Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Ever Changing Tradition of Bharatanatyam, Part 1

I've spoken about this before: how fifty years ago, the Indian classical dance scene became inextricably linked with India’s fight for independence. How the ensuing nationalistic fervor blossomed into a massive cultural overhaul with Indian classical dance at the forefront. Suddenly, Bharatanatyam** found itself in the middle of a huge reconstructionist and revivalist phase. Indians who had never thought twice about the devadasi establishment were now ardent supporters of the art and it quickly came to be that every well-cultured girl trained extensively in classical dance. Attendance for performances skyrocketed and the new government supported classical dance endeavors wholeheartedly through fiscal support for classes, concerts, and festivals. This drastic rise resulted almost immediately in an overvaluation of the form (*Coorlawala), the results of which are just now rippling through the world.

This issue is this: now, as nationalistic feelings slowly fizzle and fade post the independence movement, so too is the people’s love for the form. Bharatanatyam classes are now slowly being replaced by Bollywood dance lessons, bharatanatyam performances by bhangra competitions, and so on. Yet the number of professional classical dancers are growing: as Anita Ratnam wrote once, the world is “drowning…drowning in a deluge of [Indian classical] dancers” (personal email). The sudden boom and bust bore weighty consequences: the world currently faces a glut of highly trained performers and dancers in both India and the US who look with apprehension towards the ever-decreasing market share for Indian classical dance. With no foreseeable sustainability of the art and without the same nationalistic passion associated with them, traditional artists struggle to maintain their importance and relevancy in this globalizing world.

So exactly how do they do that?

The pressures artists face are polarizing: they must keep audiences interested using fresh innovations while maintaining the image of tradition; they must expand into larger global audiences who have no knowledge of bharatanatyam while still maintaining its complexities. They must satisfy the demands of the Westerner, unknowledgeable about the Indian arts; to the Indian in India, who can no longer find the relevance in classical dance; and the Indian abroad, searching for a tie back to their home: for these are the people who rule the artists’ future and thus, the future of the form.

In order to explain this phenomena, I have broken up the theory as such:

1. Outlining what each kind of audience members expect.
2. How bharatanatyam changes as a tradition.
3. How these audience influences create a change in tradition.
4. What other changes they have created.

Some of these posts will hopefully also be useful on their own!

*Coorlawala, Uttara. "The Sanskritized Body." Dance Research Journal 36/2 (2004): 50-63. Print.
**I never know if I should capitalize bharatanatyam or not...

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