Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Ever Changing Tradition of Bharatanatyam, Part 5

More changes that have occurred...

It is of interest to note that since the repertoire of Indian classical dance was of solely bhakti pieces prior to this change, the pieces involving contemporary themes had to be created, another prized Western idea, “newness”. (Lopez y Royo) But rather than compose music themselves filled with new ideas and new lyrics, many of these pieces are derived from pieces of poetry that date back thousands of years. (Alarmel Valli’s prakrit and pieces “Lament for a Fallen Soldier” and “the Forgotten Seed” as well as Priyadarshani Govind’s varnam “Prahalada” are prime examples). It quickly points to a strong desire to show the relevance of ancient techniques and traditions. There is justification to be found about the universality of emotions through time when artists create contemporarily-themed pieces from poetry that was written thousands of years ago. In this way, bharatanatyam practitioners provide proof as to the relevance of traditional Indian dance today and how it will continue to be so in the future.

Another change slowly being realized in bharatanatyam is a disappearance of banis, or styles of bharatanatyam (usually based on which region they came from) and thus, a slow elimination of the regional differences within bharatanatyam. Simple globalization of the form is attributed to this, because streamlining again is easier for a viewer to digest. When an artist retains all of the subtle nuances of a form, expecting others to enjoy because they are knowledgeable in the style, the audience is immediately limited, and the artist also limits the other artists they can work with. Thus, most schools have slowly been adopting the Kalakshetra style of nrtta, with its rigidity of technique and style.

This is partially because Kalakshetra is the most well known and widely accepted style.
Kalakshetra exhibits its own hegemony on the other, lesser known banis. The other is that the Kalakshetra style is most easily appreciable by audiences because of its technicalities. This change towards a Kalakshetra style of dance is easily seen through Priyadarshani Govind (Vazhoor style) and Alarmel Valli (Pandanullur style). One look at youtube clips by the famous dancer Padma Subramanyam, who was trained in the Vazhoor style, compared to current clips of Priyadarshani Govind shows how the Vazhoor style has changed. There is now a considerable emphasis on the aramande, (the posture that most steps are executed in), with an importance placed on much sharper upper body movements and a perfect diamond shape of the legs.

This ease of appreciation of technique is also why dancers Mallavika Sarukkai and Rama Vaidhyanathan (Venkatraman**) place such a great emphasis on it. Both are well known (especially Mallavika) for their extremely fast paced jathis and obsession with nrtta technicalities. Not only is nrtta easy for an unknowledgable audience member to understand, the fast paced jathis elicit more “oohs” and “aahs” then slow paced ones. More audiences can appreciate a ridiculously fast jathi than one concentrating on the control of movement.

A great example of how this tradition has actually been changed and implemented is to look at the new generation of artists such as Mythili Prakash, or Anita Sivaraman*, whose excellent technique and fast paced jathis are what has brought them great recognition.

Now as we look to the future, one must wonder how tradition will change from this generation to the next? It certainly looks as though we are making a slow move to a contemporary or modern aesthetic. Only time will tell.

*Anitha Sivaraman, exceptional NRI Bharatanatyam dancers, and more about lokadharmi, natyadharmi and the American lasya. Anita. Rev. of Anita Sivaraman. Web log post. Bharatanatyam in Chennai. 10 Jan. 2008. Web. .

**Venkatraman, Leela. The Hindu [Chennai] Aug. 1998. Print.

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