Friday Review

Onus is on the dancer too

(Clockwise) Kuldeep Pai, Srikanth Gopalakrishnan, K. Hariprasad, Gomathinayagam, Chitrambari Krishnakumar, Radha Badri, Nandini Ramani, Roshini Ganesh and Randini. (Below) Sai Shankar and Sudha Raghuraman. Photo: M. Vedhan.

(Clockwise) Kuldeep Pai, Srikanth Gopalakrishnan, K. Hariprasad, Gomathinayagam, Chitrambari Krishnakumar, Radha Badri, Nandini Ramani, Roshini Ganesh and Randini. (Below) Sai Shankar and Sudha Raghuraman. Photo: M. Vedhan.   | Photo Credit: M_VEDHAN

Vocalists continue the debate about their role in a dance presentation. Archana Nathan records.

(The first part, ‘ >From the left side of the stage,’ appeared on January 9.)

It is perhaps obvious that a sound training in the genre is a precondition for vocalists who sing for dance but Nandini Ramani says it cannot be emphasised enough. Continuing her comment on the then and now of the art of singing for dance, she says,“If the dancer did an extra hand back then, the singer would automatically be able to incorporate a sangati. But, that is not the case now. Singers must learn the appropriate pauses in particular compositions, bring back the padam’s importance and make singing conducive for abhinaya. Back in Bala’s days, they used to say “vandadu varaama paadanum” implying that each sangati had to be different.”

Sudha Raghuraman pitches in with her perspective on the process of singing for dance. “We as singers have to understand the nuances, create a rasa and maintain a dialogue with the dancer. In fact, singing for dance goes through three stages: First, when a singer begins singing for dance, the dancer is obviously more experienced in comparison. So, he or she must be able to follow the dancer. The second stage is when both the singer and dancer understand each other’s energy levels. The third stage is when the singer makes an effort to understand and learn the sahitya and sing, enabling the dancer,” she explains.

Nandini has been instrumental in setting up a course at the Sangeet Natak Akademi that trains students in padams and javalis. The course focuses on teaching students to sing for dance. “But, even amongst those students there is a fear of being branded as just a singer for dance and thereby losing out on opportunities as a mainstream vocalist. This perception is unfortunate,” she says.

Kuldeep Pai dispels the notion that if you sing for dance, you do not get opportunities for solo recitals. “When I began my career, I was trying to hide myself from sabha organisers assuming that if I enter the genre of dance, they will never give me opportunities for solo vocal concerts. But then, in the following years, I performed at both dance and solo recitals, sometimes in the same sabha. So, around eight years into my career, I wasn’t bothered about these perceptions. I’ve learnt a lot from singing for dance. Instead of cribbing that I have to sing a particular line ten times, I look at it as an opportunity. In a kutcheri, this kind of innovative repetition would not be possible. Singing for dance teaches you that ultimately dance is a visualisation of lyrical poetry. I started improving my singing on the basis of the visualisation. I have friends who speak many languages. I sit with them to understand the importance of the lyrics in each language. This contributes to my performance. Ultimately, my performance at a kutcheri should guarantee the next kutcheri opportunity for me,” he explains.

While it is up to the artist to be at his best at every recital, being conscious of one’s role in a dance recital is also important, says Sai Shankar. “The second half of a dance recital generally has more abhinaya centric pieces. A singer cannot expect to showcase his or her abilities there. Ultimately the singer enables the dancer to perform. There are points in the recital when he or she can display vocal skills and there are other points when he or she should just be the enabler,” he explains. “It is also the singer’s responsibility to stay true to tradition while rendering a composition,” he adds.

If these are the imperatives of the genre, there are definitely some aspects that singers must refrain from doing, says Chitrambari Krishnakumar. “Vocalists should avoid taking up too many recitals. This is both to preserve quality of singing and the voice,” she says.

The option of using pre-recorded music is also a hugely popular option for dancers today. Sai Shankar says, at least from Kalakshetra’s point of view, recorded music is only used when it is absolutely convenient. Otherwise, they mostly prefer live music.

Apart from learning how to sing for dance from their teachers and by simply looking at dancers, artists also cite their experience of sitting next to stalwarts and seeing them perform. “At Kalakshetra, I had the opportunity to learn from the best. I still remember just sitting next to S.K. Rajaratnam Pillai while he was singing and how that was a valuable experience in itself,” says Radha Badri.

Gomathinayagam backs her by saying that people used to come to listen to Sethuraman and Rajaratnam Pillai at dance recitals.

Shifting gears and taking the focus of the debate away from the vocalists, Srikanth Gopalakrishnan says that a dancer too should shoulder the responsibility. He points out that if a dancer learnt music, it would make a crucial difference to the recital. “Sometimes, they (dancers) do not even know who the composer of the piece is. They then leave out the composer when they make announcements. Even while selecting items for a programme, the lack of musical knowledge on the part of a dancer results in a set of items based often in the same family of ragas. There is no variation. Once, a dancer performed three items in Sankarabharanam only because they were compositions she knew well,” says Srikanth.

Nandini agrees. “Many dancers today are not trained in music. It is absolutely essential that a dancer is able to sing, too. This does not mean superficially, of course. A deep knowledge in music is crucial and can help the dancer go beyond mere storytelling,” she feels.

Another crucial factor is the disappearance of the nattuvanar clan, says Nandini. “Earlier, the nattuvanar would train and be an important part of the recital. Nowadays, you have nattuvanars you can hire on a freelance basis,” she explains. “The singer keeps the entire kutcheri together. We shoulder the whole concert, take everyone in our league. Sometimes, we even become nattuvanars. We have to provide the cue for the dancer and the other musicians,” says Roshini.

The ratio between singers and dancers is also highly skewed, says Srikanth. “There are way too many dancers and far few singers to cater to them. Vocalists therefore are compelled to take up more concerts and the quality is likely to suffer,” he argues.

At the end of the debate, Kuldeep Pai asks two significant questions. “At a dance recital, why cannot one perceive both dance and singing for dance as two different art forms that are going on simultaneously with each commanding a respect of its own? And secondly, singers who sing for dance, should also ask themselves, what satisfies their creative urge. If singing for dance is enough or is there enough scope to evolve? Each artist will find answers that suit them,” he says.

( Concluded)

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Printable version | Jun 5, 2020 5:38:49 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/onus-is-on-the-dancer-too/article6811547.ece

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