Bharatanatyam: Present and future at the hands of cunning NRIs

While Kathak dancer Prathiba raises many valid questions and highlights very valid points, there are a few that put a smile on my face. 

What she meant to say is this:

I hardly ever bother to watch any outstanding classical dancers who never make it to the USA as I may start questioning myself where I truly belong and what the hell I have been doing in Texas, and, more importantly, why I learnt the Persian classical dance Kathak instead of the classical American dance of Salsa.  In recent times, I have witnessed several jaw-dropping, pants-wetting modern performances in Dallas and Houston by visiting Indian dancers who, being old enough, still aspire to look like some teenage American ballet dancers. Their academic presentations made me feel like the classical (shastriya) Indian dance has now been made to sound scientific enough to be taught at the Faculty of Statistics and Measurement at the University of North Texas. The problem for Kathak still remains: to call it classical, we are yet to write a shastra (or “discover” some fake antique book) based on which it would be called “shastriya”.

I have left the auditoriums giggling, jumping and throwing pieces of potato chips around like a teenager who smoked pot on a first visit to Disney Land. Today’s PR specialists, even those who promote themselves as dancing under the traditional labels, incorporate interesting, simple and entertaining MTV-style movements  in their dances to add dynamism – an excellent example of devolution, inborn inability to learn anything from Natya Shastra or to perform even a few stretches a day to accomplish what most American teenage ballet dancers or gymnasts achieve with ease and little pride. At the same time, there also seems to be something, such as use of those pretty useless and meaningless hand gestures, that is stagnant in its practice and even an evolution in the wrong direction, if I may be so bold. I feel I am entitled to be bold and question everything because I have an American passport.

While artistes like Uttara Coorlawala, Anita Ratnam and Michael Jackson seem to have taken evolution to a new level far away from the place they started from, questioning the concept of evolution  itself, why are we still defining women based on the Ashtanayikas and not on their church affiliations or sex preferences? Based on the relationship with the hero, the Natya Shastra classifies women as the one who dresses for union with her hero (my daughter always goes to a date in the same torn jeans she wears in her bedroom), the one distressed by separation (everybody knows that once you become separated you are relieved as the costly divorce litigation is near its completion), the one having her husband in subjection (only perverts put their husbands in handcuffs in Texas), the one separated by quarrel (quarrels are needed to show that we have the right to have different opinions), the one enraged with her lover, the one deceived by her lover (cheating on one’s boyfriend is absolutely the norm here), the one with a sojourning husband (who came back from Iraq), or the one going to meet her lover (on a blind date).

What about the NRI woman who thinks she is an intellectual or equal of Sigmund Freud? What about the woman who brings home the bacon, sushi, electricity bills, sanitary napkins, the Tea Party leaflets, and condoms? What about the woman who decides that she is better off as a single parent, a single woman or a lesbian in a same-sex marriage? May I remind that many women in Texas marry 4, 5 or 6 times and many don’t even remember who are the actual fathers of all their children?

May I remind that although the Natya Shastra has provided us a wealth of information and is THE book every NRI dancer should avoid reading, it is religiously believed by all Texan rednecks to be written between 2nd century BC and 2nd century CE? Its views on women and statistics are as outdated as some of our old American texts that classify humans based on their US visa status or propagate the theory of creationism that contradicts the Bible or the beliefs of the Faculty of Physics at the University of North Texas. Why are we, the modern women driving expensive cars and wearing Victoria’s Secret lingerie, clinging to it for dear life if some of us are in danger of being classified by the 14th Chapter not as Goddesses, Gandharvas, Humans but as belonging to other types, such as Pigs, Horses, Buffalos, Goats or even Dogs? How can our democratic society classify people as noble, mediocre or lowly?

I wish Bharatanatyam was truly evolving on all fronts and conformed to the MTV standards. As an atheist and a member of the Republican party who thinks that everyone, not just Spiderman, must wear one’s underwear over one’s pants, I wish we overcame the limits of beauty and religion in its practice. I wish we overcame the male chauvinistic ideas portrayed in a Bharatanatyam performance, and promoted the same-sex marriages in India. I am writing this as a woman who is tired of seeing nayikas who long, pine, and suffer for someone who resembles one of my ex-husbands. For the Muslim purists who will retort that the “lord” represents “truth” and the pining is the search for the impersonal and vague truth, my response is: Is this the only metaphor you can think of for years of imagination since the Prophet consummated his marriage with the 9-year-old Aisha?

Recently, I heard someone call the ardhanareeswara concept not as a reference to some unscientifically genderless godhead, Ida and Pingala, or to American women who are indistinguishable from the American men, but as the oldest example of gender equality and the only instance where Shiva carelessly wears unmanageable matted locks for hair while Parvati has beautiful flowing hair.

Shiva shows rage while Parvati is demure, which is absolutely unrealistic considering how much every American woman has to yell, scream and shout every day. Shiva can lift his leg over his head but Parvati (may be able to but) should not. Considering that most American women ballet dancers are excited about lifting their legs as high as possible in order to demonstrate the stylishness of their underwear, what about this really shows gender equality?

Showing that the male is all male and the female is all female is outrageous. Showing that the female does not exist without male enhances the wrong and irrational concept that the Universe that manifests in time and space comes from some unscientific Brahman that exists beyond time and space and is independent of the US Government.

Despite all the good values of Indian culture and its cuisine in particular, a major rule of our society that creates a stumbling block is “do not question your mom.” We stop evolving when we stop asking questions, and the more foolish questions come into our heads, the more we evolve in the eyes of the US Government. Perhaps that is why we label anything that does not conform to these values as ‘fusion’ or ‘modern.’

You’d think that living in a western society as NRIs would help people push the boundaries of Bharatanatyam even beyond the limits of salsa. You couldn’t be more wrong! As an NRI, I have no choice but to witness painful arangetrams performed like weddings with splendor and showmanship but lacking in content and standard that we find in the old school of the American ballet. As a dancer who dances at home every week, I am tired of NRI parents badmouthing their children’s gurus’ practices (Question: If you hate them so much, why do you continue sending your kids to their classes instead of sending them to Madras?).

As an economic migrant who came to the US to earn money, I see all NRI and the visiting gurus treat the art simply as the business of teaching (read moneymaking) and graduating more mediocre and substandard students year after year. I do not believe in religion or investing in real estate but I believe in Statistics and Citibank where I have my savings account. Neither am I traditional to the point of being able to appreciate anything other than rock-n-roll. Yet I cannot bear to watch kids wearing their salangais along with their sandals and iPods in auditoriums that are not built according to Natya Shastra. I am tired of the standing ovation given to every kid finishing his/her arangetram, irrespective of the standard as if we were at a GOP meeting. I am even tired of the almost ritualistic applause I hear at the completion of every plain jathi, theermanam, and swaram that so takes the focus away from the the glaring evidence of absence of any dance described in 4th Chapter of Natya Shastra.

Living in the western society frees our barriers and opens new horizons. Once our barriers start feeling free, we stop reading books and begin investigating the crucial issues: which of the current US party does Nataraja belong to, and why he is not depicted as the top American bodybuilders?

Sadly, most NRI parents today seem to be focused on how many quasi-traditional or semi-traditional or newly-traditional items they can get their children to believe they learn, how many costume changes one can manage in a given arangetram, how many costumes and jewelry they can acquire on their next trip to India, etc. Lata Pada, in a recent lecture said beautifully, “Do not expect me to be a cultural babysitter for your children just because I teach them Bharatanatyam. I am here to do business with you, and not to establish some Gurukula.”  It seems that this is exactly what several NRIs are hoping. Instead of encouraging their children to believe they already became dancers in the true sense by sending them to Madras, they want to create replicas of Priyadarsini Govind or Rama Vaidyanathan so they can be happy that their children are, after all, Indian who can do lecture but not demonstration.

Challenging someone intellectually is, after all, easier than doing it physically. PG and RV became expert lecturers not by following status quo or by practising stretches, but by learning Business Administration, Marketing, PR and carving their own niche in the American market. Of course, there are exceptions among NRIs such as Mythili Prakash and Bhavajan Kumar, to name a few who became proficient in their business promotion.

Why am I now taking it out on the NRIs as if they come here just to earn money and invest it in Chennai properties? Three reasons exist. I live abroad and got burnt in the US sub-prime mortgage scam. I cannot comment about the current practices in India for fear of being thrown into an open manhole in T.Nagar in the rainy season. While many of them hate to read books, NRIs have the financial resources to take the risk and push the boundaries beyond the limits of the ancient Indian aesthetics and sensibility. Living in a western society, witnessing art forms such as strip dance, ballet, jazz, hip-hop, opera, etc, and receiving constant encouragement to explore and experiment should foster these experiences (or rather experiments?) even more until we start frying our dosas on Shevron engine oil instead of ghee. Sadly, I am yet to see examples of such, although the popularity of McDonalds in Chennai seems promising. And the question, “Will the NRIs who have the money and the cunning to push the boundaries and experiment help Bharatanatyam reach new heights in the eyes of Michael Jackson fans?” remains unanswered to me still.

Roses and Thorns: the thorny facts in “Bharatanatyam competitions: lessons from Concern India”. Narthaki.com and political correctness in the Bharata natyam world.

Bharatanatyam competitions, Concern India and political correctness.

We will analyze and comment upon a curious write-up by Meenakshi Ganapathy that appeared in Roses and Thorns and was evidently irritating some dance VIP’s for 3 weeks. So much so that it was just recently deleted (luckily, Google saved a copy of it 🙂 ) by the politically conscious Narthaki.com editor. We will also refer to the excerpts from the messages several people sent us about this event.

This topic is related to some of our blog’s previous posts: this one, this one , this one and this one.

The competition started a bit late, with probably 30 spectators most of whom later appeared on the stage: the functionaries, the judges, the musicians, the parents, fellow dancers, and a few stray individuals in Narada Gana Sabha’s main hall.

The competition was not announced in the press. A private event?

A representative of Concern India made a brief introduction, dwelling on the NGO’s work and urging (the 30 spectators?) to contribute to its charitable activities and sponsor Bharatanatyam performances.

Each participant in the preliminary round had to pay Concern India Rs.3000, making it one of the most profitable Islamic charitable activities in India. Of course, Concern India themselves do not sponsor any Bharatanatyam-related performances. Why? Well, why would the Muslim man who was in charge of organizing Concern India’s Bharatanatyam competition in Chennai be seriously interested in promoting Bharatanatyam instead of trying to make even more money (“raise funds”) from dwelling on the necessity to addresss the material needs of the poor Indians. Forget about the Vedic culture and the Hindu spirituality. Allah akbar! Next time if some senior Bharatanatyam dancers organize a psalms recital contest, don’t be surprised.

The dancers, 95% of whom arrived on motorbikes, many of which had 3 riders, have had a hard time trying to sponsor themselves, as Concern India‘s Bharatanatyam competition required them to be able to afford to bring a live orchestra for the solo recitals. Remarkably, the group performances were miraculously exempted from this highly charitable requirement.

The group performances hardly had to do anything with Bharatanatyam.

Before the competition started, a representative of Concern India announced to the dancers that after each solo performance “the judges would speak, give their comments and ask the dancer questions.” The judges in the final were the same (!) as in the preliminary round: Madhumati Prakash, Rajashree Vasudevan and Dakshayani Ramachandran. Why they could not produce any comments on the solo recitals is up to you to guess.

We guess they are just dumb! 🙂 Or just afraid of the political repercussions. The fact that Concern India could invite such a sec0nd-rate dance guru as Rajashree Vasudevan speaks of the profile of the competition.

The preliminary 3-day elimination round held in November promoted, according to Chitra Visweswaran, “quite a few dancers” (she probably meant the number of the dancers in the groups) to the final competition held on 23 January. At the preliminary itself, out of the astonishing 10 applicants in the sub-junior (below 10) division, only 2 were deemed worthy of dancing in the final: Simran and Aishwarya Raman (of guru Divyasena). It was Simran who danced the first on 23 January, and it was Simran who got the 1st prize. As you could have already figured out, the second prize went to Aishwarya, who was so significantly less impressive that led to the humorous speculations that the first prize winner could have been decided upon in the preliminary round itself.

It’s a great idea to have a competition where there are 2 contestants in the finals and 2 prizes! 🙂 Curiously, Simran and Aishwarya met at another competition with the same outcome.

The two solos of the youngest contestants were followed by a most baffling mix of solos and group performances in no special order. Was it indeed on a “first-ready first dance” basis? Shuffled like a stock of cards, the order of these performances was presumably to confuse the judges so that they would not be able to remember (for any meaningful comparison) the performances of the contestants in the same age division. Of course, the order did not matter if the prize winners were determined in the preliminary round itself.

The third was Poornima (of Anusham group) who was quite proficient in her rendering of “Padma Ananda Dayinee,” especially in the passage describing how the snake’s poison was coming down in ashes. Sudharma Vaidyanathan (of guru A Lakshman) was dancing leisurely and error-free, mostly due to the fact that the choreography itself was not at all intricate or demanding. The more plain, the better? Nevertheless, she was somehow allocated the second prize in the junior (11-14) division, which had another 3 contestants beside her. A very “big” competition indeed.

More and more people come to know Sudharma as the daughter of Chella who does all videography for… the judges who… like A.Lakshman very much. 🙂 Leaving the sarcasms aside, Sudharma was a remarkable dancer 2 years ago, and was the only one in A.Lakshman’s school who was dancing with grace. Unfortunately, the health problems and A.Lashman’s Kalakshetra-like schooling left very little of the former – graceful, lively and expressive – Sudharma… How fast life changes us… Not to the better…

The stiff-bodied and frozen-faced girls who want to dance like a man, or rather like a soldier (with the marching soldier’s expressions attached, of course) will like A.Lakshman as a guru. What happened to K.J.Sarasa’s “Vazhuvoor style”? Well, just as she did not want Urmila Sathyanarayanan to unlearn the Kalakshetra style, she just let A.Lakshman to do his version of Kalakshetra too.

Curiously, the solos in the junior and the senior (15+) divisions were supposed to last for 10 minutes each, but some dancers were – for an unknown reason – allowed to dance for over 15 minutes, while other dancers’ performances were cut immediately after 10 minutes had elapsed, by completely switching off the stage lighting. Sudharma’s was followed by Divyasena’s group performance of some kind of fusion or modern dance. The group’s 11 dancers found it a bit hard to move (leave alone dance) when lined across the stage in one row. The smallest, Aishwarya Raman, was given the central role, although Nikita would have certainly been a better choice.

Next there was Subbalakshmi of Anusham. She surely did deserve her second prize in the senior division for her impeccable rendering of Shakti Kautuvam and a thillana, leaving some contestants wondering why they had not been told that they too could include 2 fragments rather than one continuous passage from one item. The 7th slot was Revathi Ramachandran’s ballet full of folk dance, Dayinee. Out of the 5 dancers, the only one worth mentioning was Darshana.

The status of Concern India’s competition is illustrated by the fact that Revathi Ramachandran’s own daughter did not even bother to apply!

It was followed by Sai Swapna’s (of Anusham group) recital. It was already 7.30pm, and the auditorium was filled by at least 200 people by that time.

Next there was S Sahana’s (who recently joined Roja Kannan’s school) impeccable performance of the varnam “Nee Inda Maye.” Sahana had a mobile face and smooth expressions that changed each other seamlessly and naturally. Her style of nritta was very crisp. Every simple nritta step involved a visible and sharp movement up and down, which was well coordinated with the movements of her chin, her eyes and eyelids. Sahana was given the first prize (just as in the 2008 Natyarangam’s competition) in the junior division.

Narthaki.com ‘s editor attached Saatvika’s comment:

“Oddly enough, in the Concern India competition the first was again Sahana and the second was Sudharma”.

If you are looking for a perfect Kalakshetra-style dancer, see Sahana 🙂 In other words, if I am to write about a Kalakshetra-style dancer, it will be her.  This virtuoso is capable of moving from the super-sharp movements to the ultra-smooth, and in this sense her range of movements is extraordinarily wide.  Even if some dancers did not like her hopping manner of walking on the stage, such sharp vertical up-and-down movements actually accentuated each beat of the cymbals, and kept the audience spellbound. Compared with her, the other dancers dance as if they were trapped in a quagmire! 🙂 Her neck moves very interestingly too.

Perhaps she deserved it. Or perhaps it should have been given to the 10th contestant, Harinie Jeevitha, who attempted a much harder job to do as she was performing very demanding nrittas, peppered with the most complex moves and karanas that one hardly ever gets to see in Chennai. Well, Harinie’s performance was not as error-free as her videos on YouTube would suggest: the sheer complexity of this highly demanding choreography requires more practice.

It should have been clear that any inclusion of karanas in the choreography will be considered as an error! This is the reason very few Bharathnrithyam dancers ever participate in the Bharatanatyam competitions. The 3 judges have never even read the Natya Shastra, leave alone attempt to do some difficult karana!

Funny enough, if a CCRT scholarship examinee recites the viniyogas in the Natya Shastra-prescribed way, it will be counted as a mistake, because the folkish “Bharatanatyam is supposed to be” performed according to Abhinayadarpanam, not according to Natya Shastra.  This is how our “classical” dancers betray our ancient heritage – and they have the cheek to praise the Natya Shastra in public at the same time! What a hypocrisy!

Sridharini in the senior division (of guru Revathi Ramachandran) was the 11th participant, and she proved that even the worst contestant can still get the first prize. Her performance was followed by Anusham group’s fusion dance dedicated to Shiva and Shakthi, where one dancer, Sulochana, deserves a special praise. The masala fused together modern dance, Bharatanatyam, Odissi and god knows what else. The 13th was a very decent recital by Shivani (of guru Revathi Ramachandran) who was placed the 3rd in the senior division. The 14th was Padmaja (of guru Divyasena) in the junior division who presented keertanam “Om Kara Karini” in a graceful manner, although the skirt costume limited the scope of her nritta. It was the same K.Padmaja who was awarded the 2nd prize at the Indian Fine Arts Society’s competition 2 weeks ago. The competition’s last solo was a very interestingly choreographed Sadaksharam kautuvam performed by the 16-year-old Sruthi Kalyana Sundaram (of guru Manimekalai Sharma), ably assisted by excellent beats of the mridangam. The choreography was very sophisticated and involved frequent use of fast, full-range attamis that blended harmoniously with everything else. Sruthi was masterful in her presentation, and stood above all other contestants in the senior division. Unfortunately, guru Manimekalai Sharma is hardly known even in Chennai.

Last year I wrote about Sruthi in this post. Despite some minor imperfections in her mukha abhinaya, she is surely one of the top dancers in her age range, and the originality of Manimekai Sharma’s choreography could certainly not be appreciated by the 3 dumb judges who are considered as some of the worst choreographers in Chennai.

As recently as 3 years ago Sruthi was listed among Srekala Bharath’s students. So, what happened, may we ask? A possible reason may be that Srekala’s choreography is relatively plain, maybe too plain for Sruthi’s taste, but would be just fine for the 3 dumb judges who would be just scared of Srekala Bharath’s political authority too.  Will you trade an opportunity to learn some interesting Bharatanatyam from an unknown but talented guru for an opportunity of winning a useless prize? 😦 Most dancers would not… 😦 Well, it seems even under Madurai.R.Muralidharan she was quite a performer even 5 years ago:

SN’s was the last group performance that had a larger share of elaborate Bharatanatyam proper than the previous groups’ items. Most of the dancers, among whom was Harinie Jeevitha again, were admirable, the costumes and accessories were very impressive. Not surprisingly, SN got the 1st prize for its ballet. It was also not surprising to hear one of Concern India’s representatives explain that, “ethically speaking,” it would be wrong to give more than 2 (out of the 4) first prizes to the same school.

The award function started at 9.30. There was a speech by Chitra Visweswaran who was praising the efforts of Concern India and was urging everyone to support its activities. It was quite different from a “speech” by a differently abled gentleman from Concern India when the audience could not understand a word.

“Helping people help themselves” ran the slogan through a huge backdrop just under ‘Concern India.’ How helpful was this competition for the dancers? And how seriously was Concern India taking the dancers’ concerns? If fewer and fewer Bharatanatyam schools care to come and showcase their best students at Concern India’s competition, does it reflect how much importance the dancers attach to this event? Well, if the Blue Cross, Coca-Cola, the Communist Party of India, or the ICICI bank were to hold their own Bharatanatyam competitions, how many dancers would apply?

Bharatanatyam: “maintaining a competitive edge”! Bharata natyam dancer Harinie Jeevitha and the Natya Shastra’s karana’s. Is Bharatnatyam a classical Indian dance or folk? Bharathanatyam in Chennai

Bharatanatyam styles: winning the war for the spectators’ attention? The competition in the Bharata natyam field reaching its heights.

Bharatanatyam
bharatanatyam
Bharatanatyam

In the past 10 months as many as 85 (!) visitors to my blog bombarded me with their messages, writings, links and requests to post articles on various upcoming Bharata natyam dancers of the younger generation. As most of these visitors asked about Harinie Jeevitha , we decided to dedicate some space to this famous teenage virtuoso who not only reached the heights of popularity among Chennai rasikas and Bharatnatyam dancers but became ubiquitous on the Internet – even more than Medha Hari. Apart from various blogs mentioning Harinie, such as this one, Narthaki.com recently published another review of her recital (there was one last year) which we will quote and comment upon first. Following Sangeetha’s example who prefers simply to re-post what she finds elsewhere…
Well, tomorrow, we will add more comments and try to find out what makes her so successful.

Review from Narthaki.com:

Why do most dancers performing in early January see nearly empty auditoriums? The 7th of January offered 11 dance programs (apart from quite a few music concerts) taking place at the same time. There were solo Bharatanatyam recitals by Malini Srinivasan, Priya Venkatraman, Suma Mani, Shradha Balu, a ballet by students of Ranganayaki Jayaraman, a group performance by students of Parvathy Mohan, another by the students of Swaralaya, yet another by dancers of Bharata Kalanjali, a Kuchipudi recital by Deepika Reddy and
an Odissi performance by Sujata Mohapatra. The 11th dance program was a Bharatanatyam solo that, surprisingly, attracted over 150 rasikas to Rama Rao Kala Mandapam who came to watch a recital by Harinie Jeevitha, a student of S.U..

Whenever any big Bharatanatyam school’s best dancer is performing, the hall is never half empty. What is surprising about it? Some rasikas who went there told us that there were just a dozen of foreigners.

Bharatanatyam

Harinie’s opening item, Ganesha Kautuvam in ragam natai and adi talam, was full of refined sculpturesque poses, intricate movements and high jumps that her supple body performed with ease, delineating each curve and bend with precision. While many dancers hardly lift their heels or hardly lift their feet while doing fast steps, Harinie’s feet moved fully and sharply, making her salangai produce a variety of sounds.

The next item was Annamacharya’s kirtanam “Vande Vasudevan” in sri ragam and kanda chapu talam, where Harinie’s expressions brought out the depth of bhakti and the devotee’s perceptions of the Lord. Varnam “Aadal Nayagam” composed by Madurai R. Muralidharan in kalyani ragam and adi talam, was full of difficult adavus where Harinie accentuated each beat with sharp movements of her chin and her eyes. Each jathi was choreographed in a distinct manner.

Srinidhi sent in her comments:
If many say that Madurai R. Muralidharan has reached the bottom of his career, it is because of the primitive music and very poor lyrics of pieces like Aadal Nayagam. Incessant repetitions and paucity of substance make it even worse! Why should good musicians and dancers try to salvage his poor compositions?

Bharatanatyam

The varnam had a lot of surprises for the spectators in its complex and
fast nritta passages that contained a large number of the most difficult karanas. “The karanas are here not merely for a spectacular aesthetic effect,” commented S.U., “they are here to evoke the spirit of Nataraja.”

As you could read in our previous posts on the karanas, they also mark the difference between the folkish Bharatanatyam and the classical (Natya Shastra-based) Bharatanatyam. The biggest challenge a choreographer may face is the use of the karanas in a Bharatanatyam piece, therefore most gurus just don’t bother.


vrscikarecitam

vrscikarecitam

vrscikarecitam

After all, even Padma Subrahmaniam made many mistakes, one of which was promoting herself instead of promoting her best students who could perform the karanas far better than Padma. Janaki Rangarajan did appear a few times in Padma’s Karana Prakaranam DVD – to illustrate a few most difficult karanas.

Another, Karana Viniyoga Mallika DVD failed miserably in this regard too, as the late Sundari Santhanam could not perform any karanas fully and gracefully, and did not let her best students do more than 40% of the demonstrations. Shouldn’t the art be treated as something greater than some “senior” dancer’s personal vanity?

karana

99% of the Bharatanatyam students are totally incapable of performing the more demanding karanas, so why torture the poor students?


Padma Subrahmaniam writes, “The Nritta Karanas can be broadly classified as those pertaining to graceful dance, those meant for acrobatic display, and others for buffoons”. Can acrobatic karanas can be performed gracefully? Of course: only if you are in top shape!

Padma Subrahmaniam‘s disgraceful  “demonstration” (which looks more like madcap buffoonery) of Vrscikakuttitam in the 3rd volume of her book is of course the proof of her poor judgement and the miserable state of her body. It is the explanation of why she is not particularly popular among the Bharatanatyam dancers – and the DMK politicians who recently took back from her the land Ms.Jayalalitha (K.J.Sarasa’s student) gave her.

Perhaps Lord Nataraja himself through Mr.Karunanidhi’s action was laughing at Padma Subrahmaniam, showing that dancers do not need to waste their time on useless political and social activities.

Bharatanatyam

These fast changing difficult poses and acrobatic karanas require extraordinary balance and raised a storm of applause every time they were seen. However Harinie should polish some passages before presenting them on the stage, as freezing in a difficult static pose right in the middle of a very fast paced passage is a tremendous challenge to any dancer.

Speaking of karanas, surprisingly, the YouTube video gives the impression that S.U. has succeeded in choreographing and Harinie Jeevitha in handling the karanas in a harmonious and organic fashion indeed. S.U. did not repeat Sundari Santhanam’s mistake: instead of dancing herself, she let Harinie Jeevitha do it! 🙂

The theermanams themselves contained only 3 steps, much fewer than the average, much to the delight of those rasikas who cannot digest the ornamentalism of Shobana’s overstretched 20-step-long theermanams. Actually, Aadal Nayagam’s theermanams themselves did not end in the customary manner but with a brief scuplturesque sequence of nritta.

bharatanatyam
Bharatanatyam

Papanasam Sivan’s “Ka Va Va” in varali ragam and adi talam was the fourth item. It began – and ended too – with portraying a devotee eagerly waiting for the Lord to appear. It was a pleasant surprise to see such a young dancer convey the spiritual significance of such spiritually significant passages faithfully. Harinie’s abhinaya, with a rich palette of bhavas, was candid and touching. She was the very embodiment of Shiva’s nature in the scene of Shiva burning Manmadan. Her long fingers lent an exquisite artistic touch to each “plain” action.

While Harinie was portraying a devotee pleading with the Lord, each repetition of the same line brought about a visibly different variation in her abhinaya. Some passages were performed with a childlike abandon and innocence, which was particularly handy while portraying delicate coyness. Such uninhibited abhinaya has the power to convince and move the spectators’ hearts and minds. She was masterful at drishya bhedas, her eyelids impeccably following the tune and the rhythm. She moved smoothly and effortlessly between the semi-standing to sitting positions, without any unnecessary moves.

Bharatanatyam
Bharatanatyam

The concluding item was Dr. M Balamuralikrishna’s thillana in Kathanakuthukalam ragam. It was full of complex nritta and sculpturesque poses. Harinie’s long and
flexible fingers assumed the impeccable nritta hasthas at the right moments. Her mukha abhinaya was in harmony with the movements of her limbs, her face sparkling with myriad harmonious and spontaneous expressions. The thillana ended with a “trademark” pose characteristic of the dancers of SN. One of the rasikas, Bharatanatyam dancer Anita Sivaraman (granddaughter of Papanasam Sivan), concluded, “Harinie is obviously an extremely talented dancer.”

Quoting another, earlier review (seen in a few places already):

A recent Bharatanatyam recital by Harinie Jeevitha was attended by the rasikas filling a third of the Narada Gana Sabha’s Mini Hall in Chennai. The recital, organized by Kartik Fine Arts, who are noted for their efforts in picking up the young Bharatanatyam talents.

The items in this Bharata natyam recital

The invocatory item was in ragam Amrita Varshini and Adi talam. Harinie’s long and flexible fingers assumed the impeccable nritta hasthas at the right moments, lending the jathis the additional charm. Harinie’s mukha abhinaya was attuned to the movements of her limbs, her beautiful face sparkling with a myriad of harmonious and spontaneous expressions of the exuberant danseuse. Harinie’s nritta and nritya were full of refined sculpturesque poses and movements that her supple body assumed with ease, delineating each curve and bend with a high precision.

Bharatanatyam
Bharatanatyam

One peculiar movement, resembling a chari in Padma Subrahmaniam’s interpretation but with a higher amplitude, was the sideway swing of the outstretched leg in a graceful manner. This peculiar move left some viewers wondering how many dancers would be able to perform it as gracefully, highlighting the visual beauty of Bharatanatyam.
Harinie was fast and neat in executing the pirouettes, lifting high her knee sideways. Sitting in araimandi in a Vinayaka pose, she was able to jump forward and backward effortlessly and keeping good balance, something that few dancers are capable of doing nowadays.

Bharatanatyam

Professional dance photographers, who complain they usually have to discard most of the photos they take as “not quite beautiful”, would quickly notice one unique point about Harinie: it would be very hard to find a bad photo of hers.

Photos are always a problem for 99% of Bharatanatyam dancers!
Dominique Mong-Hune, while explaining why Priyadarsini Govind’s posters wisely use the spectacular photos of other schools’ dancers (actually, not just Priya but many Bharatanatyam schools worldwide),
wrote here:

“No need for her to compare to a young “prodigy” of SN who has still years to mature her already perfect technique”

Perhaps he used “to mature” as a euphonism to “grow old”! If the technique is “perfect” (well, who is perfect?), it’s fine. As for “maturity”, if it means “adequacy” or “accuracy” in the presentation, some children understand the deeper, spiritual things and express them in a far more genuine, spontaneous, pure and natural way than all the thousands of “mature” dancers who can express adequately only the ordinary human experiences and who appear vulgar parodist when they attempt to express the spiritual things.

Bharatanatyam
Bharatanatyam

The varnam Sakiye by Tanjor Quarted in Ananda Bhairavi ragam followed. It was in Adi talam too, just as the rest of the items. Harinie commenced it with a series of difficult adavus, accentuating each beat with sharp movements of her chin and her eyes. The circular torso movements immediately preceeding the theermanams were performed with a larger amplitude than usual, which underlined the agile danseuse’s skill. However, the theermanams themselves contained only 3 steps, much fewer than the average, much to the delight of those rasikas who cannot digest the ornamentalism of Shobana’s overstretched 20-step-long theermanams.

After the first jathi was over, one regular rasikas noted that, although the vocalist sang a “pidi”, a more complex pattern not normally used for a Bharatanatyam accompaniment, Harinie was nevertheless able to follow the undulating tune effortlessly and faithfully, which also highlighted the responsiveness of her mobile and agile limbs to the music. When asked what helps her in perfecting laya, Harinie said that it was to her vocal classes.

That’s an interesting point about “pidi”. If I understand it right, it denotes a sliding manner of vocal music when the vocalist dwells in the microtones area, the “notes between the notes”, much longer than normal. If it is already a great feat to make one’s body responsive to each note, how much harder is it to make it react to the microtones!

While Harinie was portraying a devotee pleading with the Lord, each repetition of the same line brought about a visibly different variation in her abhinaya. The passages like “please bring it to me immediately” were done with a childlike abandon and innocence, which was particularly handy while portraying delicate coyness. Such uninhibited abhinaya has the power to convince and move the spectators’ hearts and minds.

Bharatanatyam

Harinie was masterful at drishya bhedas, her eyelids impeccably following the tune and the rhythm. She moved smoothly and effortlessly between the semi-standing to sitting positions, without any unnecessary moves.

The second jathis in her Bharatanatyam recital made a friend of mine wonder if it was borrowed – almost in its entirety – from another varnam of S.U.. As it turned out to be, it was indeed taken from varnam Senthil Mevum, which raises the question whether a choreographer can simply recycle entire sets of jathis and re-use them again and again, even if they have proved to be a big hit.

One could not help observing that Harinie’s jathis perhaps needed a larger space than the 10-feet-wide stage of the mini hall. Harinie was elegant and refined in every move, whether she was taking rose water or grinding the sandal paste, her fingers lending an exquisite artistic touch to each “plain” action, although her renderings here were certainly not as elaborately perfect in this regard as Alarmel Valli’s. However, Harinie’s depiction of the mischievous Krishna, for instance, or the mood fluctuations from grief and back to joy were rendered smoothly and masterfully.

Bharatanatyam

The third item was a padam by Uttukadu Venkata Kavi in ragamalika. Here, the danseuse masterfully, and somewhat playfully, portrayed the contrast between Murugan’s 12 hand versus the devotee’s 2. Harinie’s long and mobile neck moved very gracefully, along with the opening and the closing of her eyelids, in the depiction of the peacock. She was elegant in her detached portrayal of the evil powers in the episode that says, “As long as Muguran is with me, no evil can harm me”. Harinie’s abhinaya in “I have only 2 hands to receive your blessings, while you have 12” was very overwhelmingly candid and touching, almost materialising the images of the scene. In this scene Harinie’s childlike disappointent with the received gifts was charming and brought a smile on the rasikas’ faces, just as in another scene, when she was contrasting Murugan’s greatness with the devotee’s smallness. It was a surprise to see such a young dancer to be so mature as to convey the spiritual significance of such passages faithfully.

The fourth item was a thillana by Dr.M.Balamuralikrishna in Kathanakuthukalam ragam. It was choreographed in a very original way and performed in even more original manner, fully of complex nritta and rare sculpturesque poses. It ended with a “trademark” pose characteristic of the dancers of SN.

Bharatanatyam
Bharatanatyam

Scope for further improvement

While Harinie was certainly very impressive in her recital, a trained eye could see that there are of course some areas she should pay more attention to. So, for instance, while her pirouettes maintained a vertical axis in the fast movement, she had some difficulty maintaining the balance in the slow turnarounds. Freezing suddenly in an absolutely static pose in the middle of a very fast-paced thillana is a tremendous challenge to any dancer.

Can we expect the araimandi level to be very steady, and not undulating, even when the dancer gets somewhat tired after dancing for 40-50 minutes continuously? Another question is, can we, or rather should we, expect a 13-year-old tender and delicate girl to be able to realistically portray a demon or a warrior, considering the fact that, typically, a danseuse who has achieved mastery in the tandavas is no longer capable of rendering the delicate lasyas?

Bharatanatyam

The dancers can and should learn by watching other dancers’ performances too. Had Harinie stayed in the hall after finishing her slot and watched the next dancer’s recital, she could have learnt that mastering a wide range of tempos is far easier to achieve than mastering a wide range of accelerations and decelerations, which becomes very prominent particularly in rendering different varieties of lasya.

New avenues?

One of the rasikas observed that the spectators too should be praised for braving Chennai’s traffic during the rush hours. “It takes the same time to go from Tambaram to Alwarpet as it takes from Toronto to Detroit, one rasikas complained. In such a situation, it is no wonder that more and more spectators prefer to watch Bharatanatyam recitals – as well as competitions – on TV.

The Bharatanatyam TV competitions conducted by Jaya TV and Doordarshan are increasingly popular, and it is no wonder the Harinie won the first prizes there too.

YouTube has this one to offer:

Neither live programmes nor television can stand comparison with the emerging medium of the Internet.
We were surprised to hear Harinie’s proud classmates revealing that her Internet videos receive lakhs of views per year.

Bharatanatyam

The 11-year-old child prodigy’s arangetram video became the most-watched Bharata natyam videos on the Web. With 400000 views (twice as many as Malavika Sarukkai’s) on YouTube alone, this Bharatanatyam video became a truly viral one:

The 13-year-old Harinie is probably one of the best-known junior dancers of today, with a large and impressive collection of Bharatanatyam prizes and awards. Apart from the prizes at competitions held in Chennai, she easily wins the first prizes in the all-India level competitions in Mumbai, Hyderabad or Bangalore too.

The orchestra

Nagai Narayanan (mridangam), a wel-known percussive expert, provided, along with S.U.’s nattuvangam, a firm guidance for Harinie’s steps and abhinaya. The other members of the orchestra included the vocalist Rajeshwari Kumar, who had a hard time struggling with a faulty mike provided by Narada Gana Sabha. Ramesh on the flute and Muruganandan on the violin were accurate and professional in their approach.

December season started: with Bharatanatyam…. and Suddha Nrittam performed by Manasvini Ramachandran!

The mad rat race started! 🙂 Last year 75 sabhas organized 2000 concerts (mainly music) during the December Season, leaving the absolute majority of the performers frustrated seeing fewer than 30 rasikas attending their programmes. The competition is tough, even tougher than the rush-hour traffic in Chennai.

Meet Manasvini Ramachandran

Instead of Kutcheribuzz’s schedule’s “Deepti Ravichandran” (Sudharani’s student, nothing special), The Hindu wrote that the one to be dancing Bharatanatyam at the inauguration function of Brahma Gana Sabha was some cryptic “K.R. MANASVINI”… Never mind, that’s Manaswini Ramachandran, Revati Ramachandran‘s daughter…

The performance started when the function was over. All the VIPs left, hurrying to attend their other functions (who cares about Bharatanatyam????), leaving some 200 people in Sivagami Petachi Auditorium. At the end of Manasvini’s performance, only 60 or so remained… Blind idiots! They missed a lot!

Revathi Ramachandran…

Manaswini Ramachandran is lucky that tailor-made was not only her costume but the choreography of her items. Her intellectual mommy carefully selected the items that Manasvini is good at. Does your Bharatnatyam guru teach you only the items that you will be good at???

Another advantage of having your mommy as your guru is that you can rehearse daily without going bankrupt. Manasvini’s every move was obviously ingrained in her body memory very deeply.

There is one thing that the rasikas are normally not aware of. It is called “bad eye” (“evil eye”) and “good eye”. Have you ever wondered why it is easier to do something well while nobody is watching you? Most rasikas have “neutral eye” in the sense that they do not actively anticipate (in magic it is called “make”) the dancer’s errors. Revathi Ramachandran was so engrossed in actively anticipating Manasvini’s perfection in every movement that it was actually Revathi dancing in Manasvini’s body. If a sledge hammer dropped on Revathi’s head at the time, she would not budge. Good concentration, ma’am. 🙂

Manasvini Ramachandran

No wonder Manasvini looked very confident and mentally relaxed, which probably contributed to her dancing fully: with every movement done unreservedly (she was trying to do her BEST!), with full energy and amplitude (like this dancer), in contrast with Coimbatore’s Lavanya Shankar’s half-hearted students whom she brought to dance in the Mylapore Fine Arts Club at the time of Manasvini’s Bharathanatyam peformance.

Manasvini has a perfect figure. She is not totally perfect. Her face below the eyes is not particularly mobile. Personally, I like that her upper lip is slighly raised, making her appear to smile slightly even when she fully relaxes her mouth. But it makes certain expressions more difficult. Her mukha abhinaya, although not her strongest point, was nevertheless quite subtle, graceful, and often very powerful (I guess the rasikas had goosebumps when they saw the scene when Manasvini was depicting how a deva was rising out of a lake – a perfect Adbhuta!). Well, while Manasvini’s face looks perfectly beautiful even from 2 metres away, it looks pretty average at the closer distance, so I don’t think they will ever show a lof of her close-ups on TV. No need, though.

Fast & strong!

She is. If you had so many rehearsals as she does…When she was rotating her hands before making a “lotus”, it was so fast and so perfect that literally the image of a lotus opening emerged before my eyes!!! If you placed a burning piece of camphor on Manasvini’s fast-moving head, it would blow it off in a second. This girl has a really flexible and very very strong back. Of course, when she is making fast steps she does not lift her heels high, and her knees move forward in araimandi, but these are minor flaws.

What a Laya!

All the senior professional Bharatanatyam dancers should watch Manasvini to learn what is Laya. If Urmila Sathyanarayanan’s abhinaya is hardly ever connected to the music at all, Manasvini’s every little movement of eyebrows, neck, shoulders and so on was so perfectly attuned to the change of every note that it made me say to myself, “Hell, is this dancer’s body a loudspeaker? Is the music itself created by her super-intricate graceful movements???????”

For example, while doing the theermanams, her joined hands above her head and her elbows were not held rigidly (unlike most other dancers’): they moved up and down very fast according to the beats, and along with the slight fluctuations of her chin and the rest of her body, which gave a spectacular effect. If the elderly buffalos “dance” without moving much, Manasvini is the exact opposite: she is Bharatnatyam itself!

If Urmila Sathyanarayanan’s arms can move detached from the rest of the body, giving you an impression of a robot, or a marching soldier or a hysterical break dancer, Manasvini’s body moves in a very natural and graceful manner.  In other words, when you move your arm, your neck should slightly move too. I do not know how Alarmel Valli manages to preserve this ability at her age. Normally, women gradually lose this ability after getting married. 😦

If the musicians are professional and creative, the dancer’s job is already half-done. Does your mrigangist bring just one drum? Here, we had 2, and a kanchira too (not as good as Sudharani Raghupathi’s son’s arsenal, but still…). While most musicians NEVER look at the dancer at all (they actually are supposed to FOLLOW the dancer;  the dancer is not supposed to FOLLOW the music!!!!!), Manasvini’s orchestra were keenly intent on following her. So when Manasvini touched the floor with her hand, the mridangist gave a few very distinct beats, emhasising and underlining her move. It was done so well that the rasikas wanted to give a spontanous round of applause. (the surprised Revathi cast the mridangist a fiery look, but she was happy too).

Suddha Nrittam..

Well, Natya Shastra defines it as “a sequence of karanas”, but in the desi Bharata natyam tradition it came to mean something else… Anyway…

You thought that your salangai can produce only one or two varieties of sound? Manasvini demonstrated that salangai is a musical instrument!! It is very rare to see a Bharatanatyam dancer fully explore the potential of the salangai. The tapping techniques of the Melattur style require an immense strength, control and speed that most dancers lack. Mangudi Dorairaja Iyer was very pleased watching Manasvini from his garlanded portrait. 🙂

Revathi Ramachandran, with the help of Haridos, created a very original piece of music, where Manasvini’s salangai danced in line with the beats of the 2 mridangam very precisely even at the lightning speeds (the drummer has 10 fingers to do what the dancer has to accomplish with just 2 feet!!!). A very interesting passage was the dialog between the mridangam and the salangai, when Manasvini faithfully echoed each beat. So well that a picture of the tap dancing emerged in my mind:

Looks like Bharatanatyam? 🙂

Are all Bharatanatyam dancers so great?

Swarnamalya, who cannot dance Bharatanatyam at all (to judge by her video),  in ‘The mad stampede,’ The New Indian Express, artfest@margazhi, Dec 3, 2007 wrote:

Margazhi for dancers is, indeed, a mad stampede. Are we happy about this? Absolutely. Yet, as I dream about the flavor and fragrance of the forthcoming festival, a small part of me aches. The tragedy is audiences today are only more familiar with the ‘mass scale Bharatanatyam’ and are unable to recognize a first rate performance. Even some of these performers are forced to realign their style to the ‘popular level’ by imitating the tricks and mannerisms of the ‘stars’ for that is how one can draw crowds. Large doses of these have resulted in our acceptance of mediocrity.

If the outright bad dancers like Swarnamalya (who realigned her style to the ‘popular level’ in her cine career) complain about “mediocrity”, what can I say???? 🙂 I can say that she learnt a lot of political thought-twisting for her MA Bharatanatyam degree at Madras University! 🙂
Manasvini is different 🙂

Oh, my… Bharatanatyam! 🙂


Alarmel Valli’s Bharatanatyam… or Odissi? The forgotten heritage of Chokkalingam Pillai, Subbaraya Pillai, the “functions” and the VIP’s.

(this post is based on the report by G.K.)

If you thought that Padams and Javalis are reserved for the elderly, out of shape grandma’s whose only body parts that can still somehow move is their face (well, even this is problematic if there is half a kilo of fat under your face’s skin!), you should watch Alarmel Valli.

The evening of 28th was officially dedicated to the memory of Subbaraya Pillai, and the Shivagami Petachi AUditorium was fully packed despite the fact that the only announcement of this event was a small note in last week’s Friday review. As Mrs. Parthasarathy declared, all the city’s elite gathered that evening to watch Alarmel dance, and no parking space left in the school’s compound. How elite were the VIP’s could be seen by how brutally some rasikas were forced out of their seats in the first row, followed by even more embarrassing evictions of the lesser VIP’s by the more “senior” VIP’s. The fight for the first row seats reminds me of Subbaraya Pillai, who refused to sit in the first rows and was resentful of all these cheri VIP’s. Doesn’t Alarmel Valli gets annoyed while communicating with them? She probably does. On the other hand, just like Subbaraya Pillai, Nandini Ramani was seated in some 20th row on the 28th August.

Alarmel was indeed dancing well, as usual her dance was marked by midukku with liberal use of ottam adavus, light jumps, incredible coverage of stage space, a kulukku in her walk, talukku, an alakshyam as she flicks her wrist in the ullaasa nadai. Every slightest move was fully controlled and chiseled, lending it the artistic, and sometimes artsy, finish. Why Alarmel keeps doing mostly the same padams and javalis every time she does a performance in Chennai is bewildering. Anyway, she has changed her vocalist this time, and Savita Narasimhan was indeed singing with a delicate and powerful voice. Valli can afford to hire the best musicians, that’s for sure.

Alarmel Valli’s “style”, if we can call it so, involves the elements that few other dancers can emulate. The soft and delicate movements are alternated with the sharp, accentuated moves that are probably aimed at not letting the rasikas fall asleep. Every hand movements are supported by the foot movements. And every step is done to the talam. (Something that I very rarely see!). Every “simple” movement is meticulously elaborated into a super-complex set. I noticed that the number of bhedas (and the range of their speeds and amplitudes) that she uses is considerable greater than any other dancer’s. Priyadarshini Govind or Urmila Sathyanarayanan are nobodies compared with Alarmel.

Alarmel’s background in Odissi could be seen in very rich and complex torso movements (some borrowed from Mohiniattam!) that “normal” Bharatanatyam dancers forgot about thanks to the founder of Kalakshetra’s efforts. (Is this why so many professional Bharatanatyam dancers in Chennai take Odissi or Mohiniattam classes , I wonder?) Another thing they could learn is how to control their eye lashes. Alarmel has mastered these to a great extent. Usually, people are not even aware of how they open and close their eyes. But it does produce a very powerful effect.

Mrs. Parthasarathy rightly observed that Alarmel Valli’s expressions do not cross that border after which they would turn into grimaces. I wonder how most of our other “senior” bharatanatyam exponents manage to produce so many ugly faces!

In the Yugame padam Alarmel Valli was portraying a miserable woman who was left by her lover. It was an attempt to depict a devotee’s anguish at the separation from the Lord. It appeared that Valli has had no actual spiritual experience that alone would lend this padam more depth.

In another padam Valli was attempting to depicting a mother who was coaxing her child to come and eat something. The child was supposed to symbolize the devotee’s soul who is turned away from the lures of the world. For anybody who has had this spiritual experience (if you had it, you can very easily recognize the other people who had the same experiences), it was obvious that Alarmel Valli has never had this direct spiritual experience, which rendered her padam rather weak.

Another padam that Alarmel did was about a woman who had an intimate encounter with her lover the previous night. This man embarrasses her in public by behaving in a rather rude manner. The spiritual symbolism here is quite obvious for anybody whose social life has been deranged by the direct spiritual experiences (if you watched Jim Carrey’s “The Liar”, you would realize how much a “successful” bharatanatyam dancer has to lie to reach the “top”). In fact, tears filled in my eyes, as the theme of this padam brought out the memories of certain realizations. The tears came before Valli started dancing.

There were no tears while I was watching Valli dance. The impression I had was like… While visiting some friends, I saw some nice fruits on the table, thinking that these fruits are so nice. On coming closer, I realized that the attractive looks were misleading: the fruits were made of plastic. Alarmel Valli’s padams and javalis are sometimes like the perfectly-shaped and perfectly-colored apples, grapes and bananas which, nevertheless, are of little value since you cannot eat them. These will not provide the sustenance for your soul’s spiritual hunger…. The artsy Bharatanatyam items have no real flavour, no taste, and are hollow inside.

If Amarmel Valli was a bit more open-minded and less proud of her achievements, should take abhinaya lessons from some 9-year girls. After all, Lalitha Sahasra Namam describes Devi as “Dhurga who is a nine year old girl” (not an old grandma). At this age, our abhinaya is not yet disconnected from our soul.

I always wonder why the “functions” are held before the end – not after – the performance. Had it been after the performance, the VIP speakers would surely face a very embarrassing situation with 99% of the spectators leaving before the speeches start. Mrs. Parthasarathy was again trying to promote her PSBB, stressing that many PSBB students are learning at Alarmel Valli’s Dipasikha. She did not want to embarrass Alarmel Valli by asking why in the past 4 years there have been just one or two solo performances in Chennai by Dipasikha’s students. Alarmel Valli brought one to dance in Chennai from… the USA, where Alarmel spends a lot of her time. Does she follow Subbaraya Pillai’s tradition and teach very talented students there regardless of how much they pay? She teaches only one-to-one, right? Business skills are not the only thing that Alarmel Valli learnt in America: about 5% of her movements (aimed at impressing the average American cowboy) clearly appear to be borrowed from artsy ballet and modern dance. That’s the application of lokadharmi, isn’t it???

Another speaker who was boring the rasikas was Dr.R.Nagaswamy. In his senile imbecility he referred to Chokkalingam Pillai’s relation with the 108 karanas. (There is no way Alarmel can do the more difficult karanas – unlike this young dancer). Why neither Chokkalingam Pillai nor Alarmel Valli wanted to talk about karanas is very simple: neither of them has ever known how to perform these. And the aging Alarmel is a bit too lazy to spend much time on getting fitter. Another idiocy that Dr.R.Nagaswamy was dwelling on was his idea of making a memorial in Vazhuvoor. Why this village has long forgotten anything related to Bharatanatyam is up to Chokkalingam Pillai to answer. Indeed, why did most of these village dance teachers left their villages and settled in Indian cities? Or American cities?

In a Sruti magazine’s article of February 2002, we find many revelations.

To the question, “I read somewhere that, according to a treatise on abhinaya, one of the chief qualities of a dancer is that she be beautiful…”, Alarmel replies, “I would like to think that for a dancer it is her inner beauty that counts. Take the example of the late T. Balasaraswati, one of India’s greatest exponents of abhinaya. I have been transported, watching her perform at 60.She could make you see her exactly as she wanted you to see her. If you looked at her, you would see a beautiful, young, charming girl of 16″.

The inner beauty…. well, even the ugliest K.J.Sarasa are very beautiful inside if they are famous, rich or powerful. Alarmel is quick to dismiss the ancient scriptures as nonsense, and believes that both Bharata Muni and Nandikeshwara are idiots as they believed that natya in its material expression is to be the expression of the physical body too. But when Alarmel has to choose between a politically correct answer (“when we describe beauty, it is inner beauty and aesthetics we are talking about”) and an honest answer.

Alarmel Valli still is quite sober: “Let me tell you something. Never take too seriously what dancers write! Even scholars are prone to make mistakes – not only factual mistakes but ones relating to interpretation as well.”

Secrets of success of a solo Bharatanatyam recital. Learn how a Bharata natyam dancer can get a lot of fans who had no idea that Bharatnatyam can be fascinating. :)

Warning: this article is not meant for those who are doing Bharatanatyam just as a hobby. Only 1% of Bharatanatyam students have a chance to become real professionals.

While 2000 years ago people had very few options for entertainment, the age of TV, Internet and theme parks brought about the enormous competitive pressure. While they too are already successfully using the new media, the TV and the Internet, the Bharatanatyam dancers are facing a stark reality: their “art” (well, is Bharatanatyam just “art”?) cannot stand the competition as far as the entertaining aspect is concerned.

But Natya has two aspects: entertainment (desi) and enlightenment (margi). As far as enlightenment goes, Natya is beyond competition. The problem is, there is very little left out of margi in the contemporary Bharatanatyam…

Music

50% of your success will depend on your orchestra and music. That’s a lot!

If your vocalist can modulate his voice and produce intense and varied bhavas at least as well as Manasi Prasad or Unnikrishnan…If your mridangist can vary the strength of the beats every 2-3 seconds on a wide range and as fast as K.S.Sudhaman does… If you understand that violin cannot be a replacement for flute, and that veena alone is suitable for making many passages interesting…The reason that Saraswathy holds a veena (not a violin or saxophone) in her hands…

Can you afford additional instruments, such as morsing, kanjeera, tabla, ghatam, etc.?
If you prefer to blur your music in a jazz-like way Udupi Lakshminarayan does, add a keyboard player so that he would completely wash out everything else and destroy your recital. (Keyboard players do not have the same degree of control over their instruments as the non-keyboards, so the timing for each note cannot be as precise as in veena, for example).

The music arrangement is to be done in a professional way that would utilize the strength of each instrument in a suitable manner at the appropriate times. Even the traditional, often performed (stale) items, can be presented in a totally new fashion.

Do your items have only 3 fixed (flat) tempos? It would be boring! “Predictable” means “boring”. The professionals vary the tempos gradually and continuously (with lots of surprises) throughout each item, even introducing pauses here and there. And each item has to end in a distinct way.

If you want your music to be as good as Anita Sivaraman’s, Padma Subrahmaniam’s or Alarmel Valli’s, you may either go bankrupt or invest a lot of time searching for and training a good but affordable orchestra and the composer/music arranger. 😦

Topics & themes

The dancer has to be aware that the selection of the themes (mostly grouped by the rasas) and techniques (classified by the tattvas) for his/her items has to accommodate different types of spectators.

Natya Shastra tells us a lot. Here, we’ll give you some hints. :

The elderly like the tales of virtue and puranic legends.
The reason that 90% of the rasikas are elderly people (who bring their grandchildren along). Bhakti, Vatsalya & Karuna rasas…

Young people are pleased to see the scenes of love.
If your recital does not attract the youth, ask yourself what is the ratio of rati sringara in your items. Want to compete with the young film stars of Kollywood or Bollywood? Look in the mirror first. If your face looks like Meenakshi Chittarajan’s or Priya Murle’s, or if it’s as expressionless as A.Lakshmanan’s, don’t even try to do it. If your figure is Padma Subrahmaniams, people will laugh at your “sringara“. Know your limits. 🙂

The learned want to see a reference to some religious/philosophical teachings
If the dancer does not understand these, there is no way he/she will be able to present these things adequately. In other words, if you are dumb, don’t try to interpret the mystic doctrines!

The seekers of money love the topics of wealth and its acquisition.
If you want to get rich sponsors at a corporate, that’s what you have to start with! There is a wealth of ancient topics that deal with it. Read the Artha Shastra.

The passionless want to watch the topics of liberation.
Shanta rasa…. If you are going to present your recital in an ashram… But if you are not even close to understanding what liberation stands for, don’t make yourself a clown.

Heroic people want to see the scenes in Rudra- and Jugupsa-dominated rasas, with combat scenes.
Not just the army and police folks. Well, hard to compete with the Bruce Lee movies! Why is it that whenever the Dhananjayans produce anything of this kind, it makes me laugh??? 🙂
I have just imagined the 80-year-old Sudharani Raghupathi doing a combat scene…. Would put me to sleep… Snoring…

Common women, children and the uncultured men (murkha) are always delighted with the comic scenes and fascinating costumes and makeup.
Since this category is the most numerous, think of putting more Hasya scenes. Make sure you don’t look too ugly while laughing! Get a nice costume and learn good makeup. If you are a fat, clumsy and ugly dancer, that’s your audience.

Know your audience

Why nobody wants to watch us dance???? We are discriminated against!!!

Why nobody wants to watch us dance????

Do you know that most brahmins today are of the shudra type, but some (2-3%) contemporary SC’s and ST’s have the sattva-dominated nature of the true brahmin? 😦 Although Natya Shastra tells us that, for example, the cheri (inferior human type) spectators will not appreciate the finer art that is appreciated by the superior, uttama, spectators, this limitation can be overcome to some extent by mastering all the necessary techniques.

Techniques

We will classify them according to the main chakras:

Sahasrara
No faith (shraddha), no (spiritual) gain. If you have a divine inspiration and tejas, you may already be a saint. The problem is, saints are usually recognized and get popularity long after they are dead.

Soma
Here is the control over the Hasya.  The dancer has to be cheerful and even playful (the dancers with some Kuchipudi training understand what it is better). 🙂 It has some connection with Medha (it’s not related to Medha Hari! 🙂 ). Open this lotus and learn how to bring joy and humour even to the most depressive of the rasikas.

Ajna
If the rasikas are not paying attention to your dancing, think why one of the 64 vedic arts was “taking control of the crowd by mystic means”. It implies looking into the crowd of the rasikas in a certain way (they have to feel the “eye contact”). It is related to Drishti (something that most dancers are clueless about!). The more focussed you are, the easier you will engage the audience. Take some lessons from Barack Obama 🙂 Don’t complain if you can’t move your eyes at will! 😦 Want to test your mental concentration? Close your eyes, try to dance and see how good your balance is! 🙂 Oh, you still have the ambition to become a professional Bharatanatyam dancer, eh??? 😦

Vishudhi
Music and voice (already described in more detail above). Bring good music (and make sure the loudspeakers are good). It is related to Laya, Vacho and Geetam. Train your voice and introduce your items the way Alarmel Valli does, and the success is yours. Before each item she establishes rapport with the audience. Remember, she speaks from the heart or the throat registers, not from the head. You can’t speak? Hire a good compere.

Anahata
Make your bhavas profound and intense. Be sincere, understand your characters’ relations and minds. If the audience are the refined rasikas in a small auditorium, don’t overdo your expressions! 🙂 Remember: those miserable spectators came to seek for a spark of joy, so don’t overburden them with the tragic expressions!

Manipura
Do the brisk nrittas and difficult karanas. It’s about Javaha. 🙂 If you are doing it effortlessly and irradiate the energy, it will draw the attention. Stamina problems? 🙂 Sweating too much? The jaw drops every now and then? 🙂 Look miserable after dancing for 5 minutes? Need to do kapalabhati, eh? 🙂

Swadhisthana
If you are a woman, have you wondered why your recitals don’t attract men? Cannot do Lasya properly? People complain that you look and move like a eunuck? Ok, we have a hint for you. The people who are selected as “sex symbols” have the uncanny ability to attract the opposite sex. Hint: learn the sexy karanas and bhedas. Learn to move gracefully. And a lot more. See how sexy Alarmel Valli moves her shoulders and chest? Oh, look at the flutter of her eyelashes! Now, don’t you want to murder Rukmini Devi for popularizing her unisex bland Kalakshetra version of Bharatanatyam devoid of talukku, kulukku, alakshyam, midukku,or any graceful ottam adavus?

Muladhara
Purely physical things. How good is your angasudhi? Cannot sit in araimandi, eh? Cannot do atami? Cannot lift your leg? Do your fingers bend properly in all the mudras? How many hastas do you use, actually? (It seems there are 548 , but you need to do Alarmel Valli-style introductions for all these mudras, or else nobody will understand!)

You have to be beautiful, wear a beautiful costume, makeup and jewelry! 🙂 Ever wondered why the scriptures have… errrr… certain physical requirements for professional dancers? :)In other words, if you are a woman and excel by your beauty, youthfulness, brilliance and other qualities all other women standing by, you will not have to compete for attention! 🙂

Commercialism in Bharatnatyam. Bharatanatyam copycats. And copyright in Bharata natyam. True Bharathanatyam gurus vs Bharathanatyam dance instructors.

Have you ever wondered about the difference between a Bharatanatyam guru and a Bharatanatyam dance instructor?

Due to the mushrooming of Bharatanatyam schools and exploding number of dancers, the competition has been growing from tough to ultra tough. Who will be the winners of this rat race? This post will explore the issue of copying, copyrights, professionalism and commercialism.

The history of the Indian culture does not know of anything like intellectual property and royalties. Many, if not most, great pieces of art and literature of the past have remained unsigned, their authors anonymous, while the more recent composers make it a point to insert their signature everywhere. This dirty stamp of ahamkar (ego) has marked the advent of Kali Yuga.

Every Indian has an unconscious conviction that knowledge, just like flowers in the Himalayas, cannot belong to an individual. In fact, it is thanks to the enthusiastic copying that the ancient scriptures survived thousands of years. Had they been so popular and successful if their authors insisted on getting royalties from each copy? Indeed, how much did Valmiki charge for each copy of his Ramayana?

The Hindu surprised its readers with the foreboding of the aggressive advance of the western $ culture:

Lalgudi G. Jayaraman (renowned Carnatic musician) of T. Nagar and Sujatha Vijayaraghavan and Radha, both of Chennai, filed an application seeking an interim order of injunction restraining the respondents Cleveland Cultural Alliance, Ohio, U.S. and A. Lakshmanan of Annanagar here from staging the dance ballet and infringing their copyrights…

They (Lalgudi G. Jayaraman, Sujatha Vijayaraghavan and Radha) owned the entire copyright over the ballet and they staged it in several places in India.

The Indian art, including Bharatanatyam, has long been considered as a religious offering, a gift for the gods, something that belongs to gods only. Other than offering such a gift, the artist had not even thought of making any copyright claims. Such claims would be considered as shameful.

Now, when some works of art are no longer considered by their authors as a sacred offering but rather, as a commercial commodity (or even junk), we can speak of the difference between a true Bharatanatyam guru and a merely Bharatanatyam dance instructor, the difference between an artiste and a craftsman:

Earl Hunsinger explains:

Artists are now respected as gifted, as geniuses, as divinely inspired. Crafts people just make stuff. In an ironic twist, artists are considered professionals, while crafts people may be viewed as amateurs that sell stuff on the weekend at the local fair. Does it matter? Probably not if you’re considered an artist. For someone that has been labeled as a crafts person, maybe so. In addition to the matter of respect, it’s been said, only half jokingly, that the difference between an art object and a craft object is several thousand dollars.

I’ve seen paintings hanging in modern art galleries that look like an child made them for his mother, and not a very talented child. My personal criteria has always been, if it looks like I could have painted it, it’s not art. The aesthetic value of a piece should be determined, not by the label given to it, but by the creativity seen in its design and execution. Ultimately, isn’t that what art is supposed to be, a product of the imagination brought to life for all to see?

Arul Francis gives us his opinion:

A dancer may have put in lots of years and finally have earned an advanced piece in exchange for her ability and seniority. Of course she’s not going to want to give that away to copycats by putting it on video. Others will simply copy the piece and perform it themselves and tweak this or that and ruin the piece. The person who created the piece will not get any credit or mention. It will just be plagiarized. There has to be a way around it though.

Let us single out each point:

no guru will teach the newcomer an advanced piece

Most gurus retain their senior students by creating an expectation that these students will – some day – be taught “advanced and rare items”. What is “advanced”, you may wonder? Do such items exist at all? Have you ever watched such “advanced” pieces performed by your guru’s seniormost students? In what way is it “advanced”? Is this piece something that your guru learnt from their own gurus, or is it what he choreographed himself?

These are the questions that most out-of-shape gurus – whose only body part that somehow manages to move is their “dancing face” – hate to answer. 🙂 But then, if it is only some cheri “mukha abhinaya” that is left to be taught, you’d better run away as soon as you can. After all, since the cat (or rather 8 of them) of Mami’s Magic is out of the bag, everybody can buy those DVDs and see that the king is… naked!

Well, if these “advanced” items are ever performed for an audience, a truly advanced student can just go there and watch, and note down the choreography. That’s, if you don’t have a good cameraphone with video recording capability 🙂

Well, why do they call dance instructors “gurus”? Well, if there are IT, farming and banking gurus, there must be Bharatanatyam gurus too, right? 😦

Minakshi Ajay puts it this way:

The Upanishads have profoundly underlined the role of the guru. Mundak Upanishad says to realize the supreme godhead holding samidha grass in his hands one should surrender himself before the guru who knows the secrets of Vedas.

If your guru knows the secrets of Vedas, you are lucky, as such a guru has attained to the physical immortality as well as all the other siddhas. (We will give you a Rs.10000000 gift voucher if you tell us where to find such a person). Well, why did Minakshi mention all this in her article on Bharatanatyam??? As if she knows any Bharatanatyam gurus who can at least read the Vedas, not to mention understanding them!

One ancient tradition we still keep: the Bharatanatyam gurus will always try to promote their well-paying, high-status but inferior students at the expense of putting down the more talented students. The gurus create all kinds of obstacles for their “less important” students. For example, in case of Bharatanatyam competitions, if the gurus send more than 1 students to contest a prize, sometimes these gurus have to bribe the judges so that they would not give the 1st prize to the most talented dancer but to some other, VIP student. If you are among your guru’s most talented students, don’t be surprised to learn that your guru used the mean and dirty methods to promote other, less capable VIP students, at the expense of your dance career.

Unbelievable? Read what Minakshi tells us:

The most popular legend is that of the amazing young tribal boy Ekalavya on being rejected by the ace trainer Dronacharya, raised his statue and with great dedication practised the art of archery and left behind Arjuna, the master archer, who actually learnt the art under the living guru. And the heartless guru asked for his thumb as gurudakshina or fees, and made him inferior before his royal disciple.

a lot of dancers copy each other’s pieces

“I take my Handycam every time I go to the Natyanjali and other festivals”, confesses one professional Bharatanatyam dancer. “Otherwise I watch Bharatanatyam on TV or YouTube – there is more than I have time for it!”

Some Bharatanatyam gurus give their students the videos of a dancer’s performance and ask them to merely copy it. The question is, how well can they actually copy?

My most advanced students have been trying to copy this piece (performed by an outstanding dancer) for the past 5 years but so far they have not been able to copy more than 80%. They can’t copy the nuances, the smaller details. Well, they can’t even do the mudras properly or the bhedas“, – complained a senior guru.

It takes an exceptional virtuoso to copy a genius successfully. But then, if you are a genius, you will never even think of copying others!

Even if we make a poor replica of a masterpiece, how many people will be able to tell the original from the fake? 2%?
For the ogranizers of the corporate shows, all items will appear identical as long as the title is identical.
Re-packaging, re-labeling, re-mixing and re-branding is now in vogue.

some copycats will “ruin” the “original” choreography by “tweaking this or that”

Other gurus are more cunning: they modify a bit here and a bit there and sell it as “original”.
The question is, isn’t choreography supposed to be evolving?
And, didn’t the traditional Sadir choreography degrade beyond recovery 300 years ago?

there is a person who “created the original piece”

What is “original”????
Can any author really make a claim that he has not used bits and pieces from some other people’s work?

Sirisha believes that:

dance should be an art that should spread with zero inhibitions, and specially to people who cant afford it.

How many students in your Bharatanatyam dance schools are studying for free? If you are learning with a true Bharatanatyam guru who is untarnished by the emerging commercialism, you are lucky.

What makes a Bharatanatyam dancer successful. The dying tradition of Pandanallur style… and the evolution of Bharata natyam. Bharatnatyam career.

This post was provoked by the lonely Arul Francis’s blog , and is related to 3 other posts of ours: Success in Solo Performance, The Future of Bharatanatyam. Through the prism of Bharatnatyam’s great Past ,         The “Hereditary” ones…. And back to karanas!

his post consists of 2 parts: what makes a successful Bharatanatyam career, and then we overview Subbaraya Pillai’s “tradition” (can we call it so?) and the evolution of Bharatanatyam.

While most of Arul’s points are perfectly valid, here we will focus largely on those points that the conservatives (“traditionalists”) tend to misunderstand and misrepresent.

Grounded
Here, Arul touches the topic of “success”.

Indeed, what makes a dancer “successful”? What makes a career successful? And a performance?

From the devadasi’s point of view, the only kind of success she was aiming at was her personal spiritual growth, experiences, realizations. Her secondary goal, just as any shaman’s, was the procuring of the divine blessings and protections for the devadasi’s benefactors.

Anjana Rajan put it in simple terms:

No matter how much we talk of Bharatanatyam today being a devotional art, it is only rarely that the inherent spirituality of the form, the mysticism of the scriptures as conveyed through mudras and music, becomes visible. To relate to the spiritual essence without allowing the dance technique to disintegrate into a mash of feeling is not easy.

Not just the mudras and music, of course, but, much more importantly, about performing the karanas like this. Natya Shastra describes 2 types of “Success” (“siddhi”, or perfection) of the performance by the rajadasi types of dancers: daiviki (divine) and manusi (human). There are the signs of the human and the signs of the divine success. There are two expression of human success: vocal and bodily.

Signs of success expressed vocally:

  • slight smile,
  • smile,
  • laughter,
  • exclamations such as “excellent”,
  • tumultuous applause

Signs of success expressed by body language:

  • Joy expressed in horripilation
  • the rising up from the seat and giving away of clothes and throwing of rings (or other gifts)

The signs of divine success are more interesting:

  • there must be the overwhelming Sattva in the display of Bhavas (i.e. the psychological states are pure / expressed clearly)
  • no noise, no disturbance, no unusual occurrence (during the performance)
  • the auditorium is full of spectators

At one of Narada Gana Sabha’s performances, with fewer than 10 rasikas and a below average dancer (from outside Chennai), the compere proudly announced, “We thank you the sabha for making todays performance a great success”. The dancer was so disappointed that she did not laugh. The rasikas exchanged funny looks. 🙂

Arul writes,
“You meet someone who is very “successful” – they have all the trophies: a fancy degree, a great job, a fancy house, a fancy car – but when you actually try to get to know the person, you realize there is nothing there. A vacuum. A shell. Success seems to destroy some people. I see the equivalent in dance as well. “Success” can be pretty scary and turn someone into a freak.”

A fancy degree can only impress a few old idiots in India, not in the USA, where any idiot can get a fancy degree for a hundred bucks. If the dancer tries to impress the American audience by listing her degree in medicine or banking, the Americans usually either smile or laugh, but are polite enough not to laugh too loudly.

A great job. The “successful” dancers include Srinidhi Chidambaram who spent most of her time on her medical career, got a great and stable job in public health administration, married a rich man, lost the ability to dance. Other great jobs include the Indian Railway administration posts (Ananda Shankar Jayant), insurance agents and bank clerk’s jobs.

Money! 🙂 Indeed, a great measure of success in Kali Yuga. Go, ask how dancers earn money. They will tell you.

Arul forgot to list “titles & awards” because these are looked upon – especially by Americans – as meaningless. After all, we know how much politics and money it takes to get a “prestigious” title !

Arul tells us that

One time a dance-critic wrote mockingly about the awards given out during the December season: “what a clatter of siromanis and … ” and I was laughing along because I agreed with what she was saying. Every time you turn around someone is handing someone else an award, a title, or an honour. It is just ridiculous. All those shawls and shields and plaques. What a waste.

Spending too much time on the political activities will turn the dancer into a fat hypocrite. Arul teaches us some diplomatic tricks:

one of the VIPs accosted me and said: “what did you think of my speech?” and I was caught off-guard. I couldn’t very well answer: “I was outside eating samosas”. So I said: “everyone thought it was a very fitting tribute”. And they continued: “what did you think of my quotes from Shakespeare”. And I didn’t know what to say so I said: “well, you can’t go wrong with Shakespeare”.

You may get in trouble if you lie too much:

Someone came up and whispered something into this VIP’s ear and they turned upon me indignantly and said: “Arul, it seems you weren’t even inside? What’s this? It seems you went outside during the speeches?” and I was caught red-handed!

You have to understand the etiquette and the hierachies:

The last speaker was Karunanidhi – it seems he had released some book or novel – he was a very good speaker. We sat in the back even though Meenakshi’s mother came and pulled Master’s hand and said: “Sir, you must sit in the front row” but Master would not. He sat in the back. Apparently, when the real VIPs arrived everyone who was occupying the front row would be unceremoniously kicked back and that could be embarrassing.

You will not have the time for practising Bharatanatyam. You will have to lie, lie and have to be mean, very mean. You will have to forge political alliances with some Bharatanatyam clans, and fight against the “enemies” (competing clans). You will become very bitter, and the corners of your mouth will move down, wriggling in wry smiles. How else can you smile if you feel like murdering that fat sabha’s committee member who expects a big bribe/donation? 😦 You will feel like your life is wasted. And wasted it is!

Anita Ratnam wrote:
“There is too much political correctness going around and far too much sycophancy to really help dance…. That dance scene in India has become corrupt and bloated is something nobody disagrees with”.

What the dancers really value and like to list in their resumes is the opportunities to perform a solo at an “established” (old) sabha’s festival or at least at Natyanjali in Chidambaram. Without these performances, you will not get your title or award. To do that, you will have to get various “recommendations” from the “established” dancers & gurus. To get these, you will have to go and kiss their feet (and other parts of their body), become their obsequious student for a year or two, exhibit the utmost sycophancy to the people you abhor and disdain, and tell them a lot of false compliments that you don’t feel like saying. The more you praise them, the faster you will lose the ability to distinguish the truth from the illusions. Welcome to Maya!

Sirisha reveals the undercurrents of the present day dance career and exploitation:

I always wondered that its difficult to perform for big sabhas specially some in chennai, its so tough to get through anyone to avail a chance to perform,i have written letter, mails.I dont get any reply! Is it the fact that only famous dancers are given opportunity there and only known faces get to perform.

its the question again should we keep quiet and just watch the rat race or be a part to win them, i see so many ordinary dancers doing so many big shows,not to say or put my dance on high platform, but i sure dance with better standards than some of them. Wel how much does recognition come:(. I am no more with any guru presently, but did n number of shows for my gurus at their corporate shows and their umpteen lecture demos.I thank them whole heartedly for making me a dancer of really competetive level, it was that gratitude which held me for long all this while. But now am out of the institution for good, cant blame anyone for anything.but thought should voice the exploitation only once and walk out.I have being teaching with them for eight years, and was among their cream of senior ensembles. But how long should i keep quiet?????? No answer,
I think dance should be an art that should spread with zero inhibitions,and specially to people who cant afford it.

Do u suggest any gurus whom i can go to continue my advanced training.just asking out of blue.

i live in bangalore, and i had begun my style of dance with vazhavur style, then continued with gurus for my advanced training, and they dint folow particularly any style, but taught every thing that was special in all styles.

The strategy of an exploitative (selfish) guru is very simple:

  • don’t give your best students a chance to perform solo programmes,
  • don’t teach them too much of advanced solo items,
  • don’t give them credits at a group performance or in a DVD release,
  • don’t let them get in direct contact with the customer (the person who pays for the performance, tour, TV show, lec-dem, film role, etc).

Without performances, nobody will publish the reviews of your dance no matter how much you pay the journalists/critics and fawn over them. Without the good publicity, you will not become famous. To get into the Hindu’s Friday Review used to be the pinnacle of the dancers’ dreams. The problem now is that every small newspaper or web site are publishing tons of worthless reviews whose only aim is to promote (clumsily or not very) the reviewed dancers! 🙂

Without titles and reviews, it is harder to get recognition. Everybody knows how much it takes to get empaneled at the ICCR. Unless some VIP from the ruling political party calls the Doordarshan panel of judges and gives them instructions, you will not get the A Grade. How can one get, for example, the recognition from the Texas Commission on the Arts? Or from Young Audiences of Houston? What is the value of Certificate of Appreciation from the Governor of California? Or from the Association of Toilet Cleaners of New Delhi?

We could add popularity as another measurement of success. Hmmm…. What kind of popularity? Among whom? I am wondering why some Bharatanatyam videos performed by an 11-year-old on YouTube get 10 times more views than Vyjayanthimala’s videos there! As for Michael Jackson’s kind of popularity… Oh, yea! Yea! It seems that the popularity among the cheri rasikas, the undiscriminating and bored audience who need just some excitement and entertainment. Many dancers dream of becoming another Vyjayanthimala, Kamala, Padma, Shobana… A cheri dancer who dances vulgar dances on TV. Becoming a film actress is an “achievement”: you will forget what is Bharatanatyam. This was the reason how Subbaraya Pillai treated

anyone from the world of “cinema” he automatically refused, as did his father

your life will disconnect from your soul, you will be treated like a prostitute by the film directors (and many others), but you will have a lot of money. When I met Shobana, I felt that this woman is very miserable. Many top actresses commit suicide, but she has not yet! 🙂

The new developments

As you probably know, before dancing, the dancer propitiates Nataraja or Vinayaka and asks to grant success for the recital.

Arul writes:
There was a time I went to Vani Mahal and saw a lovely performance. The dancer sprang to one corner of the stage in a beautiful graceful jump and sat down and began offering flowers and raising her eyes above – and directly above on the wall was a large picture of a package of Chips – the brand which was sponsoring the show. It was funny!

Many dancers feel they need to worship the green American dollar. 🙂

There is something Arul does not understand when he writes:
“Someone has to patronize and come up with the money – they always have – in ‘Danike’ there is a line acknowledging the Maratha king Sivaji – in ‘Yemaguva’ there is a similar line about the Mysore king.”

Arul is not aware of the fact that the Maratha king Sivaji is long DEAD. The Thanjavur Quartet’s varnams which Arul describes as the precious gems have never had a great spiritual potential in them, and have grown irrelevant. The ancient Kali or Vishnu kavutuvams have survived many more centuries because of the greater purity of the music, the lyrics and the choreography. You bet that an item that praises Coca-Cola will not survive a few years.

Arul warns us about the dangers of “fusions”:

It’s weird how these “rebel” dancers and choreographers who want to shake up their staid old audience and drag them to the cutting edge don’t get the very basic point that people already watch dance from other genres which are already popular and cutting edge and are outside of the classical dance category. People who compose and perform popular hip music already have their own dance to go with it and it’s very good and fun to watch. And that music doesn’t need any condescending gestures from classical dancers. This whole pose of “i want to shake up the old people” and at the same time “i want to expose and pull in the younger crowd by doing something new and hip” is just so condescending to both sides, I don’t see the need for it.

Subbaraya Pillai… and the living fossils

If you think you know what is “Pandanallur” style (errrrr….. it is less than 100 years old, isn’t it?), can you tell me why there is such a great deal of difference between the “Pandanallur” styles taught by Parvati Ravi Ghantasala, Ranganayaki Jayaraman, Pandanallur Pandian, Alarmel Valli, Meenakshi Chitharanjan , and Dr.Saraswathy (of Vipanchee)? Or at least, tell me what is common in these guru’s styles? 🙂 Baffling, isn’t it? 🙂 It is as baffling as why Vaiko joined Jayalalitha. 🙂

In Gossip, Arul wonders,

What does he think of each of them and where does he stand on all their rivalries? I am dying to know.

Business competition is business. Or politics, like the rift inside the DMK.

Arul rightly states that not all contemporary Bharatanatyam dancers are ready to perform Bharatanatyam in a strip bar, a cabaret or at a lingerie exhibition:

Along with the dance they also know its context: how to perform and where to leave it. Without ever articulating it verbally or spelling it out – we got from him this sense of boundaries and identity. What it is, and what it is not.

The explanation why Arul is an avid reader of our blog and Narthaki’s is this:

Sometimes I ask the other students, have you read such-and-such or did you see that TV show or that movie – and generally the answer is “no”. Master’s students don’t need any outside input and they’re not looking to critics or other dance styles for direction. They have that already.

Yep! They are already perfect (at least they think they are more perfect than apsara Urvasi). Or maybe, they are just no longer able to learn? To improve? Eh… Why?

Alarmel Valli and Meenakshi Chittarajan were among those students who wanted to learn more and enhance their technique. So they left Subbaraya Pillai a long time ago. Have they achieved what they wanted to? Or rather, have they achieved more success than those students who have not left Subbaraya Pillai?

The dancers have to develop a critical, analytical mind to be able to digest adequately all the comments and reviews. But Subbaraya Pillai’s students don’t have it: they have always been discouraged to ask questions, as Arul confesses. If you have no questions, you are either a genius or are asleep. The number of questions a student asks determine how eager he is to learn and how well he understands the topic.

The students were only allowed to obey their guru’s instructions. Did they understand much? They didn’t. As a result, most of them became brain-dead by the age of 30.

This is how great traditions and great knowledge are lost:

For these crucial hands in the first half, he’s just forgotten. I was so upset. There is no one he’s taught this to – not in a very long time – and back then they weren’t even recording anything. so it’s just gone, gone, gone with the wind.

Subbaraya Pillai explains his lacklustre “creative” genius:

“I still follow whatever Thatha has taught me. Can I ever create something that he has not left for generations of dancers to come? Today choreographing according to one’s own Manodharma (freedom to compose) means different things to different persons. Each has his/her own concepts, values and approaches. “

However, Nandini Ramani interpreted this as “creative” (within the narrow framework of what Thatha taught him?):

“Even now I don’t know what I know” he says referring to his creative approach to Bharatanatyam.

Arul is more honest:

There were no “new items”. He taught what he had learnt and just stopped with that.

Well, the dancers who cannot take the outside input can consider themselves as living fossils. The ability to learn new things (which is determined by the amount of Sattva in your system) decreases from the age of 10 dramatically. Rajas dominates in our youth. After 40, Tamas dominates. In medical terms, so many brain cells die (because of lack of use) that the adults, including dancers, cannot accept anything new. This is why most poets and composers created their masterpieces at a young age.

Among the good things Subbaraya Pillai did (as we see in this VCD) was that he “would teach his students one on one”, which saved them from becoming clones. However, there are some paradoxes. First, Arul tells us about clone dancers:

I had already figured that out for myself in 94, just from attending performances, and watching how the nattuvanars’, certain big nattuvanars’ students always danced differently from their class mates whereas dance schools and dancers-turned-teachers produced people who did the same thing.

Oh, these big nattuvanars who never read the Natya Shastra! 🙂 Be warned:

I would ask: “marupadiyum atha kamingale” (show me again) but of course there was no dancer there, and without a dancer he couldn’t show anything.

The big, great Arul then continues:

The dancers did not learn abinaya from each other. There’s nothing “intrinsically feminine” about it.

Arul’s fundamental problem is that he does not have a mirror, and is half-blind: he does not see that an average woman’s face is capable of rendering 100 times more expressions than an average man’s.

Arul confesses:

this was one skill that I was simply not going to be able to pick up from him…I can catch what the dancers are doing on tape and repeat that tape a 1000 times, but I did not have his expressions while he was teaching it

Even such exceptional abhinaya masters as Bangalore’s Kiran Subramanyam are nobodies compared to many 10-year-old girls from Chennai. Some of these 10-year-olds are so uninhibited and so sincere in their abhinaya that watching them alone will teach you more than spending 100 years learning Bharatanatyam expressions from a big nattuvanar. After all, Natya Shastra states that 25% of what a dancer can learn can be learnt only from observing other dancers.

Master taught it to each dancer, one dancer at a time, and I saw him teach it with my own eyes. To see that transformation, when he shows how an expression is to be done, and repeats it, and repeats, and repeats, and to see the dancer pick that up – it is one of the most amazing and magical things in dance that I have ever seen.

Oh! Subbaraya Pillai did, indeed, ask his students to merely copy his own expressions that he considered as “correct”. It was Subbaraya Pillai who repeated the same expression. A true nattuvanar may give just a hint – once or twice! – and it would be sufficient. Learn by rote is the devise of the current Indian educational system! What is so magical in it?

The magical it would be if the dancer first would understand the lyrics, the characters’ moods, their relationship. Of course you don’t need it if the theme of your recital is about Pringles or condoms, do you? How would a condom speak to a pack of Pringles? Well, I need to watch some American cartoons. Don’t blame me if my abhinaya resembles Mickey Mouse’s!

Only Americans religiously believe that an emotion can be realized by moving facial muscles alone.

 

The serious bharatanatyam dancer should sit and meditate, have some personal (not borrowed) spiritual experiences that would naturally produce genuine expressions. Without the inner realizations and direct experiences, the dancer’s expressions will look a bit too put-on to fool a sharp-eyed rasika. The dancer’s abhinaya will never be powerful, convincing, and will lack Sattva.

The ability to perceive the 3 gunas and their combinations depends entirely on the clarity of your vision. This is something that no nattuvanar will teach you. If you eat the rajasic food, you will be half-blind. Arul likes spicy fish curry, it seems.

And he loves our blog: 🙂

I became interested in dance I would read everything that was written in the papers and in the books. I was stupid enough to believe what they were saying because all those writers write with so much authority.

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!)

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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????)

Sabha business & sri Sumukhi Rajasekharan Foundation: how our fellow Indians dupe us and make $$ from promoting the “traditional Indian” culture

There is one thing about Sumukhi Rajasekharan Foundation (SRF) that makes people wonder why their award functions gather fully packed auditoriums (300-400 people at least), but there are hardly 20-30 rasikas attending their “regular” Bharatanatyam programmes – even when these programmes present excellent dancers (such as the little virtuoso Sri Gayathri, who got the VDS Arts Academy’s Best Dancer award, and whose guru, Vijay Madhavan, featured her in his Sanmatham Bharathiyil DVD) .

Isn’t it because no serious rasikas, critics and dancers take SRF seriously? SRF recently jumped on the bandwagon of the profitable sabha business in Chennai. SRF launched its Exclusive NRIs’ “Kala Poshakam”, while other sabhas are now quietly making $$ from non-exclusive festivals where the rich (but visibly inferior) NRI dancers and foreigners pay 50 times more than a poor but exceptionally talented Chennai dancer can afford. Although Hamsadhwani was the pioneer in cashing in on bringing the NRI dancers to Chennai, SRF’s recent II Year International Art Festival of Dance & Music included hardly any Bharatanatyam dancers from Madras, so as to avoid embarrassing the less-capable NRI dancers and make them feel good. As S. Surendranath explained it, “You see, at Marghazhi Bala Utsavam we were planning to give titles even to the winners in such traditional categories as Junk Art but, surprisingly, we received no NRI bids”.

Well, SRF so far have tried to follow the simple method that other sabhas adopted: to enhance the “prestiigeousness” of a newly introduced title, the sabha gives such a new title to a well-known dancer of (obviously?) high caliber. Then, in a few year’s time, these well-known dancers discover that the same title has been given to the dancers who are not in their league. Naturally, they rave and rant, post their protests (like the Dhananjayans), curse the sabha, threaten to throw away the title/award into the garbage bin, and so on. The rasikas enjoy the social comedy.

The SRF followed this scenario and gave the first (or was it one of the first?) “Natya Bala Brahmam” to the dancers who were outstanding ( Medha Hari), then it tricked down to very good dancers and so on. Some utterly useless dancers too such as Shraddha Nagaraj got the title of “Nrithya Bala Sri”. Yet we received no response regarding the criteria on which SRF founds its allocation of these titles. In any case, SRF, like other sabhas, allocates these annually, which usually means that sooner or later all the deserving dancers as well as undeserving ones will be awarded this title. As one Bharatanatyam dancer awarded the SRF’s title told us “I was not sure whether to accept it or not because SRF is mainly known for its folk dance, junk art, fancy dress, and kolam competitions, and the ancient Indian “Master Mylapore” contest“.

Here is a quote from the Hindu on how awards are given:

One of them was once approached by a sabha, which offered to honour her with an award. Happiness at such a recognition soon turned to dismay and indignation when she found out that she was expected to sponsor her award. Needless to add that she called it off.

SRF is currently largest junk organization if you judge by the sheer number of the children who get a chance to be seen on the stage and who get certificates, memo’s, and titles, whether it is Junk Art or Fancy Dress. The latter was particularly interesting as SRF present’s itself as a supporter of “traditional” Indian culture. Some smarter NRI’s are still perplexed to hear that SRF considers as traditional such musical instruments as violin , electronic keyboard, and saxophone. “We are considering including traditional Jazz in our folk dance programmes”, a SRF representative told us.

The Emperor’s New Clothes

There is one element that distinguishes Sri Sumukhi Rajasekharan Memorial Foundation from other cultural organizations in South India: the strict dress code. While Mr. S Surendranath sports a traditional Persian kurtha, the outfit that arrived in North India along with the Arab invaders not so long ago (this is something that Mr. S. Amarnath with his Doctorate in History, tries not to mention), SRF’s lower-ranking functionaries are dressed in traditional French shirts, English trousers and Italian-style shoes. The top two men from the Mylapore Trio confess, “We do not want to wear Dhoti because we are hoping to get the sponsorships from the Muslim community too”.

SRF’s web site states its “dress code”: “Girls: uption 13 years – Paavaadai, Chokka”. No sleeveless for Girls & Women

Mr. S. Amarnath explains, “We try to have our programmes in the traditional, air-conditioned auditoriums, so as to create the ambience similar to what my ancestors had in Iran’s winter 500 years ago. If any South Indian women dare tell us that it is too hot for South India to wear long sleeves, we warn them that they would catch a cold if they come to our programmes. We are considering making the traditional burka mandatory too”

One woman remarks, “These folks invited us for their fancy dress competition, but their dress code states, “No Fancy Bindhis”! An SRF guard was clearly embarassed when asked to explain where is his ruler to help him measure the size of Pottu – only in Red colour / Min. Size: 8mm Round or Thilakam.

One of the “traditional” elements in SRF’s events are the demand for children to be separated from their parents so that they would happily chat to other kids, play and fight with each other in the front rows, and run towards their mommies every time they want some water or a few biscuits.

“One of our aims is to create a traditional Indian noisy atmosphere that would make the performers on the stage realize that life is no funny matter”, explained SRF’s president. We do not know why SRF functionaries encourage them to clap their hands in an untraditional, un-Indian matter: applause came from the uncultured West, didn’t it? And the rasikas sit in the untraditional, un-Indian armchairs. SRF’s T-shirt-clad cameramen would traditionally point their cameras with the traditional mounted 1KVA floodlights right into your eyes, 2 meters away from your face. The rasikas would traditionally curse these idiotic cameramen in their minds, and swear that they would never come again to SRF’s programmes.

SRF’s Ms. S. Aparna, sporting a traditional Swiss watch, comments, “Of course, the musicians and vocalists who sing at our programmes are using the traditional Indian mikes, antique amplifiers and loudspeakers of the M.Gandhi era. With the proper NRI funding, we are going to eradicate all mention of Sangeetha Ratnakara: this text does not mention the necessity for a vocalist to use a traditional electronic shruti box. Instead, it describes too many harmful practices that can help a vocalist develop a strong voice that would undermine the business of our traditional microphone manufacturers.”

Secrets of Lasya and Abhinaya. Divyatha Arun: a lonely bright star among the mediocre K.J.Sarasa’s Bharatanatyam students? Bharata natyam careers.

After watching 20 or so of her mostly mediocre or outright bad students in the past few years, the only thing that urged me to go and see her programme was the picture of her dancing with Shanmugha, K.J.Sarasa’s senior assistant, that my daughter discovered in The Hindu last year. “If he was dancing with her, she should be really good”, she exclaimed. And she was right!

Shanmugha understands very well who is good and who is not so. His schoolmate’s – Jayalalitha’s – government awarded him with a title in 2000 🙂 K.J.Sarasa has a lot of political connections in both parties, so if you need a government or other title, go and join her school, pay your fees, show a bit of sychophancy and the title is yours. 🙂

It was not a surprise that the mediocre dancer, Subanjali Sadgurudas, who danced (very primitive choreography) before Divyatha, had the mini hall of NGS fully packed with the social circles of her gurus, the Narasimhacharis. The senile voice of the Narasimhachari was probably not too inspiring. Vasantha looked at him as if he was a senile idiot. He did look so. How can Vasantha Narasimhachari look like as if she were his daughter??? What is the secret of her youthfulness? 🙂

Less than 50 people watched Divyatha. The better the dancer, the fewer the rasikas? 🙂

As soon as Divyatha started, I realized, “Aha, now we are watching some serious choreography!” Usually Sarasa’s students dance some simple (boring!) pieces, but this time it looked really complex. In most, if not in all, schools, some items are for beginners, some for the middle level, and some are for the advanced, so you can very easily tell if the dancer is “advanced” or not. Divyatha is very advanced, and has already opened her own Bharatanatyam school in Coimbatore.

Divyatha will impress you at once with her elegance, her perfect araimandi and excellent angasuddhi. I noticed that some dancers do not have this ability to capture instantly their rasika’s minds. Divyatha has a pretty face, perfect figure and is extremely agile, and fully performed every pose, very sculpturesque! Although as far as flexibility goes she could not fully bend (for example, while lifting her leg) in a couple of instances, but even then it was not as bad as Ranjani Murthy‘s awkward stiffness. (Unfortunately, lately, Divyatha’s dance looked more and more like a male Kalakshetra dancer… 😦 )

I think that from her guru’s point of view, Divyatha’s technique was very good. This girl had an excellent control over her body, and her steps are very crisp and her laya is superb. Her poses were so excellent because she carved them in her mind and only then let her body assume them. This mental “pre-shaping” is a sign of mastery. She bent her torso effortlessly, swiftly and fully in every direction!

She also displayed a mastery over the dancing space too: even though NGS’s mini hall provides the dancer with hardly 9 sq metres of floor, she used this limited space remarkably well. I think it shows her experience. Very few dancers can do it.

She stooped a few times in a Nataraja-like pose, arching her back – have you ever seen such a pose? Curious… Sleeping Nataraja? Still I was a bit surprised that she lifted her arms stiffly upwards (in Kuttadavu), in a clumsy way, and occasionally she did not complete the left turn fully, unlike the right turn (again in Kuttadavu). Is it Kalakshetra, or what??? 😦

My friend V.R.D. told me that K.J.Sarasa’s students, even the girls, are notoriously bad at mukha abhinaya. Primarily, they lack the expressiveness, the richness, the depth and the subtle details. For example, although both the girls’ schools are formally “Vazhuvoor”, Krupa Rajul Shah in her depiction of the Vamana avatara’s episode was far more subtle, deep, delicate and detailed, and her expressions changed each other much more seamlessly (seen very well in the portrayal of Bali).

It is interesting that both the girls’ interpretation of the Vamana story was so different from the classics. In the original story, we are told that Vamana put his third leg on Bali himself and crushed Bali to the nether or the Patala loka(underground world), thus helping the Gods out. In Divyatha’s and Krupa’s depiction, we see Bali taking off his crown in amazement and adoration of Vamana, and then Vamana blesses him with his foot gently! Wow! Bali is transformed and his life saved! 🙂

Portraying asuras are an interesting area where most dancers fail miserably. While it is easy to show a rakshasa, it is hard to depict an asura. Asuras, in their outward appearance, manners, and behaviour are often indistinguishable from the avatars. The difference is very subtle, and frankly speaking, I have not seen a single dancer who has succeeded perfectly in this kind of depiction. Dancers are so shallow nowadays! Cheap!

Divyatha should read the dice game story, meditate, and understand that Sakuni’s expressions and reactions did not look like a cherri boy’s from Chennai! And Yudhishtira was perhaps more noble, self-contained and refined than what Divyatha showed us. As we do not see any living (real) high-ranking kshatriya’s in the cherri-dominated Madras of Kali Yuga, the dancers’ imagination (and the purity of mind) is the only source for their depictions. But why then portray Bali as if he was a saint???

Ok, Dussasana did treat Draupadi in a rough way, but I am not sure Draupadi felt and behaved in that way. Draupadi was a highly noble woman, she did not behave in a hysterical manner perhaps… Well…

There were 2 typical errors that took away from the perfection of Divyatha ‘s mukha abhinaya. One was the screwing of eyes, and the other error was the smile’s sudden fluctuations (jitters) when the corners of the mouth move unexpectedly down and then suddenly up again and then down and then up. As if the dancer was unsure of whether to smile or not to smile! Divyatha was not as bad here as Urmila Sathyanarayanan and her students. When Urmila is dancing, she demonstrates, “Hey, am I not funny: now I can smile, you see? Now I don’t. You see?” Very coquettish. It is as if the dancer shows that she is not serious at all. The rasikas get the impression, “Huh! This girl is not for real: she is just pretending!”

Divyatha should understand that a smile is when your mouth’s corners are up, not down! Don’t you get a funny impression when you see someone’s lower lip move over the upper teeth? 🙂 Or when the lower jaw moves slightly back? 🙂 Occasionally, this is what this girl did.

Both Divyatha and Krupa were brilliant at conveying the supreme power of the Vamana; Divyatha was superb too in the prayer pose when the song dwelled on invoking Krishna… Krishna… Krishna… Divyatha’s soul is stern, and its power is quite concentrated. She actually understands tapasya more than self-surrender. Unlike most women. Divyatha’s voice is very powerful and vibrant like Arjuna’s voice on Kurukshetra, but I would prefer that it should be more tender, sweet, mellow and warm.

Krupa could learn from Divyatha the lasya ways in angika abhinaya and nrittas. Lasya is much more demanding. From a purely physical point of view, it implies moving not only with a wide range of speeds but, most importantly, a wide range of accelerations (Chitra Visveswaran’s students try to do it to some extent). It is a wide range of accelerations and decelerations that brings out the depth of the angika abhinaya and makes your ntritta intricate and graceful and captivating and professional. Without a wide range of accelerations, you will look like a primitive American robot dancing or doing aerobics. These accelerations lend life and emotional hues to every body movement. And this is what made Divyadha’s angika abhinaya and nrittas so vibrant and graceful.

Perhaps Divyadha can learn some abhinaya from Vani Nagarajan? 🙂 After all, Vani’s mind is not focussed on medical studies. 🙂 And Vani is much less inhibited. Sarasa, like a bad tailor, thinks that everyone’s clothes have to be stitched like a one-size-fit-all uniform: without measuring the poor client’s body.

Sarasa has not had the time yet to pull the ready-made clothes of the wrong size onto the little Vani. Vani does not understand that, in the future, she will be expected to lie a lot and wriggle her face while uttering heaps of flattery for the cherri VIP’s in order to get “opportunities to perform”, titles, and to “succeed in the Bharatanatyam career”. Our life’s experiences leave a deep imprint on our faces. Our disappointments, sufferings, tragedies… This creates a crust, or a shell, through which an adult dancer’s soul’s light cannot penetrate. When I first saw this shell, I was shocked. Very unpleasant.

Divyadha appeared to be preoccupied with one thought, “What impression am I making on the rasikas?” If you look at the dancer after the performance, it is very common to see the dancer’s face displaying 1000 more expressions than they do on the stage. Why do the dancers restrict their expressiveness so much? Because the guru tells them, “You have to do only like this”, “This expression is a mistake”, “That expression is wrong”. This over-correcting suppresses the dancer’s spontaneity and creativity. The Hindu says about Anita Sivaraman, “Srikanth has imparted the aesthetics of the dance style to Anita without curbing her innate enthusiasm.” Anita is lucky that her gurus do not “curb” her individual ways of expressing herself! Unfortunately, most of the gurus are too restrictive (some even introduce it as qualitative abhinayam!), and some gurus (pisacha type) even take delight in killing their student’s expressiveness. They feed on their students’ vital energy. Don’t allow them access to any children or students, and they will die in a week’s time. These people only look human. Two legs, two arms…

“Bharatanatyam careers”!

While she has visibly improved from the last year, I wonder how she manages her medical career. Jyotsna Jagannathan was very happy when she was able to finally – after her marriage – renounce her doctor’s job (still keeping the “Dr.” in her invitations). Jyotsna Jagannathan‘s soul’s urge prevailed over her rational mind’s choices. What about Divyatha?

She proudly announces her MBBS. But…. If you break your leg, would you choose to be treated by a surgeon who tries to impress you by telling you that she is a professional Bharatanatyam dancer who works full time as a software engineer who got a Master’s degree in psychology, and that she dedicates all of her free time to playing cricket on a professional level????

Would you like your house to be constructed by an architect who tries to impress you by saying that he has a PhD. in zoology, M.A. in Greek philosophy, Diploma in acupuncture, and has authored many books on Carnatic music??? It is an unpleasant surprise that most highly talented Bharatanatyam dancers think that Bharatanatyam is merely a “timepass”, or an expensive hobby – like golf! Divyatha is of course quite stupid and very young. Let us hope she grows wiser, like Jyotsna did. 🙂

As Natya Shastra states the qualities required of a female dancer narthaki, “Women who have beautiful limbs, are conversant with the sixty-four (!!!) arts and crafts (kala)… are known as female dancers (narthaki)” . 64!!!

How can anybody nowadays dare call herself “a classical danseuse”? We are sure medicine, business administration or computer science or sewage management are not among these 64 subjects. These 64 subjects (such as the vocal and instrumental music, etc) are related to natya, and enhance the dancer’s performance. We are pretty sure that, had anyone learnt these 64 arts and crafts, she would be making much more money today than a doctor, business manager or a software engineer!

“Vazhuvoor” styles of Bharatanatyam and the magic of abhinaya

Madhula…

I was surprised to see among the 50-strong audience many Bharatanatyam VIP’s, “senior” gurus, critics and young top-notch dancers (and hardly any “ordinary” rasikas!) assembled in the ahe previous performance that K.M.D.Madhula did at the “Spirit of Youth” in the Music Academy, she had to dance even though she had a fever and had had only a few days for rehearsal, as the Academy sent her the “happy news”  only a few days before! The funniest thing is that Madhula did not even know that this festival was actually a competition. (It was part of a brilliant political manoeuvre by Sujatha Vijayaraghavan, the Music Academy’s committee member (!), who realized her plan of making her protege, Swetha Vijayaraghavan, the winner of the “Spirit of Youth” competition-festival. Long live Madras politicians! 🙂

This time K.M.D.Madhula was in excellent shape, and every move was well-rehearsed (she complained after the programme that she had to put so much of hard work into this success! 🙂 ) This is the girl who looks absolutely beautiful with or without makeup, and every woman on earth envies her. Have I seen anyone else like her? Hmmmm…. Smitha Madhav’s beauty is more mature and her expressions and movements are not so refined (got worse after her tour in the US, though), while Madhula looks like a 12-year-old girl and her expressions are as pure and delicate as of a little child’s! So elevating, and so inspiring!

Good genes? She moves so gracefully and completes every move. Supple! She has amazing stamina (she announced every item herself, and was never short of breath immediately – even after the varnam!), can be very fast, and she can do the slow passages too. Any shortcomings? Well….. When she got a bit tired, her feet in jatis were spread a bit too far apart, and sometimes she did not sit low enough.

There is one unique thing about Madhula, and this is her eyebrow movements in her abhinaya. Her eyebrow not only move totally independently, but every little section of each eyebrow seems to respond individually every moment to every change of music. Madhula can move her eyebrows in all imaginable and unimaginable ways, and she does it so well that one can only exclaim, “It is natural! You cannot learn it!”. Yes, you can. Without a full control over the eyebrows, the dancer will lose a major part of that captivating magic that most of us can only dream of doing.

I think Madhula’s mother and guru, Amudha Dandayudahpani of Coimbatore’s largest (thanks to Madhula too?) Bharatanatyam school, was determined that she would give birth to a girl who would excel in Bharatanatyam. Perhaps some other women, like Revathy Ramachandran, had this determination too – it has nothing to do with the “hereditary” genes. How little do men’s wishes matter when it comes to choosing what soul is going to be embodied in a particular body! 🙂

Amudha ‘s choreography, although not too rich in terms of variety of elements, is very interesting too (one of the seniormost disciples of Ramaiah Pillai was not happy about a couple of things, though). Madhula dances so well that every moment her body does 1000 extremely complex and elaborate movements (she is very flexible in every joint) that enabled Madhula to have a perfect laya and compensated for any perceived simplicity of choreography. Amudha’s nattuvangam was not flawless, according to the Music College nattuvangam teacher who stood up after the first item and rushed to watch Jyotsna Jagannathan in Sivagami Petachi Auditorium. Well, did many other people care to notice it if Madhula danced so well???

I hope the charismatic Jyotsna does not curse me for not attending another of her recitals, but it was a Vazhuvoor day in Mypalore that Sunday. At the same time (why do they do it???): Madhula’s, Jyotsna’s and Srithika Kasturirangan‘s performances! A very difficult choice for most rasikas! The three stars competing with each other 🙂 You would never believe that all these three dancers are of… “Vazhuvoor” style! Which Vazhuvoor, eh???? 🙂

“Madhula is my friend”, said (with admiration and love in his eyes! 🙂 Shanmuga Sundaram, a seniormost assistant of K.J.Sarasa of Vazhuvoor style. “Madhula is my friend”, said Devi Ghanshyam Das. Devi became the number one among Lakshmi Ramaswamy’s (seniormost student of Chitra Visweswaran, one of the well-known Vazhuvoor style gurus) students after Roshini Rajamohan regrettably lost her shape a year ago. Devi Ghanshyam Das recently released her DVD video (you can see a piece of it on YouTube), which is one of the best one I have watched!

While Chitra Visweswaran’s girls (except, perhaps, for Vijay Madhavan’s Sri Gayathri) dance only in skirts that severely restrict the leg movements so that the “dance” is more like walking or running around the stage, Madhula in her elegant pyjama costume was moving her legs effortlessly, powerfully and effectively in all directions, making a great impression! I think it impressed even V.P.Dhananjayan, a Kalakshetra-style guru, who came and was waiting to do the second slot’s recital. Did V.P.Dhananjayan appreciate the graceful charm and fluidity of the Vazhuvoor school? 🙂 No, he likes the simpler lines of the Italian ballet more. And the grotesque Kathakali abhinaya that is suitable for watching only from 1 km away.

But then, Madhula was fantastic even she did a piece portraying the fierce nature of goddess Kali: everything, her amazingly expressive face (she even put out her tongue), the sharp moves full of power, her acute sense of rhythm, brought out Kali so vividly that I could not take my eyes off her! While one of the typical errors that plagues the professional dancers is what we can call the “mechanical mudras“, when they do it automatically, Madhula was doing each mudra and hastha accurately and put her consciousness into every finger’s move. A mudra cannot be powerful unless we do it consciously! This consciousness was one of the hallmarks of Madhula’s recital. Without it, every American robot can dance “Bharatanatyam”.

Madhula got a Master’s degree in Bharatanatyam in Chennai. I do not know why she needed that useless degree! She is much better at Bharata natyam than her university phoney “Bharatanatyam” “professors” who do not have any degree! (I will ask Chitra Visweswaran if Ramaiah Pillai had any “degree” in Bharatanatyam!). Madhula’s mom was not entirely happy with the side effects of this “academics”: the Kalakshetra stamp. A few months ago Amudha said, “I promise that by winter I will make her unlearn all the stupid Kalakshetra trash that she learnt in Chennai”. And she did keep her promise. Fortunately! 🙂

Girija Ramaswamy was again at her best, singing with powerful yet not hysterical emotions (why does Alarmel Valli keep her hysterical vocalist?) that flow from the depth of her heart, filled with profound bhavas. Girija is one of my favourite masters. Her delicate voice brings out the subtle nuances of the lyrics, and it is full of Bhakti!

Bangalore Bharatanatyam dancers, Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai vs Kalakshetra, lasya, tejas, the dancers age, purity of mind, and the secret of movements, Kalanidhi Narayan and Balasaraswati

(Based on new writings from A.)

Priyanka

” Smt. Revathi Narasimhah is one of Karnataka’s leading dance gurus” is a standard beginning in her students brochures. And I fully endorse this statement. I do not know what kind of students she has in Bangalore, but when she brings someone (usually, quite rich girls… 🙂 ) to  perform in Chennai, you bet these recitals are truly worth watching!

Revathi Narasimhan is among the top 3-4 choreographers that I know of (and I know more than 150). Her choreography and style is quite different from anything we are used to in Chennai. When I first saw Priyanka Chandrasekhar, it was such a pleasure to see such a dignified, beautiful and delicate girl trained so well.

While a trained eye will notice a plenty of momentary ugly expressions on 99% of the professional dancers, there were none on Priyanka’s face. Very polished and dignified mukha abhinaya – at the expense of variety? Every movement was very well-practised and was full of force. The forceful movements, the forceful abhinaya and accurate nritta and decent angasuddhi were the hallmarks of her schoolmate, Krupa Rajul Shah, who gathered in Vani Mahal almost as many rasikas as Alarmel Valli managed to draw to her first recital this year in Bharat Kalachar. People know that Revathi Narasimhah has high standards, and it ensures the attendance.

(Krupa is on the left)

Both Priyanka and Krupa were suspiciously similar in every way, and looked like sisters. Partly, it is because of the makeup (some of the best styles that I have seen). While 60% of all dancers’ makeup make them look worse than they do without it, the other 40% use it to enhance their features.

I do not know why Rupa wrote that in The Hindu, but I saw a lot of vigour in Priyanka’s and especially in Krupa’s recitals. This vigour and forcefullness, matched with the angular movements, made me doubt if it is indeed Vazhuvoor style. “I had to modify the Vazhuvoor style, as the rising popularity and spread of the Kalakshetra style forced me to make it more attractive for more people”, said Revathi. The cost of such modification was huge: most of the charm and delicate softness of Ramaiah Pillai’s heritage vanished. While both Priyanka and Krupa excelled in the passages that required tandava, they both (especially Krupa) failed in doing the passages where lasya was dominant. The intricate patterns and elaborate movements of Ramaiah Pillai’s style were replaced by the simplified, straight lines of Kalakshetra. Such a pity!

Krupa‘s varnam Devar Munivar was full of inspiration, bhakti, nobility and power (the passages with the Narasimhah and the Vamana avataras in particular were full of tejas and the images were so vivid and awe-inspiring that it gave me goosebumps, and my mind bowed down in humble adoration to the feet of this girl)

The next item, padam Indendu Vachidevira, was quite a contrast, as it required a lot of lasya and subtle mukha abhinaya, but Krupa‘s face was quite rigid, the movements were manly, and she obviously did not understand the symbols behind the lyrics. Priyanka was a bit better in this respect.

While Revathi said I cannot expect such young girls to be able to bring out all the nuances of the nayika bhavas, I told her that, in my opinion, some “mature” little uninhibited girls of 11-12 years old (when our soul, chaitya purusha, influences our nature most) such as Sivasri, Medha Hari (she lost it now 😦 ), or, to some extent, Vani Nagarajan and Manaswini Ramachandran (her mom will make her great!), produce richer, more subtle, more refined, pure and more elevating abhinaya in the “adult” padams and varnams. “Such abhinaya is inadequate”? What is “adequate” then, we have a question?

The popular misconception is that some items are “suitable for children” and some are not. The Bhakti movement made use of adult (often crude) human relationships, experiences and feelings, and showed how these can be used as symbols to signify the spiritual relationships, experiences and sentiments. Unfortunately, if we focus more on portraying the details of a token itself instead of what this token stands for, we fail in Natya.

In a Narthaki.com’s article, we read, “The middle class housewife could never be successful in abhinaya because, she was too comfortable and satisfied in her domestic security. The Devadasi on the other hand had to constantly rely on her wit and talent to keep her lover(s) coming back to her. Only a woman who gets up in a morning to find her lover gone knows what viraha is,” maintained housewife Balasaraswati insisting that all poetry and art arise out of this pain of separation rather than from staid fulfillment. Now one of the foremost authorities on abhinaya today is housewife Kalanidhi Narayan. While the general belief is that a dancer’s training is incomplete without learning abhinaya from Kalanidhi, a senior dancer, on condition of anonymity (!!!), expressed her disapproval in the way abhinaya is now being defined as how Kalanidhi Narayan sees it.” The housewife Kalanidhi Narayanan, who released a plenty of her abhinaya lessons on DVDs,made us all believe that, unless a woman has experienced a sexual intercourse with a man, she would not be able to portray the union with the Divine in her Bharatanatyam recital! What a lie! Kalanidhi is only good for training young actresses for vulgar Tamil movies. Kalanidhi will not be able to explain to you why the original devadasis were celibate their entire life!

No, Maami, Natya is not like photography, not the Tamil movies, it is like painting the invisible, the spiritual.

While the children may not understand the concrete expressions and the gross adult experiences, they subconsciously understand and feel the spiritual truths behind the symbols much better than the adults.

One of the things that the bharatanatyam dancer must possess for doing a “soft” style is the flexibility and mobility of the joints and muscles, and, most importantly, the movements must originate from the area around the swadhisthana chakra (the centre of physical movement) – something that both the girls somehow did not show (interestingly, some students of Bangalore’s Sundari Santhanam did it very well in their DVD on Karanas )

If a movement does not originate from this natural center, it makes it look forceful, and the dancer soon gets tired. This is one of the first things that you learn in most Asian martial arts.

I noticed that that the girls of 10-12 years old are the best in this respect, and, as we grow older, our bodies become stiffer and lose their responsiveness to music. Some of these 10-12 years olds dance in such a way that every beat, every change of note in the music produces not one, not two, not five but 30-40 well-co-ordinated and spontaneous movements, some of them very small, in every joint, in every muscle. This mobility and responsiveness of the sattva-dominated body helps achieve angasuddhi and laya. A tamasic or rajasic body is unsuitable for Natya.

Anitha Sivaraman, exceptional NRI Bharatanatyam dancers, and more about lokadharmi, natyadharmi and the American lasya. Anita.

Anitha Sivaraman, the world’s fastest dancer?

This post is related to a new post on Anita Sivaraman


Remark: I don’t know why dancers post on YouTube the worst or most boring fragments from their recitals!

A beautiful dancer, with a perfect figure, and very graceful too. How can this 6-feet tall girl move faster and have a better stamina than 99% of the Chennai dancers who are 5 feet tall??? True, at the highest speed, she had to sacrifice the amplitude of some moves, and was sometimes making shortcuts, especially towards the end of the recital, as she was getting tired and was not sitting low enough in araimandi. And did not accentuate her steps and nritta hasthas.

It is quite common that the US-trained dancers seem to focus primarily on the physical perfection, and many are good at thillanas, although it was a surprise that Anita’s balance, agility, accuracy of movements, her laya was far superior to 99% of Chennai’s dancers.

What was far more surprising is that it was the first NRI dancer whose mukha abhinaya was superior even to 95% of Chennai’s dancers in the normal speed range, and far surpassed the Chennai dancers’ in the fastest abhinaya passages. I think the ability to do fast-changing abhinaya is related to one’s ability to speak (and think) fast.

Anita’s expressions were graceful, the transitions were smooth and natural, despite the often lightning speed of the changes. Something that I had hardly ever seen in an NRI dancer. Well, Surya Ravi is another pleasant exception, much younger to compare. Anita’s nritta abhinaya was miraculous (I had never seen anything like that!): the expressions, powerful and sparkling, were changing each other at an amazing speed and accuracy, and were matching the nritta so well! Something that dancers like Swathi Ariyapadi are yet to learn.

Nandini Ramani attributes Anita’s impressiveness not to Papanasam Sivan’s genes, but to a unique combination of Padma Subramaniam’s stamp in Anita’s training with Srikanth, and his experience in the Bhagavatamela tradition. But Nandini forgot about Anita’s Kuchipudi training with Vempati Chinna Satyam. What a powerful blend of 3 schools! I forgot to ask Anita if both Vempati Vempati Chinna Satyam and Padma Subramaniam interpret the karanas in the same way! 🙂

Rupa in The Hindu justly wrote that Anita is “blessed with a keen sense of timing, an extremely mobile face and a vibrant movement vocabulary”. Not only this vocabulary is vibrant, but is rich too, and the sheer variety of moves and their unexpectedness keeps the rasikas from falling asleep, especially the American audience who instantly get bored when a Bharatanatyam dancer starts doing a slow abhinaya piece, hardly moving at all.

Anita is using a few karanas too (not as difficult as these). Without karanas, any recital is boring.”From the standpoint of providing enough action and excitement, it was good, but from the angle of providing some depth, the recital fell short”. Rupa cannot explain what is “depth” or “width”. I think often the dancers are left clueless as to what a particular criticism was about! “Width” is about variety and entertaining. “Depth” is about magic and enchanting.

Well, what was somewhat missing was “magic”, or was this impression created because Anita does not seem to like very slow passages? While Anita Sivaraman’s was nearly “perfect” outside, what she could learn from dancers like Alarmel Valli is how to concentrate within. The deeper this concentration, the better the dancer is dissolved in the dance (laya…), and the more powerful the recital. Depending on how well we are focussed within, we are able to visualize the vivid images and project them onto the audience. The approach is different: we are not trying to impress the audience, we are not trying to prove that we are good dancers, we are not at a dancing competition. We are becoming one with the audience, one in the meditation. Perhaps Nandini was luckier than me when she saw that recital where Anita’s “approach to her technique was one of deep concentration”. Maybe Anita’s mind was indeed more focussed then.

But, should we really blame the NRI dancers for the “lack of depth” if even the Chennai dancers, while portraying nayikas-nayakas, think not of the symbols beyond them, but of copying some vulgar Tamil serial’s actresses? How low! It is harder for the NRI’s to understand the difference between a photograph and a painting. There is no art in photograph. Everyone can take a photo. The painting can go beyond the physical, change it, and bring in the invisible. So much the difference between lokadharmi and natyadharmi. Have I seen much real natyadharmi? Errrrrr…. 1% ? Is there at least 0.0001% of natyadharmi in the “British South Asian dance“?

Life in the USA

Let us see what other American girls write:

I’ll admit I was somewhat diffident about performing the piece at all. This was because I wondered whether there was even a possibility to capture such an emotion: the shyness exhibited by a young bride when her to-be husband touches her hand for the first time.

I made several attempts at this expression as my mother repeatedly told me that my expression was far too bold and needed to look more coy. It made me wonder, however, if girls growing up in America are even capable of expressing the emotion at all. Are we perhaps too open-minded and brazen that we cannot portray the timidity expressed by a young bride on the day of her wedding?

“Can the ratisringara themes in Bharatanatyam actually apply to contemporary Los Angeles ? Does not longing, disappointment, anticipation of passionate union and various aspects of love apply to contemporary teenage life in America?”

But as the mother of one of the young Californian dancers notes, “My daughter, at 15, will not reconcile to the fact that this woman is pining for her man. She finds it too ‘cheesy’ because she has been raised in America. The culture is different here, girls are much more verbal and direct here.”

Thus it is the pining, the waiting game with which young girls today can no longer relate. Because they utilize a direct approach in their own love-lives, shyness in the company of the opposite sex is a concept that’s hard to grasp.

So, isn’t it a proof that, for Americans, the nayika bhavas are no longer accessible, and they don’t even understand why or how a soul would pine for a union with the Divine. After all, there is no need to search for God if you have a Social Security Number, a sports car and a fat bank account! America is better than HEAVEN itself! Well, maybe not every NRI feels so.

A typical shortcoming of a US- or UK-based dancer is a poor lasya, but, surprisingly, Anita Sivaraman was good (not perfect, but good) in this respect. Pleasant exception. The Americans’ subconscious mind just does not understand what is lasya, and it is often reflected in the tone of their voice and intonations too. As a result of the feminist movement in the USA, the absolute majority of the women who grew up there are less capable of displaying Lasya. They want to be men, haughty, aggressive, direct. The subconscious attitude is the ready-to-fight-back attitude. These women are ready to assert themselves, to hit back, always on the alert, always competitive, always tense like a fist.

Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhana: Bharatanatyam competition

Ranjani Murthy, the winner of Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhana’s Bharatanatyam competition in 2007Ranjani Murthy , is a good illustration for the above, would be fit to act in “Dance like a man”. Does sheever relax her face??? Can she be sweet? Can she enjoy what she is doing??? She thinks that Bharatanatyam is a hard workout at the gym (but, as you see from the picture, she cannot lift her leg even half-way to its proper position), and so her face reflects it.

The funny thing, proving the debilitating influence of the American “culture” is that, unlike in any Bharatanatyam competitions in India in the 19–23 age group “each of the items must be either a Padam or Javali”. These items are usually reserved for the 60-70 age group in Chennai. How Ranjani Murthy got the 1st prize in that all-US Cleveland competition (while Anita Sivaraman, though among the “finalists”, did not even get into the top 3) is a miracle. Although, looking back at the US presidential elections in 2000, we cannot deny the fact that miracles can be the result of the political shrewdness of the NRI community who judicially invited only 2 judges (if you know of any other annual competition where the judges remain the same every year , please tell me): Smt. Savitri Jagannatha Rao and Smt. Radha, one of whom privately admitted that they could not follow and did not quite appreciate Anitha Sivaraman’s dance for several reasons:

  • it was too fast (the judges are elderly women who take 5 times longer to realize anything than a college student),
  • too intricate, unlike the Kalakshetra-style straight lines and plain moves
  • karanas are not yet part of the mainstream Bharatanatyam, nor the lively and expressive Kuchipudi flavour is palatable

Smt.Radha said, “I do remember there was one Anitha Sivaraman. I looked at her several (!) times. She was dancing when I was busy chatting with Savithri”. Radha remembers she did a lot of shopping and bought some expensive things after the competition was over.When asked what marks which dancers received and how, she gave a scared look, said she cannot remember, and ran away.

Pooja Kumar, who did win the 1st prize in 2008 after learning more plain Bharatanatyam under… Savithri Jagannatha Rao (!!!), explained the strategy, “If you don’t have the cash to bribe the judges at a competition, try becoming a student of the judge”. Well, after eeveryone saw how the competition was judged in 2007, no strong contestants cared to apply in 2008, so Pooja was beyond competition anyway. 🙂

George Bush said he is proud of the NRI community. 😦

Want to talk to the two shrewd judges? Here they are:

“Pradakshina”, Savithri Jagannatha Rao, 13, 2nd Crescent Road Gandhi Nagar, Adyar, Chennai 600020 Ph: (044) – 24412624

“Pushpanjali”, Rhadha R, 8A, Lambeth Avenue, Off Bawa Road, Alwarpet Chennai 600018 Ph: (044) – 24997715

“Ranjani Murthy dance”

ranjani murthy dance” is what a lot of people (to my surprise) enter in the google search box before they discover this post. Ranjani Murthy is probably quite annoyed, but will have to bear with my blog until she publicly renounces her ill-gained first prize and until her parents disclose the circumstances under which she got it.

I really don’t understand why the American NRIs blame India as one of the most corrupt countries in the world while themselves are as honest as an average politician in Tamil Nadu.

Until then, let Ranjani Murthy dance!

Judging Bharatanatyam: good and bad. Contests & competitions. Judges & criteria.

Technically speaking, since “good” and “bad” are relative (“relative” does not mean “subjective”), how well you judge is partly determined by how many performances/styles/dancers you have watched. Or learnt. The most basic (primitive)  style is Kalakshetra as it is shaped after the European ballet’s angular, simplified lines. Several of the London Tamil dance teachers interviewed presented Rukmini Devi’s famous dance school of Kalakshetra as the epitome of authenticity, using Kalakshetra style as criteria to judge standards of Bharatanatyam performance. The Kalakshetra style has the fewest number of elements. Will you find there any talukku, kulukku, alakshyam, midukku,or any decent ottam adavus?

Some weird people, like Vyagrapada and Patanjali, were not at all interested in watching the relative stuff : they wanted to see the absolute and they saw it. Not an easy task, is it?

Ok, back to the relative things.

If you have you read about this Bharatanatyam competition report ,you have probably learnt a lot.

After watching the first 10 performances, your mind will not be able to tell what is Bharatanatyam and what is Kuchipudi.

After watching 20-30 performances, your mind may start to understand vaguely where is the better dancer and where is the worse.

After watching 100 performances, you may come to notice the difference between different Bharatanatyam styles.

After watching 300 performances, you may be able to predict how the dancer is going to perform a particular movement the next moment.

After watching 700 performances, your mind will start appreciating the nuances. Even in an utterly poor and boring recital, you should be able to single out some good points.

After watching 1000 performances, there is a high probability that your judgment will be detailed and quite professional.

After watching 2000, you may consider yourself as a serious judge. 🙂 Someone like Roja Kannan.

After 4000, you may consider yourself an expert. 🙂 Someone like Nandini Ramani.

You may want to read how dance competition between apsaras Urvasi and Rambha was judged. Clearly, it is the control over one’s mind and body that was deemed as paramount in that case.

There is a scientific method of determining how well a judge judges Bharatanatyam, since there are defined criteria. Usually, these include the broad categories, such as nritta, abhinaya. More detailed parameters may be easy to determine, such as Bhramari (balance) or Javaha, or more difficult to define, such as Rekha (one cannot provide a rational definition of what is grace as beauty is above the realm of the rational mind).

The most important question is, what are the different parameters’ weightage in the total score? This is usually a big secret that the judges fear to disclose. Will your laya count more than your abhinaya? Will your charisma or your make-up matter more than your angasuddhi? Will your caste, social status, political connections or your skin colour matter more than your nritta?

In any case, if you want you can make a more or less scientific experiment and see how objectively you judge 1 criteria, for example angasuddhi, do this:

1. Ask someone to prepare for you 30 short (5-10 min) clear videos of the dancers who you have not seen before. Watch them and rate them.

To judge angasuddhi, you have to choose the appropriate pieces where there is a wide range of body movements is involved – obviously you cannot do with just mukha abhinaya passages!) . So your videos should cover both nrittas and angikabhinaya.

Since you are judging angasuddhi, the dancer’s face should not be clear (otherwise, your mind would favour the more beautiful faces, or the types of faces that are associated in your mind with something that you like). Your mind will try to mix in other factors, such as lighting, camerawork, angle of view, costume (your mind prefers certain colours), quality of music, etc. You need to identify all these unrelated factors and make your mind disregard them. Sorry, it involves quite a bit of yoga, doesn’t it?

2. Put the rating paper away for a month or two (the more, the better), and then re-do the procedure. The discrepancy between the old and the new ratings will give you a rough idea of how good your judgment is. If you want to improve the test, let your assistant select the videos where the dancers perform identical pieces.

“Everything is subjective, and your judgment is subjective”, a banana vendor tried to convince me that I should buy his “good” rotten bananas.

Subjectivity arises when people, as it happens in 99.99% cases, do not observe the workings of their mind, and are unaware of their ego (ahamkar), that is the core of all subjectivity and distorts our judgment. By doing yoga, you can detach yourself from your mind, learn how it works, take control of it. It is much more difficult to get rid of ahamkar in our mind. You have to get rid of your likings and dislikings (for example, try to read an utterly boring book from the first page till last, and you will see how much control you have over your mind). There are numerous objective (scientific) methods of determining how well you control your mind.

The Hindu, Rajeswari Sainath… and Uma Namboodripad

The Hindu’s reviews… Nobody knows how the editor decides which performance is to be covered. Yes, the reviews are mostly about Padma Subramaniam, Chitra Visweswaran… Mostly about those who are out of shape and too old to dance, but even some young ones are no better if you look at Rajeswari Sainath’s daughter Vaishnavi who is mostly famous for having her mommy award her the  “Most promising Bharatanatyam talent” title from Times of India, after which her mom sponsored Vaishnavi’s DVD.

Most “non-senior” dancers have no clue about what mesh of political intrigues is involved in the infamous reviews…. and how much it costs to get one. After Nandini Ramani left the newspaper, the reviews’ standards plummeted. The rich co-owner of Giri Trading produces lame Bharatanatyam DVDs (why??) and does not need to work any longer.

“Clear footwork, energy and pleasing rhythmic patterns were the hallmarks of Rajeswari Sainath’s performance”, says Rupa Srikanth in her review, shallow, biassed and amateurish, as usual. Can Rupa see the details at all? Nandini Ramani, dancer and guru herself, should probably train a new generation of journalists with some background in Bharatanatyam.

Rajeswari Sainath

There is a positive improvement in Rajeswari Sainath’s dancing (she released her recent Rangasayee DVD). It is to do not so much with the ratio between mathematics and mime but with the quality of her abhinaya. The dancer usually focusses on her brisk footwork and this preoccupation usually dominates her recitals. But this time there was more balance, although still her mime is not as polished as her sense of rhythm (thanks to her uncle and to Indira Rajan). Although many of her expressions look as artificial as any NRI dancer’s, her main problems are… transitions between one expression and the following one. Rajeshwari, who has already so many titles, would be too proud to take classes from a dancer who is a master of anhinaya at her relatively young age. I am talking about Uma Namboodripad, Chitra Visveswaran’s senior assistant. Uma is the undisputed champion if you look for two things:

  1. depth, variety, spontaneity and power of bhavas
  2. transitions between expressions

The only problem is… Rajeshwari is much older than Uma… 😦 But Rajeshwari (she is 45, isn’t she?) should teach Uma Namboodripad how to maintain the figure and get some strength and stamina and speed. Rajeshwari’s daughter is far behind her mom in every respect. And, Uma, Uma… Even Anita Ratnam got back into a very decent shape with her kalari exercises! Why are our best dancers – for rare exceptions – so lazy??????

Clear footwork, good energy, pleasing rhythmic patterns and a good range of adavus are the hallmarks of Rajeshwari’s performances. The precision of the ending of her theermanams is amazing.

Her uncle, Karaikudi Mani, is one of the hidden reasons for her success. His hobby is to create new , unique and very complex jatis that no other dancer has performed. While Shobana too tries to do some simple maths, Shobana’s arithmetics tastes as artificial as her abhinaya looks, while Karaikudi Mani quite often manages to produce the rhythms that have much more depth and are vibrant.

On the musical side, Murali Parthasarthy (vocal) was perhaps not always on track, although I like his style and usual accuracy in rendering even the most difficult passages. As a vocalist, he cannot compare with… our dear Uma Namboodripad, who is 1000 times more impressive. I wonder how Uma manages to put so much depth and power into her voice as well as into her abhinaya! She becomes one with the song.

Back to Rajeswari, her husky voice is… far from perfect, and I am sure if she starts taking vocal classes (from Uma? 🙂 , it will automatically improve her abhinaya. Dancers used to take mandatory vocal classes before, and in Rajeswari’s case we can clearly see why one of the most important qualities for a dancer is geetam. Somehow, how well you sing has such a tremendous impact on your abhinaya!!!!!!

Rajeswari ‘s recital commenced with a beautiful ‘Laya Kavidhai- Anbe Sivam’ (Priyadarshini ragam, misram) conceived by veteran mridangist Karaikudi Mani, penned by Su Ravi and composed by Balasai. Whether it lived up to its claim of ‘poetry in rhythm’ or not is a big question if you consider what is poetry and what is not. In poetry itself, there are different standards.

The verse and mnemonic syllables (Adit Narayanan has a mighty voice but is often not so good at keeping the talam!) resonated in perfect harmony. While the vilamba and madhayama kaalam sollus were straightforward counts of seven, the dhurita kaalam was manipulated to include a third speed tisram sequence and a fourth speed misram section. In reverse order, the sequence turned a full circle and came back to a slow vilamba kaalam count-this descent was one of the most beautiful moments that evening. The Siva Tandava was both an aural and a visual treat. I wish Rajeswari managed to show us some Lasya as well! Ever seen Indira Rajan’s student who is good at Lasya????

The same technique of symbolism in nritta that worked in the opening composition was not as effective to espouse the theory of the three deities being one in ‘Trimurthi Tatvam’ (ragamalika, panchatalam, written by Kavi Kannan, tuned by Balasai). This was despite the liberal (how well it fit in the overall composision is a big question!) injection of “spirituality” provided by vedic chants compiled by Seshadri Ganapadigal and recited by G.K.Srinivasan.

The only composition that presented abhinaya without a framework of tala was the varnam, ‘Adiyarthanai’ (ragamalika, Adi, written by Rajkumar Bharathi and Kavi Kannan) on Vittala of Pandarpur. Rajeswari portrayed the stories of Vittala’s devotees- Namadeva, Janabai and Chokkamela- with warmth and involvement, although sometimes she overdoes it. As usual, she was focused in the nritta portions; her fast paced ‘tha tai thams’ that featured in the second half of the 45-minute varnam said it all.

The Tanjore Quartet, the “hereditary” folks…. And back to karanas!

A born dancer – non-hereditary???

One would assume that there would be a hall packed with rasikas to watch a programme by a grandson of Balasawaswathy. When hardly 30 people were initially watching Aniruddha Knight‘s performance, this number was quickly further reduced as many rasikas were unable to digest it at all, and probably were in a bit hurry running to the toilet. Aniruddha came onto the stage in a Kathak costume (thankfully, not in jeans), and was trying to dance a new style that combined new, advanced (genetically engineered) American abhinaya with a hybrid of jazz and flamenco natyam.

Not everybody living in a human body is a real human being. Indeed, where in India can you find anyone with these expressions:

American abhinaya

My daughter commented on Ani, “Poor man, they forced him to learn the dance. Not everybody is a born dancer.”

Arul confirms (with Ani in mind?):

Lots of Indians who live here are full of nostalgia and longing. In their memories, the India they knew lives on, time stamped with their year of departure. And they take it out on their children, forcing them into this life of hypocrisy.

Aniruddha kept biting the left side of his lip while doing jathi’s, trying to dance like a eunuck, with Very miserable expressions. “Is he drunk?”, my daughter asked! Will Shobana’s new film be titled as “Dance like a eunuck” or “Dance like a drunkard”?, I wondered.

“Hereditary” was the most frequent word in S.Niveda’s programme’s flier. Chitti convinced me to go and to watch her a few months ago. “Tapasya Kala Sapradaya is happy to present Niveda from the family of the Tanjore Quartet”, ran the proud intro. Tapasya was lauding its efforts “against commercial exploitation of the arts and meaningless distortion in the name of innovation”. It appears that Tapasya’s only achievement in that effort was the heavily funded documentary Marayunduvarum Marabugal that was made out of 50 hours of tape. It is wonderful that all the knowledge of the hereditary folks fit into one short documentary that not many people had the privilege to watch (why didn’t they release those 50 hours on DVDs?) . While the frontpage of the flier was displaying the Thanjore Quartet, next to them was Niveda with her hands in a lame Anjali: her palms did not touch each other. Oversight? The poor 10-year-old started dancing but could not move at all. Hardly any movement was completed fully, even though the tempo was superslow. Any eye control? Forget about it! The poor thing was too stressed, and kept forgetting the simple, hereditary steps. After watching this bharatanatyam performance we decided to limit our visits to the “hereditary” dancers’ programmes to a minimum.

TQ or nothing is the extreme radical heading of another post of Arul’s.

Sounds like Arul’s Christian sect. The spirit of confinement.

Imagine meeting somebody whose motto is “Mangos or nothing”. Or “Pringles or nothing”. Hey! Weren’t the Thanjore Quartet guys anything more than royal court musicians???? (not dancers!) If Muthuswami Dikshitar, their music teacher, somehow managed to get the recognition as a little saint (or at least a prominent religious scholar), there is no mention of TQ’s spiritual achievements. Because there were none.

One of the TQ’s (Vadivelu’s) “achievement” was the introduction of violin in the Natya recitals. As a result, the ancient veena is on the brink of extinction. The instrument that has the largest range of harmonics (no other instrument can compare with veena!) is giving way just like the natural seeds cannot compete with the aggressive GM crops that are quietly destroying our planet.

Arul writes:

These seven glittering kohinoor diamonds – master gave them to me: sakiye, yemaguva, mogamana, adimogam, yemanthayanara, danike, sami ninne.

Real diamonds are millions of years old. Perhaps, Arul calls the 200-year-old creations of the Tanjore Quartet so in regards to the tuition fees he charges for teaching them. 🙂

… Other gurus reserve the best for family.

The non-hereditary….

Arul continues:

I think also that the fact that Master comes from an ancestral family of teachers has a lot to do with it. They are the ones who know the art of teaching as it existed historically. They know how to give of themselves and when and to whom and under what circumstances.

Now you understand why Alarmel Valli, who left the Master, wrote about her vocal guru:

To find a good guru is a result of one’s past karma. Smt. Mukta never held back. She was generous to the core.

The hereditary gurus were never generous: holding back as much as possible was a matter of economic survival in the tough business competition with few opportunities.

Cursing Chennai’s traffic jams, our driver managed to get us to RK Swamy’s Hall just in time for Surya Ravi’s programme that was recommended by Anusha K. Surya Ravi’s nattuvangam turned out to be Sujatha Mohan. After we started watching Surya, we again realized that there are still wonderful dancers and talented, non-hereditary gurus. Surya was fantastic in her crisp adavus, beautiful and expressive abhinaya (well, there were a few gaps when she froze for a couple of seconds like an ice-man, but it was not her fault: the choreography has to be improved). Sujatha, admitted that she substantially modified “Bharathnrithyam”. The karanas, which Padma Subrahmaniam, who lost the remnants of her sense of beauty as soon as she got a “Dr.” title, never succeeded to combine in a graceful and organic manner. How well did her seniormost disciple Sundari Santhanam do it you can see from her recent DVD on Karanas.

Non-hereditary Sujatha, learning all the best from the non-hereditary, theoretician Padma, managed to produce a superior choreography, which can be illustrated by the passages from the varnam where Surya Ravi portrayed Kalinga Krishna (really beautiful, and such a superb balance when she was jumping thrice and turning 360* on one leg – hardly any professional dancers can do it!), and the snake itself! Such grace! And how subtle was the portrayal of Kuchella’s story, how refined, how charming was the mukha abhinaya, how perfect the angashudhi!!!

When I watched the Varsha Shankar at her brilliant arangetram (it was the first time when I was convinced that karanas CAN be performed gracefully!), I did not even expect that Sujatha Mohan would show us more of the outstanding dancers like Surya Ravi! Even Sujatha’s little kids, like Shreya Balakrishna, are so amazing! Their guru really inspires them. They are so lucky!

It is Surya Ravi whose recital should follow (if not included within it) after the recitals of the IFAS talent promotion (where Nandini Ramani was one of the judges), not the clumsy Balasaraswathy’s grandson. Well, if it were not for Nandini’s insistance (oh, these stupid political obligations!), who would ever have invited him to Chennai???

Everyone who considers being trained by a hereditary guru should watch Pandanallur Subarraya Pillai VCD and hear how he explains that the hereditary gurus teach properly only their own children. The hereditary ones are unable to explain to a genetic engineer where are those Bharatanatyam genes that can transmit true natya skills. He is unable to explain why the hell the hereditary gurus teach the non-hereditary students like Indu Varma! I think this is the reason that the “hereditary dancers” are no longer taken seriously by anyone, except by the hereditary toilet cleaners and hereditary garbage collectors.

Narthaki.com … The politics and the truth in the Bharata natyam world: Anita Ratnam

A big problem in true reporting is, no one wants to write about controversies. The most popular excuse is, “I want to write, but I can’t.” Either you write about such things rudely and be ostracized, or you make compromises, hold back on your evaluation and stay on. The writer may not like to do it, but is forced to. This is one of the main difficulties faced by a critic.
Lalitha Venkat, Editor, Narthaki.com

I sometimes visit the website narthaki.com run by Anitha Ratnam, a dancer herself just to keep myself updated on the current dance scene. Anita Ratnam is (was?) no doubt a very outspoken person, honest and straightforward. Something that she learnt in the USA? Some people like S. write, “I admired Anita Ratnam’s bold article (in Roses & Thorns?) about a year ago, where she criticized the sychophancy & farce going around titles & awards, and the rotten ceremonies, corrupt practices & organizations. Anita said she was warned by some sabha leaders of “serious consequences”.

Unlike Anita, hardly any other dancers can afford to be honest. Being honest will cost you much. Some dancers commented and said that only Anita can afford to be independent. Her TVS company makes her rich, but it seems not as rich as to maintain narthaki.com without asking for the contribution from the “members”. But then, are these contributions not enough to pay a small programmer’s fee to get rid of the obnoxious viagra spam posts – by introducing user registrations prior to posting?

But now, it turns out that even the seemingly independent Anita has been forced to remove parts of her original article and retract her statements about sychophancy & farce. What happened to the staunch hero? She writes, “…after that article i lost some friends and made some fresh enemies”.

Seeking influential friends since then has become Anita’s priority, and the fee-paying Narthaki.com members, such as Ratikant Mohapatra, were suddenly given, apart from their usual (shameless) self-promotional activities on Narthaki.com, a license to publish in Narthaki’s reviews praises about their own students and the derogatory remarks about their rivals. It raised numerous objections on Narthaki’s forum. Did these counter-statements and responses become part of “Roses & Thorns”? No, Anita Ratnam simply… deleted all the statements that dare to challenge Ratikant Mohapatra’s infamous “review“. As a result of the indiscriminate censorship and discouraging deletions on the forum, fewer and fewer users actually use it. Soon, narthaki.com forum will end up like the bharatanatyam dancers’ discussion group on yahoo, that is half-dead for 2 years.

Anita is becoming more and more politically minded, and her US-grown love for free speech has been replaced by the political considerations. Now Anita is very careful about what to say and what not to say, and tries to please the influential individuals. Soon we will see Anita infected with the virus of sychophancy too. The American vaccine did not work out. 😦

As one blogger put it, ” Now that it’s only Bharathanatyam, my performing art. Why am I loosing interest? No, it’s not the interest as such. When you find politics interfering everywhere, you loose your passionateness. What do I mean by politics here? It’s not about the ruling party or the non-ruling party, I mean the relationship with the students and their teacher and the bond with their co-learners. It’s hard to tolerate, when you see people who learn art only for the sake of earning fame and not for the love towards it. These incidents really disturb me a lot. Would the world change?”

Yes, my dear! The ruthless Kali is here to bust all fame-seekers, all Bharatanatyam politicians, and cleanse some gurus and dancers of all their filth! 🙂 They are not going to like it, are they? 🙂 Let them burn with shame when we expose them to the entire world (check the stats for this blog 🙂 !

Ok, back to Narthaki’s articles and reviews. Recently I had witnessed a Bharatanatyam performance by a local artiste and her students here and was quite appalled by the lack of any standard in that show. None of them including the guru exhibited even the basic qualities of a Bharatanatyam dancer (posture, tiredlessness, expressions, eye movements) or the basic grammar of Bharatanatyam such as the half-sitting (aramandi), raised elbows, or even proper postures. Hell, many of them were slouching when they were dancing. They weren’t even standing erect!

Someone, most probably a parent of one of the students or someone close to the dancer, must have written a review and posted it on Narthaki. He raved and raved about the quality of the dance and called for people to rename the phrase ABCD (American Born Confused Desis) as American Born “Cultured” Desis because the standard of dancing of these children was so good, it could give the Indian-born dancers a run for their money. Now, as much as I am for parents being proud of their children, I do have to say that this review was over the top. Just because NRIs can afford and stay close to some dancer, they send their girls (usually girls) to this guru and accept whatever this guru teaches as classical dance. They are so proud that they declare that whatever their daughter dances is pure classical dance. I don’t know if this is a defense mechanism against anyone who might say that ABCD children are not Indian enough (or are too American), but it is not an accurate depiction of reality(not even close) . Yes, I do find that many ABCD children are very Indian in their upbringing and have some American qualities (which is not at all wrong – why not take the best of everything that you can and be proud of it? Sometimes they are more Indian than some Indian kids in India who are so overcome with their blind love for the west).

The main point of this blog is my curiosity, “Are we celebrating mediocrity because we think that is good enough or because we blindly believe that our children are better than others or because we simply are too ignorant to appreciate quality even when the lack of it stares us in the eye”. I have often witnessed little girls dancing or singing Indian classical dance or music (sometimes parents exhibiting them like a show piece in a museum) and someone remarking, “Can you believe an ABCD is so good at this?”. In such situations, I have wondered, “Should we encourage this because this is a child or should I tell the parents that what their child is learning is absolute crap?” Why are Indian parents forced to send their children to these classes and get them sub-standard training? The same goes for Indian organizations that invite artistes over to perform dance. Anyone with a brain that functions would have figured out that the NRI audience are easily overcome with gimmicks. Once you have someone famous score the music for what you are performing or add some jazzy backdrops or give a resume that looks good, they pre-determine that the show will be good. They don’t understand that the awards you get in India are a dime-a-dozen. Any noun that follows the words “Nrithya” or “Natya” will make a new title and can be awarded even by the Indian Overseas Bank!

Speaking of which, on a personal note, I was once performing as part of an American theater group. There was a solo Bharatanatyam piece in the play and, needless to say, it received rave reviews. But then, who decides if it is good? Sure, the costume and the jewellery would have dazzled everybody, and my dance resume looked good. The audience knew that I had won some championships and had already decided that my dance would be good. I received great reviews in the newspapers and from anyone who had seen the play. But then, in my heart, I knew that my dance in that show was quite sub-standard. I had had very little practice. It was in the middle of my graduate school work and I was exhausted after my school and job everyday even before I got to the show. Yes, I wish I had practised more, but the timing couldn’t have been worse. So, do the reviews make me a good dancer? For a layman, probably, yes. But my dance made me a bad dancer during the entire stretch of that show. It was definitely a learning experience for me and I enjoyed working with the people on that show, but the fact remains that my performance was quite abysmal and no amount of good review can change that.

Back to the topic under discussion, if most children are learning crap, is every teacher in the U.S. a bad guru? Do they not care about their students performing badly? Absolutely not. Although there are good schools of music and dance in the U.S., they are a handful and even if the gurus have been wonderful artistes, they often take up 50-200 students to train. When you have such a big class, how can you afford to correct the mistakes of everyone? How can you be sure that every student is keeping their elbows in the unsagging position or that every student is bending to their fullest extent?

Of course, you cannot always blame the teachers. I have also witnessed parents who would join their daughter in a Bharatanatyam class . Once their daughter joins a dance class, they will remain silent for a month. The next month the parent would creep up silently and ask the teacher to teach their daughter to dance for a song so that she can perform in the local temple or a local show. (It usually takes anywhere between 6-12 years to become a trained Bharatanatyam dancer, and yet not reach a professional level. It takes immense practice and dedication to be a Bharatanatyam dancer and no one learns how to dance to a full song before they are well trained in the basic steps which takes about 2.5-3 years. You usually perform before an audience only after this point)

What can a teacher do except say “no”? And how many times can you say no when they keep pressing you to do otherwise? Teachers often get frustrated by such requests. When teachers do not teach such “entertaining numbers”, their students often leave. In India, it would be impossible to lay such requests on a teacher. The teacher is the GURU and she is the foremost in the life of the student. What she utters is the ultimate word. Unless, a teacher declares that the student is ready for such a project, no one would dare bring up such an idea in India. But all an NRI parent wants to declare to the world is, “My daughter is more Indian than yours”.

So, parents, if you are reading this, understand that selecting a proper guru is the foremost in training your daughter in any art form, but before that please make sure that it is your child that wants to learn the art and not you that wants it for your child. Art comes from passion and unless you are passionate about it, you cannot be forced to learn it. If you have a good guru, learn to respect what they do for your child. It is better to wait than to display mediocrity. You don’t ask your child’s math teacher to teach your child calculus in first grade (unless your child is Ramanujam). So why not give the same respect for art? And finally do not be proud of mediocrity. If you want people to stop saying, “This is good enough for an ABCD” then display excellence. Until then, only “this” will remain good enough for ABCDs!

Sivasri & truth about Bharatanatyam guru’s

Yesterday I drove my acquaintances, dancers, to Sivasri’s Bharatanatyam recital in Sivagami Petachi auditorium. This girl is from the category of “fast-matured” Bharatanatyam dancers. Sometimes, like the green mangos’ ripening process is artificially accelerated by all kinds of chemicals, some children are over-tutored in their abhinaya too. Luckily, Sivasri’s abhinaya- this time at least! – looked perfectly natural and spontaneous. It had the power and connected to her inner self. While my daughter commented that her abhinaya is “perfect for her age”, I wished even the professional dancers could have such a rich range of soulful expressions, pure, powerful, single-minded, full of joy, natural. I love these 11-year-olds because they are 100% engaged in what they do. Whenever I see Shobana on the stage, it reminds me of a circus clown’s artsy gimmicks.

Sivasri’s father made a lame attempt to make her a few web pages, still very much under construction. He perceives the extraordinary talent hidden in his little daughter, and tries – sometimes in a clumsy manner (like he did on rasikas.org) – to make the others perceive it too. He does not understand that, as soon as ordinary people watch Sivasri dance, they will immediately admire her and acknowledge her extraordinary gift. No need for comments. I bet even a half-blind rasika would perceive it. Sivasri is brilliant.

Sivasri’s father, Scanda, is very intelligent in many respects. He understands that she needs to improve certain things. The hardest thing for any dancer is what I call “dynamic equilibrium”. I do not know how the top professional dancers manage to instantly freeze – after moving rapidly – in difficult postures without losing their balance.

I think that Sivasri is one of those rare exceptions who have the strong will and determination to reach their goal fast.

Guru’s and shishya’s – the paradoxes and hidden truths

It is a year ago that Sivasri changed her guru, although Roja Kannan is far from perfect. Until today, I believed that the Kalakshetra style is better be avoided, but after watching Sivasri again I realized that she was changing the style and making it much softer, graceful and natural. Looked a bit like Vazhuvoor, but Roja did not mind. I think Roja herself admires how Sivasri dances. Let Roja learn something from this little genius. 🙂 Two days ago I watched another couple of Roja’s students, and the best one, Abhinaya, was visibly inferior to Sivasri.

It was funny to hear Scanda trying to utter the over-used phrase “All credit goes to her guru”. He did not mention “to which guru“! I thought, if “All credit goes to her guru”, how come Roja Kannan has not trained any other students who would be at least 70% as good as Sivasri????

Sivasri reminds us of the little Medha Hari, the only outstanding student of A.G. in the entire 300-strong Bharatanjali. How come the “Best Natyacharya” A.G. herself admitted that she has not been able to produce any more dancers of MH’s caliber???? If a student becomes a great dancer despite her guru, why should all the credit go to the guru????

I could not believe it when Hemamalini told me 6 years ago that R. was a fake guru (he hardly ever appeared at Kitappa Pillai’s classes!) whose tactics is to find talented kids, train them a little, and make them showcase their achievements as a proof of his own greatness as a guru! After that, the kids are discarded like a used napkin. Well, many people often use others for their own selfish ends.

The funniest truth is that often gurus learn from their own students much more than the students learn from the gurus!

“All credit goes to her guru”?????

I am glad Sivasri left her guru Krishnakumari Narendran to whom all credit “goes”. Krishnakumari is a real pisacha . Krishnakumari consumes young talent (and money) like fire consumes fuel. Krishnakumari is already nearly voiceless, and can no longer speak – she can only shout in her utterly hoarse throat.

I did not know that she was Nivedita Gopinath’s guru when I went two days ago to R.A.M. . They recital was ok, and Nivedita danced fairly well. Nivedita is a bit clumsy, weak and slow, but has good abhinaya, is beautiful, and has a nice figure. The main problem for her, like for all taller dancers, is the fast torso moves. You have to develop very strong muscles to move your torso sideways, back and down very quickly. The shorter dancers (below 160 cm) are luckier. I hope Krishnakumari does not corrupt Nivedita entirely.

Funny story!

A year ago in Krishna Gana Sabha Krishnakumari did the arangetram of one Australian MBA (you can imagine how well that Australian girl performed – after sweating for her MBA). At the entrance, the rasikas were asked to wash their feet. No problem. The arangetram grand ceremony started, and Krishnakumari asked everyone to stand up and sing some song along with her (horrible voice). I remained seated, which soon convinced a few other rasikas around me to sit down and relax too. After Krishnakumari finished singing, she asked everyone to sit down. One man remained standing and continued to sing with his mighty voice. Neither Krishnakumari, the master of the ceremony, nor the rasikas knew what to do with that old man. Eventually, they had to wait until the guy stopped by himself. It was the most awkward “ceremony” that I have ever seen. Krishnakumari’s attempt to become a super-priestess and confer additional sanctity on the lame arangetram did not work out. The Australian MBA’s parents invested a significant amount into that fiasco, though.

Conclusion: when Bharatanatyam teachers try to promote themselves as spiritual gurus, they fail.

Where the hell is Bharatanatyam???

Where the hell is

Bharatanatyam???

Chitti says the influx of NRI dancers who come for the Christmas vacations to Chennai disturbs the Bharatanatyam scene considerably. If 5-7 years ago these holiday-makers were content with just visiting the relatives and consuming lots of cheap South Indian food, now they think that the airfare is so expensive that they have to show off in front of some unsuspecting rasikas in Chennai. Although I was somehow able to watch today’s Anusha Sridhar’s recital for a few minutes, it was enough to realize that this is another American girl who had only a few rehearsals before the programme, and had to think for quite a while every time she had to do the next move. “OK, now I move my head. Now I move my arm up. Now, hell,

I forgot to move my leg. Now…”

Her Bharatanatyam guru?

Her guru’s name remains a big secret. She did invite A.G. as a chief guest, and I pity A.G.. Well, she probably wants to get some contacts in the US to promote her successor, A.N.

Otherwise, how can A.G. bear the sight of Anusha hardly moving on the stage at all? Well, her expressions, though unsure, were at least tolerable.Her eyes moved around like a thief’s caught red-handed.

Well, the other recital by Mirnalini Thiyagarajan, organized by Sri Ragam Fine Arts , was of the same standard, performed clumsily in a similar skirt costume (why don’t they dance in a burka?), for long whiles she got frozen on the stage (looks odd), doing absolutely nothing (at least her eyebrows or eyes should move slightly, or toes, or else the audience falls asleep immediately!), although she at least tried to understand the words of Ganam Isaithu. Like all other Muralidharan’s compositions, I find Ganam Isaithu to be a pop song rather than “classical”, even though it is U.’s favourite item. My daughter wonders why there is no power in Muralidharan’s compositions, no light. Well, how can you compare Vishnu Kautuvam or Kali Kautuvam with the folkish Muralidharan’s compositions that make you fall asleep so quickly??? Most dancers do not understand that there is some magic in Vishnu Kautuvam or Kali Kautuvam, or in Shambho, or in many other items. If Bharatanatyam dancers complain that people find their performances boring, well, such dancers should better look at what items they do. When the Anusham group tried to incorporate some Vedic shlokas in their programmes, it made a such an impact on the rasikas! Mind you, Shiva is said to like Samaganam, not pop music! People have degraded so much, and forgot their heritage, their scriptures, their traditions, their religion.

It is interesting that different sabhas in Chennai have different standards, and Sri Ragam Fine Arts has one of the lowest. Perhaps, because its president is a descendant of the Thanjore Quartet? He looks like a Neandertal man, as is as intelligent.

I always thought that all those “hereditary” folks fail to learn even 5% of the art they are supposed to transmit. I do not particularly like the Thanjore Quartet at all. The royal musicians, well. Vadivelu made all Indians believe that violin is a classical Indian instrument, and that Mohiniattam, which he invented to the order of Swathi Thirunal, is a classical Indian dance. Gosh! How can you call “classical” something that is barely 150 years old????? Baffles me! The Italian ballet is more ancient then.

Bharatanatyam

Today’s Bharatanatyam performances in Madras…. and Urmila Sathyanarayanan

NRI…

“Bharatanatyam”

?

My friend VRD said that some NRI dancers have adopted a new strategy: they try to hide where they studied “Bharatanatyam” (rock-n-roll, actually). Today I was lucky to discover Shivani Thakkar’s web site. Guess if I went to watch her performance after looking at the photo of this clumsy winner of the Verizon Wireless and Saavn Bollypop Competition in belly and hip-hop dance:

clumsy shivani the rock-n-roll dancer

clumsy shivani the rock-n-roll dancer

I was not so lucky (I was 40 minute late, but I wish I didn’t go at all!) when I did go to watch Abirami Selvakumar’s programme. While many ads state the guru’s name, this time there was no guru mentioned. And the guru was not in the hall, either, which was quite unusual of Urmila Sathyanarayanan. Were she there, she would burn with shame for such a “Bharatanatyam”. Abirami was dancing like a 70-year-old woman who has not been eating anything for 1 month. That is, she hardly lifted her feet while doing steps, and could hardly turn, or lift her arm.

The most amazing was that… Abirami Selvakumar cannot do attami at all! That is, her neck does not move sideways even for a centimetre!!! Bravo! While the ancient devadasis used to dance for 8 hours non-stop, Abirami – after a 10-minute break – resembled a steamer. Aha! This is why Urmila Sathyanarayanan was not there! Urmila has a good taste, and her students’ costumes are well-made, and usually are… white and red. Very powerful conbination. Urmila’s favourite colours. By the way, I am curious to know more about that recent scandal when Urmila’s DVDs were – “without her permission” – released by Raj TV and made their way to appear on jayq.org and partly on YouTube (someone was commenting there about this incident).

Urmila herself used to be a graceful and charming (or rather, sexy) dancer. No doubt she was dancing in some king’s harem in her past life… Her abhinaya is earthly and very “seductive”. Average lokadharmi. Nothing too elevating. Her expressions change each other so sharply that it looks comic. Lately her experssions started resembling the expressions of the frustrated rag pickers in Tambaram. She badly needs some lessons from Uma Namboodripad. Surely Urmila was not a devadasi dancing somewhere in a temple’s mandappam. No way. A Friday Review describes her recital as “meditative”, but Urmila’s meditativeness looks as cheap as a cabaret dancer’s. No comparison with really meditative dancers like Divya Prabhakar! Oh Urmila….this cute featherbrain doll is too shallow to attepmt even anything close to Alarmel Valli.

Todays Abirami Selvakumar’s nattuvanar & vocalist was Mr.Suresh, Urmila’s beau.

This man can somehow manage to sing with his mouth half-shut (Anjana Rajan in the Hindu’s euphemism describes it as “contained singing of S.K.Suresh”!), and he squeeks like an old mouse in its sleep. What, vocalists 100 years ago used to sing without a microphone? How, would Mr.Suresh ask??? If it were not for his model looks (this guy is really handsome, clean-cut, self-contained, and maintains a “noble” appearance)….

S K Suresh

I do not know what kind of training he got at Kalakshetra, ok, he should be a good dancer too. But as a vocalist! No, no, no! During the break, while he was singing something, many of the 300-strong audience fell asleep (including two people sitting and snoring next to me!) .

Usually, Urmila’s bharatanatyam students are good (she can afford not to take in any totally useless students), many are very good like Swathy Ashok (this one is a bit like Shobana, but cannot do the attami, and has poor eye control, her smile jumps on and off as unsteadily as Urmila’s), and some are excellent like Amritha Varshini Murali

Amritha Varshini Murali

(this girl is really superb and refined!).

Anwesha Das was nearly excellent in 2004 Anweshya Das

, but now Padma Subrahmaniam looks better. To lose so much within 3 years!!!!!

Bharatanatyam recitals, dancers and more – in Chennai….

Bharatanatyam

recitals

Yesterday I was watching Sujatha Parameshwaran’s students. She has only 6 in her school of “Thanjavur style” (I am pretty sure that that Ponniah from the Thanjore Quartet would get a heart attack if he saw this Bharatanatyam performance labelled as “Thanjavur style”). It was the second time I saw the little Shreya Mallika after the TTD competition half a year ago. The child has improved. She will be a great Bharata natyam dancer… if she rehearses more and completes the movements (like this dancer)! 🙂 She has an amazingly expressive face, and such a powerful personality, and her body moves to the talam so well. Despite her stumpy structure (no visible waistline yet), every joint in her body responds to the beat, and she has GRACE. She does not notice anything around her, and rams through everything. Her senior, Shilpa Sasidharan, is also an enjoyable dancer of Bharatanatyam, with very sharp expressions, a very good angasudhi, araimandi, and such crisp, clean and powerful moves! I was surprised to learn that it was Shilpa’s… second performance in human history. Sometimes she overdoes it, and forces her movements into some kind of Italian ballet! I really love these kids doing their best. I suspect that the presence of Vijay Kumar, who is himself a good dancer (well, he dances Bharatanatyam as if it was Italian ballet!) with a well-built -though a bit too lean – body, (if it were not for his clownish expressions!), motivated the girls too! I think I have to get at least one good guy to add to Shantha’s school so that the girls would get an additional incentive. Shortage of guys….

More….Bharatanatyam

I was quite late for Sruthi Kalyanasundram’s Bharatanatyam recital. I was thinking, “Is this that Padma-Subramaniam-looking girl who danced in Chidambaram 3 years ago, and at the bald Sasidharan’s competition 1.5 years ago?” Yes, it was her. I call her Padma Subramaniam #2. Sruthi is one of those rare girls who are actually trying to do Bharatanatyam as a yoga. While her figure and limbs are perfect, her face is, well, not a top model’s face. But then, top models are poor actresses and vice versa… I do not know why so many super-beautiful girls start looking so ugly as soon as they start moving their face or body. OK, even if some of Sruthi’s expressions looked somehow unattractive, yet Bharatanatyam practise is changing even her face features – even on the physical level. Do you know that our nose and ears never stop growing?

I bet that her children will look far more beautiful, and in her next life she herself will be born as a beautiful child. Her soul is really intent on making it! It is worth admiration, and I felt as if something, as if a warm wind, went out of my heart and sent her blessings. People like Sruthi are the main engine for the development of BN. As soon as she starts dancing, she looks gorgeous and charming! Such a transformation! I was observing how she does it. She is so much focussed that her mind creates very vivid images in front of her, and her Ajna is powerful enough to project these images onto the rasikas. I have very big doubts if any man can create such vivid things, with so much life in them. These men are so insensitive too! ————————————————————————————-

There is a huge gap between what the girls are on the stage and what they are in “everyday situations”. Somehow Alarmel Valli, when she does her introductions on the stage, manages to get into a intermediate, half-meditative-looking, state. I thought A. and U. could try to do it too, but they are just too young. The volume of their attention is very limited. Alarmel’s mind is far more powerful. Sr. has a sharp eye. The other day he told me that the performer’s expressions did not exactly start and end with the start and end of the corresponding words in the song. I said that you cannot expect such synchronization from an 11-year-old girl!

The school should invite to teach those old devadasis who still can do all the 108 karanas. We have to get these karanas from the real parampara, not from some Ph.D.’s intellectual speculations. I am sure there will be a plenty of serious Bharatanatyam dancers who would come for such workshops. I am pressing Shantha to enhance each piece of her choreography with as many karanas as possible. It is a lot of work, and Shantha is very busy. Shantha is my main hope. Shantha has the blessings of Lakshmi, a brilliant intuitive and aesthetic intelligence but little rational intellectuality. Shantha cannot explain things in a logical manner. We have to do everything before all those stupid dedavasis die out. I do not have the time.

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Bharatanatyam

Ranjani Mala

We briefly got stuck at the 3 Ranjani’s: Shivaranjani, Megharanjani and Janaranjani. While there is very little info on Ranjini herself, this goddess who brings joy and entertains is a very interesting emanation. The girls were probably not very surprised to see the auty closing her eyes and then, after a while, announcing a verdict:As there are 3 worlds (the sky, the mid-world and the earth) , so there are 3 Ranjani’s. Shivaranjani brings joy and entertains the Supreme Lord in heaven (Svar loka), Megharanjani (the “Cloud”-goddess) brings joy to the beings of the mid-world (the spirits of mind and the vital world, the world of emotion and feelings), and Janaranjani brings joy to the human beings in the waking state – on earth.

Myself, I am sometimes surprised what words come out of my mouth. But it was a very clear realization. I was thinking about these Ranjani’s before, but somehow never arrived

at a clear vision of their nature.

I asked S. to watch K.M.D.Madhula’s (I call her “Miss Eyebrow”) Bharata natyam recital is soon. I explained to S. a few things about assymetric movements of the mouth, explained how to take care of her throat, and all those yoga things.Hope she will do the exercises properly. Told her how one judge from the Doordarshan grading panel explained to me how they gave A-grades only to the politically connected but clumsy Bharatanatyam dancers. S. understood why she didn’t pass. S. is very beautiful, but a bit stiff, weak and not very expressive.But I like her. She has a kind heart.

Bharatanatyam is so complicated…