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Trials, travails and tribulations
- Ranee Kumar

November 14, 2015

Whenever you come across a young brilliant, starry-eyed dancer with passion and commitment, your flagging hope on the future of our classical art form gets resuscitated. But as you delve into the present environs under which dance has to be nourished and advanced, well, your spirits sink! The big question mark rises to a point blank range and one is bound to wonder if this is a level playing field at all?

In my two decades-old career, I have acquired the sensibilities to assess an artiste's potential within the first 15 minutes, an up-and-coming dancer or musician being no exception. And I've also seen them make a mark in the field another five years later. Meteoric rise is not possible under normal circumstances in any creative arts field.

But to such a handful of young dancers, life is like walking on a razor's edge if a random tete-a-tete with a few of them is anything to go by. Says Kiranmayee, an engineering graduate who gave up a lucrative IT career to pursue her passion and has worked her way up to emerge as a dancer to watch. "It's tough to traverse a dark tunnel with no light visible to the eye. I've been here for the past 13 years and still I feel my name doesn't sound a bell. Ten years of one's dance life just goes into paying. Now having got a foothold thanks to my guru's shaping me up with the right principles, I am able to get a name as a good dancer in my own region. My enthusiasm to excel and make a mark in the cultural hub (Chennai) turned into a damp squib last year. Half a day, on everyday basis goes into researching on where to apply, how to and in drawing resources from my earlier earnings as an IT professional. I don't mind paying to dance, but if it is the only way out with each passing year, it is unnerving; more so if I find myself dancing to an empty hall with a single audience, my friend!" Today, she goes for solo dance performances abroad paying for her trip but she finds a foreign tour more fruitful since her daily income to survive is taken care of. "But I want to dance where there is a critically appreciative audience and make a name!" she adds with a glint of hope in her large eyes.

For Tejaswini Manogna, self motivation is the driving force. This young medical student secured everything she wished for in her little life through untiring diligence and single minded pursuit, including a Miss Andhra Telugu (traditional) Ammayi title where her dance item catapulted her to the top. Her Bharatanatyam began as a child, as she was fascinated by dance. It used to take her three modes of public transport including walk to reach her guru with her mother as a chaperone. Manogna has many a feather to her cap like bagging a free seat to medicine, leading the NCC at the national Independence Day parade few years ago and what not. A couple of years ago, she was invited to present her paper at the international science conference in London where she got a standing ovation. Not content with just that she volunteered to showcase her country's culture with a dance number from the Bharatanatyam repertoire to the august audience. And at the end of the day, she has not been able to have her arangetram so far as "we cannot afford it, even if her guru is a very large hearted person," says the mother.

Srijani Bhaswa Mahanti, all of 22 is an avowed Sattriya dancer. The dance form was bestowed with 'classical' status quite recently, yet she feels it has a long way to go though it is an established ancient performing art whose continuity had never brooked a break. "Outside Assam, Sattriya catches people unawares," quips Srijani. An honours graduate, she is bent on educating her generation about the dance by her own performances. "There is no organization that would come forward to host a Sattriya dance outside my State and every program of mine in Delhi where I stay, is my own investment thanks to my culturally rich parents. The dance is so engrossing and beautiful, so articulate an expression among all forms of speech and action, yet people are not interested to watch. I have to garner my audience too like a village political leader. It pains me that my generation sneers at classical dance forms which are icons of our culture. Nevertheless, I'm going to strive all my life to establish my dance," she says.

How long can any young artiste survive on dedication and diligence alone dumping money into one's own performances? Will this lend credibility to the dancer? This art in particular is one long wait for return on investment. But then who takes the blame? A number of oblique solutions crop up, but not one single, straight answer!

Ranee Kumar, a journalist for the past two decades, has worked with mainstream newspapers from Hyderabad. She later took to freelancing for The Hindu in art and culture as their art critic. Ranee has many articles, reviews in music, dance and drama published to her credit.

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