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Dance is one of the most caricatured art forms
- Madhavi Puranam

May 6, 2017

(This article is an excerpt from the editorial of Nartanam, Volume: XVII, No. 1, Jan - March 2017)

In 1981 a German language film titled "Mephisto" was produced in Hungary. The film was based on a novel written by Klaus Mann and was directed by Istvan Szabo. It's the story of a German stage actor Hendrik Hoefgen who rises to great heights with his performance as Mephisto in the stage adaptation of Goethe's Faust. Hoefgen conveniently adapts his ideals to the requirements of the new ruling regime. Thus, he attains greater heights in his career. He distances himself from his near and dear. By the time he realises his mistake it is too late. The genius Istvan Szabo universalizes this theme in the film. Hoefgen could be in any country, he could be any artist, intellectual, writer or filmmaker. Artists do sometimes become sycophants of ruling regimes, compromise with their art for small or big favours and short time gains, losing sight of the bigger picture of the ART itself.

In the first quarter of 2017, I witnessed two well-known Kuchipudi dancers/gurus of Hyderabad present very inane productions - Rudrama Devi and Kakatiyam. The Kakatiya/Telangana horse cannot be flogged so often, so blatantly, and above all, with such mediocrity. The spectator manages to put up with it in silence while the critic does not dare/care to touch the holy cows.

To be fair to the government of the new state, Telangana, it is doing its best to make Hyderabad a vibrant city for arts and culture. It is the artists who have to live up to their art and its stature. It would not be out of context here to inform about the success of Nartanam's issue on Dances of Telangana which has been widely appreciated as was our special on the Folk Dances of Odisha earlier. We are happy to announce that our issue on Folk Dances of Assam is ready to be published.

I also happened to watch the octogenarian Kalamandalam Gopi perform Rukmangadacharitam in Thrissur. He has been performing the role of Rukmangada for decades. I wonder why the "so called" research, innovation and experimentation bug never bites such stalwarts and the spectators watch spellbound the same characters any number of times and crave for more of the same fare? A performance is ephemeral. Classical dance/theatre is a finely layered narrative which becomes a new performance/experience for the Sahrdaya (a cultured spectator - "one with the same heart" as the poet or the artist) every time a great maestro interprets the role/story. Perhaps, there lies the maestro's innovation, genius, and research into his own soul and the universal truths through decades of performance of his art.

Dance is one of the art forms, which is caricatured the most. We display dancers at parades, showcase them at all kinds of seminars, dinners, inaugurations of government schemes/projects, make world records with thousands of them dancing, use them for tourism, show them off out of context in films and commercial advertisements and then speak of the divinity of dance. We see the culture departments/institutions across the country teeming with hapless dancers and sycophants jostling for the attention of the bureaucrats. How on earth can these artistes pursue their art in the pristine purity of their thoughts and being? They need to do their PR elbowing the others for their space under the sky.

It is interesting to note that there are a variety of short cuts to becoming a celebrated dancer, a scholar, a PhD and even a prestigious awardee. Not all resort to shortcuts. However, lobbying is not unknown to the arts. "Sadhana", "Tapasya" "Nishkama Karma" which were entrenched in our psyche since centuries are the terms which are used profusely but are sniggered at secretly. Where is the idealism and strength of our ideology?

A recent international dance festival had the compere wrongly announcing a popular sloka from the Abhinaya Darpana as from the Natyasastra. A search on Google reveals that the sloka is wrongly attributed to Natyasastra in many dance websites!

A director of a zonal cultural centre was very confused and wanted to know how Kuchipudi was different from Bharatanatyam. He asked me to clarify. My immediate reaction was either he was joking or he was a painfully ignorant official. However, on close examination, one realises that the technique of Kuchipudi is frittering away and if it continues to lack a standard technique, pedagogy and repertoire and if its Yakshaganas are not revived and widely taught and presented through a repertory, Kuchipudi is in trouble. No matter how many thousands of mediocre dancers dance under the banner of Silicon Andhra to set a world record, the goddess Balatripurasundari in Kuchipudi village is sure to note the happenings around her. I would definitely not want to incur her wrath for not safeguarding the treasure blessed by her.

We witness again a classical case in Kuchipudi Natyaramam, where the Andhra Pradesh government does everything to support Kuchipudi. While the vision, the knowledge of the subject, and the intent of the official heading the Natyaramam is unclear, bringing tourists to a ghost village where Kuchipudi is history will not revive it. Descending with brooms to clean the roads for a photo-op is very well but will not revive Kuchipudi. Anand Kuchibhotla who heads the Kuchipudi Natyaramam will have to pull out new tricks from his bag. Glib talk will not deliver results. He will have to think better than spending lakhs on the wasteful Kuchipudi Circus of world records and the government would do better to see through such shallow efforts. Above all, the dancers and gurus need to shed their herd mentality and stop flocking to the glitz and sham of commodifying pristine art.

The following couplet of Ghalib expresses our lament ever so beautifully:
"Bas ki dushwaar hai har kaam ka aasaan hona
aadmee ko bhee muyassar naheen insaan hona"

"We live in an age where everything seems such a task,
One cannot even afford to be human these days."

Madhavi Puranam is the Chief Editor of Nartanam. A trained Kuchipudi dancer, she has postgraduate degrees in Business Administration, and Performing Arts. Her book, An Indian Analysis of Aesthetics: The Dance, the Dancer and the Spectator with a foreword by Kapila Vatsyayan, was published in 2015 by Abhinav Publications, New Delhi. She is currently working on a book on Arts Management in India.


I congratulate Madhavi Puranam on this article. She has addressed several key aspects that are crucial. Yes, it has become fashionable to "quote" the Natyashastra even without taking the time to go through at least the key chapters relating to dance. The sloka she is referring to is "Angikam bhuvanam yasya" from Abhinaya Darpana. I too have questioned some young speakers about this. Back in 2008, I wrote about the wastage of time & resources that happens with this pointless gravitation towards the first ever, largest ever, biggest ever, longest ever galas and Guinness record obsessions - - Unfortunately that trend has not changed! I reiterate what I wrote back then, that, if we want our traditional art forms to continue from generation to generation, what we need is the inventiveness to consciously re-create what we have already inherited from the masters and the sensitivity to structure it not just for ourselves but for our children and for the global community in which we live. Thank you, Madhavi, for speaking up. Now we need dancers, teachers and choreographers too to meditate on the importance of her words and dump that "what's my next gig" attitude.
- Ramaa Bharadvaj (May 8, 2017)

Kudos to Nartanam, and Madhavi Puranam for calling out the elephant in the room.
- Ananda Shankar Jayant (May 9, 2017)

We need more people to step out of the safe lane and speak out. Well done Madhavi and Nartanam Dance Journal.
- Anita Ratnam (May 10, 2017)

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