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Technology takes over techniques of naatya
- VP Dhananjayan

March 27, 2024

It is heartening to see a surfeit of professional productions in the Naatya arena attracting a huge mixed audience being entertained with a fairly good standard of dancing. Over the years some of the Bharatanaatyam schools have been competing with each other excelling in their presentation quality using technological developments both in stagecraft and audio support. The senior and junior naatya acharyas and self-styled choreographers strive hard to train their students to maintain a good dancing technique with precision, synchronisation in group dancing, uniformity in costuming though some lack aesthetic colours and design. Some of the out of box thematic solo and group presentations are testimonies for the present intelligent generation's creative thinking abilities surpassing their immediate and previous generation who had limited technological knowledge and exposure to internet, YouTube, online expertise etc. The group choreography employed in the film industry by dance masters goes beyond our imaginations creating fantasies of group formations which in turn influence the new generation of classical dancers, be it Bharatanaatyam or any other Bharateeya naatyam.

Lack of funding support for such spectacular shows remains a wild cry. Yet the naatya schools and individuals spend colossal amounts for using technological extravaganza. These massive productions purely meant for entertainment, stop with one or two shows except a few manage to take them to metro cities where there is good infrastructure available for using technological advancements. A few are lucky enough to showcase the productions abroad.

Rewinding my memories, a few of Bharata Kalanjali productions were repeated several times, not only in the metro cities but also rural areas with very limited stage facilities and theatrical infrastructures available. The truth is, the uninitiated rural folks thoroughly enjoyed the naatya elements and were least bothered about the lighting gimmicks and stage settings or any other extra paraphernalia that distracts the actual art form.

For example our Ramanatakam (Ramayana) production in 1974, as an experimental theatre without scene settings, stage props, characteristic costumes and make-up and using a simple lighting system available at that time was unexpectedly a huge success. We were able to present it successfully in the rural areas repeatedly and were remunerated well and adequately by those simple cultural organisations. Productions like Ramanatakam, Sanghamitra, Radha Madhavam, Aikyabhaaratam etc were huge successes abroad and invited to present repeatedly year after year. In fact, we were commissioned to reproduce them using local artistes funded by Art councils supported by local governments. It was a revelation that good angikaabhinaya (bodily expressions) could penetrate the hearts of people looking for spiritual elevation through naatya, and not mere exciting entertainment.

Today's artistes and the audience say the times have changed and we have to move with the time and technology compromising on certain values attached to classicism. That which touches the hearts is supposed to be ART, does that happen in a technological embellishment pushing naatya elements to backstage, technology taking over the front stage. Use of psychedelic lights, LCD projections, strobe lights, smoke etc, really take away the beauty of actual 'aangikaabhinaya' and sensitive facial expressions.

Now coming to the advanced audio technology, the audio inputs using advanced technology often compromise on the sanctity, serenity, and sensitivity of musical compositions. The advantage of using electronic western instruments for cinematic effects for a naatya production often becomes destructive rather than supportive.

True connoisseurs prefer live orchestra to a recorded music for a naatya presentation. The recorded music also restricts the freedom of a performer to improvise on stage, thus curbing the imaginative nature of a true creative artiste. I have felt that subconsciously, the performer is often distracted by the loud music coming from the speakers thinking of where he or she may miss a beat or words. The practical problems facing the professional performing artistes are that the ever busy accompanying musicians are not available for rehearsals especially for group productions which need weeks and months of long practice and rehearsals. So they have to resort to the technological support of recorded music.

I am not against any application of technology, but a judicious application and using it to enhance the visual pleasure of viewers either in an auditorium or open space is welcome. It will encourage more viewership if the cultural organisations could employ the technique of enlarging the stage performance larger than life size enabling the entire audience till the last row by keeping large size screens on both sides of the auditorium by projecting the performance happening on the stage. Cinemas are more engaging because of its larger than life size projection and viewers could closely watch the expressions minutely and enjoy the detailed actions. This may be another way of attracting more crowds for naatya performances.

The financial burden of providing such technological facilities should not fall on the artistes who are inadequately remunerated by cultural organisations. At least the professionals should be remunerated well and in addition to providing good technological support.

Suffice it to say my appeal to young aspirants of professional naatya practitioners is, not to fall prey to technological gimmicks to project oneself compromising on their technical virtuosity as an accomplished performer.

V.P. Dhananjayan
Naatyaachaarya V.P. Dhananjayan is the Founder/President of Bharata Kalanjali in Chennai.

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