competitions of Natyarangam in Chennai
- Uma Balasubramaniam,
June 22, 2008
the announcement published in Kutcheribuzz stating that the number of participants
in each category would be limited to 20, in reality there was no limit
in the Jatiswaram category. After the number of applications reached 42
in the varnam category, Natyarangam decided to cap the number of applications
on a "one student per guru" basis, which reduced the number of the eligible
candidates to 25, 4 of whom did not turn up. Perhaps, the democratic and
egalistic "one student per guru" basis implied that the "Best guru" type
awards are of no consideration.
Jatiswaram competition for children of 8 to 12 years
Ganga Thampi, Lavanya Ananth and Rupa Srikanth were introduced according
to their height: from the taller to the shorter, probably with a compromise
that the last one to be introduced will be the first one to announce the
winners. The first prize winner, S Nikita is indeed a good dancer. It was
not particularly surprising to hear that Rohini, a student of Anitha Guha,
got the second prize. According to another contestant, who studies in the
same PSBB school in KK Nagar, Rohini was the best one of the 4 dancers.
"Rohini is the best dancer in our dance school," was the comment
from another dancer, A J Subashree.
the first and the second prize winners were among the first 4 performers
out of 28. I remembered my mother always told me, "At any oral exam,
you should try to go in first: normally, you will have some advantage."
Rupa Srikanth praised the "surprisingly" high level of mastery of the contestants.
Perhaps, the judges were so impressed at the very beginning, that they
were marginally more favourable to the first few performers. To avoid such
surprises, Rupa Srikanth could ask the Friday Review's publishers to include
the reviews of the younger performers more often: the children deserve
it, and need it more than the senior dancers.
"All the participants
today deserve the first prize," announced Rupa Srikanth. The little girls'
ears drooped as they heard this politically correct but incredible statement.
Their eyes turned to their parents, begging for an explanation, probably
perplexed how on earth Nikita and Rohini could be overall better than A
J Subashree, Mridula, Ratna Ramesh, K V Shivatmika, or Vinisha Karthiravan.
When I asked a few of them if they would agree with the judges' decision,
these outrageously candid little girls were unanimous: NO. Their eyes
were very sad. I felt a bit uneasy and thought that, instead of advertising
their workshops, Natyarangam could instead have provided a feedback session
where the judges would explain to the contestants their marks and point
out the dancers' strengths and weaknesses. That is, if the judges made
any notes. Otherwise, when the participants are not convinced by the
authoritative judges' verdict, what is the value of such authoritativeness
from the contestants' point of view?
too young to understand the nuances of the technique and assess their performance
objectively," said a Natyarangam's committee member. "Well, they
are old enough to understand who dances better and who dances worse,"
objected another spectator. Indeed, while some of the contestants made
the crowd turn quiet, other contestants made their spectators turn their
heads away from the stage and indulge in light gossip. Why would that adult-looking
contestant eagerly take out her Handycam as soon as Mridula came onto the
stage? Why didn't she want to shoot B M Akshaya Lakshmi? Why did another
girl take out her mobile phone and was recording Subashree's performance
and was not particularly interested to watch K Vaishali?
I was wondering
if, next year, the Natyarangam's judges are going to be embarrassed in
the same way as at some incidents at Kerala Higher Secondary Youth Festivals
where 5-6 contestants, who had obtained the video of the previous year's
winner's item, had the impudence to perform this same item with the identical
choreography. In the absence of Natyarangam's archived videotaped records,
it would be impossible for a contestant to prove the copyright of the original
indeed had a very hard job selecting the top 2 contestants. While such
contestants as A J Subashree, Mridula, Ratna Ramesh, K V Shivatmika, Vinisha
Karthiravan, or perhaps even R Abhinaya and E Aishwarya Lakshmi were surely
not worse than the first two prize winners, there were others, such as
B M Akshaya, Y K Aishwarya or Shwetha Mahalakshmi, who were clearly far
behind the other contestants. Rupa Srikanth mentioned the names of Shafali
and R Ananditha as the ones who could have won the prizes too. While the
petite charismatic Shafali surely deserves it fully, Ananditha, like H
Shreya or Akshita, could only marginally be included in the first league.
Some of the
parents said they had an impression that the individual judges' marks are
to remain a big secret and would never be disclosed to the contestants.
Perhaps, they did not want to embarrass the judges asking to substantiate
their marks. Otherwise, the vague general statements do not always sound
very convincing. The judges were to divide the "Angasuddhi" criteria
into 2 sub-criteria: "General" and "Hands." Well, I had always thought
that angasuddhi included the overall co-ordination and synchronization
of the hands with the rest of the body. The judgment criteria included
a cryptic "Presentation & package" column, which seems to cover
the make-up, costume, choice and quality of the recorded music, complexity
and originality of choreography, and god knows what else. Another criteria
was "Grace." I assume it referred to Rekha. While many of the girls displayed
remarkably vivid, graceful, varied and genuine facial expressions at their
nrittas, yet it appears that abhinaya was not counted, leave alone such
time-proven criteria as Javaha or Drishti.
gives the winners an opportunity to perform in Narada Gana Sabha's mini
hall - as a talent promotion. But what is the value of such a promotion?
A disappointed parent said, "It is not a problem for 2 dancers to pay the
rent of the mini hall for 3 hours and give performances: the orchestra
fees are much higher than the rent, anyway. What matters to us is how many
people will come and watch these performances".
to perform is still considered as the key element in promoting young dancers.
However, if 90% of the (normally scanty) audience who come and watch such
performances include the dancer's relatives, friends, schoolmates, parents'
colleagues and neighbours, what is the promotional value of such an opportunity?
"You see, my 8-year-old daughter's Bharatanatyam video we uploaded on
the Internet a year ago has been receiving more than 5000 views a month,"
smiled one parent. "How does it compare with 50-strong audience at a
Natyarangam's program?" she asked. One of the top contestants' father,
when asked if they can imagine Natyarangam posting the video of the competition
on the Internet, commented, "It would be great! I am sure it would support
and re-assert the judges' authority too, as they were up to the mark today."
Varnam competition for children of 13 to 18 years
Jatiswaram competition gave the contestants 5 minutes, the Varnam offered
7. And the judges were Priya Murle, Manjari and Sujatha Srinivasan. The
contestants in this category too had no idea of what the judgment criteria
were here. Just as it was the case with the Jatiswaram competition, in
the Varnam category too, the winner was the first dancer who danced
far better than the few preceding dancers. It seems that it is not
only the level of the dancer's performance but the order of the contestants
that determines the winner. Few were watching Rahij Ramsharan's dance.
Next, you could see much higher standards in V Kripalakshmi's performance,
if it were not for her fixed smile and arms bending to 230 degrees when
there should have been 180. R Keertana was marginally less impressive,
and V Soundarya demonstrated that a girl doing nritta in a tandava style
and making a thousands of shortcuts may not look particularly impressive.
The next was R Reshma Krishnan's slot, where she demonstrated very good
nritta and overall danced somewhat better than the previous contestant.
was the winner: S Sahana. While her nritta was abundant, in rather simple,
straight lines, I bet she had rehearsed this fragment so well that every
move was chiseled and had a professional-looking finish, the moves were
absolutely crisp, and everything looked absolutely perfect, including her
abhinaya. She was a head above all the previous contestants. No wonder
she impressed the judges. Next was the second prize winner, Jai Quaheni.
Even though her nritta movements were very limited and quite simple, each
of these movements were very well polished. And, thanks to Uma Nambudiripad's
tuition, Jai Quaheni's abhinaya was powerful, profound, realistic and convincing.
Sudharma Vaidyanathan shared the first prize with S Sahana. Sudharma won
Natyarangam's last year's Jatiswaram, and has grown one year older. Despite
the fact that she underwent a surgery half a year ago, she was in excellent
shape and the way she performed was very similar to S Sahana's. Sudharma
had one big advantage: even though her nrittas and nrityas were not particularly
intricate, nevertheless the jathis that she started with, created by A
Lakshman, were composed in a very original way, and the audio, obviously
recorded at a studio, was very original too: an intricate combination for
solo passages for nattuvangam, mridangam, sollukattu - and the pauses that
caught the spectators' (and the judges') attention.
mentioned Swathi Ashok and Medha Hari as the contestants who could potentially
have won the prizes. In fact, Jai Quaheni and a few other contestants too
thought these two were going to win the prizes. So, why didn't they? Swathi
Ashok had the greatest stage presence and the most accentuated and powerful
movements among all the other participants. Swathi Ashok's guru, Urmila
Sathyanarayanan (the other contestants' gurus did not turn up),
was sitting in the last row and perhaps could not see well what the judges
noticed very clearly: that young Swathi's abhinaya was quite superficial,
quite artificial and rather unconvincing. The older Medha Hari's performance
displayed this shortcoming too, though it was not as obvious. Medha Hari's
jathis, for some unknown reason, did not include the ultra-fast and
complex nritta that helped her win the first prize at this year's Indian
Fine Arts competition. However, Medha's movements were clean and clearly
defined, while Swathi kept her feet too wide apart in araimandi and could
not do atami properly. Another possible runner-up was one of the youngest
participants, Harinie Jeevitha, who demonstrated a very original style
and the most intricate nrittas and nrityas that, perhaps, needed a larger
space than the meager 10 square metres of the mini hall. Her nritta movements
still need to be polished to gain some more finish and precision. Harinie's
abhinaya was a bit too strained and overdone. The 13-year-old Harinie did
not understand that she was dancing literally under the judges' noses,
hardly 2 metres away from them. The closer the spectator is to the dancer,
the greater impact the abhinaya will have.
was quite tough. S Akshaya's performance level was very marginally lower
than the runner-ups', followed by Nithya Subrahmaniam. Aparna Jayaram demonstrated
a yet lower level of proficiency, followed by Poornima Balasubramaniam,
Divya Sanpath (who brought the most horrible and noisy audio tape) and
Reshma Krishnan. Shravani Joshi, for some reasons, could not demonstrate
as high a standard as she did at last year's TTD competition. Her movements
were very constrained and looked quite weak. N Gayatri and S Ananthashree
were quite mediocre but not as bad as C Tara or the last competitor, who
made the tired judges eager to end up the event as soon as possible. Their
prayers were answered: neither Aishwarya Raghu, nor Divya Malayappam, nor
Nithya Ramasubramaniam, nor Sanath Kumar turned up.
revealed a winning recipe for the top contestants: to win a prize, (1)
Be one of the first 5-6 contestants and (2) make sure that, out of these
5-6, the others are the dancers who dance much worse than you do. The prize
is yours. There was indeed a very marginal difference between the
top 5-6 contestants in each category. It is the individual judge's weightage
of the various sub-criteria that determined the winners. This weightage
is not something that every judge is well aware of. For example, would
one dancer's perfect araimandi and mudras count more than another dancer's
agility and flexibility? What type and tradition of mukha abhinaya would
be considered more favourably? Would a wide-range, accurate atami weigh
more than the full-range, accurate footwork? Will the adavus performed
in one style be given more marks than the adavus performed in another style?
Indeed, would a particular judge consider the fully-lifted heels in Kudhitametti's
sixth step as more impressive (and how much more impressive?) than the
half-lifted heels? How will it be reflected in numbers? We don't know.
taken pains to print out a few awards for the dancers, such as "Special
award for abhinaya," "Special award for Nritta," etc., and for the gurus,
like "Special award for choreography," more of the young dancers would
receive what they need most: appreciation. It would be conducive to create
the atmosphere of trust and mutual respect. The gurus would not complain
that the judges' decision was politically motivated.
It was interesting
to observe that some of this year's 1st prize winners, such as Medha Hari
(1st prize at the Indian Fine Arts competition) or Harinie Jeevitha (1st
prize at the all-India level competition in Hyderabad) did not win any
prizes at Natyarangam's competition, even though Medha Hari, along with
Swathy Ashok, did receive a special mention by the judges. There are many
reasons behind it. One of these is that, as we know, every dancer has his
/her own favourite item or fragment that he / she performs the best, and
it is not necessarily a Jathiswaram or a Varnam. Will Natyarangam hold
a Thillana, a Kauthuvam and a Swarajathi competition next year? We don't
highlighted another reason: the children cannot do their best while dancing
to the recorded music. While the Indian Fine Arts competition or the Music
Academy's Spirit of Youth provides the dancers ample time, more space and
the support of a live orchestra to showcase a few different items that
gives the judges a chance to make a comprehensive assessment of
a particular contestant's full range of strengths and weaknesses,
a 5-minute fragment from a Jathiswaram or a 7 minute passage from a Varnam
in Narada Gana Sabha's tiny Mini Hall will not give the judges an opportunity
to make a well-founded decision. This is why the judges clearly stated,
"We are not judging how good a particular dancer is: we are judging
today's performances only." Will most of the dancers tend to interpret
it this way too in the absence of the judges' specific comments? This is
a big question.
Most of the
contestants left unconvinced by the judges' verdict. "I don't think
the judges are willing to explain and substantiate their assessment,"
said one participant. Had each of the judges spared 20-30 seconds to comment
on every contestant's performance immediately after it ended, this competition
would have not been considered as a waste of time by most of the participants.
The absence of such comments and clarifications does not enhance the judges'
authority - on the contrary. Unlike, for example, some Bharatanatyam competitions
at Kerala Higher Secondary Youth Festivals, Natyarangam's competitions
envisaged no place for an appeal, as no video records were made and kept
in Natyarangam's archives for internal purposes, allegedly, due to some
gurus' objections. Such objections, though, do not sound particularly valid
after a recent slew of TV broadcasts of full programs of full-length Bharatanatyam
recitals recorded at various festivals as well as in the TV channel's own
Thanks to Narada
Gana Sabha's reputation, the competition attracted many young talents from
Chennai's Bharatanatyam schools. It is a pity we saw only 50% of those
who applied for the Varnam competition. We don't know why such potentially
strong contestants as Anusha Narendran's Bhargavi, Shobana's S Anuroopitha
and Shivani Shandiliya, Vijay Madhavan's S Sri Gayathri, Roja Kannan's
S Sivasri, and many others apparently did not apply at all. Most gurus
keep ignoring Natyarangam's competition. Nevertheless many of the names
listed above will determine to a large extent what the Bharatanatyam landscape
will be in 10-20 year's time. Perhaps next year Natyarangam could
bring this competition to a higher standard, so that more participants
would give it more importance, and fewer of the registered competitors
would fail to turn up.