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Whither our dance institutions?

LEELA VENKATARAMAN

Be it Kalakshetra, Kathak Kendra or any other top dance institution, each of them is plagued by a variety of problems making us wonder if we are successful in nurturing viable art establishments.



DIFFICULT TIMES Even pioneering institutions like Kalakshetra, seen above, are past their glory.

When the International Centre of Arts as Kalakshetra was called those days, was established as an institution on January 6, 1936, it was the earliest attempt at institutionalising classical dance teaching. The late Rukmini Devi's endeavour was to retain the core strength and advantages of the guru-shishya pedagogy, while adapting its teaching methods to the requirements of a contemporary situation. Her integrated approach in which dance was treated as an expression of a whole philosophy emerging out of a way of life, made classical arts a part of living and not an esoteric something existing in cloistered isolation. By adding the Annie Besant School as a closely related arm of the arts complex, Rukmini Devi underlined her approach which was that access to the arts from a very young age, sensitised the individual, inculcating in the person a heightened feel for aesthetics.

Inspired by the Kalakshetra experiment, artistes and culture activists, not all of them with the vision of Rukmini Devi, have set up institutions - and dance schools, ambitious and less so, have cropped up in different parts of the country catering to almost all classical dance forms.

How successful are we in nurturing viable art institutions? Take the example of Kalakshetra itself. Sprawled across 100 acres, the campus after Rukmini Devi's passing away has seen difficult times with real estate grabbers eying the land and creating trouble. Ambitious artistes and cultural administrators have jockeyed for top positions in Kalakshetra disrupting the peace of the institution. Even during the final years of Rukmni Devi, signs of a rift in administration were already showing. Even with the best of Directors (and much is expected of Leela Samson, the present head) can one bring back the Kalakshetra of old where the student had the great good fortune of learning under the likes of Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai, Chokkalingam Pillai, Ambu Panikkar, Budaloor Krishnamurthy Sastrigal, Mysore Vasudevachari, Papanasam Sivan, Tiger Varadachariyar, Kalidasa Nilakanta Aiyar, M.D.Ramanathan, Veenai (Karaikkudi) Sambashiva Aiyar and when the institution was managed by persons of the calibre of Sankara Menon, Padmasini and scholars like Periya Sarada?

Same story

It is the same story with the Kathak Kendra. When it began as a wing of the then Bharatiya Kala Kendra, from Guru Shambhu Maharaj and Guru Sunderprasad to giant musicians of the day, it was a place where the disciple was in the constant presence of greatness. Today's Kendra with its routine teaching and lack of work ethics, is a pale shadow of the past. Kerala Kalamandalam started with such hopes by Vallathol Narayana Menon is struggling with administrative hiccups and a lacklustre disgruntled staff.

The Odissi Research Centre in Bhubaneswar is struggling to find a successor after its founder Kumkum Mohanty retired. Dogged by a recalcitrant staff of musicians and dancers not amenable to discipline and with the really capable artistes not willing to sacrifice freedom to be saddled with a State run institution with too many managerial problems, the future looks uncertain. Meanwhile a massive, if ill-planned building, and a library of documented material remain underutilised while the staff has to be paid.

Leaving aside the mega institutions, one sees individual dancers building three and four storied buildings for their school, with generous government support. Dance in many institutions exists as a fractured discipline, without any facilities for the rounded training and know-how in music, nattuvangam, literature, dance theory and practice. Some artistes have been known to put large spaces in these oversized buildings to commercial use. Even the huge Triveni Kala Sangam today loans its premises for art exhibitions and its auditorium for functions.

Culture is one field where nobody will think in terms of grooming a successor. And no matter how inspired the start of an institution, it cannot in course of time avoid being subject to the law of diminishing returns. The old method of quiet teaching in a modest home, where individual attention is possible, is now forgotten. This is often more productive than a faceless institution turning out mechanistic dancers like a factory. The bigger the institution, the more complicated the administration. Some gurus caught up in the management of large schools they have built up, forget all about teaching, this primary job being passed on to students.

Before the government gives away its precious, limited resources of land and other facilities to individual artistes, it must ensure that the premises will be put to the best use in the service of dance.

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