Sunday, June 26, 2011

Technique Vs. Soul

The socio-cultural milieus in which the Indian Classical dance forms grew and flourished have contributed richly to the shaping of the form both in the past and the present. The Bhakti traditions richly popularized music and dance adding to the content of the repertoire. It was patronized by both the Temple and the Kings. In the temple premises the Devadasis used to perform in praise of the presiding deity and in the patronage of the Kings they would perform so as to please kings. Sometimes the pieces were so camouflaged that one didn’t know whether the piece is addressed to the King or the God.

The rich poetry which spread the sentiments of devotion and praise to both the King of the universe and the King of the land was used as a narrative backbone. Nritta or more loosely defined as abstract movements performed to rhythmic syllables was a part of dance as there are many evidences in literature and sculptures, though I feel , they have been serving the purpose of embellishments.

Wondering why I am repeating the known facts? I am curious to look into Bharatanatyam performed in the yesteryears and what is being performed now. How is it different? I am basically looking into as era where dance was part of life and to a period where it rose to become a part of national identity.

Dance serves many purposes, be it ritualistic or for simple entertainment, but what is it that pleases the dancer? What is it that makes a dancer move in a certain way, creating sheer beauty? I think it is hard core passion for movement of the body, a movement that creates a magic in the three dimensions of space, time and body. In the present day Bharatanatyam, I feel that these following things have marked its presence:
  1. Neatness in presentation, emphasis on clarity of movement and lines. This stress on clarity of movement could have been an aesthetic sense that was inspired by the west. Some thinkers have pointed out that as Dance became popular in the western audience, it required having that perfection in Body movement which the ballet dancers so well executed.
  2. As Bharatanatyam grew out of the intimate spaces of temple and courts, it had to mold itself for a larger performing space. Hence this could have led to a shift in more nritta added as it allowed for movement with respect to abhinaya which required more intimate spaces.
  3. The costumes are more minimalist which looks aesthetically better, the dancer is not lost is her huge finery.
  4. The content of today’ performance is trying to accommodate more than just Bhakti. World is moving at a great pace and the arts have always reflected the society so one has moved to varied contents.
  5. An interest in trying to create a confluence with other arts other than performing arts. One wants to create a better impact to one’s performance by using techniques of lighting , video, music ,voice-over so that their presentation reaches a larger audience.
  6. Importance of nritta , as the form started catering to not an elite audience who understood the poetry and the nuances of dance. The audience is very mixed and what strikes note first is something dramatic ,something acrobatic, something that is fast paced and something that has an interesting score of music which one need not understand in terms of lyrical content
  7. More appreciation of group choerographies have also led to increase in the nritta content as the scope to explore body movements in various patterns increases. Abhinaya by which I mainly mean the sattvika abhinaya is more individual specific.
Most of these have added to the betterment of the form. At a more personal level I have started feeling that the physicality of the form itself have been given so much importance that the soul of the dance seems to be somewhere getting lost. It is important to have a neat presentation but not at the cost of the very spirit behind it. As Pina Baush said “I am not interested in how people move but what makes them move”.

In Indian classical dance a movement is learnt, rehearsed years together to make it connect inwards. And when such a movement is brought out it has radiance in it .It might just be a glance a single movement of the hand or the leg or any limb. This moment of dance reflects that inner souls dancing.

Now coming back to my personal feeling is that our emphasis seems to be shifting to create a perfect technique so much so that dancers injure themselves in the process. Why in our earlier teaching methodologies dance warm-up was not so much a part? Was it because our dance was not meant to stretch more than its limits and cause injury? In today’s dance classes warm up is such an important aspect.

In the process of refining the technique and creating a standard for that, are we not ending up creating clones? As each young dancer is trying to achieve a posture, a movement which is considered the best. This seems to be leading more towards perfection of body while the soul seems to be ignored. Sometimes, I even feel that the abhinaya which is the heart of Indian classical dance that gives it a mark of uniqueness, a reflection of one’s inner self seems more like a practised set of facial movements!! In a movie I recently saw called the Black Swan, the choreographer says “stop being such a perfectionist and simply lose yourself in the role”. I think we as young dancers should remind ourselves of this. In initial days of watching perfect performances I used to be awestruck!! What a neat movement, what a beautiful araimandi. But after having watched a few I felt disconnected with such a dance .I felt something was missing. Do we prefer technique to soul? I think it is time to strike a balance between the two.


priya said...

An inspiring venture mam...will be very helpful and illuminating for dance lovers. As for the technique vs soul debate... ihave read about miniature painters facing the same question that u have posed..and what most of them have concurred is that when an artist loses oneself in the art, their expression reflects a particular deviance from others.. the masters of miniature art called it the 'flaw' which is basically an artists genuine style of painting or in this case dance...the novel was by orhan pamuk.. my name is red.. a very interesting sorry if i deviated from the your writing...

Dayalan said...

You are a great dancer. Now you have attemped to examine a serious aspect of dancing in a beautiful way. Broadly, there is a very valid point in the idea that we should not become clones or we shd not keep on repeating. But the fact remains that once the basics are learnt, the dancers start experimenting, evolving and developing the forms in various ways.It is always dynamic. We the audience enjoy the classics, experiments and new projections evolved by good dancers like you. All the best. Dhayalan (Snigdha/Sneha)

Trial said...

This is indeed a great scholarly write up on bharatnatyam. But have you thought about the post modernist vies of this dance form? How we can dissect and deconstruct it?