History & Culture

Which are the true learning platforms?

Dwaram Lakshmi

Dwaram Lakshmi   | Photo Credit: G_Krishnaswamy

When pursuit of institutional intellect impinges performing art.

When a young dancer approached the late Nataraja Ramakrishna and expressed her desire to register for Phd, the dance doyen’s immediate response was, “do not waste your youth in the pursuit of academics in this field; first concentrate on giving performances. Dance has short span of life on stage; academics can wait.” Though he was an official guide/mentor to many a doctoral scholar, he had this traditional view point where he segregated practice from theory. To him, the best and long-lasting dancers who etched a niche for themselves were practitioners who imbibed the technicalities of dance from a guru over a long period of time.

Today, the scope and spread of dance is defined differently. Academic degrees are more or less the norm, more so to ensure an assured monthly income if one chose to make a living by the art form itself. As Dwaram Lakshmi rightly points out, “it is not everybody’s cup of tea to be full-time performers on stage. Though music is a performing art and is to be imbibed from the guru directly, one can’t undermine the need for academic music qualifications these days; more so if the aspirant is young and has a passion for music. I belong to the illustrious Dwaram family, so my chances of performing on stage at an early age along with acquisition of academic music qualifications as I moved ahead were bright and futuristic. Today, I’m both a performer and professor in Tirupathi Padmavathi Mahila University. The latter is a steady source of income, thanks to my doctorate, which will also see me through a comfortable post-retirement stage. And in today’s world, every aspirant musician is assessed by way of qualification which has become the norm to ability.”

But both music and dance are essentially performing arts. Bogged down by academics like any other regular professional education, the students will be nominally going through the ‘practicals’ portion of the curriculum of singing or dancing and later the bulk of them turn into teachers who sing or dance occasionally or do so on a mandatory basis. The traditionalists argument is that intellectual knowledge in no way certifies a memorable performance. For instance, dancer Aniruddha Knight (Balasaraswathi’s grandson) feels that the Western mindset has spilled over into Indian classical arts and artistes began to see things in a Western perspective where like pre-fabricated framework, a structure is put into place in which the art is fixed. Such things, he opines, are totally contrary to creativity and improvisation in the true sense. To him learning dance the right way from a genuine guru is in itself a ‘qualification’.

The masters of yore were able to imbibe the text of Natya Sastra or Abhinaya Darpana in their pupils through practical teaching without as much putting them to the grind of theory per se. Today’s teachers are themselves institutionalised products; so the need to segregate theory and teach it as an entity. “Dance academics and practice are not two separate things. Academics open up our perspective and the blinker effect is not there. But it is for the artiste to strike a balance to imbibe the knowledge from theory and apply it while dancing. I attribute my joy in dancing to my academics. The dance syllabus of Sri Potti Sriramulu Telugu University, for instance is really a well-thought out one; it spreads across four years which means a student needs that much time to create an awareness of dance in the mind. The subtlety of words (theory) contributes to subtle expression which in turn helps in better communication of what the author meant following which we substantiate with our own interpretation. Once qualified especially with a Phd, most dancers confine themselves to academics and give up on performances which naturally leads to a misconception about dance academics,” feels Yashoda Thakore, author of quite a few books on dance.

Some young artistes feel that learning the art form from the guru is akin to an illiterate performer. Only when it is fortified with a certified degree can it appeal universally. Again this is a fall-out of globalisation. Whatever it be, performing arts spring from intuition rather than intellect and if one compliments the other, nothing like it.

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Printable version | Mar 30, 2020 10:44:58 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/which-are-the-true-learning-platforms/article8504566.ece

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