Veteran performer dancing life into national troupe
By Shoaib Ahmed
LAHORE: Zareen Suleman, known for classical dance performances that have captivated kings and commoners alike, is raising a troupe for the Pakistan National Council of Arts (PNCA) in Lahore.
Ms Suleman, better known as Panna, intends to organise the ‘PNCA Dance Ensemble, Lahore’. This permanent troupe, which will perform nationally and internationally, will operate under the Islamabad PNCA. The dancers will come from classes started at the Shakir Ali Museum on January 5.
PNCA Director General Raja Changez Sultan said the permanent dance ensemble of 6 to 8 people would focus on folk, Sufi and Mughal dances.
The museum, a subsidiary of the PNCA, wrote letters to 42 schools and colleges in Lahore asking for students interested in learning classical and regional dances. Classes take place Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 3pm to 5pm under the guidance and supervision of Ms Suleman. Shakir Ali Museum Coordinator Amna Pataudi said the classes were an opportunity for students to enrich their lives by mastering a culturally and regionally specific art.
Ms Suleman said the PNCA’s request that she teach classical dance classes was a good gesture. “Let me be clear. I am not doing it for monetary gains, but to contribute to classical dance, which is presently neglected,” said Ms Suleman. “I want to raise a classical dance troupe that can represent the Punjab’s cultural heritage both nationally and internationally.”
Ms Suleman was a student of Ustad Ghulam Hussian Patialawalay and has led classical dance troupes to Iran, Afghanistan, England and America. She has performed before dignitaries such as Queen Elizabeth, Mao Zedong, the shah of Iran, Prince Karim Aga Khan, the king of Afghanistan, Field Marshal Muhammad Ayub Khan and former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
Ms Suleman has also taught many who are now acclaimed for their classical dance, including Naheed Siddiqui, Salma Agha and Tahira Syed. She has an extensive contact network because of her work and because she is the ex-wife of film director S Suleman, who is the brother of film heroes Santosh and Darpan Zareen.
She has also worked in South Asian cinema in Baji, Charagh Jalta Raha, Insan Badlata Hai, Lakhon Afsanay, Darwaza, Aurat Aik Kahani and Anchal and the Italian film Moon of Dosehra. But her talents are not restricted to dancing. She has written several short stories such as Guriay Jo Toot Gaiye, Majboori and Daveta.
Mr Sultan said dance was the most neglected art form in the country, which is why the PNCA wanted to promote it. He added that the government wanted to change Pakistan’s image aboard, and one way to do this was to promote Pakistan’s classical and regional dances by performing them abroad.
Islamabad-based classical dancer Indu Mitha said the classical dance classes at Shakir Ali Museum was a good initiative, but added that dance students needed to change their attitude. “There are very few boys and girls who really have a passion to learn classical dance,” she said. Ms Mitha said girl students with an upper class background are prevented by their families from performing in public. “They only dance at select family or private gatherings,” she said.
Girls from lower and middle class families who were interested in dance seemed to view it as a passport to television or cinema. Most of them wanted to have media exposure after just a few months of training, she said.
Ms Mitha said learning how to dance took much longer. “Classical dance needs patience and passion, it is not something easy,” she said. “The Kalashetra Dance Academy in Madras in the 1930s ran a four-year classical dance course. That was a real dance course.”
Classical dancer Naheed Siddiqui also said the PNCA’s classical dance classes were a positive development and would be an enriching experience for those who made an effort.