The Future of Bharatanatyam. Through the prism of Bharatnatyam’s great Past.

This post is related to The “Hereditary” ones…. And back to karanas! (also see this recent one – about the karanas and more)

This post was provoked by Aneal Krishnamurthy‘s “The future of Bharatanatyam: A rasika’s view” published in Sruti and re-posted on Narthaki. Aneal, an amateur rasika, has made us sit down and analyze the things in depth. We will comment on his and another angry NRI’s, Mukundagiri Sadagopan‘s letter too, as well as Alarmel Valli’s opinions.

We will compare the past of Bharatanatyam with its present, and make a guess of what is it going to be like in the future. There can be no way to predict the future without understanding the past and the present. To understand the developments, you should have a basic understanding of the 4 Yuga’s. Remember: Kali Yuga officially ended just 50 years ago. Most people have lost the sense of the sacred. Spirituality and religion are no longer relevant to people’s life.

Since the sacred music and the dance offerings prescribed by the Shastras, such as Agama Shastra, were recently conveniently replaced by the rice and sweets offerings, we can pretend to ignore that another prescribed offering, asana, started to be conveniently interpreted as “seating of the idol”. Curiously, the degraded Hindu pseudo priests, grown fat and ugly beyond all reasonable dimensions, managed to convince hundreds of millions of idiots that the changes in the Sodasa Upachara rituals were…. holy. As holy as the holy McDonnalds.

We could also refer to The Hindu’s article on this score :

To keep in tune with the changing times and to make Bharatanatyam more relevant to the contemporary audience, Natyarangam (the dance wing of Narada Gana Sabha) organises a dance festival every year on various social issues such as male chauvinism, eve teasing, dowry, corruption and politics.

It is not just agricultural themes that became spiritual. The poor Ramaa writes that immigration is, in fact, a deeply spiritual theme too, and the Statue of Liberty is the true American god that every Bharatanatyam dancer in Chennai has to offer a puja to – before taking a flight to New York in hopes to earn some not-so-spiritual hard currency:

My choreography Jwala-Flame about the struggles and discoveries of the immigrant experience and dedicated to the Statue of Liberty elicits that kind of deeply spiritual response from the audience every time we have performed it.

“Spiritual response”? What is it, darling? Ramaa explains:

It is not enough to simply present your work. You must also represent it both artistically and politically.

Politically??? Can’t find it in Natya Shastra!

The current situation is aggravated by the fact that 95% of the present-day “humans” are in the human bodies for the 1st time in their soul’s evolution. Which means that the real people (who can appreciate the finer Bharatanatyam) are a minority. If one was a pig in his past life, he will prefer to watch Bollywood hip-shaking.

You may know there was no Bharatanatyam 500 years ago. Sadir looked very, very different. While you can find traces of Natya Shastra’s styles in the classical Indian dance, these are just traces. Well, the Kaisiki style can be seen in Mohiniattam (where Lasya reaches its pinnacle, and the Bhavas are rendered in the fine and deep manner) and Odissi. But there is very little left of it in the contemporary Bharatanatyam. So… What is Bharatanatyam, to begin with???? A tree without roots will dry up and die quickly.

  1. Kalakshetra style is not Bharatanatyam“, once said Udupi Laxminarayanan.
  2. Udupi Laxminarayanan’s “Kanchipuram style” has nothing to do with Bharatanatyam“, said Sudharahi Raghupathi.
  3. My style is called Bharathnrithyam“, said you know who.
  4. “Not many people believe I dance Bharatanatyam. Actually, I don’t believe it either“, complains Shobana.
  5. I don’t know if it is traditional Bharatanatyam. I think I took it from Kuchipudi“, another Bharatanatyam dancer confesses.
  6. So what if I borrowed this and that from the English ballet?“, replies Chitra Vesveswaran.
  7. Yes, this is Martha Graham’s technique that I use“, confesses Sudharani Raghupathi.
  8. How many people know that there is a lot of Kathakali and modern dance in my…. errrr… Bharatanatyam?“, asks VP Dhananjayan.

Manvantara wrote :
I attended a recital by Alarmel Valli at Memphis…. To me, her steps seemed more like Odissi with some influence of ballet! Her accompanying musicians were very good, though!
Then there was the “Ekantha Seetha” – which I think was specifically for the non-Indian. The choreography (by the Dhananjayans) was good, but predictable and in the end, left me wondering what it was all about. Sujatha Srinivasan seemed to “dance” without moving her body much! Dhananjayan himself was no good – he tried some Kathakali style eye movements, but only the intent was there – the eye balls did not move!

Excuse me, where today can we find… Bharatanatyam???

The glorious past vs. the present :

evolution or… degradation?

There are 4 different historical reference points on which we will base our vision of the great Past and the comparisons with the present practices and trends:.

  1. The episode with apsara Urvasi, described in the Natya Shastra.
  2. The incident on Thillai that resulted in the construction of the Chidambaram temple.
  3. The original devadasi practices in the example of incident with Kallivelli Siddhar..
  4. Abhinaya Darpanam

Although some idiots corrupted by the western pseudo-culture dare to expose their lack of brain by stating that “The body of a dancer of today considerably differs from that of an 11th or 14th century dancer, especially one known only from temple sculptures.” , it is an archaeological fact that the human bodies in South India were no different 50000 years ago from what these bodies look now. It is the styles of sculpture that came and vanished. The bodies remain the same. (Oh! Well, not quite: the ancient dancers didn’t look so old, ugly, useless and worn-out when they were 80 years, and they did not attempt to make a laughing stock out of themselves by exposing their clumsiness and lost figures!) The proliferation of imbecile, half-baked modern authorities on Bharatanatyam is amazing, especially in the rajasic West, where every idiot is encouraged to produce a “different” view as long as he is paid for his/her “research” and “innovation”.

“New” is better than “True”, is the slogan of the superficial Western rajasic mind.

“There are no authorities” is another slogan.

The Hindu’s article on this score:

“There are over 25 Ph.D programmes on Indian dance in American universities alone,” says art critic Sadanand Menon. “This is when there is hardly any such attempt here.”

“Every American idiot is equal to Bharata Muni since Bharata Muni did not have a Ph.D. in Dance from a reputed US-based university” is another democratic belief.
There is an interesting trend that VP Dnahanjayans described very aptly, when a Kerala university imposed its own “selection” of the Bharatanatyam…. errrr… “professors” at the Dhananjayan’s “college”. “The staff they proposed are the worst possible teachers”, commented the disappointed Dhananjayan. “The university wanted the Bharatanatyam professors to have, primarily, a university degree in Bharatanatyam. The problem is, there are no people with a university degree in Bharatanatyam!” Because nobody needed such a piece of paper before.

Although Mother Kali can be heard producing very lound laughter above our heads, let us get serious and find the parameters by which we will compare the present and the past.

-The episode with apsara Urvasi makes us realize that:

  • the origin of Natya is in the Heaven, not in a disco bar (leave us a comment if you believe you are an incarnation of Rambha🙂
    Now, Bharatanatyam dancers learn new things by copying western ballet, Indian movies and folk dance. The rest they imagine. They don’t read the Natya Shastra or Abhinavabharathi. Too sophisticated for parrot-brained maami’s! Have you ever heard a dancer saying, “This item was revealed to me by such-and-such Apsara in my meditation?” What is meditation, Madam, errrrr?
  • it takes a king Pururavas, a great soul and a purified mind, to compose a superb piece of Natya
    Few ancient items (incl. poetry and music) have been preserved. “Pay Rs.60000 and I will compose a heavenly item for you” is the tariff language of the contemporary (pop-Bharatanatyam) composer. While some medieval composers were declared saints, where are the modern saints? They are fighting for the Padmashree awards. “How much is this divine set of Jathis, Sir?”, “Rs.23000, Madam”. There is not a single item composed in the past 200 years that could stand comparison with the ancient Kali or Vishnu Kautuvams.
  • it takes an embodied apsara’s skills (arrived at by constant, full-time practice) and a perfect body (you bet she looked far better than Aishwarya Rai!) to truly mesmerize the refined audience (not a bunch of ignorant village bumpkins who believe that “buffalos also dance”… Bharatanatyam? )
    The contemporary Bharatanatyam students have no desire nor time to practice. For what???? With 1000 relatives around, every day there is an important function: someone either dies or is born. The yokels watch the vulgar Indian movies.
  • there are no contemporary Bharatanatyam dancers whose death would result in the immediate death of 1000 of their fans
    When the modern reviews publish “mesmerizing” and “enchanting” and “fascinating” epithets, take it with a pinch of salt. If you see an old fat ugly grandma monopolizing the stage, and junior dancers licking her a** and shoes, remember, this simulated psychophancy does not last long. The same tongue that licked the Bharatanatyam VIP’s feet at a function will blast her to pieces while its owner chats to her friends. Contemporary dancers are the biggest liars and politicians. The fattest dancer is Ms.Jayalalitha, who still gets compliments for her superb nritta.

-The incident on Thillai that resulted in the construction of the Chidambaram temple.

  • the real dancing happens in the invisible worlds, where it is much more fun
    The present Bharatanatyam’s themes include HIV, agricultural irrigation, industrialization of India, sweetness of Coca-Cola, greatness of the State Bank of India, and the most divine condom items that are used with Lingam.
  • it takes a great rishi’s tapasya to get a ticket for such a show
    If you are a Bharatanatyam dancer who “has”(really?) to dance at a car exhibition or a new shampoo inauguration, ask yourself, “How many people came here to watch my great Bharatanatyam?” If you are a Bharatanatyam dancer doing a programme at a Sabha, ask yourself, “Can I see anybody besides my relatives, fellow dancers, neighbors, my parents’ colleagues? Huh! Nobody else came again!”
  • the human shape is used by Shiva in his mystic dance to explain his relationship with Shakti
    “We don’t need anything mystic: there are important meterial (financial, career) problems that we have to solve right now!” . Have you ever met a contemporary Bharatanatyam dancer who has at least 1 spiritual experience??? (not just a dream of buying a new car!) “Maami, let’s get practical: I don’t need any such revelations: I have to prepare for tomorrow’s exams!” What, Bharata Muni was a rishi in the first place????

-The original devadasi practices.

  • The devadasis used to live a very simple life with very basic material needs provided for by the temples.
    Now, every dancer wants to be as rich as Jayalalitha, or Srinidhi Chidambaram or at least Alarmel Valli.
  • Tuition was… free of cost.Now, only the students who pay well (lakhs!) get the attention of the guru. Arul describes the contemporary exceptions:
    There was a dancer who lived down the street of very modest circumstances and she would pay something like a hundred and fifty rupees a month. He (Subbaraya Pillai) didnt’ care. There was no set fee. Everyone paid what they could, it was voluntary and he would never ask. Over eight years she became a good student and he would spent 3 or 4 hours each day, six days a week, teaching her the danyasi varnam. It was such a paltry sum! For all those hours and hours of teaching.
  • Devadasis learnt 64 subjects, so some of them made very good living. Most of these subjects were complimentary to dance (right-brain hemisphere activities), and automatically enhanced the dancer’s dancing standards.
    One of these 64 subjects is… Divination!
    Can’t remember this subject in the Annamalai University’s syllabus! “Spells & charms“? Not a useful subject either. Our ancestors were idiots or what?Now, some professional Bharatanatyam dancers complain that…. they cannot make a luxurious living out of Bharatanatyam alone! Most contemporary idiots believe that computer engineering or surgery (left-brain hemisphere activities) will enhance their Bharatanatyam performances. A typical performance in Chennai starts with, “She has an MBBS”. Or an MBA. When on earth did this cow have the time to rehearse her Bharatanatyam items?????? Stupid: she didn’t!😦 Then she will complain that nobody likes Bharatanatyam today.
  • A devadasi danced in the mandapams. No human audience were allowed to watch her dance. She danced for the deity. Her dance was the expression of her soul.
    A contemporary Bharatanatyam dancer dances to entertain the audience that consists mostly of a bunch of bored pigs chewing chips and chatting on their mobiles.
  • There was Tejas emanating from devadasi Valli when she was dancing in front of Kallivelli Siddhar
    The contemporary Bharatanatyam dancer’s brain is too busy focussing on how to impress the sponsors and chief guests who do not understand anything about Bharatanatyam.Tejas??? What is Tejas?😦 Is it the name of a new Tamil actor?
  • The devadasis used to do all the 108 karanas. There was a lot of variety in their performances.
    Nowadays the Bharatanatyam dancers (except for very few ones) use just 10% of the technical elements described in Natya Shastra. Most rasikas cannot find the difference between Bharatanatyam and folk dance.

-Anhinayadarpanam

There is a rumour that ABHAI wants to prohibit this book on the grounds that it offends the senior dancers by stating that a Patra (bharatanatyam dancer) has to be youthful, agile, beautiful, with sweet voice, and so on. After all, the modern trend is to let the disabled dancers perform on the stage, isn’t it??? Their parents pay so much, so why not…? Abhinayadarpanam is an outragous text that, for some apolitical reasons, lists the criteria that disqualify the dancer from giving a public performance. “99% of the contemporary dancers would lose their jobs if we followed the scriptures”, said Sudharani Raghipathi at the release function of her recent Bharatanatyam DVDs (She does not allow her best student, Sridevi, to release any DVDs now, when Sridevi can still dance. Otherwise, who would buy Sudharani’s DVDs?) where the old maami looked dangerously pregnant and was moving as if on crutches. What, Abhinayadarpanam reads that such a dancer would be a parody? “Dare call me a clown and your dance career is dead”, said the angry Padma Subrahmaniam.“So what if I look vulgar? What, Chitra Visveswaran is better?”

Recent developments

The recent developments have included such main factors as

Alarmel Valli gives us some insights:

Ever wondered why Alarmel Valli’s technique includes and increasingly larger number of purely western embellishments and artsy ornamentation aimed at telling the spectator, “Hey, look at me, am I not great?”

Perceptions are changing with the cultural onslaught from the West. American pop culture, with its discos, its MTV and its soap operas has made strong inroads. These have contributed to the distancing of our young from our culture.

A true liberal is one who can move across all forms of cultural space with equal impartiality. He does not go around saying: “This is not fashionable, so I will not go to it;” or “It is not contemporary, so I will not watch it;” and so on.

As she spends most of her time in the USA and hardly watches any Bharatanatyam performances at all, here is what she thinks:

There are a few people who tout the idea that Bharatanatyam, or any classical dance for that matter, no longer has any relevance; that it is dead, it is a fossil, it is a museum piece, it is too decorative

Is the dance of Alarmel Valli is purely decorative, and a useless westernized fossil since it has no revelance to most of what is described in Natya Shastra?

the subtle imposition of a Western modern aesthetic, modified by a sprinkling of Indian ‘ingredients’ is not the answer to the development of modern Indian dance. And, we do not need anybody to tell us exactly how our dance should evolve.

Let’s forget the Natya Shastra and listen to the arrogant Alarmel Valli, comfortably settled in her American house:

Although I am a classical dancer, I enjoy good Modern dance enormously and am inspired by it. The ultimate test is whether the dance touches you, moves you, makes you think.

Natya Shastra, though tells us that desi is can only serve as entertainment, while margi is a means of spiritual upliftment. Is Alarmel Valli greater than Bharata Muni??? No, she is just a stupid arrogant woman, a lowly woman who thinks:

The Natya Sastra itself gives you total freedom to be a poet. Can one dictate or curb poetic expression?

Alarmel Valli tells us:

a few questions posed by some Western ‘modernists’: Why is there so little floor movement in Indian dance? Why is Indian classical dance so ‘happy’ all the time? How can an ancient traditional form like Bharatanatyam be contemporary? These questions are as pointless

There are no entirely pointless questions. The answers could be:
1. Bharatanatyam is not meant for horses running in a football stadium
2. Classical dance is to express ananda, and all the miserable ballet dancers in America or Europe don’t understand it
3. An “ancient” form like Bharatanatyam did not exist 150 years ago: 95% of what we see today was created out of scratch very recently, so it is very contemporary, and very boring too.

Why do you think why Alarmel Valli writes:

I love Modern dance and I have seen many of the best Modern dancers from around the world. My experience of their dance is transmuted within me and finds appropriate expression in my own idiom, which is Bharatanatyam… Other dance-forms have their influence on me… For instance, I am a great admirer of Pina Bausch… I am inspired by her and as such, somewhere in my inner consciousness I am influenced and this comes out in my dance

Oh! She borrowed all that crap from the great guru Pina, Pina! You didn’t know, huh?

So, is there a future for Bharatanatyam?

The fate of Bharatanatyam is similar to Carnatic music’s veena. As Madurai T.N.Seshagopalan said in Sruti, “An element of drama and contrived modulation pass for Bhava. What was once considered cheap tactics has become the order of the day…If there is a great artist today on the veena the situation would change”. We will be patiently waiting for a real apsara’s incarnation to restore the glory of Natya.

Our comments (in bold) on Aneal’s article’s statements

In my view, Bharatanatyam does indeed have a strong future but is currently undergoing certain changes that could have a profound impact on the art form. This article aims to discuss certain trends that I have observed over the past few years (the analysis that is based on a few year’s observation is not worth a dime) and attempts to raise some important questions for dancers and scholars in this field.

Trends in Bharatanatyam technique:

Bharatanatyam is slowly but surely moving towards more athleticism. (maybe in America; in India, more and more cows believe that, if Chitra Visveswaran can dance in a skirt, so everybody else can!) Although no one can doubt the strength and endurance required for dancers to competently perform a whole margam, there seems to be a marked emphasis on athleticism by some dancers on stage. The athleticism almost borders on acrobatics and gymnastics (oh, where, where did you watch it???? Show me 1 dancer who can do 108 karanas, and I will believe you). This type of dancing seems to have a certain appeal to audiences and I wonder if more dancers will follow in this path. (no way, they are getting too lazy in India)

Another related point is the growing emphasis by some dancers on nrtta to the detriment of abhinaya (Aneal has never watched a Chennai-based Bharatanatyam dancer). It is commonplace for jathis to last for several minutes tiring both the dancer and the audience. (The US-made jathis are as boring as their synthetic McDonnalds hamburgers). The pace is often fast and furious. (Aneal has not seen a really fast nritta). Sometimes (often!) this pace sacrifices the crisp completion of each adavu. Is this desire for speed being driven by the (American!) audience? (no, Aneal, it’s just the audience cannot see their abhinaya from 200 meters away – in a large auditorium) Are dancers worried that without some spectacular footwork fireworks, the audience will not stay interested? (The audience is bored anyway, but want to appear as “cultured Indians”) With regard to padams and other abhinaya-oriented pieces, are dancers worried that they will not be able to sustain the audience’s attention with a slow-paced piece solely focused on mime? (The dancer’s mime is usually so horrible, artificial, superficial or boring that they don’t want to scare the audience)

Another issue is the apparent loss of importance of the Araimandi stance. (in America???) It is very rare (not so rare in Chennai: go and watch the youngsters) to see dancers with proper Araimandi. If it is acceptable today for a dancer to have just a slight outward turning of the knees (they use the western toilets nowadays, hence the new habit) and sitting a few inches lower than his or her height (their legs are too weak after driving the car to every shop instead of walking 50 meters), why even call it a half-sitting position? Review after review will note in a sentence (usually towards the end of the review) that the dancer’s Araimandi stance is missing or not consistent. (Who paid the journalist for the review? Too little an amount will result in bad review!) What is surprising to me is the minimal impact that the lack of Araimandi has on the overall critique of the dancer. I have observed that dancers are routinely praised for their technique even though there is no Araimandi. Perhaps lack of Araimandi is a result of dancers increasing the speed of their nrtta. (no, they just have 1 hour of practice per week!) Is this only one isolated component of Bharatanatyam that is slowly being lost or are there other components that are suffering a similar fate? (Yes, Aneal, the same is happening to mudras, hasthas, bhedas. Have you seen a dancer who can move her eyes in all the ways described in the Natya Shastra???? It’s just too hard! ).

Trends in Bharatanatyam performance content:

A highly visible development over the past few years is the move towards more thematic programs. (If your sponsor is McDonalds, your item must be about hamburgers. What, ancient dancers depicted devas??? Where are these devas now? Why they are not sponsoring the contemporary, dirty-minded Bharatanatyam dancers?) Within thematic shows, particularly abroad, there is a movement to make Bharatanatyam relevant to non-Indian audiences. ( the dancers love the non-Indian dollars, and the opportunity to write in their resume, “Have done 4 tours in the USA”) Modern social issues are often the themes chosen. Is the traditional margam no longer enough to sustain the attention of the modern audience? (No, modern brahmin desis don’t know what is Bhagavad-Geetha). Are dancers making efforts to educate rasikas on the complexities of a margam? (Who cares?)

What do dancers think about the future of the margam format? (The margam format is only 200 years old. Let it vanish like a bad dream. After all, devadasis danced 18 items for 6 hours non-stop! But then, there was no important local cricket matches to catch on TV) . Although this has been the traditional performance structure for several centuries, (Aneal does not know what he is talking about) do dancers find the traditional items limiting in scope? (The dancers do not know the traditional items). Do dancers feel that, through a margam, they cannot fully express their thoughts? Already, the Shabdham has more or less made its exit from the margam. What is next? Javalis? (I hate the boring Javalis!!! Let them vanish like a bad dream! Aneal does not know that hardly anybody in Chennai dances the boring Javalis) As many Bharatanatyam performers are young (especially at the amateur level), how can they be expected to exhibit the maturity (not so long ago they were supposed to reach maturity in Natya by the age of 16 and have an arangetram) required for performing these more intense items? It is interesting to see the relatively recent (no, not really so recent) incorporation of the Pushpanjali into many margams. It is quite possible that other items from a margam will be added or deleted as the years go by. (Yes, now they do the Bhajans to the Hindustani music to please the north Indians).

Another trend is the broadening of the music used for Bharatanatyam. (The composers just don’t know what is Carnatic music). Traditional Carnatic music is being supplemented with compositions in other Indian languages. Just as the language of Bharatanatyam music shifted from being predominantly Telugu to encompass Tamil and Kannada compositions over time, it is not beyond the realm of imagination to think of a day where compositions in a non-Indian language like English could become acceptable. Western classical and contemporary music is also being experimented with by some dancers. (Yes, the hard rock fans demand it.) Obviously, over time and with enough dancers moving in this direction, the music of Bharatanatyam will not stay static. (It will sink below the bottom)

Fusion of dance styles and music is all the rage in some circles. (If you had a 1 week’s of Bharatanatyam classes in your entire life, and 2 weeks of Odissi, what else can you do to impress the public???) Can a Bharatanatyam dancer performing choreography interwoven with different dance styles remain uninfluenced by the other styles? (There are over 500 hasthas in Mohiniattam. How many does Aneal know there are in Bharatanatyam?)

Although group performances are not a new concept (in India, there are usually 5 passengers seated on 1 motorbike, and I saw 12 people in 1 autorickshaw), there seems to be a feeling among some that the more Bharatanatyam dancers there are on stage, the better the show. (the dancers hope that nobody will notice their mistakes) Perhaps it is an economic issue as well. The more dancers you have on stage, the more friends and family that may attend which will result in increased ticket sales. As there are more and more group performances, will there be any negative impact on the scope for a solo artist? (Yes, the ambitious solo artist will have to be content even with 20 rasikas)

Trends in Bharatanatyam teaching and learning:

Bharatanatyam seems to be developing in two parallel tracks – the professional and the amateur. The vast majority of dancers treat the art form as one of their extra curricular activities, not as a profession. The dancer’s arangetram is seen by many as the culmination of training rather than the traditional ascension of the stage and the start of the dance career. (Right. In 10 years’ time, there will be no really professional Bharatanatyam dancers at all)

Particularly among Indians settled abroad, Bharatanatyam is viewed as an important tool in teaching Indian culture and values to children being raised away from the cultural influences that shaped their parents. (See the attached letter below Aneal’s article and have a laugh)

There appears to be a noticeable trend away from the mastery of the fundamentals. (American-born kids have dyslexia, no?) Children who are often not ready for the stage are decked out in beautiful costumes and jewelry for the visual consumption of their families and friends. (They are used to prop their parent’s social status) Praise is lavished a little too freely and the epidemic of standing ovations for mediocrity is spreading. (People do it at any stupid political gathering, so what?) Is it any wonder that audience sizes are dwindling? (Nobody will watch your boring and amateurish pseudo Bharatanatyam in 10 years’ time)

It is also very interesting to observe the generational shift among Bharatanatyam dance teachers. The great gurus of the 20th century were themselves taught by great nattuvanars who were keepers of the Devadasi tradition. (The nattuvanars had little to do with the devadasis) The gurus of the 21st century will be composed of dancers a generation or two removed from the great gurus. (Thank God!) In the modern age, the strict gurukula pattern of learning dance is almost extinct. (They advertise the gurukula style learning DVDs – no need for the guru) As the decades pass by, it is not unreasonable to expect that what is being taught is going to change. (There will be no need to have a greedy and incompetent guru) As an extreme anecdotal example, a teacher, herself trained rigorously by a great guru, teaches only a set of Thattadavus and Nattadavus as the foundation before moving on to teaching items. I fear that this type of teaching is not just an isolated event but is something that is spreading. (Come on, who needs your Adavus?) It is alarming to think that a student receiving this kind of training may someday go on to become a Bharatanatyam teacher. (Nattuvanars could not dance at all, anyway)

Trends in societal acceptance:

It seems to me that some of the primary obstacles for choosing Bharatanatyam (or any art form generally) as a profession are societal and the monetary costs associated with being a performer. (True) It is quite rare to see Bharatanatyam dancers who do not have another profession to rely on it for their livelihood. It is even more rare to see dancers with parents who encourage their children to pursue Bharatanatyam over academics. (I don’t watch such dancers’ programmes, and don’t recommend it to anyone else) Bharatanatyam is encouraged by many families so long as it does not ultimately interfere with other more “professional” ambitions. Even if a dancer is encouraged by her parents, when she gets married, she has to hope that her husband and in-laws are supportive of her choice. (Errrrr… If Bharatanatyam is not the most important thing in your life, you’d better not think of yourself as a “professional Bharatanatyam dancer”. Padma Subrahmaniam had to divorce…)

Perhaps, her new family will only be accepting of her teaching dance and discourage a professional dance career. The path becomes even more difficult if a dancer becomes a mother. As with any profession, juggling motherhood and professional aspirations is no easy task. (Don’t exaggerate: Alarmel Valli, Rajeshwari Sainath, Urmila Sathyanarayanan are good examples) A serious pursuit of Bharatanatyam requires a lot of time practicing (come on, who practises now more than 6 hours a week???), rehearsing, choreographing, performing and traveling. For a young mother, time away from her child can be very difficult emotionally and cause feelings of guilt. As she gets older, can she maintain her beauty and graceful figure? (Yes) If she succumbs to the aging process, can she develop a thick skin (yes, this is what the majority of the senior dancers do very easily: a sponsor can even sh*t on them and these dancers will smile) to not get affected by comments that she is too old or too fat?

Young men equally have difficult challenges ahead of them if they choose to pursue Bharatanatyam as a profession. Men are generally not encouraged to follow careers in dance and face many uphill battles with society to gain the recognition that they seek. The very small number of men pursuing Bharatanatyam either as amateurs or professionals is testament to the difficulty of getting more male involvement in the art form.

Trend in expenses:

Even if societal obstacles can be overcome, another development is the exponential increase in the cost of performing. Factoring in the cost of a live orchestra, costumes, jewelry, traveling etc., Bharatanatyam is a pricy profession. It is also very likely a self-financed profession. With so many dancers vying for attention, most sabhas feel no pressure to compensate the artists. (True….) It really is a business and those dancers that can draw ticket-paying audiences can reap some reward. (Why don’t these dancers learn how to dance first????) The lucky few who perform abroad on tours on a regular basis have the chance to supplement their income. The rest have to rely on income earned from other professions or their families to fund their Bharatanatyam careers.

Another trend is a vast increase in the number of performances and a corresponding dwindling of the audiences. With the exception of certain of the established veterans, do most Bharatanatyam dancers have an established fan base? Not just family and friends who attend a program but rasikas who are excited to see the dancer perform? Are most dancers prepared for the years of toil that it may take to gain the support of rasikas? (No! )

With so many competing societal influences, I wonder if enough is being done to educate (HOW???) the young of today to grow into the rasikas of tomorrow. After all, it is the young who will financially sustain the art in the future.

Parting thoughts:

I hope that by laying out some of my own personal observations of trends that I see in Bharatanatyam and raising many questions, this article will get people talking about the future of Bharatanatyam. At this point in time, Bharatanatyam at the amateur level is exploding in popularity. Bharatanatyam at the professional level, however, is a big question mark. With so many obstacles to overcome, will talented dancers have the perseverance and resources to achieve their goals? (No, they are too lazy) Finally, upon achieving these goals, will they be greeted by an auditorium full of adoring fans or by a vast sea of empty seats?

As a rasika, I believe that if Bharatanatyam (either at the amateur or professional level) is to continue to flourish, dancers must present the best. There are far too many mediocre programs these days (Why don’t you dare to name a few? According to the reviews, everything is “fantastic”, and the rivers in Madras are clean – according to the press), and when we in the audience see performers whose technique hasn’t been perfected and whose expressions are lifeless, our desire to support this beautiful art form will surely fade. (Idiot, go and watch some good performances!)

——————————————————————-

Another write-up we want to comment on:

Are USA-touring Indian dance groups really of top quality?

Author: Mukundagiri Sadagopan of Illinois, USA, discusses this issue in this article he e-mailed to KutcheriBuzz.com

As the 2008 music and dance season starts in North America (USA and Canada) I have a personal peeve regarding the visiting classical dance troupes coming from India. I suspect that a large percent of lay-audiences in North America share this complaint.(Yes, soon they will stop attending such crappy performances)

In recent years India-Based Dance Troupes- with a few notable exceptions – leave much to be desired. To state briefly, every troupe is anchored by a main dancer who is past his / her prime (a chief clown represented by a buffalo) and is physically unable to move rapidly on the stage. Because of this the programs they offer are slow and boring.

These India-based troupes are mostly anchored by a senior artist who exceptional in her Abhinaya (hand gestures) (These senior dancers have no graceful or subtle expressions left on their fat faces) and Nrityha (expressional or narrative dance) – but is lacking in Nrutta which is pure dance. “Pure dance” – the rapid-fire stepping and dynamic footwork is what differentiates a dance from a “Katha Kalakshepam” – a musical, often a tear-jerker.

There is intense competition among highly talented troupes to win trips to America. Out of these only those with the most economic power and political clout get the contracts.(Business is business, as well as foul politics) However, it takes decades to build the required combination of talent, money and influence. By that time the Anchor Dancer, who by now is also the owner of her own dance school and its artistic director, has almost completely lost the physical strength to prance and leap forcefully as Nrutta – true dancing requires.(Such a dancer thinks that nobody knows what is real Bharatanatyam in America anyway!)

Invariably, there are fabulously athletic dancers touring with each of the teams, but they are junior members under the control of the Anchor. When the curtain opens, like most normal humans would do, the Anchor hogs the stage, not giving scarcely a chance to the stronger dancers. (So why didn’t you throw some rotten tomatos?)

So what should the buyers – Classical Program Organizers in North America do?

First they must inform the “export agents” in India that the audiences here are tired of watching over-the-hill dancers from India. That sends home a message for the 2009 summer season.

Second, they should soon place advance contracts for 2009 season dance programs from dance companies right here in North America. (Yep. Nobody needs those Indians from Chennai!) There are dozens of outstanding dance schools in every US / Candian metro area. (Where???? Where???? Where???) Many have been here for over 30 years. (And completely forgot what is Bharatanatyam) Their audience appeal and talent matches the imports. (Yea…Both are rubbish!) In addition, this would further enhance the talent pool in North America – which is a great goal in itself.

Third, Classical Program Organizations and Dance Schools in North America should set up a North American Dance Agency. The NADA should investigate, inform, and screen India based troupes that plan to tour North America. They should verify that the visiting dancers are physically able to do comprehensive classical dances that including brisk Jathis and Nritta.(How much are the bribes?) It will be in the interest of the Dance companies in India to cooperate, because verification from NADA would ensure favorable terms and bigger audiences. (Really????)

10 thoughts on “The Future of Bharatanatyam. Through the prism of Bharatnatyam’s great Past.

  1. Dear Bharatanatyam,
    There are a few points you do raise to ponder and work on. It would be good to put forward such thoughts without so much of fire and force in the language. I wish the truth becomes stronger by the pitch of the voice, but unfortunately its not so.
    Also, while you are at it, you might as well use your energy to educate and guide artists of lesser gods like me on how to correct these flaws.
    Not many would see and appreciate the validity of the issues you have raised.

    rgds

  2. I don’t know why Kali likes fire and force in the language🙂

    I may have to invoke the patient Saraswathi to educate and guide artists of lesser gods😦

  3. the way you rip apart each one above, you sound as a considerable authority on the art form. considering this you might as well.

    Dear, reading the above, has indeed stirred what has been on my mind since quite some time. Is a perfect araimandi more important that giving oneself into dance itself? i fall into this catagory.
    Is dancing in itself more important than looking for people to clap for you? Very recently, due to some misunderstanding, i have been denied a slot for performance in a show in Sydney. I was dissappointed, I practice every day in my kitchen-dining space. Thats when my husband asked me this- Are you not happy that you have enough space and time to dance every day? is it not enough?

    rgds
    mallika

  4. sorry , the sentence should be, ‘ Is a perfect araimandi more important than giving oneself into dance itself?’

  5. Oyoyoyoyo! You are making such irresistible compliments!🙂 Wow!🙂

    Is a perfect araimandi more important than giving oneself into dance itself?

    The concentration and laya are important factors to touch the rasas, and to create a powerful spiritual atmosphere. Many good musicians (the violinist Sikhamani is a good example) “dance” (even their bodies move) while playing music. Are they dancers? No, they are musicians.

    However, Bharatanatyam is not just about the inner, invisible things: it is about expressing (perfectly or not so) the inner experiences in the physical form. Without a perfect instrument and a perfect expression, the higher, spiritual truths, cannot be embodied.

    We can also ask, what if the dancer cannot put her fingers into a perfect mudra? If you find a perfect body position, automatically your mind will move into a certain state.

    If millions of people feel ecstatic at a disco when they give themselves into dance itself, is it important that they don’t dance Bharatanatyam?😉

    If you are “looking for people to clap for you”, you need either to become a pop star or to consult a psychiatrist.🙂 Seriously, if you feel such a need, your pranas are not circulating properly (some channels are open, and you lose energy). Go, sit in padmasana🙂

  6. Bharatanatyam,
    Now we are discussing something important here. While you are talking of araimandis, mudras etc, how much do you delve into the dancer really enjoying the dance herself. Iam a firm believer that one can give what one has, be it money or love or any feelings. While I was in theatre, doing skits and plays, one of my seniors told me, if you are not feeling it within, it shows to audiance mallika. And same goes for dance.
    While there is such rush to become celebrities ASAP and remain so as long, be it in any field. I feel this is a question that one should ask oneself, ‘am i feeling bhakti, when iam potryaing it?’
    Can you really deny the fact that most of the dancers are up there looking for people to clap for them?For all of them, its time to take a closer look and deeper meaning at what krishna said ‘ karmanye vadhi kaaraste, maa phaleshu kadachana…..’
    FYI, if a perfect body pose is what leads to rasanubhava, then iam still to watch it. but i expreianced a stir in me when i did watch priya murle do a varnam, without a araimandi.

  7. one more thing, its not only ectasy that we are talking about. if we are so insistant on being physically perfect poses, it doesnot need bharatanatyam. Even PrabhuDeva is physically perfect when he does his moves. or any bhangra dancer from punjab.
    what takes bharatanatyam is that inner spiritual feeling, felt and transmitted. Unless one feels, no transmission can happen.

  8. I agree with you that there is no such a thing as an absolute physical perfection (in the types of bodies that humans have today). Moreover, people always see not the reality but what they expect and what they want to see.
    You can captivate their minds even without a perfect araimandi, no questions about that. You are absolutely right that a perfect araimandi is not as important as the dancer’s enjoying the dance.

    The dancer’s body’s perfect physical position is as unachievable as a violinist’s absolute precision in taking notes. If a musician is sometimes off-key, is it important? Or rather, can YOU hear it? Even among the most professional violinists, there are no perfect ones: the notes cannot be taken with an absolute precision. The average (untrained) human ear can distinguish 22 microtones in an octave. My neighbour can hear only 6, I guess!😦

    So if some short-sighted people believe that PrabhuDeva (or Jothika) is physically perfect when he does his moves, it is because these spectators do not have a sharp (well-trained) eye, and do not understand what is Bharatanatyam.

    Rasanubhava is not just a “stir”, my dear.

    Can I really deny the fact that most of the dancers are up there looking for people to clap for them? No, I can’t. But these dancers will not be able to bring Tejas through them.
    In fact, it is quite obvious (and boring) when the dancer is aware of the audience and tries to please them.
    This is why this blog is not about Kuchipudi🙂

  9. An honest, in-your-face article! Thanks for your dedication to the art Ashwini. I am learning everyday so much about the divine art through your blog.
    Makes me realize I am not even one millionth of a speck in the ocean that is bharathanatyam – thanks again🙂

  10. Dear Ashwini, Thanks for the very interesting discussions on your Bharatnatyam site.As a western artist who has lived several years in India I am deeply involved in the issues at stake here. The way you criticise is hard and biting but necessary. I feel it comes from your blood and bones! The core is that not only Bharatnatyam but also other artforms have lost their spiritual roots for a long time. But who has spiritual experiences?
    For the Indians and their Bharatnatyam the problem is at this stage that they have to throw Krishna out of the door, and replace him by the spirituality that they can manage to find in daily life. Who wants this silly outdated worship!
    Be sure that these problems are also faced in other artforms like sculpture and painting . Broadly speaking the whole world goes at this moment through a fase where massmedia and masspublic are deciding what is art.That means there is no appreciation exept in small educated circles for the spiritual potential of an artform.
    For me Bharatnatyam dance is one of the highest forms of art because the human body does not ly.
    Vigyano Scholma,
    Sculptor.

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