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 ! 🙂


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. 🙂

5 thoughts on “Uncensored response to Anita Ratnam’s “Past Forward”

  1. while she is at it, i dont know why she says that the classical dance has a better stand to survive out of india? ( if i have read and understood it right).
    Well! may be so, but it will be mostly at the courtesy of the foreigners.
    I had a little turned major difference of opinion with Ninad concert series and i lost a slot. Whatever went between us, something struck me which i never shared with them with the intention not to worsen things. , while I get invited to perform, its not easy to get into a foreign arts council roster, obviously you cant do anything else but dance excellent and show good admin skills to impress them. even if they dont know an iota of our dance, they put the effort of learning it and getting people who know better to judge you if you are fit to be with the council or not.
    One important thing is, I get invited by the great Indian Associations, Telugu, Tamil. etc etc etc associations on their celebration days. these associations have organizers who are in that country for long long time -so obviously they can spend $2 or 3, even if you r new to the country that money is not big ticket price.
    But these people never never never pay, not even the travel expenses. they want everything for free and above that they talk as if the dancer owe them the performance and because its non-[profit, its Indian, its patriotic- any reason you can think of. and they try to entice saying they have this big crowd of audience. so right its crowd and i dont dance for crowd. They will talk big, but when it comes down to business, they are so obsessed with seeing their kids peforming on stage- there is nothing wrong with it. but imagine this girl doesnt know who krishna is and she is doing bharatanatyam- u can only imagine the quality thrown to gutters.
    The worst part is that they will be a little nicer till you agree, then they start bargaining as if they are buying vegetables. Madam can you do a fast number, mam can you pls do something for 3 min. mam sorry we have to cut your time to 20 min as against 35 mins that we said before.
    Once it so happened that i gave them CD and maked the song numbers that need to be played in the required sequence. This guy played wrong song 3 times- he is a foreigner. i was out of stage. but this indian guy, MC of the even comes up to me and says, dance to whatever being played. i cant have this confusion- he cant have the confusion??? i said i cant. why you are a dancer, you should dance to whatever song being played. i said yes you r right, i wont. and they never ever paid a single paise or little respect. i had to buy my own food as what they offered me was so little. thats the last time i thot i will dance for these Indian Ass. esp for free. Now i am with the state Arts council. life is easier. I might give discount to foreigner, but i charge more for indians as i expect them to understand the value of our dance more, needless to say, i have not had a single performance by them.
    So is this the kind of people Anita is expecting to keep the tradition alive? let alone dance they dont even understand the notion of Athithi Devo bhava.
    One more thing. when indians learn dance here like ballet, whatever the time and other things the instructors mention they will follow. if its a bharatanatyam or indian dance teacher they never even bother to call and tell if they miss the class. I lost 3 students and a lot of good name, after such repeated incidents i told them i wont teach them and never to enter my class. my image was tarnished iam being gossipped. i have only 2 students. iam ok with that.
    now is this the kind of people in whose hands Anita thinks the culture will blossom abroad?

  2. One more thing, i forgot to add. If you counter anything said by these people from Indian associations, they will be quick to retort,” MAdam, it is you who have applied to us for a performance, we have not asked you to” It happened with some one else too, so when i asked them, if you apply for a job in some company will they want or ask you to work for free or sound as if begging, just because you had applied for a job? no answer, and then they will say, may be you are a professional artist (did you not see my resume or read my email completely?). Now I only laugh at them. Anitha, you are expecting a lot from these bunch of lunatics and hypocrites who take themselves so very seriously. Please, you dont be one among them.

  3. I was going thru your comments esp towards foreigners, what you said in reply to shubha’s comments. I differ with you. You know its not like these goras have any aesthetic sense etc as you think and mentioned. They are very good in what their art forms are, even if its salsa, some have even mastered our own arts, we can’t deny that. To quote examples, I was watching one Bho Shambho’s performance by Nilokesi someone, there are better performances and this had quite a few flaws, but this is the best video on youtube for that dance piece and overall interesting- as any visual art should be. The goras take their art very seriously. its a profession that THEY CHOOSE, mind you and not a hobby like in India music and dance are seen as hobbies. The reason might be because they need not worry much about their food. They do what they like to do, these are not lawyers, dancers or engineers because their parents want them to be or for any other reason other than they want to be, hence you will see the quality. See they are awstruck by our arts, as any Indian audiance will be impressed by an avg ballet dancer etc, its because of the lack of knowledge. But to surprise you, the university dance head here knows as much about bharatanatyam as any seasoned teacher in chennai, she is not bharatanatyam dancer or choreographer, but she knows her job and she definately respects it. yes these people are more into technicality than anything deeper. so what they want to learn the technical aspects of different dances and i dont see anything wrong with that. how many indian professional choreographers who pass half baked comments really so deeply know about such western dance forms. any person who heard about bharatanatyam can comment on the dancers aramandi, thats not what i am talking. I really respect the effort they put to understand what they not know because these people are ‘ lakeer ke fakeer’. the only example is that the top slots for all the western dance forms are occupied by only the best and unlike in India, the fatter you are, the more connections you have with the organizers and govt officials, the more popular you are. Sonal Mansingh still dances. I was watching Manju bhargavee’s dance- she was looking so yuck, some makeup on a football might look better, give it a kick and it will dance better. They might be best reservoirs of knowledge, but come on, look at your own video. You wont find such things in western dance scenario. Atleast they do what they do with utmost sincerity.
    Look Iam not for the goras, ok. so dont throw dung on me. iam just saying that may be in this aspect they are atleast honest.

  4. I have read most of your blogs and I surely do agree with many of the things that you say but I do not understand why almost all of your blogs contain some criticismof the kalakshetra style ..it is a great institution and i love the teaching that it imparts
    Do you just hate the kalakshetra style so much or do you think its inferior when compared to others?

  5. The Kalakshetra style is very much like the old Ambassador car: inferior and plain (i.e. has fewer elements and their combinations in its technique) than others. It would only suit men. Moreover, I am yet to see any proof that Kalakshetra is a great institution. What is great about it? That they don’t even know what is Natya Shastra? Or that Rukmini Devi “secularized” the themes and failed to copy the western ballet properly? I don’t hate Ambassadors, bullock carts or tricycles, but I would much prefer to ride in an expensive Mercedes.

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