Ask the artist Dance

Margam’s eternal appeal

Alarmel Valli, senior Bharatanatyam dancer, answers more questions from readers that dwell on different aspects of the art form. The first part appeared last week.

I am a Bharatanatyam dancer . Today, it seems that a blend of classical and contemporary styles along with elements of theatre are appreciated more by the audience than the traditional margam. Can one adhere to the traditional and conceptualise certain aspects that would appeal to the present-day audience?

Sai Vridhula, Chennai

I share your concern. We need to reflect on how Bharatanatyam can speak to us in a way that's dynamic and vibrant, without compromising the essence of the dance tradition. How can it be made relevant, particularly to a younger generation bred on info-technology, who, increasingly, have very different points of reference? I'm afraid, there are no easy answers.

But I'd like to point out that while genuine innovation is always welcome, merely cobbling together elements from various movement vocabularies, whether Bharatanatyam, yoga, theatre, martial arts or contemporary dance does not necessarily make dance relevant or meaningful. Such creative work that draws on multiple disciplines needs to be rooted in deep conviction and an intimate knowledge of these forms. It calls for expertise and passion to weave the various elements together into one cohesive pattern. Without these qualities, such experiments can be artistically impoverished and sterile.

In my view, the Margam is a beautiful framework for the dance repertoire. I find it gives me ample scope for individuality and creative expression, for it offers a vast and diverse palette to choose from. But it is up to the individual dancer to invest the Margam with life and meaning.

My mother and grandfather taught me to love literature, music, history, travel, nature... It opened up a world that I could draw upon, to create in dance. My gurus gave me a rich tradition and dance vocabulary and helped me to internalise these. That's something a dancer like you, who is still drawn to the classical idiom, could aim for. Enrich, internalise, then stay true to your convictions. Dance with joy, passion and truth.

Is it true that once started, practice must continue and if stopped it results in obesity?

V. Thyagarajan, Chennai

I would think this is true of any regular exercise regimen, not only dance. Dance involves an enormous amount of co-ordinated physical effort and stamina. When you follow a rigorous practise routine, you burn calories, you gain strength and tone your muscles - and naturally you lose weight. When you suddenly stop the physical and cardio work-out that the body and metabolism are accustomed to, it's bound to result in an increase in weight, even, if not necessarily in obesity.

I remember, when I was a skinny, ten year old, my mother would often be asked, ‘Is it a good idea, teaching her to dance? She may be thin now. But when she stops dancing, she’ll become fat.’ But dance is certainly not the culprit, when people stop dancing and consequently, put on weight.

How to develop in young minds an interest for Bharatanatyam?

Dr. Geetha Ravi, Tiruchi

I am afraid it’s not easy. With technology offering a plethora of fascinating, ‘instant’ entertainment choices, how do we make the young aware of the profound beauty of an art that calls for patience and deep involvement? This is an issue that dancers, parents and schools need to address together.

I look back on my childhood days, when exams notwithstanding, attendance at the December season’s concerts was mandatory. It gave us invaluable reference points and the highest artistic and aesthetic ideals to aspire to.

My grandfather and mother gave me the key to the magic world of literature. All this played a vital role in awakening my sensibilities. I have complete faith in the innate receptiveness of our youth. They first need to be sensitised.

In this context, I recall a matinee performance of Macbeth by The Royal Shakespeare Company that I attended some years ago. The theatre was packed with boisterous school children and my heart sank as I resigned myself to a noisy evening. But the moment the lights dimmed, the curtain went up and the three witches began their eerie chant, there was a sudden hush. The children were gripped by the magic of the play. I learnt that theatre performance is a part of the regular school curriculum and students are often taken to the theatre, after first studying a play or text in class, to experience it — as a live performance.

I wonder, given the pressures of our rather draconian examination system, how many schools would consider making a performance or two part of their curriculum. Performances, backed by interactive sessions with artists, will give children an insight into the art and awaken them to the enduring beauty of Bharatanatyam.

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Printable version | Apr 21, 2021 1:56:55 AM |

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