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The voice of a male dancer
by Srikant Subramaniam, Mumbai

April 12, 2004

Bharatanatyam is a votive offering to the lord of dance Siva Nataraja. The history of this glorious art form elucidates that it was danced by the devadasis at the temple under the royal decree of the pandhya -s, chola-s and the pallava-s. It is seen from the stipulation, that they were all beautiful young maidens well versed in the art of dance {yogyarayiruppar). But my love for this art form springs from my devotion and deep conviction that the lord Shiva, manifests as the supreme cosmic dancer. He is visualized as paramananda tandavamurti, performing the blissful dance in the cosmos. There is so much of saiva mysticism ingrained in the art form itself, this saiva mysticism is reflected in the Siva kautuvam. So the art is not just based on different facets of sringara rasa - erotic sentiment - but bhakti is the quintessential element of this particular art form. The element of bhakti can be presented in an austere yet in a truly moving way.

As a male dancer and an exponent of this particular dance style, I am disturbed by the plight of the male dancer in the present day scenario. Many good Bharatanatyam male dancers are rarely given an opportunity to perform, and so are being relegated to the side wings of the stage, performing nattuvangam for their shishyas. I was glad that one of my lecturers was given an opportunity to dance at the Khajuraho dance festival this year.

While the sabha brochures are inundated with images of female dancers, seldom do we find a male dancer featured in the brochure. Very few organisations are open to giving solo performance opportunities to male dancers. So where is the platform to display their prodigious talent? How can they prove themselves unless given an opportunity to do so? Is life in the dance field to be an eternal struggle? Ultimately it's like the scene in western ballet where the male dancers share a partnership with the female ballerinas.

Times have changed and what is important itself is the art and the one who presents it with understanding. The country should have more Dhananjayans and Kelucharan Mohapatras who are known not only for their performing prowess, but as skilled teachers too. It is imperative to acknowledge that a male performing artist can balance his career as a performer as well as a mentor. However it is the public who are the ultimate judges as they lay the yardstick, the criterion by which they rate a good male Bharatanatyam dancer.

In conclusion, I quote Noverre's words {the great master of ballet}, who wrote more than 200 hundred years ago, "I will make an average man into an average dancer, provided he be passably well made. I will teach him how to move his arms and legs, to turn his head. I will give him steadiness, brilliancy and speed: but I cannot endow him with that fire and intelligence, those graces and that expression of feeling which is the soul of dance. Nature was always superior to art. It is not given to everyone to have taste, nature alone bestows it: education refines and perfects it: all the precepts that could be drawn up to produce it would be useless. It is either born with us or it is not. In the former case, it will reveal itself, in the latter the dancer will be mediocre always".

Good, sincere and dedicated male dancers should shine. It is the support of the people and connoisseurs of dance that announce their status as performers par excellence.

Srikant Subramaniam is presently pursuing his BFA degree in dance from the Nalanda Dance Research Center, Mumbai. He had his initial training in Bharatantyam from Saroja Srinath and Siri Rama of Kanaka Sabha Performing Arts Center, Mumbai. Srikant has recently been awarded the national scholarship for dance for the year 2004 to 2006

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