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Extensions to tradition: Radhika Shurajit on convening the seminar
- Lalitha Venkat, Chennai
e-mail: lalvenkat@yahoo.com
Photos: Avinash Pascricha


December 29, 2004
NATYA DARSHAN IV - a seminar on dance titled 'Extensions to Tradition', was organized by Kartik Fine Arts and convened by Bharatanatyam dancer Radhika Shurajit. The seminar took place on December 18, 19 & 20, 2004 at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Chennai.

As part of the festival, Radhika, her sister Shobana Bhalchandra and group presented a traditional Bharatanatyam recital Nrithya Maadhuri on Dec 18th. They are senior students of the Dhananjayans. The Nrityopahaaram danced to 'aadum mayil...' was a novel item where the interaction is like an animated dialogue between two friends, based on a pun format. What one can call a qawwali with a south Indian flavor.
Radhika Shurajit
Shobana Bhalchandra
Seminars on music and dance conducted by the various sabhas, have become a permanent feature of the December season, with some taking place at the same time. In such a situation, what was the outcome of the Natya Darshan seminar? Radhika talks to us about it.

Choice of subject
The choice of 'Extension to tradition' as the topic had been going on in my mind. Mere outburst of innovative ideas, or creative thinking, or sometimes, things done only for the purpose of being different…can they be termed as extensions?

Tradition is a flowing river and there will be lots of inputs. Extension is but a small stream joining the river of tradition. So, there's a question of whether this extension is good or bad, but only time can tell. Art evolves continuously. For example, we now have advanced light plans, dynamic costume designs and various types of music to dance to. Mere changes that happen with time…can they be accepted as an extension?

I arrived at the conclusion that extensions can be done only by artistes with a thorough knowledge of the tradition, and who are thorough in their own tradition. They should also have a feel for, and relate to new things with a new perspective, possess vision and sensitivity.

Choice of speakers
All the speakers at the seminar have a very sound knowledge of their tradition, and they have made a name for themselves in their area of tradition. They have also proved their ability to relate to new ideas. That does not necessarily mean doing something new out of the blue. Keeping an old form alive can also be considered an extension of tradition. Dancer Swapnasundari has worked to revive the Devadasi art of Vilasini Natyam. She has codified and given structure to it.

Among the younger speakers, Sangeeta Isvaran spoke on her work with sex workers and Aids victims, Indira Kadambi spoke about humor in dance, Nirupama and Rajendra spoke about structuring dance and lights etc. These young artistes have already proved themselves. They got an opportunity to talk about their work, share ideas with their seniors like Saroja Vaidyanathan and interact with them.

Audience response
It has been very good, despite our seminar overlapping with the Natya Kala Conference. We are very clear about this not happening next year. We have to work around the availability of the hall. We prefer to conduct our seminar and related performances in the vicinity of Mylapore because most of our audience is located at accessible distance from there.

The seminar got wonderful coverage in The Hindu and also in the Tamil journal Ananda Vikatan. That is because we presented 4 or 5 speakers in a session. Each speaker gave a crisp presentation and there being variety in information, it held the attention of the audience. Moreover, instead of the content going over the head, those present could sit and relax, and enjoy the wealth of information that was easy to understand, even by a lay person.

Focus on type of audience
We wanted to focus on attracting the general public, as well as a younger audience to such programs - not just relatives and families of the speakers or performers. The response has been beyond expectations.

This focus on young talent with today's sensibilities reached a lot of people. They made an impact on their own.

The final outcome
The Open House on the concluding day focused on 'Dwindling audience for Dance - Reasons and Remedies.' It was moderated by Chitra Visweswaran. The speakers were Leela Sekhar (International Dance Alliance), Lata Krishnaswami (dance media), Rajkumar (cinematographer), Srinivasan (Indian Express), Janaki (Sruti magazine) and Delhi Krishnamoorthy (Bharatanatyam dance guru).

The emphasis is not on a hall packed with audience, like for an arangetram, where classmates, family and friends fill up the hall. Even if a program is free, people would rather spend Rs.50 and go for a film rather than attend a dance performance. We have to take dance to the common man, who is not directly connected to a dance production. We must propel him to attend the shows.

We have to work on aesthetics in presentation. We need better facilities in the performance space, invoke art appreciation at student level and invite positive art criticism. These are the issues we will be addressing next year.

So, the seminar was a success
Yes, a great success, because it appealed to dance rasikas, media and youngsters alike. It threw up a lot of questions and was mutually beneficial to younger and older dancers. Actually Gurus Sudharani Raghupathy and Chitra Visweswaran who had convened last year's Natya Darshan seminar were invited to convene this year too. But they felt a younger dancer should be the convener for this year's seminar as the focus was on youngsters. So, their role was in an advisory capacity.

I am happy to inform you that I have been invited to convene Natya Darshan 2005 also.


Contact:
Radhika Shurajit
“Thrayee School of Bharatanatyam”
Plot # 2, Jayaram Avenue
Shastri Nagar, Chennai 600020
Ph: (91 - 44) - 24911544
e-mail: RadhikaShurajit@yahoo.com