Wednesday, June 12, 2013

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Originally Published March 11, 2013


The Bengaluru Question and Answer session that followed my YUDH performance inspires me to write this. It was, as always, an intense and exhilarating experience interacting with the audience of Bengaluru, more so than other cities. The Bengaluru audience tends to have a wonderful mix. There are those that are attending a Bharathanatyam show for the first time, there are expats eager to learn about Indian culture, there are many that look for meaningful entertainment. And there are dance teachers and performers who come fully equipped with the technical expertise of the dance.

And therefore, given that the mix of the audience is fairly equal in denomination from each of the groups I have mentioned above, the expectations of the show tend to be diverse. While there usually is no problem in addressing the lay audience, the expats, or even connoisseurs who are not performers, it is the fourth group that finds sometimes a lacuna in the purpose of a project such as YUDH.

YUDH, as its predecessors Music Within and Soul Cages, is aimed at showcasing the brilliance of Bharathanatyam to an audience that at large finds little of interest in this art form. This could include people who have attended traditional concerts and upped their score on Angry Birds in the midst of the concert! The Alarippu-Varnam-Padam-Thillana combination is strangely enough the same format that is responsible for slaughtering the interest of a majority of the the audience.

And yet, nine times out of ten (words of a gentleman at the Bengaluru Yudh show), the performances are used to project how well the dancer executes Mathematical footwork, geometric shapes and patterns, coverage of surface area of stage, and other such matters of utterly earth shaking importance. Ask our "uninitiated" Punjabi PR executive how well she followed the Mathematics and she would groan - "why can't you guys just deliver a show, instead of taking me back to school!"

Because, my dear Punjabi kudi, this is not about entertainment. This is about showing off your technical prowess to a band of your students and their families, and perhaps the students of another dance faculty finalised under a mutual audience exchange program; a group of dancers performing to a group of other dancers and marvelling at the longevity of the art form!

YUDH is not for those dance colleagues who come with the mind set of seeing a laundry list of check points to be ticked off that will attest my proficiency. And in any case, no one other than that dancer or their student can ever satisfy this laundry list.

In the 80s some elders in my house would moan that the cricketer Kris Srikkanth was an aberration when juxtaposed with the technical master Sunil Gavaskar across from him in the crease. Technical mastery was all very well; it got India 36 runs from his bat unbeaten in 60 overs. India lost. But, what technique!

We are not Mathematicians. We are entertainers. Technique is a given. Beyond a point, the obsession with technique would follow the law of diminishing returns, taking away from the entertainment quotient. To grab the interest of the audience, you need to have far more than technique. Wake up.