Author: Sangeeta Iyer, Bengaluru
How artistes’ sanctimony is detrimental to the field, and why we need to speak up.
A few days ago I stumbled upon an event publicized on social media. It was titled a “symposium”, and included 4 or 5 sessions on various aspects of dance. Each session was to be facilitated by an upcoming young dancer. The topics included were of high value and of deep profundity in the study and practice of dance.
I was torn between two sentiments. One, of being delighted to see that most youngsters venturing into the field of Dance as a career are looking beyond the realm of performance alone, and are seeking to explore and take in hand the theoretical nuances of the Art. Second, of being dejected that the same youngsters are taking this in hand with the sole intention of promoting themselves and establishing a certain brand perception, at the cost of compromising on genuine research and study.
My feelings of dejection rose as I began to question what authority or credibility they held to handle a “symposium” on the said topics. My question reached the organiser of the event, but was left unanswered.
This is not the first instance where I have seen “artistes” conducting symposiums or workshops or seminars on subjects of gravity in the field, and presenting a rather superficial session adding no value whatsoever to the field or to those who attended. The problem here is two fold
I had always been told that artistes hold great responsibility towards their society. I genuinely believe that Art and Truth go hand in hand, and that the artiste is the society’s window to the philosophies and values that govern human life. It is a general observation that when an Artist says something with conviction in a public platform, lay men accept that as the Truth. Be it a metropolitan “western” milieu, or in the culturally rooted villages, an Artiste’s word is held in high regard. Given this grant of respect, does it not become the responsibility of each individual artiste to safeguard that trust? How can one facilitate symposiums on topics one is barely getting acquainted with? Yes, it may sound good as a promotional gimmick for popularity, but how does that justify one’s role in society as an artiste. Call it a discussion if you may, or an open forum for sharing of thoughts and ideas. But to label it a “symposium” gives it a grant of genuineness, making it appear as if it is based on extensive study and research works, which it unfortunately is not.
As artistes, we are also immensely responsible towards our Art itself. For what we say, do, and contribute is going to shape the future of our field. While it is true that self-promotion is inevitable today, that must not encompass false claims and misinformed teaching. Here I would also like to add an observation that “Natyasastra” has somehow become a fashionable term today. Every dancer, with or without knowledge of it, wants to show some kind of association with Natyasastra. A few months ago, I even came across a 10 or 15 day crash course conducted by a contemporary dance company, which included Natyasastra as one of the topics. Dancers who attend a one-day or two-day workshop begin calling themselves “exponents” in the form, and utilize half- learnt caris and karanas in choreography. While its growing popularity is heartening, the apparent desperation with which everyone claims their own form of association with it seems silly. To gain proficiency in a form of movement, or in a field of study requires persistent saadhana- it does not happen overnight, or over the course of a two-day workshop.
If you trace history and come to think of stalwarts we consider as exemplary contributors to the field of classical dance, what one would notice is that they dedicated their efforts to exploring newer avenues in the Art. Their focus always lay on “What can I do for the Art?” Their fame, popularity etc was merely an unintended by-product of this effort. However, on a lighter note, it seems like the main effort in today’s times is popularity; if the Art gains from it as a by-product of that effort, so be it. Blame it on the “facebook” culture, where everything in life is done with the intention of creating a favourable and liked “brand” online. But as an artiste, one needs to rise above this.
We need to come together as an artiste community and resolve to curb such practices. Organizers must be questioned for their choice of speakers in a seminar or symposium. Speakers must be questioned on their areas of expertise, and what makes them capable of dealing with the subject at hand. The general public needs to me made aware of what is right, and what is not; misleading branding and uninformed presentations must be questioned. Even small steps, such as, providing blurbs about the artiste for the audience to get acquainted with them before attending the session; or creating an open platform for participants to seek information about panellists/ speakers can go a long way in ensuring a checkpoint. Most importantly, as artistes, Gurus, students and performers, we must inculcate and encourage an attitude of open questioning. For if we don’t ask questions to safeguard our Art, then who will?
Bharatanrityma dancer, disciple of Dr. Shobha Shashikumar, Bengaluru.
II nd Year MFA Student, SASTRA University.
This discussion was further extended in Kakalakeelaka-( whatsapp group of Noopura Bhramari team)Here it is some sample.