By Sujatha Vijayaraghavan
This was a new group I had not seen before. Young boys and girls, obviously from somewhere in the north, were chatting and laughing around the table at the Music Academy canteen. Striking up a conversation with them I found they were all students of the dancer Vaibhav Arekar and that they had come from Mumbai to attend the Academy’s dance festival from 3 to 9 January.
It would be an understatement to say that I was surprised. Here we have been trying for years to draw young students of dance in Chennai to attend dance performances, most of which are free. Chennai, famed as the “cultural capital of India”, must have thousands of such students. If but a fraction of them turned up, they could fill the largest auditorium in town. But no. They will not, except for a handful seen at the venues. Most of the gurus and veterans attend all the performances – by the young, up-and-coming and star performers. Prof. C.V. Chandrasekhar is sure to be at a dance performance whenever he is in town. So are Rhadha and Savitri Jagannatha Rao.
V.P. Dhananjayan lamented once that a good number of his disciples did not turn up even when he asked them to attend a performance. The late R. Krishnaswami, former Secretary of Narada Gana Sabha and Natyarangam pronounced, “Dancers are not interested in dance. They are only interested in themselves dancing.”
A musician learns a great deal by listening to music. ‘Kelvi gnanam’ or knowledge gained by listening, plays a vital role in the maturity of a musician. So it is with dance. Could we call it “parvai gnanam” or knowledge gained by watching? There have been gurus who have prohibited their students from watching performances by other schools. There have also been gurus like Rhadha, who used to ferry her students in her car whenever there was a programme, which they would watch till the end. The next day she would sit with them to analyse and explain the merits and flaws of the performer.
These students of Bharatanatyam from Mumbai (see photo) – Gautam Marathe, Eesha Pinglay, Deepika Potdar, Vaishnavi Tupe, Mrunal Milind, Aditi Paranjape, Romasha Iyengar and Ankita Bagrecha – are rare birds, and as I got to speak to them I was amazed and happy. Students of Bharatanatyam, they had come down for a week at their own expense, roughing it out with accommodation and transport. They were all starry eyed and thrilled at the “heavenly opportunity to see dance all through the day, wonderful young and senior dancers, several styles....”
“How lucky the Chennai dancers are!” they said wistfully, “to be able to have all this right at their doorstep.”
Their enthusiasm and commitment were palpable. “We would like to scout for opportunities here, to do research, to work out themes, to read, to find poetry and song and music, to interact with scholars.”
A friend tells me that some months ago, when Leela Samson organised a two-day seminar on the Varnam to celebrate Spanda 20 in Chennai, dance gurus and young dancers came all the way from Pune and Mumbai to watch seniors like C.V. Chandrasekhar, Sudharani Raghupathy, Lakshmi Viswanathan and Nandini Ramani perform and share their insights.
There is no need any more to despair over the indifferent attitude of young dancers. The interested and enthusiastic ones are there all right. It does not matter if they are a few hundred miles away.
(The author is a writer, musician and dance scholar)