BHARATANATYAM needs no introduction to the world today.
For centuries it has been our culture and our identity. Ages ago, there were Rajadasis who performed before royalty, Alankaradasis who danced at social functions like marriages and Devadasis who danced exclusively in temples.
Whether at temples, palaces or houses, each of these dances had its own propitiatory significance. The anti-nautch movement in the earlier part of the 20th century unfortunately killed all three varieties.
However, just as Saraswati, the river of Natya, went underground but continued to be a living entity, so were the secrets of this art also preserved, and it arose from its own ashes to live again.
It was perhaps the art’s good fortune that its revival came when it did giving it the much needed initial momentum.
Today it seems like this art has reached every part of this earth, inspiring the artiste within everyone.
Margazhi for dancers is, indeed, a mad stampede! Are we happy about this? Absolutely.
Yet, as I dream about the flavour and fragrance of the forthcoming festival a small part of my heart aches. The tragedy is that the audiences today are only more familiar with the ‘mass scale Bharatanatyam’ and are unable to recognize a first rate performance.
Even some of these performers are forced to realign their style to the ‘popular level’ by imitating the tricks and mannerisms of the ‘stars’, for that is how one can draw the crowds.
Large doses of these have resulted in our acceptance of mediocrity. The heart bleeds when one sees some of the greatest performers showcasing their brilliance to empty chairs. Trust me, the loss is not theirs.
With infinite number of dancers around we can hardly imagine congregating as a fraternity anywhere in the world at any other time. So when this once-a-year opportunity comes for dancers to gather, communicate, watch, appreciate, learn, debate and discuss dance why don’t they turn up?
Oh, that’s right. Between their own rehearsals and concerts, they have time to only recoup for the next day. Fair enough. But isn’t Margazhi, a gift of Chennai to dancers? We must, apart from showcasing our own creativity, allow ourselves to learn and grow as a community.
Let us not forget our culture in the midst of all this commerce. I don’t condemn the commerce. In fact, on behalf of all dancers let me thank all the corporate connoisseurs for their generous support to this art year after year.
Pursuing dance as a career is so expensive that without the support of these patrons it is almost certain that only a fortunate few would have been able to dance. Let dance be a marketable commodity – but at least let us sell quality.
Yet, I love the season for its variety. Even the air in Chennai during Margazhi is fragrant with music and dance. Let us support the art at its best.
But my dear artistes, there are very many inspiring examples from the past to show us that when your art is simple, straight-forward and sincere, it somehow rises above the rest.
True art cannot be crushed in this stampede. When we can see more of the true art, this stampede will become an organized sacred procession.
Source: New Indian Express dated Dec.3