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Ambassadors of our Art
- Sindhoor Pangal, Bangalore

February 13, 2011

Recently I was doing some research on dance festivals across the world. As with all research, I started my search on Google. I typed "dance festival" and was quite surprised by what I found. Almost all the results on the first page were links to dance festivals in India. Be it on the internet or in the real world, India seems to have no dearth of dance festivals.

Sujata Mohapatra at Konark Festival

I attended one of the Sai Nrityotsav festivals in Bangalore. The festival showcased several budding dancers of different styles. The concluding Odissi performance choreographed by Sharmila Mukherjee, reminded me of the Konark Dance festival I attended last February. Konark was a magical experience for me, with its larger than life stage and artistes of even larger repute. Listening to the magical voice of Dr. Balamurali Krishna or watching the mesmerising performance of Sujata Mohapatra transported me to an indescribable world of beauty and joy. As I watched the emerging artistes at Sai Nrityotsav, it brought just as much joy. While Konark was showcasing the grandeur of Indian art and the greatness of its practitioners, Sai Nrityotsav was giving a glimpse into the future of our art. The range of availability of such platforms is indeed heart warming.

However, what bothered me about both these festivals is the audience availability. The audience seems to be rather abundant and enthusiastic at the performances of the most popular artistes or those of their own kith and kin. As the other performers hit the stage, the audience seems to start thinning out. As I saw, in both festivals, audiences selectively pick what they want to watch and walk out on several mind blowing performances, simply because they were lesser known artistes. I could only shake my head in sympathy.

This selective availability of audiences poses a formidable challenge to upcoming artistes. An upcoming artiste needs to either come from a well-known lineage or have art patrons in his or her immediate circle of friends or family. Artistes coming from any other circumstance risk being lost to oblivion. More importantly, the field of art risks losing possible game changers and significant contributors. If our art has to grow at the full potential of available artistes, then we absolutely need to provide audiences to new, lesser known artistes.

As I sit back and ponder on who could address this seemingly unfair distribution of audiences, I am struck by the realization that I myself might be able to address it. Most of my own friends and family only watch performances of famous artistes or those of mine. They often rely on my recommendation on what else to watch. Without such recommendation, they too leave after my performance! Today, there is no dearth of artistes or of platforms. An average person has absolutely no time to attend them all. So how does one identify what to watch? By relying on recommendations. So, if I were to identify and recommend lesser known, promising artistes, then I could play a non-trivial role in increasing audiences. This realization instils in me an immense sense of responsibility.

Most artistes, including me, believe we are here to serve a larger purpose - that of serving the art. We spend years learning, hours practising and leave our hearts out on the stage when we perform. We worship and love our art. But are we doing all we can for our art? I contest that we can do more.

Young Gotipua boys rendering a mind blowing performance at Konark Festival

As artistes, we can and should be ambassadors of our art form, spreading the message of our art to the world of non-artistes. We should be watching more, talking more about these new artistes and educating our social circles on the intricacies of our art and its practitioners. We have with us the ability to make people around us see and appreciate the beauty of our arts and enrich their lives. We have the ability to identify emerging talent, thus making significant contribution to our art form. While festivals like Sai Nrityotsav and Konark Festival are doing their part in creating the platform for art, the question to us as artistes is, "Are we making the best use of our ability and knowledge in serving our art or are we limiting ourselves to a one dimensional approach towards this? If we can do more, what is stopping us? If our art form benefits, do we not?"

Sindhoor has been learning Bharatanatyam for more than 14 years, is well versed with the theory of dance and well read on dance literature. She secured first class in the senior dance exam conducted by Karnataka Secondary Education & Examination board.

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