Factors that can mar a performance
With the memories of the music and dance season still fresh, leading artistes talk to KAUSALYA SANTHANAM about the problems they face in putting up a performance and the manner in which the programmes can be fine-tuned.
WHEN WE view a performance we are watching the tip of the iceberg. Apart from the preparation and hard work that go into a programme, there are many external factors an artiste has to contend with. Great technological strides have been made in recent times; but the technical effects that go into a performance is still a problem area. Mikes that make various noises as if in the throes of agony disrupt even the best organised recital. Sometimes the audio seems to be on a trip of its own.
Lights, stage arrangements, the timings of programmes and the opportunities provided to artistes especially during the December season are discussed here by leading personalities in the fields of music, dance and the theatre.
They talk about the hurdles they face in providing a fulfilling performance and offer solutions. They also touch on the pain and the pleasure of being creative people.
"The most important element is the audio system. Normally, I'm not fussy but a poor audio system can affect a cutcheri. We have good equipment but the technicians are not so sound," says vocalist Sanjay Subramaniam. "The decibel level of a concert can be so high that the pleasure of listening to it is lost. Sabhas should impart training to technicians or have a specialist to supervise the audio system. Also, some of the venues are still not sound proof.
"The sabha organisers are open to suggestions. But certain areas need to be standardised. The temple cutcheri is held in a different atmosphere altogether. In fact the concerts in the temples of Kerala are excellently organised the audio is very good.
"The physical discomforts can be minimised. The benches are so hard I have sat on a bench only during my school days," he laughs. "A small padding or a jamakalam can make all the difference. It is a problem when two benches that don't align are placed together. The levels differ and we are smack in the middle. The greenrooms are generally not good; there is no place to tune the tambura and the odour from the toilets is very strong." He adds, "We artistes are underpaid. Remuneration is not commensurate with the number of people who attend the concerts, and the rising costs. We know sabhas have their problems but still..."
He is all praise for the audience. "Their response is what keeps us going." But do not musicians take on more concerts than they can handle? "I'm one of the culprits," he says with a laugh. "There are various pressures to take on programmes. Sabhas who supported us in the beginning of our careers cannot be refused.
"There are at least 20-25 sabhas with a new one coming up each year. Because the core itself is 10-12, you can't ignore the fringe. And you never know who will rise to prominence. One can manage 10-15 but then, the number you perform at may go up to 18." He says he enjoys it but the fatigue sets in. He can however space out the concerts the rest of the year.
Aruna Sayeeram also feels the audio system poses the greatest problem. And since concerts are held on each other's heels, there is hardly any time to check out the mikes. Eight out of ten sabhas have the latest equipment but the problem is the lack of specialised manpower. Coordinated working of artistes, technicians and equipment is needed for concerts to go off smoothly. "Sabha secretaries work very hard and it is because of them that the music season is so successful. We owe much to them and can't say `no' to those who supported us in the early years. But it would help if two festivals are conducted one in December and another in June, says the singer who performed in 18 concerts between November 30 and the middle of January.
Kunnakudi Vaidyananthan says he has solved the problem of the audio by having a permanent mike system of his own.
"Up and coming young dancers do not get an opportunity to perform especially during the season, says veteran dancer V. P. Dhananjayan. "Most sabhas ask for donation and one has to lobby a great deal. Senior dancers are paid just Rs. 10,000 a day for a programme. The rest of the production cost has to be borne by the artiste. A group production can cost as much as Rs. 50, 000.
"Junior artistes incur a lot of expenses. They have to find rehearsal space, and pay for musicians and the costumes. At least five rehearsals are needed and each can cost Rs. 1,000 to Rs1,500 travel allowances, refreshments and so on. They have to pay for extra lights as well. Musicians are not always available for rehearsals. They are in great demand during the season and lack of rehearsals can result in lack of coordination. Dancers are always very tense before a programme for they get the hall only 15 minutes before a performance. There is no time to clean the stage there is so much dust that it chokes the musicians.
"The audio system is good but sabhas do not employ engineers, only technicians who do not know much about musical instruments."
"The rasikas have improved in their response, says the dancer. Those who buy tickets for a performance generally stay on till the end of the programme.
"But those who get complimentary tickets often leave mid-way. Most sabhas have combined tickets for dance and music. Often the patrons stay for the music and walk off before the dance. Tickets are non-transferable and sabha authorities do not want those in the lower denomination to move up. So it is very demoralising for the dancer to be faced with empty chairs in the first few rows. "It happened during `Nandanar Charithram' the first three rows were completely empty. Media coverage is good, especially in The Hindu but sometimes good performances are not covered. Sponsorship has also come down and multi-national companies are sponsoring film-based programmes more than classical ones. Dancers are also not paid enough. There is discrimination in the way local dancers are treated and paid compared to those who visit Chennai from the North," concludes Dhananjayan.
"Abroad, the control of lights is through computers. The stage is well maintained in the West and the dancer has a grip on the stage," says Sudharani Raghupathy. "We have many facilities here. But sabhas are now hiring any hall for a recital including Kalyana mandapams. The stage becomes slippery owing to dust and sweat. In the West, dancers have products that help to keep their feet wet.
"A tip one can give young dancers is to wet their feet on a soft drink this will give them a grip. During the December season some recitals may flop and this may be owing to bad acoustics or stage conditions. But the dancer gets a bad review as the critic may feel she has made a mistake. This season has been a very successful one. I found a good crowd and young dancers and musicians did well. A musician has to only take care of his/her throat. A dancer has to take care of many details."
Malavika Sarukkai says that this year sabhas were more cooperative than in previous years regarding the setting up of lights. "But only when the invocation is being sung do we get an idea of the sound. The difference between dance and music is that the artiste can signal to the technician without rupturing the performance whereas a dancer cannot do so. I would request sabhas to give the stage to dancers at least 45 minutes before the performance so that they can make the necessary arrangements. Now we hardly get time to arrange the sound system and lights. Dance is not performance but experience. The stage space and the aesthetics of sound are important. My space is my sruthi. The sound I hear from the floor is my tambura. In the last three or four years, however, the overall situation has improved. I had once told the Secretary of the Narada Gana Sabha that the wooden floor was slippery and that linoleum would make the difference.
"He immediately bought it for the Sabha. I was very happy that he implemented the suggestion.
"I also feel that a dance performance should start at 7 p.m. and not at 7.30 p.m. Musicians often overshoot their timings. Audiences who are in the hall from morning get weary and leave. If young dancers have to find a permanent place in the hearts of the audience they should hone their creativity and give back something substantial to the art."
Anita Ratnam points out the problems of production. "In India, you work in isolation and loneliness because we don't live in a society where the process is enshrined. Where are the emotional spaces to share you thoughts with your colleagues? Where are the occasions for discussions and the informal spaces to discuss your problems? Even to get this rehearsal space in my home I had to cajole my parents for ten years. An artiste's work is not considered important. People won't disturb you if you are in a board meeting but no one hesitates to interrupt an artiste at work. You have to pull out resources from your own pocket for work you believe in. One has to go abroad and earn dollars in order to finance it. You don't always have things you can market. So you make yourself into a brand. And the less controversial the work, the more it sells. Sabhas are better now than they were seven or eight years ago. There is more awareness about aesthetics.
"There are no ugly banners of the sponsors on stage. The organisers now consent to good recorded music. But the level of aesthetics has to increase to cover every aspect of performance and the audience too has to become more aware about it. Younger dancers need to hone their aesthetic sensibilities.
"When we organise the Other Festival, we have to take care of every little detail from cleaning the stage to getting tea and coffee for the artistes. There should be a minimum that an auditorium should provide. Even extra lights are our responsibility."
The problems in the field of the theatre are spelled out by Na. Muthuswamy and Prasanna Ramaswamy. "The Ministry of Culture, Government of India gives grants to artistes but even senior artistes get only Rs. 5,000. Many of them therefore turn to cinema and it is very difficult to get the theatre artistes to attend rehearsals. Tamil Nadu supports only popular culture. Bengal, Karnataka and Maharashtra support parallel theatre," says Muthuswamy.
"Rehearsal space is a great problem. There are many abandoned spaces in the city which can be converted into rehearsal space and given by the authorities to artistes and troupes at subsidised rents," says Prasanna.
"Traditionally, our arts are solo and not group. We have not developed the infrastructure to develop the process of work in a group production. The Culture budget is spent on presentation or performance. But where does the work grow? How does it get processed; and how does it all happen? We have not addressed these issues. Like many other maladjusted areas of our life, the arts too suffer.
"The organisers are only concerned about the product and not the process of creation. Many gaps have to be bridged. In the past the rulers patronised the arts, now there is a lacuna. In Europe even the salesgirl in a music shop knows a great deal about music. But here, many in the Government Arts departments do not know much about the subject. All this comes from a lack of political will and policy. Funding is related to the market. Funding or sponsorship also depends on the contacts and influence one has," says Prasanna.
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