Double-edged moves

With the pandemic, the performing arts have shifted to the digital space. But is it the same as performing live?

While the pandemic shut down all the performance spaces and took away the livelihoods of not just the artistes, but the entire ecosystem that contributes to live performances, the online space opened up a new democratic space for the artistes to perform and find a medium to stay connected to their audiences and peers.

Are we prepared to handle the digital medium? Answers have to be found through debate and discussions Photo: K.V. Srinivasan (Photo fore representational purpose only)

Are we prepared to handle the digital medium? Answers have to be found through debate and discussions Photo: K.V. Srinivasan (Photo fore representational purpose only)  

What started off as a few pages showcasing performances for charity, or “healing” as they liked to call it, snowballed into an entire new virtual Sabha system that very much echoed the real Sabha culture that existed offline. The same top names were performing in many pages and featured on the talk shows and everybody were just passively watching it as it evolved. Eventually though, many marginalised artists found their own way of performing and created their own spaces and performed with a sense of abandon, unabashedly showing who they are. The elitist art circle obviously felt threatened by this democratic space and was very critical of the unaesthetic backgrounds and poor quality videos as if the art fraternity is somehow insulated from the realities of social disparities that exist in the society.

Nrithya Pillai, a renowned dancer and voice of dissent in Bharatanatyam was amongst the first to call out these privileges. Not mincing any words, she said that “for the marginalised artists not much will change while, the privileged few can continue to perform in the pre, during or post Covid world, without much to worry about, because their privilege protects them.” She also stated that even having a mobile phone, tripod, network and space to dance at home is not a privilege many have. While managing basic supplies to sustain a life could itself be a challenge for so-many artists, what can a free live performance offer? She asks. “The sad truth is that some artists and communities will remain neglected both in the virtual and real world!” she said.

Vaibhav Arekar, the renowned dancer from Mumbai, who initially accepted very few live performance invitations said that he will not accept further invitations unless he really feels he has something new to offer to this media and space. A dance performance feels lifeless without the energy of a live audience before you and can be very psychologically draining. It will also not do justice to the artiste’s voice,” he said. Remodelling choreographies that were meant for theatres to suit a mobile phone camera needs a different method and lot of work, he opined. While he continues to stay connected with his students through regular zoom sessions, he said it is a good time to focus on the process and also to provide an anchor to your students to deal with these trying times. “They are exposed to so many talks and ideas, which may leave them flummoxed and deranged, It is important to teach them to digest all this information, streamline this energy into creating work that is of some value,” he said.

Dr. Janaki Rangarajan, another popular artist had many pertinent questions to ask. “What kind of Art I am creating/showcasing and how am I showcasing it? Can the nuances be translated clearly to online audiences? How will performing digitally affect others in this field, such as accompanists, stage managers, lighting/sound technicians, people involved in the upkeep of the venue, photographers/videographers etc. and how are we supporting them?” She also went on to comment on the elephant in the room, the culture of performing for free. Paying to watch classical dance is still a big issues, and several dancers are fighting for it. It will be a shame to let overzealous sharing take us back a good few steps.

Every time an established performer decides to dance for free, it makes it difficult for yet another aspiring performer to be taken seriously and make a decent living out of dance as a profession. The “perform online for free” move may or may not affect the established dancer but the trickle down effect cannot be ignored. “Established dancers have this responsibility towards the next generation whether we like it or not!” she said.

Parshwanath Upadhye, the dancing star called upon all young artistes to embrace this medium and create content. He said artistes could use this time to create new work and showcase it to their audiences without having to run behind organisations for a performance opportunity.

While the critics struggle for relevance in this medium, a majority seem to disapprove of this medium and argue that the quality of content is not up to the standard. While a lot of this may stem from personal insecurity and difficulty in coming to terms with the democratisation of the arts that this medium has allowed, it cannot be ignored that mindless engagement and exposure might force many artistes to seek refuge under mediocre content. While young artists who are on a spree, need to pause and reflect on the quality of the art and shift their focus inwards, The seniors must learn to embrace this outpouring with empathy and love. They can give good feedback to artistes who seek and understand that this too can be medium for many to deal with the difficult times that this pandemic has pushed us into. It was however alarming to note that majority of the performers wouldn’t even take time to acknowledge the struggles of the migrant workers or the problems of the daily wage workers and the sacrifices of the essential service providers, images and stories of which were glaringly visible all over!

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Printable version | Jul 13, 2020 11:32:14 AM |

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