In this photograph we can see Menaka and her dance partner Nilkanta, they performed together from November 1930 until June 1932. We might assume the stage name Nilkanta refers to the form of deity Shiva in the myth Samudra Manthan, or the ‘churning of the ocean of milk.’ While churning for amrita, or ambrosia, a pot of poison arose that was so potent it posed a threat to all forms of life. Out of compassion for all beings Shiva drank the poison, which coloured his neck (kantha) blue (nila). Menaka told the reporter of the Dutch Newspaper ‘De Telegraaf’ that her dance partner was a Muslim. “Then you should be having quarrels everyday”, he remarked. Nilkanta answered: “You shouldn’t believe everything the newspapers write about the differences of opinion between Hindus and Muslims. Sometimes it is deliberately exaggerated.”
In the newspaper ‘De Tijd” we read another scarce piece of information about the dancer. According to the reporter Nilkanta spoke ‘perfect’ English and French: for three years he had studied law in Oxford, followed by two years literature at the Sorbonne. He had started dancing only a year before his tour with Menaka began. This caused a break with his parents – the reporter noticed it visibly saddened him. Another observation seemed to have been influenced by Nilkanta’s descent. The journalist perceived him as vain and restless and asked the reader:
“Is it caused by the mixed blood that runs through his veins? Is it his Persian blood that made him lose his calm and distinction, typical for the Hindu, for a coquettish arrogance?”
The dance critic of the French weekly ‘Candide’ found the debut of Menaka and Nilkanta in November 1930 ‘amateurish’. He shared his thoughts about Nilkanta:
“A young man, his bare skin white and with a profile that is disturbingly Mediterranean. His ethnic type does not make him suitable to reproduce the characters of the two millennia old stupa Amaravati. His poor technique to connect the ancient poses is very reminiscent of that used in the studios of Munchen.”
’De Hindoe-danseres Menaka. De renaissance van den dans in Indië – Invloed van Pawlowa’, De Telegraaf (17-03-1931). Caty Verbeek, ‘Menaka. “Ik tracht de Indische volksziel te brengen”’, De Tijd (05-04-1931). André Levinson, ‘La Danse. Mirages d’Orient’, Candide (13 -11-1930).
Shared Spirits of Poetry and Nation