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.

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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.