Responses to Carnatic musicians and Naatya by VP Dhananjayan

October 25, 2009
As a rasika who loves veena and attends Carnatic kutcheris and occasionally Bharatanatyam recitals of good dancers such as Alarmel Valli, I would like to touch the issues Dhananjayan sir raises.

Sangeeta Ratnakaram speaks about nrityam, not about what is known today as pure abhinaya when some dancers can sit on a bench and do some expressions to entertain the public. If sitting, doing some hand gestures, moving one's neck here and there, and showing some expressions were nrityam, then the musicians do much more of nrityam than many of the dancers. In Sangeeta Ratnakaram's view, nrityam was constituted of nritta and natya. Nritta included the 108 karanas, and natya included satvika abhinaya. How often do we find these in Bharatanatyam recitals now?

If Dhananjayan sir has a problem with Carnatic musicians who do not attend any Bharatanatyam performances, perhaps he should realize that not many rasikas outside Kerala like to watch Kathakali even if it is performed in a Bharatanatyam costume. Furthermore, the reasons are explained by Balasaraswathi's comments of Rukmini Devi's activities and innovations. If Kalakshetra students are unwilling to learn these reasons, so much the worse for them.

If a musician cannot understand or enjoy a Bharatanatyam performance, whose task is it to make these Bharatanatyam performances understandable and enjoyable? Alarmel Valli always makes sure the rasikas understand what she is going to do in the next item.

If the music stalwarts don't go to dance recitals, isn't it also because they find the music there quite uninteresting? If the dancers' fitness does not allow them to dance fast, the musicians can't play fast passages. If the vocalists were singing niravals in sangathis, most dancers would be confused. Otherwise, the repetitions are boring. If many dancers' rigid bodies do not allow them to respond with recakas to the nuances of the singer's gamakas, not even with a slightest atami, who is to blame?

In music, the standards are defined more clearly. If the vocalist is off-key, everybody instantly realizes it is an error. When the Bharatanatyam dancer cannot come even close to proper Ardhamandala, how can they expect the rasikas to enjoy it? The instrumentalists' and, to some extent even vocalists' virtuosity only grows with age. Can the same be said about the dancers?

Dhananjayan sir says the musicians can learn a lot from dancers. What is there to learn? To learn how to simplify the music and play very slowly? If musicians don't appreciate the recent innovations, such as javalis and padams, perhaps the lifespan of these innovative items has already expired and we need to move on, leaving the Tanjore Quartet's innovations to the past?

Sruthi Ramakrishnan, Chennai

October 27, 2009
I am glad Sruthi Ramakrishnan's response itself is a positive step towards the purpose with which I wrote the article. Since publishing this article a couple of years ago, the situation has improved for better. Now I see a lot of musicians attending naatya performances. My article is aimed to bring a friendly interaction between all performing artistes. Learning is reciprocal. Some artistes don't bother to see the performances of others and this is detrimental to progress beyond a point. Artistes, who often watch others, are better communicators.

I can quote innumerable incidents when great musicians and composers are inspired by Naatya and vice versa. Sorry, Ms. Shruti Ramakrishnan seems to have a very small exposure to really good Naatyam. A true connoisseur of art always tries to explore beyond personal likes and dislikes and understand that we keep learning from each other.
- VP Dhananjayan