By Priya Murle
“Great dancers are great because of their passion,” said Martha Graham.
So true. It is that passion that keeps us Bharatanatyam dancers going, but ever so often we think of how this great art form can reach out to more people? “Yaam pettra inbam iv-vayyagamum peruga”.
I wonder why so much criticism is hurled at us — questioning even the very thread of the divinity in dance? The mediocrity, is it because there are so many dancers, teachers, students… anything goes. But then where are the programmes? Where are the audiences? Is it a profession – in the sense where is the money?
We also have some questioning the art form itself! They say it is fossilised, enough of the pining woman, its the same sancharis. Sigh! These thoughts plague me, these questions are constantly swimming in front of my eyes – when are we going to do something about this?
Natyarangam, the dance wing of the Narada Gana Sabha, besides organising festivals and natya camps, also has the Jana Bharatham–outreach programmes. The committee chooses a few committed dancers (minimum of three of which one should be a male) to reach out to the community— schools, colleges, institutions — where we either explain the rudiments of Bharatanatyam in an interesting lec-dem format or present a performance — where the concert is tailored to appeal to the audience or we visit institutions, old age homes, where they cannot come out to watch performances.
This is an important exercise as it actually widens the base of the audience, it also educates them to understand our art form and also see how it is as appealing or even more than Bollywood or hiphop styles (oh I love the styles). It actually tries to connect the children/audience to our core culture.
Under the Jana Bharatham banner, Roja Kannan, Srikanth N and me have done a lot of these outreach programmes. Roja and me have also performed with other artists like Lavanya Ananth,Renjith Babu, Vijna, Kiran Rajagopalan, Uma Nambudripad Sathyanarayanan, Lakshmi Parthasarathy Athreya… we went to corporation schools, and private schools in the suburbs.
Recently, a few months ago, Roja, Srikanth and me , we performed at Vishranthi, a home for the Aged, here in Chennai suburbs under an endowment made by Sivasankari, writer and activist to Natyarangam. Under the same scheme, Roja, Sibi Sudarsan and I performed at The Banyan, yesterday, 20th July 2013.
The women nurtured by The Banyan are destitutes, people who have been abandoned by families, many of them are also challenged in varying degrees, mentally.
While a visit there is a reality check — of how difficult life can be — a visit there is full of hope — hopeful because there are people like Vandana and Vaishnavi (Founders of Banyan) who think about others and not themselves and who make a difference to the society and for these destitutes who are lucky to be housed there and looked after so well. The Banyan at Mogappair houses 180 inmates!
Some of the ladies were amazed at how we were dressed – they caressed our cheeks and gave us `flying kisses’. The friendly one gave us a warm greeting. Some of the inmates came to the auditorium — seated and waiting eagerly for us to perform whilst we were setting the stage.
We were earlier warned that the attention span may not be for one full hour and that the inmates may wander off. But we were lucky that we had an audience who were rapt and fully involved with what we had to offer.
Malathy, an inmate — said she was a Brahmin — and sang along with many of the songs like Chinnanchiru kiliye, Paarukulle nalla naadu, Natanam Aadinar, the Kurathi entry song of Kutrala Kuravanji. She even thanked us at the end saying Bharatakalai had to be nurtured — she is disturbed?
Then there was Anuradha who sang and even danced a little for songs that she knew from Bihar, after our programme. The inmates clapped and laughed spontaneously during the kummi, some laughed, some were nodding to the music… unalloyed praises that we three embraced greedily as we don’t get this outside.
It made us reflect — Dancers! there is so much for us to do. Lots of people need us—why are we going in circles or squares – looking for opportunities in that sadir? Let us join this outreach movement where we are creating a larger audience base, making people happy at least for that hour, where people appreciate unstintingly.
I was moved to tears as I realised that here are people going through life’s vicissitudes while we complain all the time! It is high time that we able-bodied dancers get up and join the brigade to make that difference. Let us create and make use of these opportunities to dance for people, children who have not had a surfeit of it. Sabhas are not the only spaces we need to perform — there are so many avenues for us.
Thank you Natyarangam for spearheading this – renaissance?