Diaspora Dialogues

From: vasanthi sankaranarayanan
Date: 13 November 2010 07:27:21 GMT
To: Shobana
Subject: Your performance

Needless to say that your performances were very different from the classical fare or even the experimental fare that you come across in India. At first sight, it may look that you have very clearly departed from your classical Indian moorings. But a careful and aware perusal convinces me that you have taken the really sophisticated and modern elements prevalent in Bharatanatyam and incorporated them into your new dances. In other words, you have redeemed the redeemable or the eternal from the outwardly manifest elements and created your own form of expression. In Indian classical parlance you have really explored the “Sthayi” Bhava of movement and ideas which all the classical people talk about but never try to explore or include in their performances. They stop with the “Sanchari” and that too aniquated sanchari and revel in literal expressions of the same. To me, that has become very boring. That dance should be reduced to mere adavus and kalasams or patently cloying facial expressions is very unsatisfactory. The dancer seems to have forgotten the abstract expression or exploration of movement, gesture, emotion etc. they also have a convenient mythological narrative to support them and music which allows them to indulge in literal interpretations. That might be satisfactory to a complacent audience who wants to lean back on their cushioned chairs and let the dance come to them. But, it leaves a vacuum in my sense of aesthetics. there is nothing challenging or worth thinking about in such performances.

Two questions asked by Indian journalists were, what is the relevance of your dance to India? and why are you making the dance so complicated.

I want to answer these two questions on your behalf.

India which always took great pride in abstraction and stylisation in all artistic expressions have gone backward and is now indulging in direct, literal expressions, The subtlety and mystery of abstraction is completley absent from art forms especially the dance. In the name of preserving tradition, we are not even looking into the real implications of tradition. And no form can remain static; it has to be subjected to change and experimentation for it to be relevant to the society in which it exists. So, that is the relevance of your dance form. That you have taken certain elements from a classical dance form and expanded or extended its boundaries or vistae and created another form which has more relevance in the modern world. India cannot remain isolated; it has to update or even invent new forms which are truly relevant in modern Indian world. So, they can all take lessons from you in this respect.

Why make the dance complicated. We have to go through a complex and complicate methodology to arrive at simple (truly simple, T.S. Eliots definition of the condition of absolute simplicity), truly simple artistic expressions. We cannot always be small children who have to be fed with food and water. We have to learn to make food, take food and even digest food ourselves. So, this business of simplification really sucks. Simplicity is different from simplification. And true simplicity can be arrived at only if you feed the mind and the spirit adequately.

The ideas that movement by itself is a form of expression and can be achieved through physical movement, with or without facial expressions is something which people have to understand.

Last, but not least imitation or repetition without any change can only create stagnation. Let us stop asking for meanings all along. Finding meanings is the job of the viewer. The artist or creator can only create an evocative ambience to prod the viewer and arrive at meanings. Also let us shift more to images than representations.

I hope I have made some sense out of your performance. I like the pace of your dances though I cannot say the same of the sheer physicality of the dance. that is of course a personal prediliction and should not be taken as a serious critique. Like and dislike have no place in serious critiquing; that is subjective and many a time gut instinct or response to habit. that is ok in itself but not when assessing a performance.

Glossary:
Sanchari bhava – ancillary, temporary moods
Sthayi bhava – a permanent or dominant mood
Adavus and Kalasams – units of dance