art critic Ranee Kumar

Journalist and art critic Ranee Kumar | Photo credit: special agreement

When Ashish Khokar brought the project up for discussion in the middle of Omicron and stipulated that she’ll be the guest editor, Ranee Kumar admits she wasn’t exactly jumping for joy. “I looked at the earlier books and felt that all dance-based themes had been exhausted. What is left for me to explore then? I wanted it to be unique and deep to give it my best editorial shot. It was then that Ashish got into mysticism and dance, knowing that both were my favorite subjects. That settled the matter for me and I decided that I’m not going to let him down,” says the senior art critic and former journalist Mit The Hindu.

Coming aboard, Ranee faced increasing challenges. While most involved editorial tests of rearranging, rewriting, and changing headlines without upsetting the contributors, for Ranee there was a dearth of writers on a subject that was like the play of the abstract and the concrete.

She says: “We needed authors with at least a small awareness and theoretical knowledge of classical dance and mysticism. That was a tricky combination. Many people practice mysticism – scholars, poets and others, but most were unsure as to how to associate it with dance. Then we had a lot of academically qualified dance performers and theorists who couldn’t tackle the subject of mysticism. And here I was, attempting to collate at least a dozen articles of considerable length and depth to shape into a book of meaning! Thanks to my contact with dance and artists, I was able to identify a few who, because of their preoccupation with dance and mysticism, could write about this subject.”

Ranee is particularly pleased that she was able to enlist a Sufi professor, Mikko Viitamaki from the University of Helsinki, Finland, who willingly intervened with an article on Sufi and Raqs (dance).

“My goal was to open the mind to a new perspective of looking at dance and to come to my own conclusions. It is not a book on the technicalities of dance, so anyone interested in spirituality and art can understand it. Art only thrives when it has universal appeal and is not just limited to connoisseurs. As for mysticism, it’s already established around the world,” says Ranee.

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