Uncensored response to Anita Ratnam’s “Past Forward”

For those who wonder why my published ( http://www.narthaki.com/info/rt/rt33a.html ) response sounds dumb at places, here is the original:

Dear Anita,

I don’t understand why you decided to club a few unrelated issues together.

When a dancer’s arranged marriage breaks up, even though it is typically a result of clash of big egos, it is very beneficial. The dancer can at last focus on the dancing (well, learning tango or salsa has a zero spiritual value, unlike the classical solo!) . And more of the young, unmarried dancers will understand that Leela Samson is perhaps luckier, happier and less lonely than Chitra Visweswaran. Even the other well-known “single” dancers who have had a lot of boyfriends and break-ups are happier and have had a richer life than Sudharani Raghupathi. As far as I know, the rate of divorce now is the same in Chennai as in London. It should spell the end of arranged marriages and should render the army of half-baked astrologists jobless. Of course, women are poorer off when a marriage breaks up. So it is a wise solution to see your husband once a month only. 🙂 We pay for our own illusions: this is the law of karma.

I don’t understand why new modes of physical training should result in losing the audiences if these modes are better than the old. All “experimenting” and “innovating” can move in two opposite direction. Either you become a DisneyLand artiste and entertain the VIP and business elite with jumping around in burkas or performing cheap circus gimmicks in torn jeans with a Punk hairstyle, or (which happens much more seldom) you seek to discover something that would spiritually enlighten you and the audience.

The “classical dance kinetics” is classical because it has survived through millennia. It has deeper, spiritual roots that feed it throughout the spells of cultural draughts. Nobody will remember tango in 200 years’ time. Pop/folk culture fads are short-lived. Classical dance kinetics in itself, a mixture of desi and margi, is a vague notion and embraces a variety of styles from Odissi to Bharatanatyam. If Michael Jackson would copy the animal kinetics (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=072A5xbhO3I ), the authentic Indian classical dance kinetics does not originate in the animal kingdom or some rationalistic concepts that can fool a grant maker or a gullible corporate sponsor but are devoid of all life.

There is indeed something vague that we may call “the classical aesthetics”, but no seasoned Vazhuvoor style dancer or Odissi exponent would consider a clumsy Kalakshetra dancer as aesthetically pleasing. They would rather watch a beautiful and graceful flamenco dancer. After all, isn’t the Kalakshetra kinetics so obviously borrowed from the Italian ballet? Should we adopt the Disneyland aesthetics and replace the Nataraja statues with Mickey Mouses in our temples? Let’s trow out all Shilpa shastras and watch American cartoons, right?

When you say that you have only hopes for the developing contemporary dance scene, you probably mean to say that most of the “classical” dance innovations and experiments of the 19th century will die out along with the pseudo-classical inventions of the last century. The current desi elements will undergo transformations too, but the margi will always stay. I personally find the Tanjore Quartet heritage very boring. Unlike the “classical” abhinaya gurus who manage to perform all 8 nayikas to the same repetitive tune, many Hollywood film directors are not so dumb and can employ good music composers who understand the mental states much better.

It is remarkable that the solo dancing is on the wane in ICCR’s cultural export. It is a proof that the government’s empanelment procedures have failed. Now they understand that nobody wants to watch a middle-age “performing” hippo producing some funny expressions on the stage. The “serious professional artistes” finally realized that they are neither serious nor professional, and that many hobbyists and part time dancers are actually much better.

If theatre in India is thriving with tickets being the norm, it is because they understand the Vachika and Satvika abhinaya much better than the “classical” dancers, and try to adapt the presentation format to the audience. Typically, when a classical dancer performs today, hardly 5% of the audience understand the words of the song.

As for the intellectual and financial centre of Indian dance shifting outside India, it may be true. But the aesthetic and spiritual centre will always remain in South India, as will the best dancers. To say that the technical standard of Bharatanatyam in Madras has fallen far below those in Bangalore, US and UK is to demonstrate one’s ignorance. I suggest you conduct a Bharatanatyam contest (make sure you attract the talented dancers, including the “professionals”, somehow) here and see for yourself. I think the TVS group can well afford to sponsor it, can’t it? 🙂

Cheers ! 🙂

Ashwini

P.S. I too am looking for 1000 dance lovers to contribute $20 (US) annually for me to set up a dance website that will cover and produce excellent dance reviews. 🙂