Sunday, May 19, 2019

Which Prometheus Do We Unbind?

While we have written and spoken much about the need to bring fresh and novel content to Bharathanatyam performances, one question that keeps rearing its head is - how does one select such content. Well, nothing jumps out from the pages of tomes demanding that it be danced out, which is why we see many dancers take the safe path of recounting stories that have already been said; sometimes just giving it a twist on how it is recounted. 

I think it takes a lot of reading, trials and errors before a  story can be interpreted as a dance. Writers do not normally write for dance. It cramps their style, does not have huge financial rewards like writing a script for cinema would, and worst of all does not even have dancers waiting in line for it. 

Much of what I read cannot be produced as dance. The first reason could be that I do not find the story novel or interesting enough. In order to invest a year in producing a narrative and then several years dancing it across venues, the story needs to be a lot more than just entertaining; it needs to catch me by my throat. 

And then again not all stories that take hold of my head can be danced. Excellent as they may be on paper, the magic cannot be translated into dance, especially Bharathanatyam. Any book by Haruki Murakami would fall in this category. 

It is imperative that I bring out the flavour of the story and add to its visual experience rather than just play out an interpretation for the sake of it. If I cannot accentuate what was on paper, then it should be left on paper. Mr. Murakami, take a bow!

The stories I look for would therefore be those that tell the story of a human psyche or mind. Bharathanatyam is extremely capable of bringing out the best of human emotions well beyond the written word, and possibly well beyond cinema. Therefore, rather than taking on subjects that are larger than life, I prefer to look for stories of everyday people and their mental dilemmas. This is the niche that Bharathanatyam cannot be beaten on.  

And where do you find these stories? Everywhere. You just have to stop thinking about how you would look dancing it and start thinking about how you become that person you are representing.  

Sunday, January 20, 2019

When is a classic, a classic?

Recently, I had the opportunity to watch an interesting interpretation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. This was presented by an extremely talented quartet called The HandleBards.  Apparently they cycle across the UK, all props and costumes in tow on their bicycles and enact Shakespearan plays across the country.  They were wonderful performers and were able to elicit genuine warmth from the audience by their interactions with them. And yet, I left their performance at the midpoint.

On my drive home I was wondering what caused me to leave. It certainly wasn’t their lack of prowess at acting; even with a very modest backdrop they were able to tell a story.  But really, the story made my head spin! Twins, separated in a storm, women masquerading as men, love triangles and quadrilaterals...... it brought back memories of watching a Manmohan Desai movie from the 70s.

If this was a story written in 2019 by any of the major writers of today, I have no doubt that it would have sunk without a trace.  And yet, if I say Shakespeare wrote it, there is an aegis of classicism that covers all shortcomings.  Question, is Twelfth Night, really a classic? And if it is, why? Is it because of the way the verses were assembled (the archaic language made comprehension that much more difficult anyways) or was it representative of a socio-cultural system of that age which I failed to appreciate? I could extend this question to any field of art.  Not every movie that had a successful run in its time can be watched today; while some we go back to every year - they never go out of relevance or look dated.  We might go back to the 80s or 70 s or 60s and enjoy these films perhaps for the nostalgia it invokes.  Do the current generation think the same?

I would like to think that a classic stands the test of time on the basis of its own pedigree, and not because of a name associated with the project - be it Chaplin or Ingrid Bergman or Charles Dickens, lends a patina of credibility to an otherwise inferior product.  By the same token a classic could have been written yesterday also.  Likewise in dance, a classic cannot be defined by age or by its performer alone.  It is defined by a certain core that will touch a majority of audiences regardless of which generation they come from and those like gems are valuable, but very rare.  The rest I am afraid just masquerade.