What’s apt in Bharathanatyam ?

Soumya Tilak identified some interesting articles from Narthaki. Reading them is sure to make one think about a lot of associated issues.

This post deals with the article titled “Dance writing “ by Lalitha Venkat, Chennai.  Narthaki.com conducted a week long dance writing workshop in July 2009. While speaking at this workshop conducted at the dance department of the MGR Janaki College, Leela Venkatraman who has now been  into dance writing for around 4 decades discusses a few  points that are aimed at helping upcoming dance writers find a right voice. The article can be found at http://www.narthaki.com/info/articles/art254.html

Leela also discusses about reviewing art that potrays / is inspired from one’s personal tragedy/experience. She talks of a creation by Canada based Bharathanatyam dancer and choreographer Lata Pada, who lost her husband and two daughters to the 1985 terrorist bombing of Air India flight Kanishka.

“Revealed by fire” according to Samparadaya’s website, (Lata’s dance company) is described as follows “A contemporary multimedia dance work featuring the story of a woman’s journey of tragedy and transformation, Revealed by Fire charts Lata Pada’s rediscovery of individual power and voice following the loss of her husband and two daughters to a terrorist bombing.  Ms. Pada and renowned visual designer Cylla von Tiedemann forge new frontiers for dance and moving images. It’s regarded by leading critic Michael Crabb as “the most important Canadian dance production of 2001”.

 “Dancer Lata Pada’s guru objected to her ‘Revealed by Fire’ being a personal trauma put on stage. Watching shows evolved out of personal experiences, some comment that it amounts to self indulgence and they did not come to see a highlighting of someone’s personal tragedy. While some identify many elements from a work as reflected in their own lives, others feel the artiste is trying to project herself as a tragedy queen. If a dancer brings in elements like Sita and tries to find a parallel, it would give the implication of trying to find legitimacy for the work.” Leela Venkatraman recalls.

Here is an excerpt of the production from the You Tube

Source: http://www.youtube.com/user/seraphaj

There are also other themes which elicit strong emotions in the viewers.

For eg. Here is a Video excerpt of a production titled “Play ball” by London based Nina Rajarani’s Srishti Dance Company.

It is in fact quite common for art from other cultures to be shaped by the artist’s experience, environment and emotions. Is Bharathanatyam accepted to be a vehicle of self expression by all quarters? Bharathanatyam has moved out of its portals, so isnt it inevitable that it will mutate ? The issue is not only about the physical aspects of choreography abiding to what is technically admissible within a Bharathanatyam format; it is also about those themes that are considered as befitting the art form. While the “purists” are worried about maintain the integrity of the art form, a few practitioners and connoisseurs are worried about maintaining or expanding the audience base. But more importantly there is also a section of the audience out there that is happy when the line between Bharathanatyam and Bollywood becomes thin enough to let them relate to what is being presented. 

Bharathanatyam today encompasses a wide variety of presentations. So, it suggests there does exist, a market for all kinds of Bharathanatyam. It is upto us to pick and choose what we are looking for, and we will learn to fit our wants with practice. There’s no point cribbing about the show we attended over the weekend. There are others who liked the same. So give the artiste a miss the next time, try somewhere else!


5 responses to “What’s apt in Bharathanatyam ?

  1. Hi Sangeetha – A well written and burning topic..the development of BN..An artform that breathes will also transform. That transformation is inevitable. I also argue often that tradition before it became tradition was once a new concept, a thought, an idea. At the end of the day, that which is beautifully presented and is wholistic in what ever form will remain that which feels like a mish mash shall die its own death .. enjoyed reading that..keep it coming


  2. I thought that after reading my post on Malavika Sarukkai you decided to include this: “guru objected to her ‘Revealed by Fire’ being a personal trauma put on stage. Watching shows evolved out of personal experiences, some comment that it amounts to self indulgence and they did not come to see a highlighting of someone’s personal tragedy””

    Long time no see!
    So you wanted to quote from write up was inspired by Lalitha Venkat’s report on Leela vankatraman writing workshop as reported in Narthaki too? You could have linked the quote in your blog to Narthaki but you opted to link to this modest blog. I am Ok with you sending in a few readers to this site anyway 🙂
    And I came accross this- “How can a chronically depressed dancer, like Michael Jackson, transmit any joy and bliss to the rasikas?”. Now, I thought you restricted yourself to “critically examining” the personalities and performances of Indian or Indian origin dancers in your own inimitable way! How wrong I was!

  3. By the way, do you (or anybody else) seriously consider ““the most important Canadian dance production of 2001” as having anything to do with Bharatanatyam????

    I can see 2 aspects to your comment.
    1. Canada claiming this BN performance as ““the most important Canadian dance production of 2001”
    2. if this production itself fits into your classification of what shd be BN.

    I am no expert in settling issues with copyright and ownership but let me try ..
    If they consider Bharathanatyam an integral part of their culture and embrace it enough to offer state-sponsorship to BN projects, I think they can also claim such an ownership. Its just like how Venki and his work are more US than India now.It’s more about where the work was inspired, facilitated, supported and more importantly where it thrived!

    The second point is beyond the scope of individual analysis. And if you look, this is how they described the show- “A contemporary multimedia dance work”. They havent labelled it “Bharathanatyam”…But many viewers would have gone to the show and then back home and classified it mentally as a Bharathanatyam show, conditioned by who danced and the movement vocabulary that this work drew upon. I didnt watch the show and I am therefore not in a position to comment on it with any authority.

    And what’s with this using Smitha Madhav’s picture on your twitter? Won’t she be angry?

  4. They have started misusing the label “Bharathanatyam” as they did with “Yoga” which in the West now came to mean the same as gymnastics or aerobics. See the trend?

    The effect is this: once one sees a boring contemporary …. dance labelled as Bharathanatyam, he will think, “Oh, now I know what is Bharathanatyam, that’s that idiotic dance. I am not going to watch Bharathanatyam anymore!”. Do you see the danger? We should protect our “brand name”, don’t we? 🙂

    Sangeetha: I agree that indiscriminate labelling of everything under the sun as “Bharathanatyam” is dangerous.The informed rasika knows what BN is and knows when it is a misnomer.So I presume you are concerned about the new ones. The “new” audience can be of different types:-
    1.Family and friends of new learners who usually attend a class program. Well they feel they are a part of it and dont really worry. They are there because they want to. If they are serious with time they learn to differentiate between what is bad and good and change loyalties.
    2.In some places outside India and for a few Indians themselves, bindi, chutti and a namaste and atami go to make an “Indian dance”. I dont really know how/why to worry about this group, because their interest itself may be fleeting.Their attraction may be for anything termed “traditional/exotic” and their interest in the dance costume at most times exceeds their interest in the performance as such. For them yoga/reflexology/massage and spa belong to the same category.They usually attend “free” exhibition showcase programs. But I also realize there is scope for some of their initial fleeting infatuation to turn into serious appreciation if they liked what they saw. And what is wonderful is very subjective! In a way, anyone who dons the costumes and stands out there making some moves becomes an ambassador of the art to this market.
    3. The serious investigator who chooses attend a good performance guided by research.Well if they are destined and equipped with sensibilities to find the real good one, they eventually will meander their way through the multitude of publicity material

    As for the picture, I thought Smitha Madhav would be only happy and proud if I use her photo!!!!!!!!! 🙂 What photo do you want me to use? 🙂
    Sangeetha: I would want you to use yours. Why hide your pretty strong convictions and beliefs behind Smitha Madhav’s facade, unless you are really her? You are rude and get carried off a little bit, but if you did what you did nicely you wouldnt need to maintain this pretense at all. Infact people may want to be mentored by you

  5. You are asking me to re-dedicate my blog from Kali to Saraswathi! 🙂
    Sangeetha : Definitely !!!

    I think the categories of people you describe cover only 50% of the total. Before people (especially those outside South India) become “serious investigators” or serious Bharatanatyam students, their initial interest is developing slowly, it’s like a little baby growing: the initial food intake will largely determine how the baby will grow in the future and what food it will prefer. So if you feed this baby some GM dried milk, Coca-Cola or hamburgers, the baby may fall ill and die. 😦 Babies are very vulnerable. They catch infections. The ………….. production is like exhaust fumes, or swine flu! 😦

    My point is, let’s make it widely known for all babies that the GM baby food, Coca-Cola and hamburgers are unsafe for them, and exhaust fumes are poisonous! 🙂

    Pollution does not happen on the material level alone: there is pollution on the aesthetic, mental and spiritual levels too!

    Let’s clean ……. of garbage! 🙂

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