Veteran artists are unhappy with the state of many dance venues in Chennai. Before commencing a journey patterned over time and space, a dancer has to battle everything, from sagging backdrops, dirty toilets to missing lights, says Sruthi Krishnan

The curtain rises and you see the dancer, her immaculate jewellery and costume lit by a solitary beam of light. She raises her hand and commences a journey patterned over time and space. But to get here, the dancer has to battle everything, from sagging backdrops, dirty toilets to missing lights.

Both veteran Bharatanatyam exponent C.V. Chandrasekhar and eminent dancer and choreographer Anita Ratnam use the same word to describe the condition of most venues in Chennai when it comes to dance – pathetic. Mr. Chandrasekhar, whose illustrious career began in 1947, says that Chennai has only been providing “space to dance” and refuses to qualify most such spaces as theatres. “The so-called theatres have never been thought out for dance performances.”

Dance needs ambience, professional flooring, lighting, and the right kind of distance and perspective, says Ms. Ratnam. But the current state of infrastructure in most venues creates a “harrowing, nerve-wracking experience for professional dancers who care about every aspect of the experience,” she says.

Stage floor and lighting

Ideally, the stage floor has to be wooden, made in a way that it is slightly bouncy to minimise the impact on the spine, says renowned bharatanatyam exponent Alarmel Valli. Recently, some sabhas have re-laid the floor on the stage, she says. But apart from these exceptions, the stages are usually made of concrete, sometimes covered by wood.

These wooden floors are mostly uneven and can injure the feet, says Aarabi Veeraraghavan, a Bharatanatyam dancer. “People survive, it is ok, but it is easier if it is a little more well-laid.”

Some sabhas polish the floor, not realising that the dancer could slip, says Dr. Chandrasekhar. Recently, some sabhas have started covering the stage with a linoleum sheet to protect dancers' feet but it muffles the sound, he says. “You don't get the rapport which you get from a wooden dance floor. When you don't hear your own feet, it feels like dancing on grass or something.”

Very few places have permanent lighting, says Mr. Chandrasekhar. “Most of the spaces have some halogens fixed, to which the dancers have to perform. For any more lighting, we have to pay through our nose.”

R. Krishnaswami, president, Federation of City Sabhas disagrees. The onus is on the dancers to tailor their performance according to the facilities available, he says. “That's not being done,” he adds.

When it comes to quality of stage and lighting, halls that are permanent have better facilities than improvised ones, says Mr. Krishnaswami, adding that when an artist selects a hall, they have to commit to the facilities available there. “If you want to dance, you have to adjust,” he says.

Green rooms and toilets

The auditoria abroad have a smaller studio for warm-up, green rooms stocked with fruit and nut bowls, and bars of chocolate for keeping up energy levels, plus lots of water and fresh tea, say the artists. The amenities in the city are a far cry away from such international standards, they say.

“Many spaces don't have a dressing room,” says Mr. Chandrasekhar. If sometimes the mirror is chipped and old, at other times the bulbs don't function. So, most of the dancers get their own equipment, rather than depend on the venue, he says. Having only one room to change is a challenge during group productions with boys and girls, he adds.

When Ms. Ratnam started performing 35 years ago, her mother used to ensure that the toilets were clean. The situation doesn't seem to have changed much. Ms. Veeraraghavan recalls how she went to the bathroom before a performance and there was no water. It would save much anxiety if the green room and the toilet were clean and well-equipped, she says. “Everything could be a little more thoughtful.”

Mr. Krishnaswami says that he cannot accept that the facilities are inadequate. “In a city where even an inch of space is not available, it is impossible to provide facilities of the nature they now demand,” he says. In future, the changes could be made if proper funds are available, he says. But for now he says, “Difficulties are there, but there is no alternative. You cannot get all the benefits you want.”