Dance of the season: A different take
Compiled by Lalitha Venkat

January 16, 2011


During the annual season of Margazhi, this city is the centre of the dance universe. At least that is what I was told years ago when I made my debut during the season as a nervous teenager. Today I look at the hungry and empty eyes of so many dancers who have talent, skill and looks in their arsenal but not the vitamin that is most needed to leave the stage wings behind. Vitamin M for Money. With that vitamin, talent is secondary and the mighty heft of the 'daalar dancer' fills the season calendar…….
The time to act is now before many wonderful young dancers resign themselves to full time teaching and conducting meaningless 'workshops' overseas to untalented but wealthy patrons in order to survive. Already many classical dancers can be found dancing in five star hotels to a film song just to pay their rent. The senior dancers are ageing, the audience is graying and the young are not interested in dance as a profession. In this state of crisis, we may have genuinely good dancers waiting and withering in the wings.
- Anita Ratnam
('Waiting in the wings' in The Hindu, Dec 14, 2010)


The critics are the communicators, for these are the persons who take our work to the larger group of rasikas. There will be much to learn for them.
- Shanta Dhananjayan
('Diverse styles' by Vidya Saranyan in The Hindu, Dec 24, 2010)


Having my roots firmly connected to traditional Bharatanatyam and Carnatic music - if I can call them twin arts - I am truly inspired to delve deeper into it. I am a strict follower of the legendary Tanjore Quartet who gave us and the world of fine arts, the precious artistic heritage of Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam. They became the embodiment of bhava, raga and tala and their musical excellence and apt lyrics were ideally suited for dance. I feel my dance is elevated with soulful music and lyrics. Bharatanatyam is a complete art form and Carnatic music adds to its totality.
- Vyjayanthimala Bali
('Notes of nostalgia' in The Hindu, Dec 17, 2010)


There is a surfeit of talent in the Bhaarateeya living abroad and it is our responsibility to recognize those talents. But all display of talents do not become an art or all talented people are not artistes. A talent that touches the hearts of onlookers can only be considered an art and therefore a true successful artiste has an added dimension in the display of their talent.
- VP Dhananjayan
(At Hamsadhwani NRI festival inauguration)


I have learnt Bharatanatyam for 18 years from Vazhuvoor Samraj. I feel it is good to learn two styles because one will complement the other. For me, the bauhinia I learnt in Mohiniattam helped in Bharatanatyam. And similarly, the strong foundation I had in Bharatanatyam helped in enhancing my technique in Mohiniattam.
- Gopika Varma
('Dance with me' by Madhumitha Srinivasan in The Hindu, Dec 8, 2010)


To a novice performer, an empty hall is both depressing and relieving, in equal measure! On the one hand, he wonders whether he came all the way to sing to the walls, but on the other, he can tell his peers back home that he has participated in 'the' Festival; without anyone to intimidate him, barring perhaps a forlorn music critic somewhere, noting away!
In dance recitals, the need to synchronise the voice, cymbals, mridangam and other instruments of the orchestra with the dancer's intricate footwork and regimentation is of paramount importance. Confined within this straitjacket, where can the dancer find room for extemporaneous creativity? That some dancers do indeed achieve this does them credit.
- PS Krishnamurthi
('Margazhi, music and magic...' in The Hindu, Dec 1, 2010)


As in classical music, the singer aligns the musical notes to the sruti of the tambura, in my vision of dance, I feel the dancer-artist must align the dynamics of body movement to both space and time, silence and sound. In doing so, she generates an energy field of sustained harmony and aesthetics in the space around her. I think for a classical dance choreographer, the aesthetics of form is a profound question. At one level, it is grammar, technique, and interpretation of the style and at another, it is the quality of dance energy that fills the body's membrane. Therefore, one is constantly and simultaneously working at the physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual levels. For the dancer, her body is her medium. In the performing arts the body is the site. The dancer's body therefore becomes the site invested with heritage - sacred and transient.
- Malavika Sarukkai
('Dance and transcendence' in The Hindu, Dec 20, 2010)


The sheer variety in the repertoire of Bharatanatyam is breathtaking, incomparable. But I feel Bharatanatyam can do even more. When I depict a heroine who cheats on her husband, there are people who tell me that I shouldn't be doing that, but I continue doing that, because life is like that.
- Priyadarsini Govind
('A consummate artiste' by PK Ajithkumar in The Hindu, Dec 24, 2010)


I can think of no happier way to foster discernment, good taste and sensitivity in the young than to consistently expose them to great art. This process of cultural and creative enrichment is vital, particularly in our age of info-technology and easy communication, when the internet and television offer all-too-easy access to limitless information, not to mention, a plethora of entertainment choices, much of which is mediocre, trite and often vulgar. It is difficult in these circumstances, for the young to glean wheat from the chaff, to look beyond mere packaging to the content, to gauge the intrinsic merit of a work of art.
- Alarmel Valli
(In 'No time to stand and stare,' The Hindu, Dec 28, 2010)


Now, music and dance have become largely sabha-oriented. That's why I want to take dance to temples. It is wrong on our part to think that a common man can't appreciate dance. If I can't convince the common man of my own art form, who else will do it then?
The movie people want excitement, vulgar dance movements, but that's going to be short-lived. Such films run only for four or five weeks but some of the older movies still linger in our minds. I have trust in this generation preserving aesthetic art.
- Padma Subrahmanyam
('Classical dance will last forever' by Sudha Jagannathan, Deccan Chronicle, Dec 30, 2010)


If we could adopt better standards in our festival season, it would, without doubt, be the most formidable in the world. The solution, I believe, lies in the simple phrase, 'less is more.' Unfortunately, the neglect of 'less is more' has trickled down to the quality of the audience. Attention spans have gotten shorter (I see it in myself too!). Thanks to the 'kutcheri-hopping' phenomenon, members of the audience can rarely sit through a whole performance as there are millions of other things going on at the same time. The season is no doubt exciting, a buzz in the air, lots to do and see (and eat!). I love the opportunity it gives me to see and hear so much, and as a dancer - to work on and share new work from the margam repertoire. But it is the casualness in professionalism and aesthetics of presentation that really need to shape up.
Performing artists need to be compensated properly. It is virtually impossible in the season that a dancer would be compensated enough to cover his/her costs. The orchestra is paid its fee no matter what (in some cases even the sabhas are paid!), but for the dancer to receive a performance fee is the least of all concerns. Organisers seem to believe that because we do it out of the sheer love for the art, it ceases to be a profession. How can artists be expected to survive? There is a reality to our profession - our love won't pay for our expenses. And if the organisers don't understand or respect our time and work, it is most disconcerting.
- Mythili Prakash
('A dancer's peek into performance spaces' in The Hindu, Dec 30, 2010)


It is not enough for artists alone to have a vision. We need artistically oriented organisers who can make up a core team to evolve a magnificent festival that can encompass all our arts and spread its wings to reach out to cities and towns all over the State. Professional arts management is something that has not been understood in India. Artistic direction is a nurturing factor that has made artists, then in the West and now even in countries of the far East feel that their work is getting the right support.
Millions are spent when a sports event is hosted by a city. Do we get even decent roads for our little festival here? There seems to be a distinct divide between government-supported arts festivals and privately sponsored ones. Cannot the two come together and plan the two or three month-long events properly and publicise it with thoughtful care?
- Lakshmi Viswanathan
('The contours of a dream festival' in The Hindu, Jan 1, 2011)


If you want to dance, you have to adjust. …In a city where even an inch of space is not available, it is impossible to provide facilities of the nature they (the dancers) now demand. In future, the changes could be made if proper funds are available. But for now, difficulties are there, but there is no alternative. You cannot get all the benefits you want.
- R Krishnaswami
('The dancer's elusive quest for amenities' by Sruthi Krishnan, The Hindu, Jan 2, 2011)


World-class amenities may be problematic to provide, but unless the so-called patrons and presenters of dance (Sabhas in Chennai definitely being looked upon to as both) work with dancers to find out how to improve amenities and facilities given circumstances we work under - we are really not going to get anywhere. Sabhas are not doing artists a favour by presenting us. Sabhas exist to serve the arts, and so do the artistes. The arts are NOT being served by refusing to identify problem areas and being open to improvement in every area of the arts - and that includes presentation.
- Vikram Iyengar
(On Jan 2, in response to the article by Sruthi Krishnan, The Hindu, Jan 2)


I have often wondered how Indian dancers can continue dancing on concrete floors, a condition which would send American dancers out on strike in a heartbeat - the damage to ankles, knees, and back is incalculable! These magnificent dancers who have become the iconic symbols of India's traditional culture deserve only the best, not this kind of patronizing brush-off.
- Christel Stevens
(On Jan 2, in response to the article by Sruthi Krishnan, The Hindu, Jan 2)


Dancers, let's face it: the Chennai December season is only for music. Dance is a far second, and unless programmes are curated better it is only going to get worse. Let us ask ourselves this one question: Do we really need to dance during the December season? Do senior dancers have to submit themselves to the ignominy of a 2pm slot? Do dancers need to dance on dusty stages with little lights and suffer this attitude at all? And why and to what avail? Is this really a world class festival that it is being made out to be? Or is it only a local festival, run by a few people, who are more into making money for their families, societies, sabhas etc at the cost of the classical arts? Is Chennai season the proverbial emperor's new clothes?
- Dr Ananda Shankar Jayant
(On Jan 3, in response to the article by Sruthi Krishnan, The Hindu, Jan 3, 2011)


How does the dancer focus and get tuned into the performance when he/she is constantly worried? Try sitting on the floor of the stage where the dust triggers your allergies immediately. Does this mean we have to adjust our choreography to not sit? Try using the dirty Indian style restroom after you are in full costume and have hydrated yourself to the hilt without getting your costume wet/dirty. Does this mean we should adjust and not hydrate? Try finding the tech person who shows up 15 minutes before the performance and disappears in the middle. Does this mean we adjust and just dance with whatever light/sound is on at that time irrespective of mood of piece without getting distracted? Try getting used to altered sound levels and insults hurled at accompanying musicians during the performance! Try talking to audience members who want to give you feedback and maintaining the euphoria and dignity after, when you're unceremoniously being shooed out of there to make way for the next star. These are just a few examples of adjustments we have to make. After years of work a dancer puts into the art culminating in the performance, is it too much to expect that organizations reciprocate with these minimum requirements to enable an above par performance? If we have to 'adjust', then the sabhas and audiences have to 'adjust' to mediocre output from dancers, and if everyone is adjusting, doesn't the quality of art as a whole suffer?
- Vidhya Subramanian
(On Jan 3, in response to the article by Sruthi Krishnan, The Hindu, Jan 3, 2011)


With all due respect to their age, if the secretaries cannot 'see' the appalling facilities, cannot 'hear' the genuine complaints and cannot even 'acknowledge' the problem exsits in spite of so much feedback (like the three markatas -- see no 'evil', hear no 'evil' and talk no 'evil') and have no energy whatsoever to rectify it, they have no business occupying the seat. Either they fix it or they should retire and let youngsters who have the 'vision', can 'listen' and also 'act' take over. It is heartening to see the dancers come out and speak but let us hope the next season brings in a change.
- Sumana
(On Jan 8, in response to the article by Sruthi Krishnan, The Hindu, Jan 3, 2011)


If we seniors have 'managed' and 'adjusted' for all these years, it is totally unfair to expect the next generation to continue this scenario of filth and rank laziness. How can we call this an international festival if we do not take pride in every aspect of the arrangements? In the present cacophony of money and mediocrity, the apathy towards dance and dancers is only getting worse.
- Anita Ratnam
(On Jan 8, in response to the article by Sruthi Krishnan, The Hindu, Jan 3, 2011)


I have just been performing in Chennai at two venues, The Music Academy and the Andal Auditorium. Though the facilities were far from satisfactory (none of the green rooms had lights for makeup, only gaping light holders) I was actually surprised at the improvement. At least in these two there was water in the loo and the loo was clean. NO frills mind you. It was with a sense of desperation at the lack of caring attitude towards artists that in 1994 we built Natarani, our state of the art amphi theater in Darpana, Ahmedabad. Our brief to the architect was made up of two lists - all that we hated in theaters ( public toilets next to the green rooms, no private toilets, dirt, lack of clear mirrors, long passages to get to the stage etc); and everything we yearned for. As a result we have a theater that all artists love. An artist spends about four times as long in a theater as compared to the audience. Yet with typical charateristics, it is the 'show' part that counts, i.e. what the foyer looks like, what facilities and plush chairs are there for the audience. The nightmare at the back is not even considered by the architect. Recently two civic halls in Ahmedabad have been redone at over Rs 2 crores each. The backstage areas remain untouched as does the stage.
- Mallika Sarabhai
(On Jan 12, in response to the article by Sruthi Krishnan, The Hindu, Jan 3, 2011)


When I was at my peak, exclusive dance festivals sponsored by individual corporate houses and corporate events featuring classical Indian dance were fairly frequent. No compromise was called for. But today, corporate events are quite another cup of tea. With high overheads, classical Indian dance has always been a more expensive art form to pursue than music. Yet, ironically, dancers have always received lower pay/fees.
- Chitra Visweswaran
('From passion to profession' by Meera Srinivasan, The Hindu, Jan 4, 2011)


Musicians and dancers repeat the same numbers, artists keep painting the same images, and media also focuses on the same set of stars. How then do young talented artists get recognition? It is a fact that success brings with it public adulation. But it is the responsibility of the media and the promoters to nurture young talent who will become stars in the future. It would be a wonderful idea to follow the path set by a leading daily which came up with the idea of having a citizens' review -a renaissance of sorts.
It brought in a series of good critics with balance, who could be free and fair with their judgement. It also brings forth a different point of view from the set of critics who rule the roost. This response will help by way of getting an honest feedback about the performance of an artist.
- V V Ramanee
('Critiquing critics' in The New Indian Express, Jan 6, 2011)