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Gender and Dance
- Dr. Neena Prasad

April 5, 2014


When the work of any dancer is more inclined towards a gender based repertoire, the dancer is automatically slipping into a comfort zone. This form of expression although an individual privilege, nevertheless becomes a very subjective approach, whereas a dancer needs to be equipped with several layers of consciousness to experiment the endless artistic possibilities thus helping the dance form to explore the higher realms of transitions through art.

Natya is considered as a supreme medium of expression and a nata exhibits this potential through the dramatic element. It is also an artist's manodharma that calls for the spontaneous and imaginative prowess of an artist that creates the magic of rasa. A contemporary dancer, soloist may need to transform to a protagonist, a heroic character, a pining heroine or a passive story teller or any character called for. The dancer has to bring the gender, age or psychological states of the character into the grasp of his physical demeanour. For this, a dancer, the soloist needs to depersonalise from "self". He needs to strip himself of his identity and become neutral; then take to submissive yet assertive transformation to present a real and wholesome artistic experience. Bharata, while explaining the physical attributes of the masculine and feminine body through the lasya and tandava modes of expression, mentions that actors can mask these aspects expressed and explored irrespective of their genders. Hence, the physical presence of the bearing or bareness of breasts should not interfere while considering artistic calibre.

Personally, as a rasika and a performer, I think the male consciousness is more inclined to withdraw from a self expressive psyche and can delve into a wider realm of artistic possibilities. A female equivalent of a Pt Birju Maharaj, Kelucharan Mohapatra or Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair Asan is hard to find. But for Balasaraswathi, I am not aware of any women artists who have succeeded in neutralising the body to grow and rise to a pedestal of elevated artistic echelon (beyond their personal psyche). Similarly, Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam is one female artist, who has succeeded in experimenting, whether male or female at the character's soul level crossing the divide of gender. That is why a person like Balasaraswathi or Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam is so rare and we cannot predict artists of such calibre will be reborn frequently in every generation.

Many reasons which impede a female artistic mind from cruising to an artistic quintessence do exist. Assertive society, domestic responsibility or social impasse, affect the collective consciousness of female artists and are some of the possible impediments for a female artiste in a world where history is constructed for men and written by men.

Coming to today's performance scenario, from my own observation and the feedback that we get to hear, the true connoisseur ilk often points out to the repetitive nature of items of many successful presentations by women artists. Feminine minds are more prone to certain consciousness which tends to play it safe adding to a pre-cognizant attitude showcasing too much of their own self-centred physicality obsessed by their corporeal presence. In this process, they become vulnerable arresting their artistic self, failing to justify different roles beyond age and situations, whereas the percentage of male artists who take the risk to experiment new avenues in artistic pursuits is more than the opposite sex.

Artists, who are born great, go past their physicality, costume, makeup or perfection of hairdo or jewellery. Hence, to those people when the mind is ready to take off for the artistic journey, the true sahrudaya also joins in the joy of an artistic denouement with utmost fulfillment, devoid of distractions. Personally, I admire male artists, their attitude to dance with the body and mind. I think male body is an intelligent creation and artistically, I wish to vie among them!

Dr. Neena Prasad is a Mohiniattam exponent, an art form strictly allowing only feminine appearance in its mode of presentations.

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