Why Dance: a response to Ranan's adda with Janet Smith of Scottish Dance Theatre
- Lav Kanoi, Kolkata
e-mail: rananindia@gmail.com
Photos: Indudipa Sinha

November 10, 2010

Why dance?
It's too darned hard, requires too much training, and too few can do it. One loses the beat, trips and despairs. What is the point?
Janet Smith, Artistic Director of the Scottish Dance Theatre (SDT) would give you several: dance uplifts, inspires, transforms lives; it keeps you fit, gets you moving. And contrary to popular belief, anyone can try it. For example, Caroline Bowditch, SDT's 'Dance Agent for Change' is wheel chair bound, but boy can she dance! Inspiring images of Caroline Bowditch were shown by Janet Smith, who is no less inspiring herself, in an adda session with Ranan. Amanda Chinn, General Manager of the SDT, was also present and provided unfailing support to Janet Smith's narrative about the SDT, dance history, contemporary dance, and Dundee.

Perhaps this is not quite the place to comment on the history of western dance, or the earthy masculinity of Scottish Highland Dance versus the refined femininity of classical Ballet, or how they may be synthesised in contemporary dance. For starters, I'm no expert. However other questions that were raised in the adda will interest the specialist or the amateur: If "dance keeps you fit, gets you moving," why not just do, say, aerobics instead?

Janet Smith
Janet Smith demonstrating some steps of Scottish traditional dance
Dance, you may say, is beautiful. But what is beauty?
You wouldn't be the only one asking such a question. Janet Smith asked it, for example, and contemporary dance asked it of classical dance, and posits very different answers. What's more, contemporary dance, says Janet Smith, asks questions about, and prods people into investigating what it means to be alive today. (That's another reason to dance.) This is no abstract goal, and the goals are set higher than one might think. One definite item on the SDT's things-to-do list is to revive the city of Dundee (which city, by the by, said Janet Smith, has jute links with Calcutta): Janet Smith and the SDT will use art to revive their city of Dundee.

This is an admirable goal, and we wish SDT every success. On a theoretical plane, however, is this the point to art, or specifically to dance? Must art/dance carry out social service to be considered valuable? On the other hand, if an art or its practice could be of substantial material service to society, would it be a lesser art? Are art and social service incompatible?

Would it be art if it were entirely contained within itself, alienating audiences by an obsessive self-experimentation? For Janet Smith, how does the dancer do something very new, without at the same time alienating an uninitiated audience; how does one find the balance between audience and experimentation? Is it possible to direct the mind and attention of the audience: say, have them look at a performers feet, or the way a finger twitches? Of course, an audience's attention can be focussed by diverse stage devices like lighting, costume, blocking or even dialogue. The idea isn't so much as to plant an exact thought in the rasika's mind (I prefer this term to 'audience' or 'spectator' ever since our adda about the Natyashastra with Vandana Alase Hazra) as to stimulate any response.

In dance, there is something for the dancer/performer and for the viewer/audience. Perhaps this is why the term 'rasika' is so attractive. It could mean both the performer and also the audience. Perhaps both the dancer as well as the viewer are the rasikas of a dance performance. In this sense also, dance is inclusive: it involves Janet Smith and you and me.

Perhaps you, reader, will share your ideas on art and society, dance versus choreography. And we might end with adapting an old proverb: those who wish to dance always find a beat.

Ranan Repertory member Lav Kanoi writes his impressions of Ranan's adda with Janet Smith of SDT on 18 October 2010. Indudipa Sinha is also a Ranan Repertory member.