Ensemble classical dances, set against the backdrop of the New Delhi monument Purana Qila, have enthralled the Capital’s culture enthusiasts for eight years now. This year, the Ananya Dance Festival—the annual dance festival organized by the cultural outfit Seher, is part of Delhi Celebrates!, a cultural calendar launched by the Government of Delhi to celebrate the Commonwealth Games.

The dance festival focuses on group choreography. As Sanjeev Bhargava, founder, Seher, says, the 52 feet wide stagefront of the Purana Qila would obscure solo dancers. The event is sponsored by the Government of Delhi in collaboration with the Sahitya Kala Parishad.

Artistic steps: Kishore Mosalikanti’s troupe performing Kuchipudi at the Ananya Dance Festival in 2009.

Drawing young crowds and addressing an audience beyond those who’re already in the fold of classical dance is one of the major motives of the festival. It is for this reason that entry to the event is free. “With Ananya, we have succeeded in democratizing culture by first taking classical dance into public spaces like monuments and parks, and second, by imparting it a mass appeal," says Bhargava.

This year, highlights of the five-day festival include an Odissi recital by Sharmila Biswas to narrate the story of Surpanakha, Ravana’s sister; a Bharatnatyam recital by renowned danseuse Geeta Chandran; and Guru Sadanam Balakrishnan’s Kathakali recital. Delhi-based dancer and choreographer, Justin McCarthy’s contemporary fusion of classical dance forms such as Chhau, Kathak and Bharatanatyam is Bhargava’s pick for this year. McCarthy’s Lokaalokam tells of a mythical mountain that divides the visible and invisible worlds. This ensemble dance work explores the overlapping visualizations of the physical as well as the spiritual worlds in ancient Indian thought. With the text providing the conceptual base, the music to the lyrics in Sanskrit is directly inspired by the folk traditions of various regions, including Orissa and Tamil Nadu.

One the greatest achievements of the Ananya Dance Festival has been to present both established dancers as well as upcoming artists on the same platform. The inclusion of Pune-based dancer Shama Bhate this year bears testimony to that. Bhate is a young artist who has galvanised the artistic scene with her unique institution Nad-Roop.

For the foreign delegates of the Commonwealth Games who the organizers anticipate will make up a large chunk of the audience, there’s a two-day interactive seminar on 21 and 22 October with dancers from across India the leading artistes of India. This special feature is designed to present a better understanding of Indian classical dance.

The Ananya Dance Festival will be held at Purana Qila from 19-23 October, 7:00 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. daily. Entry is free.