Grand spectacles in huge numbers mark contemporary cultural performances, be in dance or music.
Spectacular shows, striking wonder and breaking all previous records! The rules of the game have changed drastically in this decade. In the past: anything that is out of the ordinary/normal earlier was censured and capped with notoriety; the present: it is crowned with fame! What a world of difference. In every walk of life, this has turned into a norm and not an exception.
Coming to arts, especially the dance scenario, we did have group choreographies with limited number of dancers on stage. We got used to ‘goshti ganam' (group singing) with hundred plus voices belting out Pancharatna kritis to venerate Saint Thyagaraja. As far as singing is concerned, the more the merrier and if there is room enough for static sitting posture, the kinetics are part of the whole. But to imagine a 100 dancers performing on one platform in one go was rather unimaginable as sheer lack of space would lead to dancers elbowing each other out .
Well, this concept was challenged in 2010, when 1,000 Bharatanatyam dancers of ABHAI performed the ‘Brhan natya yagna' (Rajarajeswaram 1000) for 45 minutes on the precincts of Brihadeeswara temple at Thanjavur, to commemorate the majestic world heritage monument that was consecrated in 1010 AD! That was a trend-setter!
Not to be left behind, dancers in Andhra Pradesh have now jumped on the bandwagon. We were treated to a 24-hour, non-stop ‘Rabindra Nrityosav', a celebration of 150 years of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, spear-headed by the State department of culture and an upcoming Odissi dancer, geared to making it to the Guinness Book of Records.
Very recently we had an enthusiastic NRI Silicon Andhra organise a mega ‘Mangalavadya Mahaanaadam' (nadaswara,dhol, clarinet saxophone) on the occasion of Annamacharya Jayanthi wherein 3,500 instruments boomed in unison. Earlier, at Vijayawada, an ‘Akanda Sahasra Sankeertana' of Saint Annamacharya songs by 100 music troupes took the audience's breath away! This was also sponsored by the Silicon Andhra, TTD and AP Department of Culture.
Recently we just wrapped up a long-awaited international Kuchipudi festival under the aegis of the State cultural council where hundreds of dancers in groups/solos participated in the presence of their gurus, from across the state as well as outside, for two consecutive days. And each dancer was given 8 minutes or a little more keeping perhaps certain seniors in view!
Why this influx? Could it not be spaced out across a week where a dancer or troupe could present her/its optimum repertoire? Anticipating such doubts, Keshava Prasad who convened the festival along with others says, “It is not the time that matters nor the presentation within such a brief spell. It is a dream that is required to be fulfilled for all those up and coming dancers from various districts of the State to set their dancing feet on the prestigious Ravindra Bharathi dais at least once. It is like a trip to Tirumala from any corner of the country, people come only to have a glimpse of Lord Venkateswara even for a second! This was our way of encouraging our young talent to pursue this art form and take it further.” Fair enough, when quantity and not quality is the sine-quo-non of a classical dance performance.
Dancing by the droves is neither promotion nor propagation of our ancient performing arts; nor a reflection of our culture. At best, it can be called a publicity of our art form. It is for the custodians of our revered arts and culture to eschew myopic minds that can revel in flamboyance, making us a laughing stock to the rest of the world. What we lack and badly need today are visionaries like Rabindranath Tagore and Rukmini Devi Arundale, who carved a niche for themselves on the global map forever as pioneers of Indian classical arts and culture.