Kala Darpana: Ankura Colloquium
- Priya Raman
e-mail: priyans03@gmail.com

June 28, 2010

For once there were dancers on stage but not dancing, dancers off stage but in no hurry to rush out! For once there was a scanty audience but the show started off on time! For once there was a presence of three generations of artistes but synthesizing in thoughts!

I am referring to a colloquium organized by Ankura on June 13, 2010 at Yavanika, Bangalore, as a part of their ongoing series of dance festivals. Intended to get perceptions and view points from the dance community over issues concerning today's dance scenario, the colloquium had a rare mix of young, seasoned artistes share virtual elbows with senior gurus and dancers.

The discussion had twelve speakers being chaired by senior Guru and the force behind Ankura, Guru Lalitha Srinivasan, moderated by an embellished Vyjayanthi Kashi (with the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award) and coordinated by Padmini Shreedhar. The speakers were carefully divided into groups of three to touch upon a particular topic of which they were an intrinsic part or had considerable experience.

Probal Gupta started the session speaking on the topic 'Importance of performing arts in education (a holistic approach) and in shaping one's personality'. A researched paper that he read out threw light on dance affecting the physical body, imagination, psychology, social life and inner harmony as given according to studies. As regards to its role in a holistic approach, he added that the inclusion of performing arts in the curriculum since 1992 has facilitated expansion of art centers to educate, inform and empower interpreters and increase in funding methodologies.

Continuing on this topic, I presented another analysis-oriented paper. Defining holistic approach, I traced the roots of the Indian education system from pre-British rule which was holistic and as transformed today, placing arguments that education is not all about seeking information of classical subjects but the practical skills of art and our heritage to create a unique identity. Performing arts are a legacy, a bridge between our glorious past and the future ahead. Art education being informal and flexible creates a mutually amicable, enjoyable atmosphere, a great impetus for it to be a definite part of our education system, though I ran out of time to cover the next part.

Ramya Janakiraman mirrored her Gurus' teachings on the same subject. She touched upon how dance is not about impressing the audience but to work on your inner self, which shapes the attitude of a person. Here one learns to shun ego and have a calm interior. Further performing arts are the most complete form linking education and achievement, thereby creating an informed audience.

Vyjayanthi Kashi summed it up on the note that all legends were not degree holders and education needs to be interactive as in the Guru-Shishya parampara followed in dance.

The next three speakers had the topic 'Fame being desired instantly, are our youngsters ready to face the discipline, rigors of practice, challenges of the field' on which they expressed their personal experiences and opinions. Where Satyanarayana Raju dealt the situation with humour of how a student jumps a Guru every 2 ½ days and wants to be on stage every third day, he strongly opposed such attitude in the current scenario and did not mind giving such people a hard run for their money.

Karthik Dattar was all geared up letting his frustrations out in how instant fame is non-existent in the dictionary of classical dance. He convincingly opined that dance required all the time and effort to achieve results during which tenure, artistes may go astray to get fame. So he called upon artistes to equip themselves with knowledge of other allied subjects like music, instruments, nattuvangam etc to survive. He used this opportunity to seek support from seniors in the field.

Pulikeshi Kasturi kept it rather short in saying that there should be a clear demarcation of who could be accepted as students of dance, judging on the 'fame desiring factor.' Encouragement to such intensions, he said would dilute the art field.

Vyjayanthi Kashi enumerated that one should not succumb to ways of such 'fame-oriented' thinkers, but induce our classical way into them. The audience must be educated to the extent that instant success would be followed by instant fading.

The third group had to talk on 'Consequence of reality shows on dance, commercialization of dance being rampant, are these breaking traditional cultural values'?

Starting on this topic was Seetha Kote, who presented both the positives and negatives of this 'phenomenon.' She stated that confidence boosting at an initial level, wider reach out away from the shackles of groupism, and an opportunity to learn different forms of dancing which otherwise would not have been possible, were the positive points of reality shows. She could see a never ending list of negatives arising out of this. Withering away from classicality, ruthless play of emotions, loss of the very innocence of children and talent being unfairly judged were some drawbacks.

Radhika Ranjani paid attention even to the print media in not extending support to the classical arts. With an increase in money minded tactics, she said such shows do not emulate our culture. Uday Shetty brought in his personal experience in conveying that while reality shows can afford to invest a lakh for a second, a second holds no place in classical dance. The classical community is quite a distance off from reality shows and we would be blaming ourselves if we get into this mess called 'Reality shows.'

The moderator expressed her intention to resolve such problems by encashing on the power of the media for the benefit of classical dance in ways as recommended by the dance community and not the audience.

The last set of panelists spoke on 'Academic pressure is a frequently given reason to discontinue dance, despite reaching a promising stage' Suparna Venkatesh blamed parents and entrusted them with the responsibility of letting children balance academics and art simultaneously. She brought out the fact that toppers of the exams of last academic year were all multi-talented as reported which proves that art relieves pressure off academics. Vidya made an observation of how monetary gain and fame has become the ultimate motto and so society like ours welcomes an MBA graduate rather than an artiste. This requires that art education also be made compulsory.

Shivaranjani, the last speaker, had replaced Soundarya Srivatsa in the discussion as the latter could not make it. An impromptu preparation, she spoke of how the student has to be allowed the discretion to make choices as he best understood his strengths. She noticed fault in the education system and voiced the necessity of a dance quota in competitive exams.

Even as such a brainstorming session was not enough, the entire atmosphere changed drastically as the audience replete with dancers, connoisseurs and promoters got pepped up into the mood. There were thoughts flying as to how dancers had achieved in spite of the odds, how dancers and organizers need to work in tandem, how innovations need to be introduced and so on and so forth.

Veteran artiste Jayalakshmi Alva felicitated Vyjayanthi Kashi for her fete. Lalitha Srinivasan called for a united dance community to strive for the betterment of the art. And if all this was not overwhelming, there were surprise judges in the audience to give away prizes for the best three speakers. While Karthik Dattar won the third and Seetha Kote won the second, I was rather happy to win the first prize!!

Priya Raman is a Bharatanatyam dancer from Bangalore. She has been conducting interactive workshops on classical dance for school children as an Education Consultant with The Times of India - Newspaper in Education (NIE). Having a passion and flair for writing, Priya writes on dance and dance related issues in Ananya's monthly magazine, Abhivyakthi.