Carnatic Music Aptitude and/or Knowldege for dancers
An overall agreement that an aptitude or knowledge of carnatic music in the dancer helps him/her excel in Bharathanatyam, is seen from the survey responses; with the scores from within India being slightly higher in this regard. Similarly the musicians placed a higher emphasis on the need for CM knowledge/aptitude in dancers.
On how exactly Carnatic Music helps dancers improve, the general feeling can be best expressed in the words of Manjari :-
“It certainly is a big plus if the dancer understands and appreciates music, it adds much more depth to their dancing”.
It is felt that an understanding of the thala, lyrics and the flavour of the raga improve the nritta and abinaya aspects of the dance .
“Attending concerts exposes them to a variety of songs which can be included in their repertoire.”- Hamsa Venkat
Music as a requirement for choreography
However, the open-end answers, reveal that the depth of knowledge acceptable/considered essential in itself is dictated by what the dance student/dancer aims to be. Lakshmi Ramasamy referring to those who want to be professional performers says “Dancer should have a good idea of music, if not professionally sing”. “Choreographing and composing call for a higher understanding of the ragas and rhythm structures. (Anupriya Krishnan and Kavitha Ramu) as the dance should reflect the flow of the music (Soumya Tilak)”
“I don’t want a dancer to be jumping around vigorously in a slow Neelambari composition. It just affects my sensibilities” says S. Srinivasan.
If the teacher/choreographer or the dancer also is the one who decides the item list, then an awareness of which ragas should and should not be placed in proximity will go a long way in making the total performance a success. For e.g., Keeravani Jathiswaram followed by Simendramadhyamam item is a strict no-no!
Singing abilities for the Teacher/Nattuvanar
Yesteryear nattuvanars were excellent musicians. If the teacher intends to choreograph items for her students, then as seen from above deliberations, would definitely need to be aware of the technical nuances of Carnatic music . Also if the teacher is the one singing during the class, an appropriate standard of singing will go a long way in developing an appreciation of music itself and transalate itself as spontaneous reaction to music at subconscious levels.
A rasika, who accompanied her niece to a few dance class sessions said that
“I really don’t understand how the teacher whose singing (that she heard from the verandah outside) didn’t confine the tune to one recognisable ragam could expect her students to attain a good standard! The music appreciation of the students should be inculcated way before it is practically possible for them to practise with musicians.”
Even if the musician has all the attributes necessary it may still call for precise communication of the necessities by the nattuvanar to elicit the perfect match for the choreography- it is his vision that is being presented after all. But to communicate perfectly to the musician, the nattuvanar/ teacher/ choreographer needs to have a musical vocabulary. Bombay Jayasri says that Leela Samson knew exactly what she needed and communicated it precisely to help her give her best.
In a nutshell as Anupriya says “Dancers in India grow up in an environment where they are constantly exposed to classical music and dance. Media plays a very vital role. Unfortunately, (in some places), other than class time and practice time, students rarely get to see or hear good music and dance. Learning CN music along with BN has its own perks. Ragam & Talam gyanam is far better for those who know CN music. As a dancer, I enjoy and relate much better to a dance because of my CN background. Choreography and teaching become a natural thing for a dancer who is well versed with CN music. So CN is imperative for BN.”
The stalwarts of Bharathanatym did and do find a “Pakka balam*” in the “Pakka vadyam*” (*Soumya quoting Smt. Chitra Visweswaran) with their aptitude and appreciation of music. So there is no escaping the fact, that to be a complete dancer, one should work hard on developing an aptitude for carnatic music (if it isn’t there yet).
CD as a replacement for live orchestra.
This is one question to which the rasikas, musicians and the dancers varied predictably and widely in their response. The rasikas quite disagree with the trend (an avg score of 3.1) while the dancers seem to embrace the concept (an avg score of 7.1). Various articles have discussed the difficulties of dancers in putting together a good orchestra. The problems range from lack of availability, to lack of co-operation, high costs and fee of the members of the orchestra and practical problems in travelling with a orchestra. These probably are the reasons for dancers being more willing to use professional CDs today. But most rasikas and a few dancers favour it ”only as a last resort”.Musician Rama varma says “Better to use a good CD than a bad live musician!”
A definite distinction is to be made at this juncture between the ready-made commercial one-size fits all CDs and the individualized CDs that are specially recorded in a studio for a particular dancer/ choreography. These sure are expensive. Hamsa Venkat, a dancer carefully adds,” As long as the CD has been recorded professionally for you “(it may be alright).Echoing this sentiment Passionate Dancer says “For many, it’s a means of survival, when finding a good orchestra is not possible. As long as it is professionally recorded music and if the dancer is able to use the recording to her advantage and give a good presentation it is fine.The ones off the shelf may not suit your needs most of the time, is alright for beginners.”
Our cheeky rasika narrates her woes-
“I am tired of hearing the same professional CD Natesa kavutuvam, I can even sing along with it now! Well many gurus where I live seem to have learnt the kavutuvam from the same VCD too, so all their students perform similarly to the same song. Nothing original about it, leave alone the surprise element! Thankfully the power never fails in our place!”
And dancer/teacher Anupriya Krishnan says “I will never be able to relate to a 2 hour recital if there is no live music. But if it is a 5 -10 min program, I guess I will survive :-)”
United we Stand a better Chance?
“Music is dance and dance is music. And the one without the other would never be complete.” (Rama Varma). Carnatic Music and Bharathanatyam are not mutually independent sets. If the quality of music in dance recitals is appreciable, probably more music rasikas would consider attending dance concerts. Dance rasikas who begin to develop a taste for Carnatic Music aided by the good music that they get to hear from the dance orchestra, may actually consider attending music concerts!
I wish to express my gratitude to Aishwarya Anantha, Anupriya Krishnan, Bhanu Krishnan, Binal Vyas, Devi Ravi, Hamsa venkat, Jayakamala Pandian, Kavitha Ramu, Lakshmi Ramasamy, Madhana Raghavan, Manjari Rajendrakumar (nee Chandrasekar), Navia Natarajan Menon, Nrithya Pillai, Padma Balakumar, Rama Varma, R. Rajendrakumar, Santosh Kumar Menon, Shantha Somasundaram, S. Srinivasan, Soumya Tilak, Suganthi.P, Sumi Krishnan, Umaa Sathyanarayanan and those who came up with interesting pseudonyms (Passionate dancer, Music of Hearts, Eternal student of the art of Bharatanatyam) and a few others who wished to remain anonymous who took the time to fill in their survey questionnaire and/or discuss their opinion on this topic with me. I am grateful to the 3 of you who proof read the questionnaire. I am also thankful to Sumi Krishnan of http://sydhwaney.com for helping me with the data collection. I also absolutely am indepted to Madhana Raghavan, Sowmya Tilak and Rajendra Kumar for graciously accepting to proof (and to have) read this mess!