How important is honesty to dance?
Both as a person and as any artiste I asked myself this question many years ago.
Honesty of performance, honesty of skill and expertise, honesty of the self are key to even begin discovering the honesty of the art.
“To each their own” is an adage that applies to the “T” in performance. It is as personal as ones own name, hair color etc. I have brown eyes. Can someone else have brown eyes too? Sure. But is it the same as mine? No. Similar but not same. So also, in performance/ dance too this applies.
However, we live in a sad age of clones. Dancers who imitate blatantly. To the jumping, leaping, twirling, posing brigade who whip their bodies to look a certain way, who copy even the costume colors and styles of ours, and wear it on their bodies whether it suits them or not, who even copy stances and sancaris from other dancers, either by crawling into the auditorium late after a show begins and then recording performances without permission on the sly, secretly on their devices, or by buying DVDs off the rack and copying the dance and costumes or simply by imitation, your dance lacks a self and hence lacks honesty.
Opening her recital with “manmada leelaiyay vendrar undo” the famous song from Haridas the 1944 super hit film in which this immortal song was choreographed by Vazhuvoorar, Padmini Ravi akka’s concert jolted everyone in the audience. She brought an individual character to her performance, throwing set notions of what is “classical” to the wind.
Can you move the hips ? Yes you can. Can you gyrate the shoulders ? Yes you can. Can you heave the chest (like a dhak dhak)?? Yes you can !
When it is accompanied with sound reason, courage of conviction and aplomb in execution, it is your dance. I mean, I have seen dancers perform to “classical” cinema songs on stage, in their bharatanatyam costume, doing forced “taitumtata-s” and “Tataitaha-s” with so much apology in their body that it would put me to sleep!
Sarasama stood in the middle of what we call classical, what we call folk, what we call cinema dance. She stood comfortably in the middle of all this and practiced, taught us to discover dance. The medium of using the body and face, firmly accompanied with our mind. No mindless cloning was allowed. She seeded the idiom of adavus and the ability to emote using abhinaya in us and then watched each dancer grow in their trajectory. Coming from the hereditary family of artistes, she is about as close you can get to “tradition” and yet she never burdened us with it. Tradition sat lightly on her shoulders with so much honesty, that it underscored the transient nature of tradition itself. In one of my research articles titled “Notions of Classical in Bharatanatyam…” I have argued that classical arts are indeed cosmopolitan in nature, absorbing from life, culture and norms around it.
It was this cosmopolitan nature of dance, that I enjoyed watching in Padmini Ravi akka’s concert in Sarasa Natya Mala (the annual festival in memory of our Guru). It was a dance that had adavus, abhinaya and gestures all conforming to the “classical” medium and yet it also absorbed freely through her body those movements that came naturally for the chosen song and theme, to her. She was unrestricted and herself. Her dance was not a clone of the popular. For all the “movements” she danced, there was no forced jumping, leaping and swirling. There was no apology of being less “traditional or classical” and therefore it was honest !
Sarasama’s spirit of dance is the greatest gift to this clone crazy, unimaginative and dishonest time, we are facing in classical dance today. What truly amuses me is how many dancers do all the twirls and jumps that have nothing to do with adavus in any case and sheepishly hide behind “I adhere to tradition” tag.
BE HONEST, she would say. But for that, you must first acquire the expertise, and possess the intellect and courage, she would add with a wicked smile.