USING PRE - RECORDED MUSIC FOR DANCE AND CHOREOGRAPHY
by G Narendra, Chennai
e-mail: shikhara@yahoo.com

Dancer, teacher and choreographer G Narendra presented this paper for his lec/dem for Natyarangam on July 21, 2002 in Chennai.
Jul 2002

The subject I have chosen is “Using Pre-Recorded Music for Dance and Choreography”, WHY? And HOW? What I mean by this is, using music on tape, CD or the spool. This need not necessarily mean music off the shelf. It could be music specifically composed for a particular work.

WHY should we use pre-recorded music? I truly believe in necessity being the mother of invention. All the dancers know how difficult and tiring it has become to work with the live orchestra. I don't squarely blame them or hold them responsible in this regard. But the fact remains that almost all the dancers, whether they accept it openly or not, are tired of working with the live orchestra. Since we cannot change this system, the only thing we can do is find a solution. For example my back and shoulder have been injured many times, I work around it and try not to hurt myself further. Likewise, the problem we face with the live orchestra has to be worked around by being creative and adapting to pre-recorded music.

Nobody is indispensable - both the dancers and the musicians need to understand this. The problem originates from the time we get a program. Getting hold of accompanying artists amidst their busy schedule and getting them to come for a couple of rehearsals have become next to impossible. Dealing with their varying temperaments and attitudes has become painful. We dancers also have to pay their exorbitant rates in spite of not being well compensated. When we ourselves don't get a penny, how are we expected to pay these unreasonable rates? Finally after all this, we do not know what the end result on stage is going to be like! These issues made me wonder as to why we need to go through all of this. Hence the idea of using pre-recorded music evolved.

The advantage of using pre-recorded music is that it does not restrict our rehearsals to just a few. We can have, as many as we think are necessary. We do not have to deal with varying attitudes and quality of music. Every musician has his or her good and bad days. At times even the sound system (microphone) is very poor. We can include as many musicians and instruments (meaning the variety) which may not be possible with a live orchestra.

Talking about mental barriers, I was myself initially very apprehensive about using pre - recorded music. The eye - opener was Jungle Book, which we performed in ‘96 in collaboration with the Ohio Ballet Company and the CCA. Being a part of this made me realize that for a theme like Jungle Book, the Carnatic music that we are used to, is unsuitable. The music for Jungle Book was a fusion of many varieties. This would not have been possible with a live orchestra. Two years back, when I was talking to Mr. V.S. Narasimhan, the great violin maestro of the film industry, yet again it was a mind opener. We have to appreciate all forms of dance and music. During the process of choreographing the Living Tree, I realized that if I had stuck to my conservative ideas of using only Carnatic music and live musicians, I wouldn't have been able to go too far. Since I think dance is a universal language, we might as well use universal music!

The disadvantage of using pre - recorded music arises only when we are staging a Bharatanatyam recital. If the feeling and emotions of both the dancer and the musician come together, the Rasa will be profound. If the “Manodharma” of the dancer is in sync with that of the musician or vice versa, the performance becomes an overwhelming experience. In order to achieve this, working together with the orchestra is of utmost importance. Unfortunately this rarely happens these days. If I may say so, it almost never happens these days. At this juncture, the disadvantages of using the live orchestra seem to precede the advantages. Looking at both the pros and cons, I foresee more of pre-recorded music being used in future.

As far as doing a Bharatanatyam program with pre - recorded music is concerned, the journey has begun long back. I have seen many programs being conducted in this fashion. (Maybe for the similar reasons I just mentioned). I think it is time to encourage these kinds of performances.

Regarding HOW? I would like to elaborate on how I have used pre - recorded music for dance. I don't want to get into what choreography is, simply because it is a vast subject and none of us can actually come to any specific conclusion. “I” did not create the adavus or the hand gestures. Everyone uses the adavus and hastas that are already there. It is probably how, where and why you incorporate it. I strongly believe in understanding what I intend to choreograph and I also try to make my audience understand the same. I know that there are a couple of contemporary choreographers who don't believe in this. In the Natya Kala Conference 2001, one of the participants said that she did not quite believe in getting across to the audience or relating to them! We must take our audience into confidence. We are sure to lose our audience someday if we do not get them to relate to us. The work I am going to present to you this evening is “Moods and Movements” Although I am a Bharatanatyam trained dancer, I do not like to name or brand all my work as ‘Bharatanatyam'.

Speaking about the music composition for a new work. Typically we would want to have the music ready and choreograph the dance for the same. In the production, The Jungle Book, the dance was done before the music. Likewise in the Living Tree, the dance was choreographed first and the music followed. Some parts of Living Tree, like that of the sister-in-law's entry, was scored ahead of the dance. At times, the choreography and the music composition were also taking place simultaneously.

Choreography can be either literal or abstract. Most of our Bharatanatyam choreography is literal. Bharatanatyam by itself is very literal and narrative. My association with the western choreographers and dancers has made me realize that they don't really appreciate “this” aspect of our dance .To get them interested, we have got to be creative and let them appreciate the nuances of abstract, yet meaningful dance. This will also help our audience to be a little more imaginative and welcome new ideas.

When I talk about choreography, I believe that there is a need to understand the theme, purpose, concept and the philosophy. It is only after this that we can decide as to what kind of music to use and what type of instruments to include. Most so - called Bharatanatyam dancers have a mind block or a kind of narrow mindedness when it comes to a new project venture. The reason why I mention this is that we produced the Living Tree in which the idea was to make people to understand the need to ‘nurture' Nature. The story is set in a village and the choreography is modified to suit the same. One of the criticisms from a senior Bharatanatyam exponent was that it was very folkish! Now my question is, when you take up a theme which is based on a rustic folklore, would it be nice to do intricate tri kala jathis set to various nadais or probably do a couple of astapathis, padams and thillanas?! Of course I am being sarcastic. The choreography should involve the place, time and the mood. We must be able to convey the message, by being creative.

At times I wonder as to why does it have to be so complicated when we present a new work. As it is, only a trained eye can appreciate Bharatanatyam, so why make it difficult for the audience? Some of our dancers are of the opinion that our dance is extremely sophisticated and should therefore remain the same. Irrespective of what dance it is, be it folk, classical, contemporary, modern, film - the common factor is still “dance”. It is only the place and the occasion that varies. At times we tend to get way too critical or negative about other art forms. Why do we think that our dance is superior when compared to other forms?

When we were asked to perform for Anu and Satyajith's wedding, they wanted me to choreograph for a song from the movie Lagaan. As usual I was hesitant but I took up the challenge. I know that a lot of people have a problem with “film music”. I personally do not have a problem with it but I will definitely not present it in a sabha kutcheri! At the same time we must accept that there is nothing wrong in dancing for music that is appealing. In fact, in one of our programs, everybody (without age barrier) wanted to dance with us. Many people say that they are “classical dancers” and that they don't dance for film music. As far as I am concerned I do not find anything wrong in doing so and the dancers love it!

I have choreographed a piece on Yanni's music specifically for this lecture demonstration. I have long wanted to dance for Yanni's music. The very first time I heard it was about 8 years back. I decided then, that I would choreograph and perform the same. In future, I will be using more dancers and I plan to have effective costuming and lighting done, so I will be able to present this on a bigger stage. (Provided we get a sponsor!). Putting together the different items to demonstrate the possibilities to the audience has been an extremely gratifying and enjoyable experience.

G Narendra and his group of dancers presented excerpts from Jungle Book, Living Tree as well as items choreographed to different types of recorded music like Yanni, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi's Hindustani music and film music from Lagaan.