Natya Kala Conference 2012
Text & pics: Lalitha Venkat

December 31, 2012

Titled Samahit, the Natya Kala Conference 2012 (Dec 26 - 31, 2012) was convened by Bharatanatyam dancer Priyadarsini Govind.


Bharatanatyam is an abstraction of the world of emotions. Place it in an illusionary frame and it extracts an abstraction of emotion. I don’t think it’s a reflection of reality. …. Bharatanatyam has given much more to Carnatic music than Carnatic music has given to Bharatanatyam….
It is a misconception that padavarnam has sahitya and taanavarnam has no sahitya. Taanavarnam came from padavarnam and initially had sahitya. Tanavarnam had a regimented structure. Later, taanavarnam lost its sahitya. The padavarnam then was not a warm-up piece that it has become now. It was elaborate.
When there is music in dance, it is not Carnatic music, it is dance music. The whole idea of bhava in music is not understood at all by dancers. For choice of sahitya in dance, they go to scholars, etc but they also forget that the words have to be sung. The idea of silence in music is essential. What about silence in dance? I see it only when the dancer freezes into a pose.
- TM Krishna
(Dec 27, 2012)

I love Odissi. It is sensuous, combines the yin and yang and is fraught with dichotomies. And I love dichotomies. There are no straight lines in Odissi, like in life.
- Surupa Sen
(Dec 27, 2012)

For me, Indian classical dance is not about bhakti sringara. I do not see myself teaching sringara 20 years down the line. Not only the right music and light, but the emotions are important. For me, the movements are not only about lines, but also emotions….Films are a natural parallel for artistes to experiment with.
- Shobana Chandrakumar
(Dec 27, 2012)

Thought is one thing, feeling is another. There is a mudra and the journey of that mudra over one or two cycles. The mudra has to end with the story. I get the journey from the rhythm. Rhythm allows you to build an imagination and catch the moment.
- Maya K Rao
(Dec 27, 2012)

Indian women dancers have been going to the US to perform since 1880. Three devadasis were extradited in 1907 for overstaying in the US. By 1907 to 1911, many naachwaalis and devadasis stopped appearing on US stages because of anti-Asian immigration laws. How many of you know Martha Graham was trained by Ruth St Denis in Indian dances and taught later at her school? Ruth was particular that her teachers wear sari and bindi when teaching any form of Indian dance! It should be interesting to see a photo of Martha Graham in a sari..!
- Priya Srinivasan
(Dec 27, 2012)

The ishta devata of Adi Shankara was Krishna. There is evidence in his last work Prabodha Sudakara in which he calls Krishna kula devata.
Jayadeva’s own mutt is called Dasavatar Mutt. There we find the avatar images that have a central role in his Geeta Govinda. There are many mantras in Geeta Govinda that people don’t realize are mantras. Sringara and bhakti are like the warp and weft of the Geeta Govinda.
- Dr. Subas Pani
(Dec 28, 2012)

Harikatha is not just music. Dance has been an essential component of Harikatha from the beginning of the Vedic age.
Swati Thirunal wanted to be a Harikatha exponent and has even composed Harikathas.
Harikatha pithamaha Adibhatla Narayana Das from Andhra could deliver Harikatha in many languages including English, Persian and Urdu. He would wear ankle bells, sing and dance extempore, composing music on the spot. To be a proper Harikatha exponent, one must know Sanskrit, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada. Thus, you must learn sangeetham, dance, languages, use subtle humour, sarcasm with a light touch and the Harikatha should convey a message.
Thanjavur Krishna Bhagavatar learnt dance from Appadurai, known as Abhinaya Appadurai.
After watching his performance of “Natanam Aadinar,” Gopalakrishna Bharati told him with tears in his eyes, “I composed Natanam Aadinar but you gave life to it.”
Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavathar was a Harikatha exponent, composer and he also learnt dance.
One can see the impact of Harikatha on dance and dance on Harikatha. You cannot dance without knowing the story of Krishna…!
- Visaka Hari
(Dec 28, 2012)

With the advancement of technology, the choreographer could communicate his ideas to dancers scattered in various places. So, body work is happening without the bodies being present….It is time for dancers to release themselves from the invisible space that contemporary work has pushed them into.
- Sadanand Menon
(Dec 28, 2012)

I have been fortunate to not only experience diverse influences but had the opportunity to work with artists of diverse genres which have contributed to expanding my work. Through these artistic ventures I have experienced invisible aesthetic points where parallel traditions and impulses converge, interact and result in a richer product. This is not only my response to an increasingly interconnected world , it is my way to grow as an artiste, I see no other way to do it.
- Hema Rajagopalan
(Dec 29, 2012)

If I am collaborating with someone and if my dance style is A and my collaborator’s is B, I would prefer the end product to be AB and not C.
- Prashant Shah
(Dec 29, 2012)

We come from Singapore and have the Chinese Feng Shui like you have your Vastu Shastra…. When depicting the koothambalam in Nirmanika, our source of inspiration was Kalakshetra’s koothambalam.
- Aravinth Kumarasamy
(Dec 29, 2012)

I dedicate my lec-dem to my Guru Muthuswamy Pillai. Parallels do meet and they meet in infinity. Is there an infinite where all parallels meet or do only some parallels meet and why? Different forms of dance sometimes do meet. There can be a meeting point for different forms of dance in infinity, that’s why I call my talk unlikely encounters. A dancer from West coming to India to learn Indian dance is an example of parallels meeting.
I will do abhinaya to a small French song, like a French javali. Hope you will understand that parallels will meet.
- Elisabeth Petit
(Dec 29, 2012)

Thaandi aadaradhu is Thandavam. The +  -  = were initially used to teach philosophy, not mathematics.
- Jayachandran
(Dec 29, 2012)

Parallels meeting means what is conceived should result in what was first envisioned. What I conceive, the bliss is the knowledge that it has reached the audience.
- Prof. Raghuraman
(Dec 29, 2012)

In India, dancers have to don several hats like organsier, fund raiser, public relations expert etc apart from choreographing and dancing. So inter-disciplinary inputs to give a holistic training is essential for dancers now. Parallels will meet when there’s complete conviction based on real content.
- Sreelata Vinod
(Dec 29, 2012)

When I moved to US, I faced a profound sense of isolation and a feeling of rudderlessness. But the passion for dance kept me going. There, we have to do everything from arranging the hall and publicity to selling the tickets. Even the method of documentation and preserving that was different. When I interviewed Kunhiraman sir for a project, he said he used to introduce himself as from Gandhi’s India since people knew Gandhi. When Mythili Kumar presented a production on Gandhi, she was told it was like watching a TV program. The responsibility for maturity of the work falls on the shoulder of the immigrant dancer.
- Nirupama Vaidyanathan
(Dec 29, 2012)

This morning you have heard American, Singaporean, French and now my British accent! Indian arts have been shaped by migration in different countries at different speeds. Indian arts is in a minority and is competing with other art forms, so we have to be really relevant to the audience and funding organizations. In Milapfest, we try to have education and performance stay with the audience long after the event is over. In our arts school, we have a 70 year old British lady who has joined the Kathak class. Recently when watching Vidhya Subramanian perform, a four year old tried to imitate her through the performance. Later, her mother told us her daughter wanted to learn Indian dance!
- Alok Nayak
(Dec 29, 2012)

Dancers should definitely know music too. At times, the music for a production does not come easily. Sometimes, my students’ beauty and talent give me inspiration. 
My love is for spiritual stories that have scope for natyam. Literature and sangeetham are an integral part of my dance dramas. I love to depict comedy in dance. Pada Kavitha Pithamaha was a comeback for me after an illness that also affected my voice. I am thankful to late Manna Srinivasan for his encouragement. That is important for artistes to grow. Encouragement and suggestions instead of criticism.  Even though I have not travelled much, the encouragement from my students and teachers, god’s grace, musicality and talent have seen me through my journey in dance.
- Anitha Guha
(Dec 30, 2012)

I started learning Bharatanatyam when I was in my 20s and the knowledge excited me. As a school teacher, my responsibility was to teach children to respect our rural folk performance traditions. All myths are broken when you visit rural areas. This is where art and society truly integrate. 
Art and society are an integral part of life, so the title of my presentation is ‘Creating a sahridaya.’ My aim is to make urban children feel all of us are equal, to create a love in them for the arts and make them feel there is something of value in it.
Bhakti and arts come together so beautifully in rural areas. Folk dances may look easy but they are not. There’s a pattern and rhythm to it, so one needs to be trained in it. Rural India is the wealth of India. Just be true in your art and that is how you can blend with society.
- VR Devika
(Dec 30, 2012)

In old films, we would have a classical dance by say, Kumari Kamala, what we can call the “item” number in the film! The film ‘Karnan’ is full of classical music and dance but now the beat has to be appealing to the present public. Today, the audience in theaters is mostly youngsters who want instant gratification, so everything caters to the youngsters. There should be no ‘lag.’
A leading Carnatic vocalist said ‘Shankarabaranam’ did more for music than anything else, by attracting the younger generation to learn classical music.  Such a film will not be made today as it is not economically viable plus other factors.
- Bharadwaj Rangan
(Dec 30, 2012)

Classical dance is very differently presented in films than on stage. We are talking here of very different audiences and how the viewer receives it. In cinema, it is not a direct relationship. That in effect is how you communicate in cinema and through performance on stage.
Dance as shown in films now is different compared to classical dance of yesteryears like Kamala’s. Now the body is idealized, after all, dance is a visual medium, so a certain amount of voyeurism is involved.
- Vidhya Subramanian
(Dec 30, 2012)

We need to create a sahridaya, a spectator who is in tune with us. In classical dance, we need to tell them what we are doing; we have to educate the spectator. In olden days, nattuvanars were part of film culture. Talent was primary, physical form was secondary. Now the body is more important. Cinema and TV have a wider reach than classical arts, so celluloid personalities are more recognized than musicians or dancers.
- Ptiya Murle
(Dec 30, 2012)