Saturday, 2 February 2013

Sruti February 2013

The Music Academy’s dance festival has been an important step forward in the conduct of dance performances in this part of the world. For starters, it is one of the few festivals offering the dancer sufficient remuneration to at least cover costs, and provide an aesthetically pleasing performance space with more than adequate facilities. The audience actually pays good money to watch these programmes conducted with professional efficiency, and in turn gets to witness a reasonable range of genres of dance from different parts of India with a neat balance of solo and group offerings. Sruti’s correspondents may have criticism and suggestions to offer in future issues, but the consensus is that despite its shortcomings, the series is one of the best things to happen to classical dance in Tamil Nadu in a long while. The buzz around it has rarely been matched outside of the Kalakshetra art festival in its heyday.

Kalakshetra is one institution that has managed to hold on to much of its value system through the decades, though some may complain of falling standards. Even its worst critics will agree that successive directors since the passing of Rukmini Devi Arundale have somehow managed to prevent serious inroads into the quality of instruction or dilution of the processes initiated by the founder.

Similar islands of excellence do exist elsewhere, and it will be condescending on our part to offer gratuitous advice to the dance world, but the ground reality of the dance teaching and performance scene is by and large depressing. Many dancers are dancers not because they see a good career in dancing (there is none), but because it is something some parents believe daughters should do as an additional qualification. (We are not going into the world of male dancers). It is an expensive proposition, not least because dancers must pay organisers for opportunities to perform, with ostensibly no viable revenue model to support dance. 

Ironically, there is steady demand for dance teachers because young people, mostly girls, still want to learn dance and every dancer who has paid her way through her performing career can for the first time earn some money through teaching dance.

Even with all the prevalent activity around it, and all the pious proclamations about how divine this art is, the probability of randomly walking into a good dance programme is significantly lower than that of attending a good music concert. However, thanks to widespread naivete of the emperor’s new clothes variety, the probability of said dance programme receiving a favourable review is not significantly lower. On the flip side, criticism can be harsh and unjustified if equally uninformed.

It is difficult not to come to the sad conclusion that much ado is made about precious little in our dance world, where unlike in the sporting arena, there are no rules to identify winners or losers. Mediocrity often masquerades as merit, and we are easily lulled into a false sense of complacency about the state of our dance. There seem to be no clearly defined criteria to determine what constitutes good dance, no yardsticks to measure excellence and no attempts to condemn poor taste. 

These observations have been made in a constructive spirit after discussing the issues with many concerned artists and art-lovers..

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