Beyond the Lines

“Art is food for the soul”, cliché aside, how much have we imbibed the depth of this age-old statement? Indian classical art forms, irrespective of its diverse genres, styles and streams have been a comprehensive mode of creative expressions which were beyond stereotypes and materialistic prerequisites. All that it demanded was a receptive mind capable of applying it to the best of the individual without benchmarking against one and other respecting, the subjectivity of the creative art.

Is that what it is, in the present? - is a question worth pondering as artists, especially classical dancers, are driven bonkers on various parameters to excel in their art form apart from the parameters of hardcore learning and practising of the art form itself. Against a glorious past where the art forms flourished in the protective patronage of the royal lineages, and the artist invested innumerable hours in the betterment of arts, current socio-political scenario demands artists to not only learn and practice the art form but also to top the race of being spotted by the right eyes at the right time.

With a surge of people pursuing the art forms and wishing to take it beyond a serious hobby, the race gets tougher with greater population and how! Attributing to such a race is the emerging of niche professionals like art promoters, art critics, P.R. personnel and other paraphernalia. Here comes the most pertinent question as to what is the value that the current system has brought to the art form?

Respecting its contribution towards bridging the gap between the artists, organizers and the audiences, the trend has painted a different(dark?) side to the cultural scene by introducing preset norms and formulae for one to ‘qualify’ as an artist, establishing a brand for themselves and marketing it etc, thus ‘corporatising’ the Indian classical art field. Competition is believed to bring the best outcome under optimal conditions like research, innovation and experiments but certainly not at the cost of quality and dilution of the spirit. In a scenario of intense competition, the artists especially the dancers seem to seek ‘differential identity’. ‘Paving a new path’,’ being different’ etc. are all time ambition of any dancer from the time immemorial.

Respected Rukmini Devi Arundale, Balasaraswathi amma and other such legendary icons are those who lived such dreams to the fullest of their capabilities, thus leaving a track for others to follow. Even though the art form went through an absolute transformation in their era, the emphasis on the philosophical, spiritual and intellectual quotient was retained intact. We certainly can vouch for the fact that Bharathanatyam has evolved from what it was to the current status, adding much polish and refinement to its presentation, but we need to analyse a bit deeper regarding the extent to which it has compromised on the spiritual and intellectual quotient.

In the glorious past of Bharathanatyam, the Nritta, or the pure dance aspect accentuated a recital adding vibrancy and dynamism to the bhava laden presentations. The pure dance segments were used with diligence and aesthetics to enhance the repertoire and the dancers emphasized on the bhava and thus creating the rasa. Indian classical dance, especially Bharathanatyam was mostly a ‘mind game’ which demanded a mindset nourished with sensitivity, empathy, knowledge and above all, the time to understand the character portrayed. A galaxy of guiding stars emerged out of many limited platforms of yesteryears, highlighting the superiority of quality over quantity.

With an unending array of dance festivals and media exposures today, dancers still struggle to leave a mark, is an irony worth a debate! The arguments point towards the increase in the number of dancers who want a ‘career’ out of it, the changing trends of the audience who lack time to

spend in a concert and multiple options of entertainment on the fingertips etc. We cannot deny the fast pace of life that the current world has adopted which is bound to have an impact on all fields of the society, and art is not an exception!

With an upsurge of social media and other virtual world platforms and exposures, the ‘visibility’ factor has spiked up for anyone, and so too the artists. Way against the fact that the artist had to prove his/her mettle several times for several years to get noticed, the much widened dance fraternity today seek instant recognition, limelight and propaganda through the new arenas. Hence comes the question of ‘differential identity.’ With lesser time spent on one’s art, the

possibility of exploring the characters, its spiritual philosophic and mental stature diminished considerably shifting the focus of the dancer from the much elevated spiritual level of mind to a physical level.

Nritta, i.e., the pure dance has become the forte for many of aspiring, promising and established

dancers may be due to the love of speed, movement and physical stamina. There have been theories presented by established dancers of today that expressions have to flow from the body movements and not face alone, or rather not face at all! The shift from mind to body in dance for at least a considerable number of dancers has conveniently allowed room for incorporating the movements from other genres of dance, especially contemporary dance. The overemphasis on the body lines, physical stamina, mastering the techniques have become the formula to win a mass acclaim.

Araimandi, an aesthetic feature of Bharathanatyam subjective to the uniqueness of each body has given way to ‘hypermandi’ (as called by art critics!!) and the innate brisk and rigour of the medium has overdosed itself into acrobatics or rather nrittabatics! It is all about ‘looking good’ than ‘feeling good’, seeing what the body does than hearing what soul speaks!

From an era where one wins the title of ‘Guru’ only against the test of time, we have come to the

hollowness of addressing a budding dancer in his/her early twenties and thirties to be ‘Acharya’ and ‘Legend’ etc, letting loose the spirit and sanctity of dance to grope in darkness. As goes the universal fact anything physical is perishable, whereas the soul remains eternal. This is one of the main reasons behind the struggle of the current trend to leave back a legacy.

As rightly told by my guru, Kum. B Bhanumati, the audience leaves the jathis in the auditorium but carry home the characters you portray. Be it Sri Krishna, Rama, Hanuman, Sabari or Ravana. And that says it all! When a dance experience transforms into a great memory for the Rasikas, the spirit of dance finds its meaning. Investment of oneself into their art, the ‘aatmamsha’ is the class and league of the artist they belong to, which is beyond the lines and techniques that they master in course of learning, leave alone the formulae!! When the artists succeed in nurturing and growing their art beyond their persona, they succeed in contributing to the divine memories of the Rasikas, than imparting a sheer experience, and needless to say, such artists, live in the hearts of rasikas as spirit of dance is nothing but a divine connect between the souls!

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