Thursday, November 17, 2011

Kathak Evolution

I found this video downright fascinating. There are some incredible uses of kathak in there (like the spins that use tatkar of both feet at the same time) that I haven't seen in quite some time...

Monday, October 10, 2011

Useful Information on Copyrights for Dancers

They have a downloadable pdf version as well.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The shrinking circle of Indian classical dance lovers

I had a long conversation with a friend yesterday as to why we thought Indian classical dance doesn't have the same viewership - or importance - as 50, 200, 1,000 years ago.

There are a few, obvious reasons which I've stated before:

1. The fact that Indian classical dance and music is no longer tied into the nationalist movement.

2. Globalization and the film industry - the Shakiras and the Beyonces are the new Shakespeares and Thyagarajas. I have no comment on this because I don't have the perspective of history analyzing their work, and certainly some of it is very smart, but there's no denying the statistics.

Then there are less obvious, but incredibly (in my opinion) damaging issues:

3. The allocation of Indian classical dance and music for only an educated sub-sect of people, or only Indians. When we forget that we're dancing for more than just people who like Indian classical dance, and that that number is diminishing because we're competing with the above forces, we make it really difficult for people to choose us on a Friday night instead of...well...anything else. I think this is changing dramatically, at least in the US, but definitely between the 70's to the 90's - and even perhaps up to just a few years back - this was the case.

4. Preservation. We're so stuck on preserving certain ideals and certain ways of doing things that we suffocate, close off, and strangle the art form. And, like Woody Allen says about relationships, art is like a shark. If it doesn't keep moving, it dies. I can't understand why a patron in India would oppose a kick that reaches a full split because it doesn't seem "bharatanatyam" enough. Have you seen the sculptures in the temples? They are doing things we have not achieved yet!

5. A lack of knowledge or unwillingness to push the body and the adavus. Bharatnatyam, odissi, etc is more than just how low you can sit in aramande or the chauka. Every part should get detail work, we need to be working with physicists, kinesthesiology, etc, to see where we can go further with it. It cannot stop with just the adavus. One of the reasons (other than sheer numbers of people they need for just one show, which can definitely play into it) ballet and contemporary does so well is because the body does things that you just sit there and go..."Wow" too. It's not necessarily just about the flow, the theme, the art. Again, for me, now this is changing. But maybe 20-30 years before 2000 this wasn't happening.

6. Politics. Why has it taken us SO long to join forces? Who cares what the other person is doing? Yes, quality is important, protecting your work is important, but egos need to be set aside. The generation of artists I have been working with are amazing, but I am sometimes still in the middle of - and hear things - that just shock me. This field is difficult enough without other dancers trying to upend other efforts. Work on yourself and your work, spread your message, the fact of the matter is, if one person does really well, they merely bring others to start watching.

And if you are so concerned about quality: once you do watch something great, it's hard to go back to something not so great.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sanskrit, dance, and music books of particular use

1. The language of the Gods in the World of Men (Sheldon Pollack)
2. Karanas: Common Dance Codes of India, Volumes 1 and 2 (Padma Subramanyam)
3. The Invention of Tradition (Hobsbaum and Ranger)
4. A Precise History of India (Metcalf and Metcalf)
5. At Home in the World: Bharatanatyam on the Global Stage (Janet O' Shea)
6. Between Theater and Anthropology (Richard Schechner)
7. Natyashastra (Ghosh)
8. Abhinaya Darpana (which translation works best?)
9. The Yoga of Indian Dance (Mandakini Trivedi) - to help understand how dancers perceive their work now in the globalized scheme of things.
10. Puranas (again, translation choice...)
11. Playing in the Dark (Toni Morrison) - I wonder if her application of the analysis of the use of the African American in books written before civil rights allows us to also understand the European - Indian relationship)
12. The Indus Valley: New Perspectives (Jane R. McIntosh) - to get a feel for the history of where many pinpoint showed the first signs of "Indian" arts
13. Art of the First Cities: The Third Millennium B.C. from the Mediterranean to the Indus (Metropolitan Museum of Art Series) by Joan Aruz
14. The Indus Civiliazation by Mortimer Wheeler - again, to understand the "beginning" so to speak
15. Ka by Roberto Calasso - to understand reinterpretations
16. The Clay Library Sanskrit Series - translations of actual plays (to mark similarities in metaphor and use of description and extrapolation in dance and music now)
17. Sanskrit Play Production in Ancient India (Performing Arts Series) by Tarla Mehta
18. Silipadikaram: The Lay of the Ankle Bracelet - this book was used to pinpoint and understand early arts in India
19. Kutiyattam: Sanskrit Theater of India - as one of the forms considered most unchanged in the past few thousand years, it is good to see where it's come from
20. Theatre in Ancient India by Siddheswar Chattopadhyay
21. Contemporary Indian Dance: New Creative Choreography in India and the Diaspora (Studies in International Performance) by Ketu H. Katrak
22. Audience Participation: Essays on Inclusion in Performance (Contributions in Drama and Theatre Studies) by Susan Kattwinkel - ideas on rasa, one of the most important components of the Indian aesthetic theory
23. Time in Indian Music: Rhythm, Metre, and Form in North Indian Rag Performance (Oxf Monographs Music Ncs) by Martin Clayton
24. Two Men and Music: Nationalism in the Making of an Indian Classical Tradition by Janaki Bakhle
25. The Rags of North Indian Music: Their Structure and Evolution by Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy
26. History of South Indian (Carnatic) music, from Vedic times to the present by R Rangaramanuja Iyengar
27. The Ragas of Somanatha: History and Analysis, Musical Examples (Asian Studies) by Emmie te Nijenhuis (Aug 1997)
28. Indian Classical Dance: Tradition in Transition by Leela Venkataraman and Avinash Pasricha - a particularly good book to understand the current "Indian from India" mindset
29. Indian Dance: The Ultimate Metaphor by Shanta Serbjeet Singh
30. Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse by Partha Chatterjee
31. Rasa: Performing the Divine in India by Susan L. Schwartz
32. Thanjavur: A Cultural History by Pradeep Chakravarthy and Vikram Sathyanathan - particularly important because this is a major change in south indian dance and music history and execution
33. Bollywood and Globalization: Indian Popular Cinema, Nation, and Diaspora (Anthem South Asian Studies) by Rini Bhattacharya Mehta and Rajeshwari V. Pandharipande - it would be good to note how Bollywood borrows and plays a role in all of this
34. Impossible Desires: Queer Diasporas and South Asian Public Cultures (Perverse Modernities) by Gayatri Gopinath (I also wonder how the cross-dressing, role-playing, and gender issues may or may not come into play in all this)
35. Balasaraswati: Her Art and Life by Douglas M. Knight (a staunch advocate who kept away from sanskritization of the body, whereas rukmini devi did otherwise)
36. Unfinished Gestures: Devadasis, Memory, and Modernity in South India (South Asia Across the Disciplines) by Devesh Soneji
37. Singing the Classical, Voicing the Modern (Amanda J. Weidman)
38. Dance Research Journal 36/2 (2004)
39. Rethinking Dance History: A Reader by Alexandra Carter
40. DVDs: Kalakshetra,
41. Nayikas: The Clay Library Series: Sheldon Pollack
42. Translations of Shakuntala and Other Works by Kalidasa (or from the Raghuvamsa as translated in one of my classes)
43. Ãndandavardhana's classic on poetics, the Dhvanyāloka (which introduces the santa, or peace, rasa)
44. St. Thyagaraja, the divine singer: His life and teachings, by Shuddhananda Bharati
45. Mahābhāṣya by Patañjali (contains the first seeds of Sanskrit drama and poetry)

Topics I cannot find enough books on: rasa theory, or the introduction of the bhakti rasa, and obviously on ancient sanskrit drama traditions

Monday, September 19, 2011

The codification of Sanskirt poetry and literature into Indian classical dance and music

I think, after everything I've learned, that I do believe there is a traceable lineage of evolution between sanskrit poetry and Indian performance arts. I say this in reference to my post on The Invention of Tradition, and definitely keeping in mind all of my confusion about where bharatanatyam has grown from. I think there are definite ruptures, but in the grand scheme of things, it is an evolution of sorts.

I am going to make this a point of my research over the next year, really trying to understand what happened from the Sanskrit literary tradition to dance and music. Here are the unofficial reasons for my hypothesis:

1. When poets would read Sanskrit literature way back when (not sure of the date) they would use hand gestures while they were speaking to help people understand the meaning of what they were saying. Whether this was an acoustic thing or just extra, who knows? But I wonder if this is a pre-cursor to mudras.

2. During recitation of slokas, etc, people started to assign specific pitches at specific times. Could this in turn indicate some sort of precursor for ragas? Eventually this was also implemented with specific hand gestural use.

These two things sparked my interest. What actually happened to separate literature from drama, and then drama from dance and music? There used to be a saying: "without language, music, and dance, there is no art". Obviously we view these 3 as separate, distinct categories now. How did that happen?

More to come on books I have to read in order to further probe this topic.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Angry Ranting

The article above is a rant as to Shanti Pillai's work. While I may not agree with everything she says in her dissertation, I don't believe it is so poorly done that so many of bits and pieces of the article can be taken as the author above does. Anyway I wanted to post now so I would come back to it later and really parse it, but I think one of my professors said it best:

When you are young, everything seems ridiculous to you and you are galled by the state of things. You become an angry scholar, intent upon spreading as much of your "knowledge" as possible and "rectifying" everyone's way of acknowledging things as wrong. However, as you get older, you begin to understand pluralism much, much better - and that all arguments are correct - just that some arguments are better than others.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Lyrical Help

This site looks incredibly informative and helpful for if you need to look up lyrics to a particular song or request help --


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Feeling Cheated

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day, and she put into words perfectly how artists feel.

"Cheated. We all feel cheated and undervalued."

The more I thought about this word, the more I felt she had it spot on. That is exactly how every person feels. The honest to god truth is, if we were all living comfortable - making as much money as our lawyer and engineer and finance friends instead of struggling day in and day out to make ends meet doing something we supposedly love, I doubt any of these "wars" would happen. The musician feels cheated because they are not getting enough from a performance where they see endless amounts of people coming through for a performance. The dancer feels cheated because they are spending hundreds of hours creating and choreographing and rehearsing a performance and then the musician is making more money than them for maybe 1/16 of the time they have put in, if that. The producer feels cheated because artists see "big money" and are continuously asking for more - again, making more money than the producers themselves.

Money does make the world go around and art has certainly become more of a money oriented business than ever before, to the point where I think the art world itself - at least the one we have created for South Asian ones here in NYC - is hurting itself. The suspicion, the politics, the egos - it's become really unbearable and almost sad to witness.

Bring back the selfless patrons who would just pay for an artist to sit around and be creative! Then we'd all happily help each other out, work for one another, and perhaps smile again instead of making our working lives so miserable!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The language of puns

One of the interesting things about Sanskrit that leads to its poetic complexity is the double, triple, or even quadruple meaning of certain words.

Sanskrit is all about complex puns. Sanskrit will take a phrase like "That person has baggage" and mean both that they have literal baggage as well as problems from their past that screw with their present.

In fact, the number one itself has, as I've seen, close to 30 words for it. Words like sun and moon, of which there are only one in the world. It can lead to some fascinating metaphors.

For instance, there is a poem we read once that I loved - I have been searching for it but cannot remember its name or find it anywhere anymore, but it's entire meaning was of two. Read literally, it was about a tree's growth, and it's different stages. But the other meaning within was that the words could be taken to mean the different (I believe in Sanskrit there are 7) stages of love. Not just a metaphor, but actual literal meaning. (Eg one line could mean that the tree was becoming red with blooms but also could read that the man was bleeding from the heart).

There's another kind of interesting interpretation one can do with Sanskrit that is particular to its strange sandhi rules, where all the syllables are mashed together and you're not quite sure where words begin and ends. In fact, there was a verse where someone was addressing a god - and depending on where you broke it up - you could either be praising the God or being completely blasphemous. It all stood in perspective.

Perspective does seem to be everything, doesn't it?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Dancer/Musician War

I have come across a lot of craziness in the arts but none so much so as the constant misunderstandings and misinterpretations between dancers and musicians. I honestly wanted to structure this like my producer/artist blog, where both are equally responsible for weird pushes and pulls, but with dancers and musicians here in the US, and probably in India for some of it as well, there is a GREAT deal of walking all over a dancer.

Let me outline a few of the massively unprofessional and crazy things I have seen:

1. Claims for random things AFTER a performance with no understanding prior that the dancer who had hired the musicians were apparently responsible for such claims. (Sending invoices for parking receipts, or gas mileage for travel costs).
3. Lateness (coming 2 hours late to rehearsal with not so much as a phone call. No matter what the emergency is, find a way to communicate it).
4. Agreeing to rehearsals and trying to weasel your way out of them.
5. Asking for more money after dancers have given musicians a number.
6. Copping out midway through a set of shows because something better has come your way.
7. Copping out midway and not even finding a replacement.
8. Demanding payment anyway after said cop out.
9. Musicians demanding so much money that most of the time a dancer makes no money - or much less than the musicians, though he/she has hired them and also gotten them the job.
10. Telling us - especially when it comes to technical things such as number of repetitions or mood of a program - that they know better than the choreographer as to how it should go.
11. Not being able to pay dance involved in a show because musicians won't take any less even though we probably put in at least 10 times as many hours for that given show.
12. Telling us you work really hard so we should be paying you more. Seriously??? WE ALL DO. That is the most insulting statement a musician can make. Do you think we're holding back on the amount of money we can give you and sitting high and rich on our laurels????
13. Agree to a number, start rehearsals, and then ask for more money.

Mostly it seems to come from two things: one, that dancers have money spilling out of their ears and two, some kind of notion that because being hired for dance won't help their reputation as musicians that it is okay to treat it like a very idiotic opportunity. Or because normally with music there is less coordination required to complete a piece after it's been composed? (I have no idea if this one is true but am assuming it is because once artists get the gist of a song for dance seem to think they no longer need any rehearsal).

I would like to point out that there is some gross kind of misinterpretation of audience numbers and money given for performances going on. I can't remember the last time I was actually paid as much money as the live musicians were or the composers for my own pieces were. Most of the time after paying everyone else, myself and every other dancer I know are not getting anything at all, and not because I'm not budgeting myself properly, but because the artists will literally refuse to do it for a smaller number and we get stuck with no other creative choices between copyright licenses, lack of resources, and the like.

Which confuses me, because we in fact do give them performances that help provide them with money for their life as artists. If in fact you are doing so well that you find the amount of money we are giving you too little for your work, then say no! Not only will they not refuse and demand more payment, but will do so without providing a number that they would do it for. Essentially, from all the conversations I've garnered, had, and negotiated, they probably will do it for that first number you've given them, but are trying to see how much more they can squeeze out of you. The conversations end up being a sad, manipulative, and unprofessional way of getting more money that results in musicians not having a clue as to what kind of damage they wreak on the people providing them with opportunities.

The sad part of all this is the people that it hurts are the patrons. Dancers cannot afford as many good programs, and frankly, I usually barely break even on the programming I do when musicians are involved even when they bring in the most revenue. Yet, I make the most profit when I work with dancers, who will work with less - and not because I'm taking advantage of that but because there is some kind of understanding that I am giving as much as I possibly can and dancers do not push the fact that they may be the only ones with the skill set necessary for a particular project.

We're all struggling here and it's crazy to me to see this unprofessional behavior.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Producer/Artist Stranglehold

I'm writing this post because I think this doesn't just apply to performing artists and producers who do shows, but any kind of creative service/distributer service industry.

I am both an artist and a producer and I come across, very often, the feelings of frustration of artists who believe they deserve more money than they are getting and the producers who are tired of giving it and not making anything themselves.

Let's be frank: both sides deserve more money, but the fact of the matter is both sides need to make a living wage and can't on what they're making from smaller programming. Both sides cannot survive without the other but there are some basic business practices to follow to make it work that I have learned over the years:


1. Do not come to the producer with claims AFTER the show. The producer has a set budget and if we are not given a choice to exclude something, or to find a way to avoid a fee, it should not be our problem. Artists coming to us with claims for parking fees, travelling fees, etc need to be outlined before hand, not after. I cannot tell you how many times I've had to deal with this -- eg, if I've asked you to come volunteer for something, and then you give me a train ticket the day after for $100 (or even a bus ticket for $20) and then say that I should be reimbursing this stuff because that's how it's done, well, I can't. More likely than not if I know about extra costs before hand I'll figure out a way to avoid it altogether if it means getting someone else to do it or coming up with some other creative solution.

2. Do NOT negotiate up or down if a producer has already given you a number and you've started rehearsals. Work this out prior to doing anything. At the end of the day, if I am able to afford it, I'll give you more, but once we start rehearsals, I have no choice but to follow through with you and your talent and run myself ragged trying to figure out how to give you that extra $200 you are asking for.

3. If the producer hasn't asked for it, don't try to convince us that we need it. Especially not one week before the program. I've had people ask for extra mics which would just cause feedback on stage in such close proximity to one another, extra instruments, or extra artists. Are you kidding? If you're asking me a week before I have no budget for it and these things need to planned for well in advance.

4. Be on time.

5. Do NOT keep asking for complimentary tickets. Definitely don't ask me for complimentary tickets an hour before the show is about to start.

6. Just because it seems like we sold a lot of tickets, or a program was full, or we have the POTENTIAL to make a lot of money doesn't mean we made any money at all. Seriously. Between paying all the artists, the equipment, and the advertisement sometimes we don't see any green at all. Whenever artists actually see my final budget they're always a little bit shocked at how little we've made, or lost, in some cases.


1. Always be frank from the start about what you are able to provide.

2. Get a contract signed. Really. Anytime I have NOT had a contract signed prior to starting anything I've found myself in a deep pile of crap later on. This goes double for people who are friends first that you are working with. It both avoids any misunderstandings and there are a surprising number of people out there who are a little bit unstable and will screw you at the first chance they can, whether intentionally or not.

3. Don't get overly crazy about rules for a space. An air of casual elegance should be maintained at all times but if someone moves a curtain or asks to change a piece after they submit their initial proposal, keep an open mind. Flexibility is key in business and understanding when to fight your battles will keep you sane.

4. If something isn't an additional stress to change, and the artist wants it, there's no problem in making this happen. (Eg if an artist feels their name should be in 14pt vs 12pt font, as long as it all fits on the flyer and doesn't screw up the aesthetic it should be FINE to change).

5. If the artist hasn't asked for it, don't try to convince them that they need it. While on tour for Her Story, one of the producers tried to get us to compose completely new music, scrap half of the show, and put in some other pieces. Erm???

In conclusion, while these rules are good practice, and are generally the same both ways around, they aren't hard and fast. Sometimes you SHOULD listen to a producer who tells you a third person is needed. Sometimes you SHOULD change what the artist asks you to do even though you want it. But they are good rules to start with that save everyone a lot of pain and annoyances.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Child Prodigies

I genuinely don't know how I feel about this group of children, for several reasons.

1. The choreographer has moved odissi for these gotipua children from dance into spectacle. It is not about creating rasa but eliciting cheers. I can't fault him for that, all dance needs a little spectacle to keep the audience from drooping, but this was mostly cheerleading stunts and gymnastics and splits and didn't quite float my boat. Though it kept me staring at the screen in a mixture of fascination and horror.

2. Why in horror, do you ask? This kind of odd coordination and flexibility out of such small children makes me wonder how they get that out of them at such a young age. I know people want to help their kids become great, but I always wonder how far we are pushing it. I only comment on this after a series of bharatanatyam videos I saw of great and very, very small children. And knowing that often (I have no idea about this particular case) children are broken and re-molded to create beauty like this at a young age.

I only bring this up because I don't think people give a second thought to what it might take to bring them the entertainment they love so much.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How the Western thought process begins to affect Bharatanatyam

Continued from my globalization killing off art and culture Yes, I do recognize my flair for the overdramatic.

Just as industrialization began to wipe out the natural world at alarming rates, killing species every day, globalization and cultural hegemony seem to do the same for culture and art.

Cultural hegemony was, and has always been happening. Along with it, art and ritual and customs disappear, but usually at a slow enough rate that there is an acknowledgement and reversal; or preservation of rituals that are being affected.

So is it just natural change or something to be really worried about?

In the scientific process, the starting point are the underlying facts of the situation: in this case, that change within art – ritual – natya (theater, dance, music, etc) – however you choose to note its existence – is as sure as death within the human race. Change in and of itself is not bad. But removal and loss without thought or proper prerogative is. The question then transforms: what change is natural and thought out, what is forced and thus undesirable?

If you look at the example provided by the age of industrialization - you see a forced change within the world that has been created by a rapid demolition without knowledge or second thought with no method of retrieval and re-establishment in a satisfying way. So does change due to cultural hegemony belong under “natural” change or “forced” change?

For instance, I attended a lecture with Elizabeth Sackler that brought to light examples of this phenomena exactly. Eager to display Native American culture and show America’s love of their work museums would put Native American ritual masks under glass displays. The unfortunate part of all this was that it was a violation of the masks’ use and thus of Native American belief systems which put the Western world right back at square one: disrespecting minority cultures allowing America to show just how unequal “the other” is.

A good example of a more natural (though not necessarily more harmonious) cultural hegemony is when the Mughals came to India. Though the Mughals were the rulers they melded their arts with ours to create such wonders as the Taj Mahal, and the North Indian dance form Kathak, which coexisted with other forms such as Odissi and Bharatanatyam and hundreds of other regional variations of what was considered to be classical dance, none better than the other, and all giving itself up to some way of spiritual enlightenment and social/community construction. Even better is that you don't hear very much research here on how dancers were upset about this change (I wonder if it's just not recorded...)

Oftentimes, neither the culture in power nor the culture playing into it realizes it is a culture’s eagerness to show respect and equality America, England, and other Western countries still force the “other” to fit into their forms and expectations. The result is simple: a power play.

On the other side of the coin, there is the idea that minority cultures should not be so upset with Americans, for it is part of the Western way and culture to act in this manner. If the Western culture were endangered, perhaps minorities would not be so difficult about these points. It is still important to note, however, that it is only within the Western world that countries feel entitled to take that which is not theirs to examine, document, notate and use as they please. Indians cannot come to America, remove the Liberty Bell, and stick it in one of their museums - but England is allowed to take the crown jewels of South Asia and put them on display in museums for "preservation". So, until perhaps India can do that - or England gives back those crown jewels...well, we seem to be stuck in a role where cultural hegemony is bound to happen. And one where we must question changes with a critical eye until that power play is equal...and pluralism is restored.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Questions of Cultural Hegemony in Indian Classical Dance

In this globalizing world, how does cultural hegemony change the art we see around us?

For those who don't know, hegemony itself is as the *infallible* Wikipedia defines it:

"Hegemony is the political, economic, ideological or cultural power exerted by a dominant group over other groups, regardless of the explicit consent of the latter...The term is often mistakenly used to suggest brute power or dominance, when it is better defined as emphasizing how control is achieved through consensus not force."

There are two things of import to me in this definition: one, that it is about the control of one group over another, and two, that this control is gained quite subversively...

And here is what I am constantly wondering in terms of how cultural hegemony has come to play in Indian Classical Dance culture:

Westerners, eager to preserve and protect culture, end up changing it in ways they never realize – from the simplest of moves such as where an art form is displayed and/or performed to radically changing the use and utilization of a piece of art. How, in turn, do these changes also change the effect of these forms?

Perhaps even more noteworthy is that many artists are unaware it is happening as they change and adjust their work to become more accessible to the world around them in the face of extinction or irrelevance.

Cultural hegemony also plays a role in valuation of art. As art has gone the way of the Western world and dissociated itself with ritual, art has become entertainment rather than spiritual for many. Art does reflect society and vice versa, but again, it must be considered: what is lost in this shift?

Also, are the effects of a traditional form like bharatanatyam, initially danced in temples and watched with complete social interactions, diminished by its transition to the proscenium stage and change to group choreography? Though art will always change because of the world around it, globalization seems to speed it up with such coldness. The speed is a a result of a rush to preserve and protect in order to overcome extinction, resulting in both the minority and majority frantically changing forms and artistic visions in simple ways to keep them relevant to the persons in power…

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Locavore Dance Movement

I love India. I really, really do.

But after watching now for 20+ years dancers constantly heading back there for six months at a time to train, establish their career, get their photographs taken, costumes designed, supplies purchased, and earn their stripes as a performer, I have to say: Enough!

Perhaps this was necessary in the beginning, but now, why?

There are wonderful teachers here, knowledgable and hardworking artists, and resources galore. How do we ever expect to become a global art form if we work to keep it as localized and regionalized as possible?

Yes, we don't have the perfect kanjeevaram silk that Chennai makes best or perhaps the tailors for Indian costuming...but why can't we expand what that costume can be by using the materials available to us in our own neighborhood? It is not blasphemous to support your local businesses, and you'll certainly be expanding the number of people who come to learn about the work you do if artists become less India dependent.

That's what seems to be the problem. Do you need tomatoes from Italy to make a delicious pasta sauce? It's actually not going to be that great unless you're IN Italy. If instead, you opt for your farmer's market tomatoes, yes the taste of the sauce will be different, but frankly, the quality will be higher! Indian classical dancers should really start to adopt the locavore food movement except in terms of using the resources around us. Perhaps our flavor will become more "Americanized" but if you accept that with tradition and art comes change and you are NOT accepting diminishing quality, it becomes less problematic than one might think.

P.S. - I linked in Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma because that's where a lot of my food analogies spark from. Maybe you will be similarly inspired.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Nrtta Hastas

Did you know there are nrtta hastas listed in the Natyashastra specifically used for nrtta? I had no idea - I thought there were just the 28 asamyuta hastas (one hand gestures). I am going to look up these in my copy of the Natyashastra and make them available to you here.

Interesting, isn't it, how much we take from the Natyashastra and at the same time how much we ignore?

Definitely proof of why you can move past texts to choreograph within classical dances.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Surprising Overlap of Teaching Methods in Chinese and Indian aesthetics

I have been learning about chi, hana, rasa, and praxis (the Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and Greek theories of aesthetics, respectively) in a class taught by Richard Schechner, and am continuously surprised by the level of overlap within these theories in practice.

Yes, yes, many scholars are probably smacking their foreheads right now, "Do we have another one who thinks all these distinctly different theories are the same and believes in universality?"

The answer is no.

So before you start smashing your forehead into the screen, while I acknowledge major and distinct differences in each of these theories, I tend to concentrate on where they overlap. Ignoring the similarities is just as bad of a trait as ignoring their differences.

The training methods of the Beijing Opera and Indian classical dancers seem much the same. Imitate (including the dance - acting) and eventually you will understand and "get it". They seem to have the same pride for the guru-shisya tradition as well. There is an inordinate amount of attention paid to the eye movement training. And, oddly enough, they also isolate the different parts of the body to create "adavus" that seem to be labeled "jingju" in Beijing Opera. None are really written down but passed along orally.

Perhaps this seems superficial, but I do think there is more to this than meets the eye.