Prof. Sehdev Kumar
TORONTO: In the world of Indian theatre or films or dance, there is none who has the chutzpah – daring, audacity, even fool-hardiness — to take on such difficult and unusual subjects and themes for their artistic creation as Janak Khendry.
On December 6, 7 and 8, Khendry presents a dance presentation at Fleck Dance Theatre in Toronto based on John Milton’s classic epic Paradise Lost, written over 350 years ago.
The very thought of creating an original dance-drama, based on this much-celebrated but archaic epic, with 17 dancers of classical Indian and Western contemporary traditions, is overwhelming.
On all accounts, for the Janak Khendry Dance Company, on its 35th anniversary celebration, this is a monumental undertaking. Whatever one’s reason to see a live performance, this one should be seen for its sheer artistic aplomb.
For the past several years, Khendry has been experimenting with new and original compositions and presenting them with engaging artistry and admirable dedication. His presentations are invariably based on extensive thematic and choreographic research, and are always nuanced by philosophical enquiry. His artistic-dance musings on the mystery of time in his KAAL-TIME, on ecological harmony in four thousand year old history of the river in GANGA, on the mystical insights in his UPANISHAD, on the eternal mantra in GAYATRI, and on the lives and struggles of Buddha and Mahavira, all speak of an artist whose artistic vision is profoundly honed by a certain spiritual quest.
Trained as a Bharat Natyam dancer, Khendry’s dedication to the art and traditions of Indian classical dance, and his consummate commitment to integrate and enhance their scope in the context of dance traditions and contemporary idioms of the West, make him an exceptional artist. In his creation, his artistry touches on all aspects of the production: set and costume design, script and choreography, research and lighting, music and dance. That he has maintained this commitment and level of excellence for over five decades speaks of his clarity of vision and life.
Milton’s Paradise Lost, written in 1667 to “justify the ways of God to men”, concerns the Biblical story of the Fall of Man – the temptation of Adam and Eve by the fallen angel Satan and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. This epic has a celebrated place in the annals of world literature, no less for the fact that John Milton had gone blind in 1652, many years before it was composed and published. Like all great literary works, Paradise Lost too has been the subject of many commentaries and interpretations. Though assisted by two Milton scholars – Philip Pullman and Tulsiram Sharma – Khendry’s interpretation of the epic, through an Indian classical dancer’s eyes would be something to watch.
The theme of struggle between good and evil, between forces of darkness and light, between devas and raakshas, are also very part of Hindu mythology. A perceptive observer like Khendry draws fascinating parallels between many strands of thought and explorations from many lands and periods.
This opening up of the East and the West, on equal and creative grounds, is something to be celebrated. Fifty years ago, few people in Canada or Europe knew anything about classical music or dances from India, Japan or China. All that has been slowly but surely changing. The human story is a many-splendoured thing; it needs to be in many mirrors and told through many lenses and gestures.
Philip Glass, the great American composer – creator of such operas as Satyagraha (about the life of Gandhi in Africa) and the Passion of Ramakrishna – once described himself as “a Jewish-Taoist-Hindu-Toltec-Buddhist”. Such hybrids of heart and soul seem increasingly necessary. Looking at Janak Khendry’s eclectic repertoire of dance creations, I wonder if he could be simply called as “a dancer for all seasons.”
Paradise Lost is presented at Fleck Dance Theatre on Harbourfront on Dec 6, 7 and 8.
(Prof. Sehdev Kumar lectures on International Films in the School of Continuing Studies at the University of Toronto)