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.

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