December 29, 2019
So, as the Gregorian calendar year ends and a new one starts, what are our principle take home points?
1. Dancers never had it so good! Even ordinary ones are busy dancing here, there, everywhere. Dubai, London, Odisha, Kerala. USA of course is second home to most. Add the odd Australia or Africa in between and our dancers, if not dance, has truly gone global. There are number of festivals and functions, affording most an opportunity to show their talent, or often, the lack of it! Some are very active with huge outreach thanks to real art; others thanks to their overzealous husbands / godfathers / sidekicks / students / parents / forced fan club or lovers besotted with them! They spend many office hours posting pouting pics on FB as if they are wares! And art is a commodity. They have made it so.
2. Most dancers are dancing but are dancers INVOLVED with the process, the history, the heritage of dance? Do they read ANYTHING? Do they subscribe to any magazine, journal or cause? Are they even aware of others? Their work or worth? Do they even care for fellow dancers or they are totally self absorbed with their trivial pursuits and paltry art? If it was not for their PR, they may not even get an audience, which in any case is full of family and friends! Dance shows don't sell because they can't. The product is not marketable. In NYC or London, Paris, Rome even worst of dancers sell a ticket. Not in India. Why? The content or product or both are sub standard. Or poor marketing. Or best lame excuse is, "Our Indian art forms are of divine origins so only an act of propitiation etc." (best unsold!) (Or untold).
3. Sponsors, where are they? For very ordinary TV music or dance shows huge monies are being given while classical or even contemporary dancers have to chase one or two connoisseurs who have deep pockets.
4. Govt. of India does what it can and why should it do more when artistes themselves can't even fill a small hall? In fact, state spoon feeding ought to stop. Grants given endlessly for last many decades to same old fogies ought to be reassessed to see if really needed, or be given to new, deserving, upcoming talents. Time for socialist model of 1960s to be truly over. Ache din truly ought to come for have-nots.
5. Media, lastly. Or what's left of it. With social media now the easy way out, where is critical assessment, forget critique? Anyone can write their own blog or dismiss others. In Bangalore, one over the hill over decorated beauty charges, read takes money, for FB postings. She told me she was a critic for FB. I thought Mark Zuckerberg cared so much for Indian dance that on his last trip to India, after meeting the PM and others who mattered in Delhi, he has flown down to so called Silicon Valley of India and personally made time to interview short listed wannabes then he had appointed her. I'm not on FB, so I don't even know how it works.
Only one or two, maybe three (that's The Hindu, New Indian Express and Deccan Herald, all south based) newspapers valiantly devote any space to art coverage. The Hindu deserves kudos. It's the last bastion of art reporting, platforming and outreach. Its diligent art editor and staff work hard the whole year around serving arts and artists, selflessly. Do they even get an acknowledgement leave alone an award? Do you even know their names? They remain anonymous, behind the scene. Unsung and happy to help the arts reach society. Don't they deserve a Padma award, or at least a state award?
Magazines have found TV stars as more saleable stars. Gone are days when classical dancers were cover girls or stories. Dancers also are increasingly to be blamed for not caring to read anything, busy as they are tom-tomming their own wares. There are only 3 dance magazines or journals. One 30 years old, one 20, one 5. Only one dance portal of merit.
Where is gen next? Of writers, thinkers, researchers? Who will work in museums in future? We don't have trained archivists, scenographers… We have museums that are museum pieces! In fact, reading Anita Ratnam's monthly jottings shows a vast canvass of activity and she is a far better critic than established ones who rarely take up any issue. In last month's jottings, she took up the case of Bijayini Satpathy, whose sudden departure from Nrityagram was not noted by anyone in any of their columns. Why? This is how corrupt and low things have fallen. Anita also mentioned how those listed in METOO movement, are back in circulation. Anita has guts to even take on issues. Which other dance writer does, with credibility and clarity, as an issue based reporting?
Okay so 5 points above tell what's wrong. What's good, as we enter 2020 with vision?
1. Young India is raring to go. They just don't know where. They need role models and mentoring. Can seniors look beyond their noses and offspring and promote real talents too?
2. A whole digital world is waiting to explode. Young ones are again going to be in the forefront of this revolution. Let's build support systems to help them help society.
3. Focus on heritage. Save what we have. Old costumes, recordings, photos. Pioneer Mohan Khokar and his family have done and govt. through IGNCA has given prime space, staff and service to dance heritage. You contribute your part now in this national dance task.
4. Please, please cajole sleepy govt bodies like SNA to make short films on masters no more, instead of wasting funds on senseless festivals no one even attends. Bring out books, DVDs. Something tangible should remain of that dance memory.
5. And you, dear reader, help support the arts: sponsor a show or some part of it, put your money, if you have any extra, where your mouth is. Buy books, sustain journals. It's in your interest to subscribe portals (Neha Muthiyan of Pune is valiantly sustaining one on Kathak) or create one. There's so much to do. Now, time has come to arise, awake and build India!
The biggest news of 2019 in dance field was diva Sonal Mansingh nominated to the Parliament, the Upper House Rajya Sabha no less (House of Elders, for foreign readers). She is the FIRST dancer to be so appointed. Rukmini Devi too was appointed but her nomination was not for dance alone - it was also for vegetarianism, animals rights and institution building (Kalakshetra). In Dr. Sonal Mansingh's appointment, there is much hope that she will help the cause of dance, education, activism and outreach. She is the most dynamic dance woman, nari shakti, and her years of hard work and tapasya and tyag has borne fruit. It's a high honour, in addition to the fact that she is the only active Padma Vibhushan woman dancer alive, who is also an MP.
Dr. Sonal Mansingh
Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam (Photo: Ashish Khokar)
And speaking of Padma, how can one forget the biggest monument of dance, Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam created on the outskirts of Chennai, the Bharatamuni Ilango memorial where each karana is recreated meticulously by sthapatis and installed at an impressive ceremony by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. (She had 3 openings. One in April 2018 one in Sept 2018. The final one was by Culture Minister Pandian in 2019). Finally open to the public, the huge display of 108 dancing talents was a sight for the gods. Here is a true academician-aesthete-artiste -educationist and guru rolled in one. An icon of art, Dr Padma Subrahmanyam and team have created a new landmark - a new Chidambaram, Tanjore and Kumbakonam rolled in one. 38km right outside Madras on ECR to Mahabalipuram. Go see it!
Let's enter 2020 with vision and hope. May Saraswati give sadhbhudhi to all and Nataraja give substance to dance on!
Ashish Mohan Khokar is a reputed author, arts administrator, historian, critic with many published books and edits India's only yearbook attenDance. He is now helping the IGNCA, Delhi, set up the Mohan Khokar Dance Archives-cum-Museum.
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