Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Video number 2: Dolphin from Navatman Dance

Check it out, folks.

As an update, our social media enterprise is working pretty well, particularly YouTube. At this point, we've attempted putting up 1 minute clips of events we have done, either via Navatman Productions or Navatman Dance. We are utilizing commercials to clarify what and who we are, and try to keep it short or funky and quirky enough to hold your interest.

I love what we've been doing and we've upped our YouTube views to 15,000 total over 10 or so public videos we have as part of our channel using simple raw iPhone videos.

I'm excited to see where we go from here - we'll be next utilizing (slightly) more professional equipment for properly shot, well lit videos and it would be great to see how that ups the level at which people pay attention to what we're doing.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Female aesthetics in Indian classical dance

I have to say, there is one major thing that disappoints me about Indian classical dance today - our obsession with the body being "skinny".

I am definitely culprit of it myself, and our discussions of what we should or shouldn't eat, or how much we would like to reduce our weight has overtaken our daily dance rehearsals.


I put my foot down this week, and banned us from discussing our bodies, and even then, I still spoke about it once or twice. We are not lazy dancers, We pushing our bodies to the limit in rehearsal 3 hours everyday, 5 days a week. When performances come up, we do double rehearsals twice a day. We are strong, we are flexible, but we are not size zeros, and somehow, this bothers us.

More and more, India is looking west to take on ideals of the body that we have here. I hear major artists talk about how many "thin is in, fat is out" and dancers need to reduce weight to carry themselves on stage.

I just don't believe this to be true. Dancers have to be strong and beautiful. And that can come in many shapes. Yes, overweight is not good, and aesthetics are part of the game since dance is a visual form, but my heart breaks when I see dancers who are size fours and sixes eat two chappatis a night after 6 hours of rehearsal and obsess over themselves to have the body of the 15 year old sitting next to us.

When did we become like this? Oh, right, because of this:

And this:

And this:

We are proud, beautiful, Indian women with curves.

Don't let media moguls suggest otherwise.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

What Ganesh Kumaresh can learn from Snarky Puppy

The grammy nominated Snarky Puppy recently caught my eye. When it comes to music, I learned classical violin for some years, but I admittedly feel that I cannot notice technical aspects the same way I do with classical dance...or dance in general. It's easier for me to marvel at a musician's emotional content because I'm not dismayed by their technical (or lack thereof) prowess.

However, even I noticed the incredible, incredible Lalah Hathaway when she sang this song and had to share:

The best is watching the incredulous reactions of the bandmates as they play with Lalah. At about 6 minutes this video becomes not just an incredible example of jazz but a feat of the human body as she sings chords with her voice. The best is watching the drummer literally fall off his chair around 6:20.

My only connection to Indian classical music here is that I feel the same way about the music that the incredible violin duo Ganesh Kumaresh creates as I do about this video. Those two are doing just groundbreaking stuff and the output is music that makes your heart race. So why do the videos on YouTube of Ganesh Kumaresh only have a few thousand hits?

So I did some research - and I couldn't find them on Facebook, or with any proper videos on YouTube and I am incredibly disappointed. To me, artists like Ganesh Kumaresh have mega starpower - talent that is taking music to new places. And clearly, they are successful artists who should be able to afford some level of outside help to manage them. Yet, their lack of use of not just social media but marketing/branding/etc is not just sad to me because they could be utilizing their raw materials better - but just the simple act of creating HD video for YouTube or maybe even trying something a bit different like those music videos I shared last would do wonders for the Indian classical arts scene as a whole. Ignoring the resources we have to do more, such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, don't just help upcoming artists break into the scene.

Utilizing those resources properly - putting in the time and effort to make these things a proper part of your marketing platform, allows us (the Indian arts scene as a whole) to be more present to larger crowds of people. And when you have a talent like these two - to not take advantage of this is almost criminal to the arts scene overall.

Take a look below:

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Indian classical music videos and compositions? Yes, yes, and yes!

As part of Drive East in 2013, we worked with IndianRaga on their fellowship concept. Once the decision to bring them on board was made, Navatman and IndianRaga took a close look at what they were doing. And we thought, if we're going to invest so much money, why not take a huge risk and do something we want to do?

For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to encourage compositions exactly like this and make classical music videos. Harnessing the power of visuals and recording studios, Indian classical music gets to rope certain resources that it has long kept at bay for reasons I can't quite understand.

Regardless, here are the three videos we worked to create, and for once, I wasn't the lead on this project! A huge shoutout to Sriram Emani for making it happen. And yes, the director is my forever favorite Jesse Newman.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Mohiniattam and Swan Lake. What?

Thanks Joe for helping me discover this. No words. I think it's absolutely amazing how the mohiniattam gives this ethereal feel and have, to date, other than this video, never seen Western classical music and Indian classical dance so seamlessly put together. This show of Vijayalakshmi's - bringing down the Bolshoi, to boot - is a game changer.

Endless possibilities.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Social Media in Arts Management

I recently went to a social media workshop at Columbia University led by Sree Srinivasan. Honestly, it was one of the most dynamic, high energy workshops I've ever been to and I highly recommend it to anyone if and when he decides to do it again. Of course, as always, it initiated a long discussion between myself and our soon to be marketing director about social media and the arts.

I've always been one of those people who have abstained from social media thinking good content will create good viewers. There's a lot of noise out there in the world and I had no desire to add to it.  (Aptly quoted from Sree himself). It is/was an "if you build it, they will come" mentality. In addition, in the Indian arts world, there is often content that is marketed that is of poor quality,  yet does incredibly well. I have no desire to accidentally land myself into that pocket of people.

This workshop changed all that, along with some encouragement from said marketing director. We are doing a disservice to the field to not market something that has really good quality, assuming people will just stumble across it on their own. In a world where everyone every day is vying for some retweet or some repost, this zen attitude will not allow such a thing to happen.

Consider this: during the December season in India, wouldn't you think the words "bharatanatyam", "hcm", "icm", "carnatic", "kathak", "tabla", etc should trend?  It is the largest arts festival in the world. How do people not know about it???? It is absolutely vital that these words begin trending at this time. Or even a simple #decemberseason. It's ridiculous to have the largest arts festival in the world and billions of people who don't know that it's the world's largest art festival simply because we don't tweet!

The mass potential of Indian classical arts lovers – and there are a lot of us – need to be harnessed in a much more powerful way. If we could understand the role that democratization that social media is creating, it would allow the ICM individuals to come together and creates trends based on our wants.

So, moral of the day: harness the power of social media! Words bharatanatyam, kathak, and tabla would be much more common in day to day vocabulary with non Indian arts lovers if we just hash tagged a little bit more!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Economic Realities of Performing South Asian Arts in NYC

I am writing this post fresh off of a number of discussions I have been having with other organizers/arts administrators/tech persons at theaters.

It is fascinating because in some ways the realities of being a South Asian artist are the same as many other classical forms. And in others, we completely diverge.

Touring the US has exploded for South Asian/Indian artists in the last 10 or 20 years. It is clear that the way many artists are sustaining themselves are not in India but by performing for global - and in particular, US and UK - audiences. Simple economics: the suburbs, filled with wealthy Indians who are intent upon remaining connected to their home country through the arts - allows them to pay the high prices artists demand (typically between $3,000 and $6,000 dollars). Coupled with the fact that the South Asian demographic continued to grow in wealth during the recession, it makes sense that the new trend is for everyone to try their hand at touring.

The cities - especially New York - is another story.  There is no ready-made audience of students and parents intent upon culture here. Indian parents are just like every other New Yorker: they value what is good, not what ties them back to India. When the option of the New York City Ballet or an Indian arts performance are your two options, and your experiences in the latter have been that of 3 hour long shows that start late and is perhaps not very "trendy" and the prices are the same ($20 a show!) which would you choose?

So in New York City, there is a big movement going on amongst South Asian artists, to provide arts in an exciting light. But we're really building an audience from the ground up. Because an artist is big in India does NOT mean they will automatically be big in New York. There are a limited number of producers here and the vast majority of us are small beans. We are excited when a concert has 75 people in the audience, which may seem like nothing to most major artists.

And, after conversing with many many folks in the field of arts (not just Indian classical arts) this is the same trend everywhere. You may see money but it this perceived wealth is not actually indicative of money.  Everyone is struggling to make ends meet, even producers with full concerts, which are often peppered with many complimentary tickets. It has been repeated to me time and time again by many folks: the audience for the arts are decreasing, yet there has been a steady upward trend in touring artist fees - for both Eastern and Western markets.

So it is the strangest thing to me when someone says, "if we just market this one concert properly, we can make back the few thousand".  I hear it on a regular basis. "Well, the content is good, so we should be able to make this happen!" Unfortunately, for the arts, this is just not the case.

From my seat, it's just a crazy proposition for someone who has not started building a fan base in New York City where a draw of 75 people excites many of us. The only major producer who can afford such fees for an Indian classical artists are Asia Society and World Music Institute. How many Indian concerts do they produce a year together? 3 or 4. How do they pull in big crowds? Because they are not just producing South Asian arts concerts. The audience, thus, is not interested in South Asian music or dance, persay...just different kinds of world music and dance.

So contention arises - I am sure many artists find issues with New York South Asian arts producers, wondering if we are just not understanding the value of what they are providing us (we do! We would love to pay you $5,000 if we had it, but we don't!) or perhaps our jobs could be done better if we *just* applied for more grants or *just* changed our marketing strategy and did outreach a particular way everything would change. (I cannot tell you how many emails I have received along these lines). I have seen other organizers speak to us, then try to produce bigger concerts and finally come back with an understanding of what we have been saying all along.

So when an artist DOES come around and agree to what we normally offer (often a split of ticket sales), in an effort of sustainability and to create more Indian arts in NYC I am eternally grateful. It is an absolutely sad state of affairs that Indian arts has a teeny, tiny sliver of the audience of the "arts center of the world".  It is definitely charity that they are doing by performing for funds that probably barely cover their costs.  But it is an investment. It is an investment to inspire people to come watch more Indian music and dance, an investment in creating a base for yourself, an investment in the future of Indian dance and music. So, the artists of generous spirit understand and agree to this.

Inevitably, however, if an artist sees success during a performance, another cognitive dissonance comes in.  There is an expectation that full or exciting automatically means $1,000. Often, the average of a successful show is $400 - $600 that goes towards an artist at Navatman. And inevitably, this upsets some people. Very often, we are taking on losses to provide more for artists. I assume on many levels it is exactly the same cognitive dissonance of why there is such a  lack of understanding of wealth inequality in the US.

Additionally, the cognitive dissonance goes another way. You may see an artist book 13, 14 cities but in the past year even the biggest artists have come away making very little to no money. It is a shock to me to see the over-saturation of the touring field in the US and additionally the lack of money made by all. By the time you've paid lawyer's fees and visa fees and your ticket to the US, you are paying about $4,000 a let's say you book 13 concerts and are touring with 4 people at $3000 a concert. At the end of the day, after 2 months, you have made for 4 people, $2,000 per month. And this estimate is for some of the top artists of India. And that is IF you get $3,000 per concert. More likely than not, you will have negotiated down significantly on some of them.

So, I put this out there not to anger anyone, but to explain: all is NOT as it seems. Artists, let us come together and make things happen in New York City rather than worry about money! The money will come, but we must invest our time, energy and efforts in this great city first!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Wealth Inequality in the US and the South Asian Performing Arts

We all know that wealth is currently a major issue in the US. We throw out terms such as "the gap between the rich and the poor are growing" and "1 percent" without knowing what it really means. Until I stumbled across this YouTube explanation. (Be patient, it is absolutely worth the 10 minutes of your time):

I was shocked at how bad the distribution really is - 50% of Americans struggling along the poverty line seems crazy to me. And another 30% of us floating just above it...

As artists, we constantly talk about "devaluation of the arts" and people not recognizing or appreciating or understanding the worth of our work.

But what if we are thinking about this all wrong? I keep talking about the devaluation of arts, like everyone else, the dying of classicism, etc - but what if its less that people don't appreciate it but simply don't have money to afford it? I am sure the answer is some mix of the two - but if 80% of Americans are making $40,000 or less - how on earth can you afford an arts program that regularly runs at the rate of $35 or more? Classes that can cost upwards of $60 for a private lesson?

Yet, here's the rub: you may say, well, artists should just charge less - but ask yourself this:

How much should a  person, amazing at what they do, touching hundreds of lives, in the private sector? How much should they make? Let us even begin with the premise that we as artists have made a choice to "do what we love" and thus, should earn less. What is this number now? $90,000 a year? Maybe the amount an average college professor makes? Not so bad right? How about $60,000 per year? That's an entry level starting analyst position at Goldman Sachs. The lowest rung. Still not horrible. Maybe you have a little savings now...

How about 50,000? Someone considered the best of the best? How's that? Not so great, considering at this rate most artists are now kind of scraping by, especially if you have a family to support and living near a city where the arts thrive.

But even that $50,000 mark is a long shot for even the best. Forget me as an example. I am definitely below the poverty line, but I am also a small business owner. So maybe this is what year 3 or 4 is supposed to look like. But I work with high level, in demand, critically acclaimed artists all the time. I know that many of the top earners are earning between $25,000 and $35,000 a year. This is absolutely insane to me.

You may say, we need to charge more, or we are not hitting the right economic notes, or maybe this is the market value of what the arts are worth. But I have now been watching the trends for three years. I think many students would agree at Navatman that our classes are worth more. But we price them on the cheap side to reach more arts lovers. Even then, the number of students who want to learn and have to scrape by with payment plans or volunteering is just astounding. It also shows me something about the arts - the want and need of everyone to participate in it and the lack of funds to do so.

So, I do not think the south asian arts are dying around the world because people don't care for the arts. I think they are dying because 90 percent of us are struggling to make ends meet and find a way to enjoy the theater at the same time. We must undervalue our shows, our classes, our booking fees, to try to provide people with a means to go, but at the same time this results in less food on the artists' plate.

When the best of the best are not paid well, the American dream becomes endangered.
So I truly believe our supply and demand system is broken. There's a finite amount of cash and with only 20 percent of the country being able to afford tickets and classes - when we need maybe 40 percent or 60 percent to do so, life becomes an impossibility on a micro level as a south asian performing artist, creating a complete lack of sustainability and a ridiculous amount of necessary patronage from those who do hold the wealth of this country.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Drive East: A Journey Through Indian Music Dance - Social Media Experiment #2

So, as I posted a few days back, I will be trying a YouTube experiment in social media for the dance company.

On the blogging side of things, in addition to my research, I will be starting a second social media experiment: noting my experiences of producing a new "season" called Drive East.

Drive East has been founded by Anamika-Navatman to create, in it's first year, a series of 40 concerts in one week. Though founded by us, it has, in the past month or two, developed into it's own community driven show, being guided by organizations such as Trinayan, the Anamika-Navatman Youth Board, and Indian Raga in addition to Anamika-Navatman.

It's aim, in my eyes, is three-fold:

1. To create excitement about a festival that is new, dynamic, and no longer concentrated either on "preserving tradition" or "introducing people to Indian arts". We are here to produce good South Asian based music and dance, plain and simple.

2. To give artists an opportunity to do a full concert, rather than a 10 minute slot and the ability to really develop rasa in a different kind of intimate space.

3. To give students an opportunity to explore their options through master classes and, eventually, scholarship programs. (Did anyone see that Netflix program, First Position?)

So, why am I blogging about it? One of the reasons is to give insight into the process, but more importantly, while at Nrityagram, we had written essays about our experience (which I posted here). One of the brilliant marketers/dancers at Nrityagram mentioned that it would have been beneficial if we had ALL been blogging about our experience since day 1 so that there could be more of a social media presence to this wonderful workshop which no one really seemed to know about.

Well, that idea stuck with me. And now, to get us going, I am going to try blogging about the Drive East production experience and see how that affects us moving forward. I will keep you posted on both experiments!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Navatman Dance and social media

Hello all!

So I am going to try a series of small experiments involving nonprofit arts production and our dance cmpany. It's rare to find rehearsal clips of dance on youtube, especially of Indian classical dance because I think we all fear that one bad comment. But, sometimes you have to take a risk and accept the feedback!

Sooo I am putting up 1 minute video clips on youtube, inspired by Shankar Tucker and Urban Dance Camp. Let's see how it goes...

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Dance Heals

I really need to find a way to consolidate these posts, but the effects of dance on the body and brain continue to astound me. It has healing and preventative links to some of the most degenerative diseases out there. And now, it seems to help prevent dementia!

This article here by Richard Powers sums it up nicely. I will quote it directly and let you decide:

"One of the surprises of the study was that almost none of the physical activities appeared to offer any protection against dementia.  There can be cardiovascular benefits of course, but the focus of this study was the mind.  There was one important exception:  the only physical activity to offer protection against dementia was frequent dancing. 

            Reading - 35% reduced risk of dementia

            Bicycling and swimming - 0%

            Doing crossword puzzles at least four days a week - 47%

            Playing golf - 0%

            Dancing frequently - 76%. "

Mind. Blown. Now get to that dance class!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A workshop with Kumudini Lakhia

I was lucky enough to take a kathak intensive workshop with Kumudini Lakhia, the mother of modern kathak dance, this past weekend.

Anamika-Navatman Intermediate Kathak Students + Prashant Shah! (I tried to find the group shot with Kumudini but couldn't)

It was absolutely incredible. Possibly one of the things I continue to feel surprised by - and also, on some level, completely expect - is that in the basics, dance technique across the board is fairly similar. There is no accepted dance where you can compress your spine, or not use your pelvis to create a turnout, or arch your back in a standing position.

What clicked from this particular workshop is that in dance, excess movement is never appreciated. While that may seem obvious in bharatanatyam, where the linear lines and strength convey that, you'd think the opposite with odissi and definitely kathak with its incredible soft (looking!), fluid, supple movements. Kumudini repeatedly emphasized solely moving the wrist from point A to point B with no extra openings, tweaks, etc. Even the hands were just these appendages that followed.  She went so far as to give us a math lesson. "What is the shortest distance between two points? A line! Don't add any thing else in!"

From working with Nrityagram (and following them for years now) and continuing work with kathak, the final word in all of it, regardless of what you are trying to convey to an audience (strength, severity, lightness, fluidity, happiness) you must whittle down your work to it's most basic ingredients. Like food, it in fact the simplest things that are the hardest to execute because of the required precision and control of body to perform them.

I'll leave you with the following:

Some lovely points Kumudini made, which I just wanted to share directly (making no comment on the truth of these):

"It is better to be a bad original than a perfect copy."

"What is the real difference between the dances of India? It is whether they are based on Krishna or Shiva." She went on to explain her theory - kathak, kuchipudi - these are based on the lightness of Krishna. Odissi, Bharatanatyam - within the strength of Shiva.  What was really interesting was the division has nothing to do with technique, simply the mood that the dance conveys.

There was a point, also, where she described her theory as to why the hands are where they are below in this common kathak pose:

Kumudini's opinion (which differed from that of her guru's and spoke that it was simply her interpretation, NOT right or wrong) was that the hand pointing upwards was the idea that kathak was infinite, like the sky it references. The hand pointing outwards, was to the horizon, always showing that there is more to learn, more to grow, more to explore.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Stop Motion Video and Dance

Stop Motion video is a fascinating technique that allows you to turn the visual upside down on it's head.

What's truly interesting is that stop motion video can basically create dance out of the opposite notion of dance: still pictures!

The implications blow my mind a little bit but I wanted to share this. What would it mean to take a dance like bharatanatyam or odissi which speaks to sculpture and create a stop motion video?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Kalakshetra Teacher in Beijing

This video made me so happy. Bharatanatyam is showing that it can certainly be taught and appreciated  as a class on a global level.

Maybe it is because, as the author says, people are looking to diversify, tired of having their children take ballet and piano lessons, but even if that's the case, it's a big step in the right direction for Indian arts to be valued in a more mainstream manner!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Hip Hop and Indian Classical Dance

This entire post was sparked by the incredible urban dance artist Brian Puspos and this video:

The first time I watched it, it brought me close to tears. There was something about the way he interpreted the lyrics, his deep emotions, and close relationship with the rhythm that made this pop.

And then it struck me...this is abhinaya at its best! What am I doing thinking of abhinaya as an esoteric medium restricted to be within the definition of Indian classical dance???

He has a word to word meaning - choosing the most important parts of the sentence to describe to the audience. He uses hastas - grabbing, catching, showing his heart. His facial muscles show anguish, pain, resolution, happiness, and all in a dance like manner. What else is abhinaya if not that?

This got me watching more and more hip hop videos. And then, I realized, bharatanatyam has something to learn from hip hop. We often think we are difficult to understand, follow, etc - but then you watch hip hop and it's much the same. Hip hop's positions - bent knees and arms - are enormously grounded and rhythmical. Its movements isolate arms, legs, torso head, eyes, in similar ways to bharatanatyam.  Spatially it often keeps to one spot, just as Indian classical dance does. It's not about flexibility, turns, or leaps. It has an intense geometry.

I could have just described Indian classical dance's most important values in the last few sentences. So maybe us artists can get a kick of inspiration, intensity, and a different viewpoint all together by realizing that we are more than our history...we are less esoteric, less different, less "other" than we think these days.