Responses from the audience and Narthaki readers to
Boo Hoo Bruno!
... and the politics of whining

March 9, 2008
From Lalita Seetharam

Eighth graders taking refuge in the toilets...artists claiming they looked better on the stage. In this unnecessary diatribe over 'he said-she said,' Preeti Vasudevan herself is forgotten.

Preeti is an artist par excellence who dives deep into herself to search for and seek perfection. I have seen this refreshing theme in her Bharatanatyam solo programs as well as her much acclaimed roles in Bharata Kalanjali group productions as Seeta in Ramanatakam and a narrator in Mahaabharatham and Thyagaraja Vaibhavam. She is one of the few artists who truly pushes herself to explore the movement behind the presentation - dance, after all, is movement in time and space and is ever evolving, leading to new interpretation within the medium of the human body.

I was not present to watch the premier of The Absent Lover. However, I have seen Preeti's solo and group contemporary works, such as Strings Unattached and Waiting for the Fifth Arrow. I can see how well she has adapted herself to contemporary dance - which is contemporary in the truest sense (without fusing blatantly noticeable Bharatanatyam movement - which I feel many do - and label as 'contemporary' into an otherwise orthodox presentation)...the clean lines, smooth movements and subtle expressions makes her dance stand on its own and set it apart from an otherwise mundane repertoire of today, devoid of any importance and attention to detail.

It may well be true that the artists could not connect with the audience. Bruno himself noticed it, otherwise this discussion would not have been posed in the first place. The beauty about human beings is that we are dynamic. I am sure Preeti and Bruno, being two intelligent people, will make appropriate changes in the production to make the same presentation more adaptive to the audience. In this crossfire, Preeti, the artist, is undermined. Life is not just about Thorns...it is about Roses too!

March 7, 2008
From Meena Prakash

I am the mother of a class 8 student from Lady Andal School. My daughter's class was taken to the show 'The Absent Lover' by her school at 2 pm on 5th February. All she and her friends could do in the evening was calling each other and giggle. On enquiry, I found they were talking about who was sleeping and who went how many times to the toilet and mentioning something from the show. I spoke to their teacher about it later. She said it was a show clearly not for children and that there was nothing in the show that the children could relate to. I spoke to a friend of mine who had attended the public show of 'The Absent Lover.' She was clearly angry. She said there was nothing to hold the audience attention though the production qualities of lighting and stage decor was good. I read the article in the Hindu by Mr.Bruno Kavanagh and asked my daughter and her friends to read it. They said if there was no audience response to the show it was the show's fault and not the audience's. As someone who has learnt Bharatanatyam for years, I log on to narthaki.com regularly out of nostalgia to keep myself in the loop with the dance world. I have had fun reading Anita Ratnam's, Ranvir Shah's and Bruno Kavanagh's postings. Mr.Kavanagh does not have a case at all. He is the one who brought up his wife's show in the article in the Hindu. It was because he "sensed a certain lack of enthusiasm" to Preeti Vasudevan's show that he wrote the article. He has to take the entire blame for dragging his wife and her show into the argument and not Ratnam and Shah.

March 4, 2008
From Madhu Krishna

In support of Chennai

I watched "The Absent Lover - A journey in search of love," a contemporary dance theatre production presented by Thresh. Then came to read an article in The Hindu - Friday Review ('In defence of the difficult,' February 15) by Bruno Kavanagh and one of the reactions to that article ('In defence of Chennai'). I have no doubt over the quality of 'The Absent Lover.' For me it's a great show of some exciting lighting effects, music, costumes and spectacular movements. After that show as Bruno Kavanagh sensed, I too felt a certain lack of enthusiasm among the audience. He has every right to express his disappointment on it. Whatever be the reasons, I am not in a position to defend it. I feel sorry for it and at least want to give some moral support for his future intentions in that direction. It was a show of abstraction. It remained purely symbolic, still it's not that difficult to understand because of its wonderful visuals.

It is not all about contemporary dance but has a level of theatre in it, which we need to notice. It is a physical text, a genre of dramatic literature that depends on written transcriptions of physical actions/gestures to construct the theme. Because the storyline is picked from the exotic Indian cultural past, there is no such rule that it should be presented only in such a way what we traditionally do. Instead, we should show an openness to assimilate, encourage and engage with these works.

I could see a lack of active participation from the viewers because of some prejudiced mindset about dance on Indian cultural past. It is a one-way deal because if audiences are not ready to participate, then it will be difficult to change the audience. Thing is, one needs to search for the right audience with a younger mindset.

March 3, 2008
From Ananda Shankar Jayant

Dear Anita,
It is with deep sense of shock that I read the article lambasting the Chennai audience by Bruno.

I have been performing in Chennai for a long time now and have brought different kinds of work to Chennai over the years. As early as 1992/93, I was invited by Mrs YG Parthasarathy to present my work Jonathan Livingston Seagull in Chennai. Set to Jazz music and English narration and dressed in leotards and skirts, I came thinking I would be mauled by a traditional audience. However, I was received with a standing ovation, and got reams of fantastic reviews from none less than Sri KS Mahadevan. Even today Mrs Parthasarathy talks about it.

Some years later I brought What About Me on gender, where Sita actually questions Rama. Again the response was fantastic. Two
years ago too, Dancing Tales... Panchatantra, had a dream audience and response.

What does this say? I personally have found the Chennai audience one of the most 'open' audiences, always willing to see a new
point of view, a new aesthetic. Otherwise how could The Other festival continue to draw the crowds it does over the last decade?

Blaming the audience for a poor response is to me - looking at the wrong reason for the failure of a programme. A case of 'Naach na
jana Angan teda?!'

The aim of all art is communication and if we as artists fail in that primary construct of art, then we need to look inward and find
reasons for that failure rather than blame the audience, for not understanding.

Kudos to the Chennai audience for being honest.

February 27, 2008
From Sumana Srinivasan

Dear Ms. Anita,
I read with amusement the views, reviews and counter views in Roses and Thorns section of your web site. I did not witness the performance under consideration but gleaned from the write-up that it was an "abstract" version of Kalidasa's Vikramorvasheeyam.

Well, the debate is all about why not appreciate dance without delving into the meaning? Since this show is loosely based on Kalidasa, I would like to quote Kalidasa in the beginning of Raghuvamasam or Kumarasambhavam

"Vaagarthaaviva samprukthou vaagartha prathipatthaye
jagathah pitarou vandey Parvati Parameshwarow"

where he says that word and meaning are inseparable as Parvati and Parameshwara, form and its purpose, perhaps?? One can only stare at a kolam and appreciate symmetry say for a maximum of 10 minutes but beyond that the mind drifts. I know that the art cannot stoop down to the level of the audience but rather should try to lift them up. But if art cannot hold on to the audience in the first place, how can it lift it up?

February 22, 2008
From Sangeeta

Dear Ms. Anita,
"For your information, Chennai audiences are not just polite but also knowledgeable and caring. They come to performances to watch and perhaps learn and be moved. They are not distracted society birds flitting from one engagement to another.

What works in Europe or the US does not necessarily need to work in India."-
I agree with these statements of yours totally. I thought even the Indians living in the West have different tastes that artists did take into consideration. For eg the Swathisoft DVD's target the audience from the West, isn't it? I may be wrong. I have no complaints against these DVDs. It's just that the perfect straight lines and geometry and simple structure are more a feast to the western/westernized eye.

Thanks for providing the links to Hindu

"Images that are too easily recognisable create mental barriers to the magical process of accessing this Sublime mode"- I thought the corollary was true. This is in fact a contradiction to the Sanathana Dharma that is a part of our India, don't you think.? We even aim at reaching the Supreme One through simple idols and symbols, don't we?

"But it's a difficult piece. It is not designed to be easy to understand (although neither is it, I hope, deliberately obscure)" I don't even want to know what that means...

By the way Rupa Srikanath seems to have loved the show:)

Your writing may cause a stir, for sure...
I just wish I was there to watch it. (I mean Preeti's show)