Blog Hiatus, a Rare Simkie Photo, and Distinguishing Kuchipudi

Friday, February 8, 2019
Hello dear readers and friends!  Well...it has been some time since I have posted or updated this blog.  My how time flies!  Long overdue is a post letting folks know that this blog is on an indefinite hiatus.

My posts on this blog have always been fueled and energized by elation, joy, and excitement in the subject matter--purely felt and honestly channeled into writings in a medium that allowed me to share whatever bliss I was experiencing with likeminded people around the globe.   And I have never posted unless I felt that enthusiasm. For various reasons, some known and others unknown to me, my engagement and enthusiasm have waned, and in that mindset I simply can't post in the same way as I have in the past, at least in good conscience.

The blog is on an indefinite hiatus, and who knows what the future will bring.  I don't want to make any promises that I can't keep, a defect of which I have been guilty of in the past, though I've always had the best, though misguided, intentions!  Should the passion of my past return, I will certainly resume the little mini-research projects I call posts. :D

This blog really blossomed in late 2010, continued the exuberance through 2016, and had a last hurrah in 2017.  I am extremely proud of the work that I did, archived here, hopefully forever, for anyone to see, cherish, and enjoy.  I have had the great fortune of having certain posts graced with comments by famous dancers, academics, and family members of post subjects.  I have met, virtually and in real life, amazing people who have enriched my knowledge, shared my passions, and became my friends. I have disappointed a few, and perhaps treaded not very lightly into contentious and problematic topics and subjects in the history of dance, class, and politics in India. But, I hope that my genuine interest and sympathy for the "underdog" and marginalized has come through.

I realize that as time passes that more broken links, outdated videos, and web maintenance tasks left undone will cause the blog to become harder to use, and as I'm able I will try to keep things up to date.  The fonts aren't always easy to read, and the formatting is goofed up in places. But, please have patience in the meantime. And feel free to drop me a line with any requests to fix things!

So in the low pressure environment of this hiatus post, where I don't have to spend weeks gathering information, making connections, and extensively citing my sources, I thought it would be fun to browse through my draft posts that have never been published and pull out a couple bits of material to finally give it the light of day.


A Rare Photo of Simkie

Simkie, that elusive and mysterious French dance partner of Uday Shanker, most prolifically in the late 1920s and 1930s. I tried for some time to try to figure out a timeline of her later years and what happened to her.

My most cherished find was this little photo and snippet that I found in the January 1949 issue of Dance Magazine. LOOK AT THIS:


It's very hard to find pictures of Simkie in her post-Uday Shankar period, and here she is just shy of 40!  A rare find indeed. I had been waiting to post it until I could come up with a thorough history of her life.

Though it's not thorough, I tried my best, and from all the research I've done on Simkie, including the sources I've read (Projesh Banerji and Ruth Abrahams' dissertation mostly), email conversations with academics, and a translation of the French documentary on her, here's what I think happened to her, in very dry and simple terms.  She had a "falling out" with Uday Shankar at some point, and married Prabhat Ganguli when she was at Shankar's Almora Centre, hence the "Madame Ganguli" name in the above photo. She returned to France and was there in 1949, before returning again to India in the early 1950s, where she choreographed for the films Awaara (1951) and Jhansi ki Rani (1953). At some point after this she worked at All India Radio in Delhi, never talking about her past dance life. Then she met an Englishman, Mr. Hannon, in Bombay, married him, and returned to England where she lived until her death in 1998. Given everything I've read on her, her life seems like it was not the happiest one, especially her years and fascination with India that turned sour.  How I wish more information was known about her!


The Clearest Difference Between Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam

One post I cooked up but never fully coalesced into a cohesive thesis is about the history of Kuchipudi dance in South Indian Cinema, which has grown up under the shadow of Bharatanatyam and has a unique and fascinating history.  There is some enlightening authorship out there in recent years, such as Rumya Sree Putcha's dissertation Revisiting the Classical: A Critical History of Kuchipudi Dance (some of her research is found in her separate article "Between History and Historiography: The Origins of Classical Kuchipudi Dance"), Katyayani Thota and Anuradha (Jonnalagadda) Tadakamalla's article Marking the Telugu Cultural Identity: Kuchipudi and its Role in Cinema, and Amrita Lahiri's piece at Narthaki, "Kuchipudi: Resurgence or Funeral?" I learned that I was not imaging things when seeing Bharatanatyam choreography in old Telugu films--it was intentionally done so in certain settings and to imply certain things, in contrast to Kuchipudi!

While trying to publish a post about all this unique dance history ultimately exhausted me, one treasure I came away with was finally having a good understanding of the difference between Bharatnatyam and Kuchipudi dance!

So how can the average person easily tell the difference between Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi movement vocabulary? Putcha says that the "clearest differentiation between the two styles" is an adavu (basic dance movement/steps) called "Muktaimpu Adavu" or referred to by its solkattu (spoken rhythmic syllables) name "Di-Di-Thai." From my research, this adavu seems to be more popularly known as "Theermanam Adavu"and also by two other solkattu variations: "Gi-Na-Tom," or "Kittatakka-Dhari-Kitta-Thome." It appears to be used at the ending of a pure dance sequence and is repeated three times in triplicate--a feature that makes it easy to recognize for those not intimately familiar with the forms.

The trouble with adavus of course is that there is not one set way to do an adavu in a dance form because there are usually multiple variations that can look quite different. Below is an excellent comparison of three variations of the Theermanam Adavu in Kuchipudi (pink costume) and Bharatanatyam (green costume). Each time you hear the solkattu syllabus "Gi Na Tom," that's when the Tirmanam Adavu movement happens in triplicate. Don't look at the names underneath, which are confusingly listed in the wrong order for this part of the video! Kuchipudi is on the left, and Bharatanatyam is on the right!

Start 3:54 
Left: Kuchipudi                       Right: Bharatanatyam

The movement in the third repetition (at 4:09) seem to be the most commonly used in the dance forms in my viewing experience.

Great videos clearly detailing this specific variation can be seen here for Bharatanatyam (solkattu "Kittatakka Dhari Kitta Thome") and here for Kuchipudi (solkattu "Gi Na Thom")--see how in Bharatanatyam the arm sweeps over the head from back to front, and in Kuchipudi it stays out to each side?

This side to side sweeping movement in Kuchipudi is the same one Kamal Hassan's character chooses to demonstrate in Sagara Sangamam/Salangai Oli when he's trying to nonverbally show the dance forms he knows.
Start :56

Here's another great video comparing the two forms, from the documentary Kuchipudi Revisited, that I touched upon in a past post:

Start: 26:06
Left: Bharatanatyam            Right: Kuchipudi


Here's yet another variation of the adavu in Kuchipudi, not seen in any of these videos. Got it? :)

I Bid Adieu for now!

4 comments:

  1. That's my daughter Swetha and Viji Prakash's daughter Mythili dancing the Kuchipudi/Bharatanatyam piece during my California days Cassidy.

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    1. Hello Ramaa! Oh of course, I should have made the connection to you with the last name. :) Thank you for pointing that out, and so lovely to hear from you. Sorry for the delayed response, Blogger has not been notifying me of comments for some time, which I have now rectified.

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  2. I went to meet her in 1969 at Bath with my lawyer friend indira jaisngh with recorded message of Zohra Segal.Her husband Mr Hannon received us but regretted that since she was unwell we can not meet her.I met her daughter Minakshi Ganguli in Mumbai.She was working at Taj hotel art gallery.
    in 1958 All India Dance Seminar I had seen her at Constitition club.She did not want to speak of her days with Uday Shankar.She had become a recluse.

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    1. How unfortunate that Blogger has not been notifying me of comments for a while (fixed now) and so I missed this comment from the great Sunil Kothari! I am honored that you visited and commented on my blog. These are critical details you've provided. A few years ago I had reached out to Ruth Abrahams who authored the 1985 dissertation "The Life and Art of Uday Shankar." She had similar difficulties as you over a decade later. Her dissertation said "In June 1980, three letters of request for a personal interview were sent to Simkie Hannon, Shankar's partner and collaborator from 1927 through 1941. All requests were denied. A subsequent trip to her home in Bath, England, which resulted in a brief encounter with Mme. Hannon, also proved fruitless." I also communicated with Joan Erdman in 2013 who was working on a book about Shankar, and she told me that she had spoken to Simkie at Oxford at one point and had a positive encounter, but when she went to meet in Bath one time, there was a fire in Simkie's building that day, so it "wasn't meant to be." So quite a few people had tried to reach out to Simkie, and none seemed to be successful in her later years. Hers is such a story to tell...

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