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Some questions need to be asked
- Madhavi Puranam

April 22, 2015

(This editorial by chief editor Madhavi Puranam in the Nartanam - Quarterly Journal of Indian Dance - issue Volume XIV, # 4, Oct-Dec 2014 has been reproduced here with permission)

Can you ask questions, raise issues, and seek answers?
No, you dare not. The powers that be will come down hard and reduce you to the status of a pariah, a social outcast, an English word of pure Tamil origin. But some questions need to be asked. Nartanam has never shied away from taking up issues. However, our initiatives would be worth the courage, only if the other stake holders of dance deliberate and follow them up with concrete action without fear or favour. For any purposeful and meaningful action we need sensitive, competent and courageous leaders. Sadly, dance administration, festival organisers, academics, writers, performers, and gurus have rarely seen leaders of substance emerge from amongst them in recent times.

The first issue we draw attention to is:
How better can the priceless documentation/archives of the Sangeet Natak Akademi (SNA) be made accessible and user friendly?

The SNA which is a premier institution of performing arts in India is doing a commendable job within all the constraints that it operates under. Much unlike most government organizations the personnel of the SNA are most courteous and helpful. Our observation is that the SNA lacks a definite plan, infrastructure, and staff in the documentation unit, especially the audio and video section, to effectively use their priceless archives and also make them easily accessible to scholars. They mean well and want to be helpful. But, when the entire documentation section is busy documenting across the country there is no one to show the videos back at the Delhi office. And particularly when the sparse staff in charge of showing the videos in the section gets to the office by twelve noon. The occasional screening of the selected SNA archives under the 'Sanchayan" programme takes place in the SNA complex in New Delhi which does not offer wide reach. Some of the archives, especially the ones pertaining to a particular region, need to be made available at the constituent units and other bodies of the SNA, like the Jawaharlal Nehru Manipur Dance Academy (Imphal), Kutiyattam Kendra (Thiruvanthapuram), Sattriya Kendra (Guwahati) etc. for wider viewing. Recordings are not shared with educational institutions, not even with SNA's own constituent units for that, it is claimed, would be a violation of copyright of the dancers, gurus and scholars who have been interviewed or whose performance has been recorded with the aim of preserving and promoting the art form. Even the artists who have been recorded do not get a copy without toiling hard for it.

Copyright is a pariah subject. No one wants to touch it with a barge pole for it demands sharp intellect, deliberation, and decision making capability to understand copyright laws and find ways and means to sort out the connected knotty problems in using the archives. It is high time that terms such as "archives," "Intellectual Property Rights," their objectives, uses and abuses are defined / redefined.

The second issue we draw attention to is:
How the exercises of cultivating Art as a constituency for attaining social, political and philanthropic goals can be made more meaningful? Whatever be its motive, the recently concluded 4th Silicon Andhra International Kuchipudi Dance Convention held in Hyderabad, which went on to establish another record of more than 6000 Kuchipudi dancers dancing together, could be termed as a show of strength and clout of a committed group who have managed to inspire a large number of Kuchipudi teachers/students from across the world to come together for such an event. Since we are appreciative of the effort, Nartanam participated in the convention, offering our inputs whenever sought. While we are grateful that the organizers allowed Nartanam to put up a stall at the festival, free of cost, some pertinent observations need to be recorded.

It's good that the mighty and influential including leading politicians, both from the state and the centre, descended at the convention to flog the dead Kuchipudi horse. Despite the numbers who flocked to make the world record, the fact is that Kuchipudi is gasping for breath and is going through the throes of extinction. It is very well that the convention brings Kuchipudi to the limelight for a few days and the young will be fired with inspiration seeing the veterans at the convention. We do not vouch for similar inspiration when the youngsters see the very same veterans dancing, even as they refuse to retire from dancing and gracefully graduate to the status of senior statesmen of the form. The young and the relatively non-corrupt minds from the various districts of Andhra and Telengana who formed the majority of the participants, completely innocent of politics, turned up wide-eyed for a three day carnival and the making of a world record.

After three conventions of Silicon Andhra one has not seen on stage in this fourth convention the youngsters who were supposed to have been nurtured by them. After all, new and exciting talent was supposed to be the meaningful side of the jamboree.

The fact that I am a bathroom singer, and I have right to be one, does not make me fit to further the cause of my art as a performer. Yes, I could be an interested spectator or a supporter of my art. The Silicon Andhra exercise could be more meaningful with work done at grass roots level to support serious art and artists. The evidence of this is lacking.

Kuchipudi today is languishing for the want of excellence in performers and leadership among gurus. The gurus across the country have not been able to nurture and train talent a la Vempati Chinna Satyam; the gurus of the traditional Kuchipudi families lack the vision, resilience and strength of character a la Chinta Venkatrammaya or Chinta Krishnamurthy to summon their students and pool their strengths to take the form to newer heights, with not a care for their individual glories.

One is fearful that the vast pool of mediocre dancers in Kuchipudi witnessed during the convention will not throw up divas like Yamini Krishnamurthy and Sobha Naidu in the near future. However, Nartanam has identified a dream team of competent gurus and talented youngsters who in collaboration can revive the Kuchipudi Yakshaganam tradition and also produce quality solo dancers.

The festival could have done with an artistic thrust and also a few academic goals with the involvement of the senior scholars of the field in incisive seminar sessions which were lacking in the mega event. The presentation of dance at the convention with the stage and backdrop forming the dominant constituent was most unsuitable to showcase the nuances of Kuchipudi. Dance minus its finer aesthetics and nuances is mere entertainment and sometimes a "cruel punishment" meted out to the hapless spectator. Despite the beautiful sculptures and the imposing Nataraja on the stage, the grand indoor stadium decorated like a marriage pandal housing thousands of people, big groups of dancers, racy music, fancy lighting, special effects, and new themes, the dance could not connect with the spectator at a higher level.

But to be fair to the organizers, the exercise was not meant for showcasing the art of Kuchipudi; it was to market the brand "Kuchipudi" and provide an opportunity for the hoi polloi to interact and get inspired by the mega-exercise while the hoi oligoi emerged as the new caretakers of Kuchipudi.

In this issue of Nartanam, we have endeavoured to project important dance documents and photographs which add to the known history of the performing traditions of Odissi and Kutiyattam. The importance of research in dance and its methodology can be gauged from the way the scholars have handled their respective subjects in the papers published here. The rare Jayantika documents have been unearthed after relentless pursuit by Nartanam and Ileana Citaristi. The documents indicate how a meaningful coming together of gurus, scholars, writers, media, and impresarios led to the historic initiative of Jayantika which redefined Odissi. Those were the leaders with a definite vision and moral fibre to work towards a common goal.

(We invite responses from our readers)


Thanks a lot for bringing out this topic!
1. Archiving of dance & accessibility to the same: What is the use of archiving if it is not helping the next generation of dancers? Thanks to few institutes (I am not mentioning the same, just not to bring in favoritism) who painstakingly have archived information on dance and have made it accessible to upcoming dancers. Another group with larger archives is DD (Doordarshan). I really doubt the same is accessible to outsiders! These people should come up with some means / channel through which the upcoming artists / dancers can access the same without violating the 'copyrights'. Sharing of knowledge will only help the art form grow. Next generation will be the ambassadors of the art form & help prevent extinction of the art form! Else someone will hack the same and sell it online like the DD archives which were sold in the past (Discussed at length earlier by Dr. Ananda Shankar Jayant in Roses & Thorns)
- Mahesh Kedlaya (April 24, 2015)

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