C.V. Chandrasekhar, recently awarded the Kalidas Samman, on performing arts and society.
Any profession or art form has to change with the times.It could be for the better or otherwise.
The Madhya Pradesh Government recently announced the award of Kalidas Samman to eminent Bharatanatyam dancer and guru, C.V. Chandrasekhar. A disciple of Rukmini Devi Arundale, Chandrasekhar is one of those rare dancers who maintained his dance teaching, academics and performances at a uniformly high level over decades. At times partnering his wife Jaya and at others the whole family — daughters Chitra Chandrasekhar Dasarathi and Manjari are his disciples — he simultaneously carved out his niche as a solo dancer. The path for male soloists in classical dance has not been an easy one in modern India. And Chandrasekhar is known for vivid reminiscences of his struggles. Settled in Chennai ever since he retired as Head and Dean of the Faculty of Performing Arts at the M.S. University of Baroda, he continues to dance with a vigour and grace that sweep audiences off their feet. He is currently in the U.S. teaching and performing. Excerpts from an email interview:
Increasing opportunities for male dancers
Yes. I see that more and more men are taking up classical dance and striving hard to get their opportunities by whatever means. Without such serious effort, they find it difficult to be recognised. Many men dancers are well established now as both performers and teachers, making a decent living. I am very confident that they definitely have a better future now compared to a few decades ago.
Has society accepted dance as a worthy profession?
I am not very optimistic about this view. Children from middle class are definitely initiated into learning the art form. Most of them give it up after their schooling, to look for other greener vocations. But the initiation for these youngsters in the classical art form definitely gives them an opportunity to be better rasikas. The society however has not accepted this as a worthy profession, as most parents want them to be something else besides dancers. The percentage of young people who have taken it up as a profession has increased, as they get more opportunities to perform though without much remuneration.
More dance students, dwindling audiences
I do not agree with the notion that there are no audiences for dance, as there is always a good audience for a good dance performance. I feel that the percentage remains the same. It has forever been an art form for the classes and not the masses. The halls seem to be empty because there are too many programmes going on at the same time. The dance festival at the Music Academy (in Chennai) started two years back has seen full-houses for most performances. The same is true of performances at Kalakshetra.
Arts and the well being of society
Classical dance and music to me, are ways for self enjoyment and peace and to feel a sense of elevation within one’s self. It does not need to be a medium for dealing with social or economic problems. I am sure most rasikas of classical dance and music listen and watch it to derive personal pleasure and joy. I do not think it has anything to do with the social and economic problems. This applies to the wider world also. I strongly feel that classical art forms are not for entertainment.
On dance teaching
Any profession or art form has to change with the times. It could be for the better or otherwise. When I was a student I learned music and dance as something I loved and with no intention of making them a money making proposition. Our teachers imparted what they received from their teachers. Those to whom it was a livelihood led a very simple and austere life, not wanting to project themselves. But at present every youngster who learns these arts wants to make it a high paid hobby. The teachers we learned from were not keen on us… [performing before we were] completely equipped. But now students insist on an arangetram within a particular period of time and teachers acquiesce because it is lucrative for them. Naturally the learning process becomes shorter. Too many students in a class deprives them of one-to-one learning.
Improving India’s performing arts scenario
We need to have more respect for the artiste and the profession. The experts selecting artists for festivals or important shows should be completely non-biased. Selection should be based on calibre and not recommendations. The artistes themselves need to avoid jealousies and ‘cutthroatism’ and have a healthier competition. The funding agencies like the Government and corporate sponsors need to do better homework before the funding is awarded. Amateur artistes and professionals should not be bracketed.