Bharata Manoratha Panel Discussion- ‘Kala samvada’ on “Music for Dance”, “Recent trends in Dance Research and Performances”

Posted On: Thursday, February 28th, 2019
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Author: Moderated by Dr Manorama B. N Reported by Madhulika Srivatsa, Bengaluru

Noopura Bhramari (R.), Kalagowri & Mayuri Nrtyasala jointly presented “Bharata Manoratha”, a half-day event on Dance, Dance History and Research followed by Performances. The prime objective of the event was to get a glimpse into the mind of Bharatamuni and understand the essence of his work, Natyasastra, along with observing the current scenarios in the art field. The event was held on February 3rd, 2019, at Kalagowri Auditorium, Basavangudi Bangalore, from 3.00- 9.00 PM.

The event was inaugurated with a spirited Panel Discussion – ‘Kala Samvada’ on “Music for Dance” and “Recent trends in Dance Research” moderated by Dr. Manorama BN (Dance Researcher, Historian and Scholar). Multilingual Scholar Shatavadhani Dr R Ganesh, dance scholars -Dr Shobha Shashikumar, Dr Dwaritha Vishwanath, Dr Padmaja Suresh and Shalini Vittal, poets and scholars- Korgi Shankaranaryana Upadhyaya, Arjun Bharadhwaj, Hari Ravikumar, and many students, artistes, scholars participated and openly shared their thoughts and opinions.

Highlights of the Kala Samvada –

The Kala Samvada began with the discussion on music for dance and some of the concerns faced by dancers. The field has seen a spurge of CD music becoming a preference as compared to the Live musicians set up for dance; and its suitability or unsuitability for dance is an important debate. A major issue faced by dancers is the lack of availability of compositions that are musically tuned and readily usable. The existing and available sahitya (lyric/composition), is from the Nattuvanar or Vageyakara tradition which has fixed patterns and the dancer cannot exercise liberty in the music. In the case where a highly suitable piece of sahitya is chosen, visualising the music for that again poses a challenge of setting it to a structure. Thus, the issue of formulating/working with the structure of Carnatic music and Imaginative dance side by side arises. This creates the requirement of musicians who are able to understand dance, can respond to imagination and provide the dancer a free style of music that will be suitable for the dance. Staying in the comfort zone of familiar existing music and planning for every nuance of music as it is, limits the possibilities of dance exploration. Although efforts have begun to understand and work in this area, it is in a formative stage. As a result, what is danceable sahitya is not being used, and what we are using is not greatly danceable…there is a need to bridge this gap.

It was also discussed that one of the primary reasons for such choices is the cost factor involved. While it is true that no one is to be blamed for this, the undeniable fact is that live performances with an expert team of musicians is quite unaffordable. The costs also keep going up along a greater number of musicians required, more rehearsals, the need for special effects; added to this are the costs of costumes and lighting and so on for characterization; all this to achieve a perfect performance! As a result, dancers fall back on CD music, which, in spite of all the effort that goes into creating it, is not enjoyable after a point of time because it becomes predictable and there is no element of surprise. The panel very aptly summarized that the only way to resolve this deadlock is to rekindle the simplicity of experiences. A point where perfection shouldn’t become an obsession! This will definitely bring down the number of rehearsals and a willingness to make mistakes. Over ambitiousness to documenting every single thing is not ideal as it creates a fear of failure and a compulsive need for high perfection! When at every point there is living of history and creation of history, there is no need to document everything down. Simplification will allow more room for free experimentation for both the dancer and the singer. Letting go of the need for picture-perfect art creations actually aids a living tradition.

A brief discussion on funding also took place in relation to the above. It is quite disturbing that even before thinking of the concept to be explored, the dancers have to think about how to arrange for the funds. Funding also seems to be taking strange forms of sponsorships, crowd funding, corporate performances and so on. Rightly observed, the issue is with the need of dancers to equate and compare their art to other professions. When such equations are adopted, unnecessary facets get added to the dancer’s efforts. The dynamics of economics in the case of art need to looked at with a different approach; one where there is professional seriousness with an amateur mindset!

While discussing about the opportunities for youngsters to perform, platforms for the same, cost effectiveness and creating a sustainable way to ensure the continuity of art as a living tradition – an interesting and important suggestion was made that there must be more chamber concerts held at homes and simple spaces where a close-knit spectator group can enjoy the intricacies of Satvika abhinaya. This also highlights the need for solo performances and experimentations with abhinaya oriented dance numbers being adopted as the primary focus of a dance performance. Such efforts would be cost effective in terms of lighting, mic equipment and such other requirements of stage set up and also reduce an artiste’s dependency on additional activities; not to forget the added benefit for the artiste who would need to work on thoughtful, communicative, engaging pieces that demand a good amount of preparation (both intellectually and physically). As artistes, if every home welcomes these types of performances, the true essence of art can be experienced. Some thoughts worth contemplating on when such attempts of Chamber concerts are made include – the approach and expectations of the artiste, the kind of spectators that would be interested and the provisions that the organiser can make. All these do not however condemn the large-scale productions, stages and performances. A lot of effort and dependency on many external elements exist in such cases; and when handled efficiently these can have a quantitative benefit on the popularity of art forms in general which is also a much-needed development for the field today.

The discussion on music for dance was observed from both the angles – of a musician and of the dancer. While musicians have sensed a lack of freedom in singing for dance, dancers have sensed a lack of adequate support from the music ensemble. The best way to bridge this gap seems to be, by allowing both the parties to explore their Manodharma (spontaneous temperament) freely. It becomes important that each person of the music ensemble keenly observes the dancer at every stage to ensure that they are able to provide the most suitable support that can enhance the quality of the performance. It is also important for dancers to constantly sense & enjoy every nuance of the music, experience the music then and there and respond to it. Each, then, becomes an inspiration to the other! While such spontaneity can cause some lapses and lack of coordination between the dancer and musician, from the point of view of sheer enjoyment, these extempore bold attempts are much desired and become acceptable even if they are accompanied by imperfections! While there is plenty of experimentation happening in the field, there is also fear to do improvisation on the stage. As a result, all the experimentation is at the convenience of a home and not on the stage. However, the real experimentation should happen on the stage. It again comes back to an artiste having the courage to err! It is desired as it becomes an opportunity to portray one’s brilliance. Unwillingness to make mistakes will lead to not developing original thinking. Quoting the aesthetician Anandavardhana, scholars conveyed the idea of how from the point of view of rasa (rasa drsti) apparent mistakes are also overpowered! A refreshing thought was shared – Making a mistake on stage is a grandeur, it’s a celebration; because it is a huge opportunity to have total support of the ensemble, which in turn gives you thousands of possibilities to create out of that mistake. The power of the vibrance of the presence of spectators, all artistes travelling with the dancer…all these boost the artiste’s creativity and that mistake no longer remains a mistake. Ultimately, all the years and years of training is only for this point where one can take the plunge into unexplored areas of one’s own creativity!

Suggestions were also made to conduct experimental work with musicians who are keen to sing for dance and with the intent of simply wanting to enjoy their own music. Independent potential singers and upcoming artistes who are willing to experiment, can be approached and helped in order to train them to sing for dance. another suggestion is when the singer themselves do the Nattuvangam. It would also be very conducive if dancers can learn music (particularly vocal singing) themselves. This would create some amount of self-sufficiency. And as far as possible Live music ensemble must be preferred to Recorded music so as to allow for the experience of manodharma.

The discussion progressed to understanding how art can be sustained as a living tradition. First and foremost, there is a need for every single artiste to seek pure enjoyment as the ultimate goal of art. It is only then that we will know why and what we are dancing. With this realisation, it will become possible to put all thoughts, doubts and even the elements of art at the right places, in the right proportions. A practical attempt at this endeavour requires the artiste to focus on interpretative dance keeping abhinaya in the forefront; with the quintessential path and destination being Rasa! An important suggestion is also that there must be a demarcation between the Abhyasa patha (what we practice and learn in dance classes) and the Prayoga patha (what is to be performed on stage). It is necessary for an artiste to understand the hierarchy of the four Caturvidha abhinaya as Satvika, Vacika, Angika and Aharya. This clarity of focussing on the four in their natural and most ideal order seems to be the need of the hour. Highly creative and exhaustive work is taking place in the area of Aharya with the abundance of technology available at our disposal; at the same time, tremendous focus on Angika is also seen; an interest in adopting new themes is leading the artiste to probe into literature as well; however, all these must submit to Satvika alone. There is no harm is using all the forms of communication, however, their proportions and priorities must never get misplaced. Unfortunately, this is where the focus is going amiss. A compulsive need to always cater to bigger spectator numbers, the pressures of television and reality show attention which set unrealistic expectations for even a child just beginning to learn the art form, the skyrocketing monetary investments, the lack of appreciation of small stages…are some of the factors drawing the artiste’s attention away from the true goal. Scholars observed that dancing for Satva requires a lot of self-motivation and cannot be dependent on any of the above factors! High quality performances with minimal investment & dependency is the key. And it is only this simplicity that can sustain the living tradition of the art! Even if a few artistes are able to think and act in such ways, the art will survive for long among the people!

Another important observation was made that dance has totally become dependent on the element of Laya. While this is not denounced, it does limit the nuances of movement in a dancer. The syllables used for the dance songs, the beats, the instruments all tend to be mainly recitations and prosaic in nature and not based on melody and poetic renditions. A conscious effort to shift the focus towards melody while retaining the necessary elements of rhythm is advisable. Giving importance to the ‘vastu’(theme) and ‘sahitya’ (lyric) is an absolute must for a dancer.

The forum then proceeded the discussion to topics concerning Dance Research. The primary question of whether research is even needed in dance was addressed with the idea that any research done in the field of dance must lead to Prayoga (practical applicability) in some way. Data and information must lead to something more and only then will it be a reasonable research. The research should either enrich the researcher to produce better dance or make the researcher/reader appreciate dance more. Such a research in dance and a certain level of historical research that can give us a deeper understanding of the past (so as to experience the present and create the future in a holistic way) would be beneficial for the researcher and the field.

It was also noted that capturing a performance as-it-is in research writing is not always ideal or even possible. Mainly being experiential, every possible concept of dance cannot and need not be researched upon. A good number of pointers and suggestions would be most suitable to capture the essence of the dance in research writing. A word of caution also stated that research problems and questions cannot be manufactured just for the sake of a degree.

It was also rightly observed that there is a need to understand the concept of Research Methodology for performing arts. Most of the models that are being followed currently do not always serve the purpose of research in the performing art field. It is an obvious fact that the entire content of a research document is never given for general reading; and when this is the case, how does one find an Indian system of research methodology that is suitable to performing arts? Scholars opined that there isn’t much in the name of ‘Indian Methodology’. However, the most important aspect to note is that every research work must be content oriented and that methodology should not be used to cover up any lacuna in the content.

The use of footnotes should be to provide more insightful information on the concept being discussed. The implications of a plagiarism check were also discussed to throw light on the fact that it cannot be blindly used without understanding the need of the study. Thesis and dissertations being uploaded on common portfolios is highly beneficial as we become aware of what work has/is happening in the field. They also act as very good sources for literature review. Centralising such sources is a necessary step that would benefit many aspiring research scholars.

In the final segment of the Kala Samvada, the recent trends in performance were discussed. The present scenario was very aptly termed as an Era of Experimentation where there is a celebration of dance! It is a grand and welcome growth in the dance performance field as there surely is a quantitative surge in the bold explorations. Interestingly put, we have moved from Tamas to Rajas!

The popular trend is the shift of focus from traditional pieces towards conceptual presentations. While a structured and straightforward, good & neat angika presentation was aimed at earlier, currently this is being accompanied by conceptual thinking and thematic works. While such attempts have both praiseworthy aspects and shortcomings, at least good amount of solo and group productions are being created.

Another important endeavour as a result of the above is that, dramatization is taking the focus. Both the concepts of Natyadharmi (stylistic presentation) and Lokadharmi (realistic presentation) are being attempted with a serious and intense outlook. A plentiful churning of the technique has left artistes to introspect deeply about what is stylisation and what is realism. This inward journey is a refreshing trend in the performance field. Simplifying the concepts, scholars summarized the play of Natyadharmi and Lokadharmi as – everything that comes on stage is Natyadharmi no matter how real it looks, and the moment that a concept gets communicated it is nothing but Lokadharmi; and if the purpose of communication is not served then Natyadharmi is of no use and up until a point, for ease of working, the difference between Natyadharmi and Lokadharmi must be retained; although, they should ultimately harmonise.

A discussion on Abstract themes then followed where ideas such as abstraction being higher in the case of Natyadharmi, the choice of themes today getting more and more abstract, to what extent dance can yield to abstraction, don’t such concepts go out of the framework of the classical form, how much can they be brought within this framework, is it a possibility – why and why not etc were floated. An outstanding statement that summarised all possible answers to the above questions was made – Abstract has to be handled with abstract alone, i.e. Sattvika abhinaya is the only way! Unfortunately, most of the time the performances of such abstract nature are bereft of satva. More often than not, the face of the artiste is not highlighted and there is an attempt to communicate only through angika and aharya which can dangerously slip into a personal glorification of the artiste leading to a lack of characterization and thereby the absence of Sadharanikarana (universalisation).

Scholars rightly pointed out that a ‘language’ must be known to all. Natyadharmi is a language in itself. The tradition has tried to give us a common language, but in the process of experimentation, personal language is taking the focus. The more we attempt at creating a personal language, we must take the aid of the Universal language of Satva and only then can there be effective communication. If satva is ignored and only personal language becomes the primary focus, it will become a constant jugglery! This is showing up in the dance field as a gap between thought and expression. The need to have to explain every single aspect of the performance by way of a compere or brochure is higher than communication through the form itself. There is constant intellectualisation as a result of which experience is getting lost. Over and over what needs to be questioned and understood is the core idea of Art leading to ‘vishranti’ (relaxation/inner peace/tranquillity) – have we truly understood this and how much of this conviction do we hold on to. The fact that art should help us go beyond all purposes itself is something that needs introspection! Other purposes such as providing a social message are not undesirable, but are actually inbuilt in Rasa. If the artiste can focus towards evoking rasa, then the required message is automatically communicated; the luxury of allowing the receiver to take back the message they choose to see will also be retained. We, as artistes, have related art to everything including prestige, communication, identity, social reformation and so on – to everything but the realisation of its core purpose being ‘vishranti’.

The ultimate goal of art is truly and only Rasa!


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