Speaking of dance
Shanta and V.P. Dhananjayan talk about their dance and the arts scene in India.
IT'S been a long time since Shantha and V.P. Dhananjayan ruffled feathers in the Chennai dance circles by moving out of Kalakshetra (founded by their guru Rukmini Devi Arundale) and starting work on their own. Today, as founders of not one but two independent art institutions Bharatakalanjali in Chennai and Bhaskara in Payanur, Kerala they have grown into more than a highly successful duo of performers and gurus.
If the role of their guru and others of her generation nearly seven decades ago was that of a pioneer, reviving interest in the classical arts, preserving the remnants of the tradition and repackaging it for the 20th Century, today senior practitioners like the Dhananjayans have to take the arts forward, now that they have earned an audience and an identity.
In this context, the Association of Bharatanatyam Artistes of India (ABHAI), a movement the Dhananjayans spearheaded in the early 1990s, was a logical step forward. And through it they have succeeded in transforming at least the Chennai dance fraternity to a large extent.
"That `style' difference is going," feels Dhananjayan. "ABHAI has brought people together. And joint productions take place." Adds Shantha, "That leads people to other work, beyond productions. There is a lot of give and take. Also, ABHAI undertakes various activities of benefit to artistes."
The dance scenario, particularly Bharatanatyam, they feel, at present reflects a number of healthy trends. Youngsters are working hard, trying new ideas in choreography. Also, dance camps ensure an appreciative audience is building up for the classical arts in villages too. "Unfortunately the media is not projecting the classical arts, so people think nothing is happening," says Dhananjayan.
"People speak about art and culture all the time," comments Shantha, "but very superficially."
Yet the leaders are aware that culture is India's identity. "When some foreign dignitary comes, they are not taken to a cricket stadium or cinema theatre. They show them classical arts," laughs Dhananjayan.
But unfailingly, the print and electronic media project cinema, cricket, pubs, discos and the like in the name of art and recreation. With dailies bringing out special features on cinema, this aspects of modern life get much more exposure, he points out.
"Maybe they feel cinema contributes to the economy. But classical arts too contribute," he says, naming industries like ghungroo (ankle bell) making, silk saris, costume tailoring and temple jewellery manufacture. "If temple jewellery has revived, it is only due to the revival of Bharatanatyam," avers Dhananjayan. "So art contributes to the growth of the economy. Which our politicians, bureaucrats and media often don't understand."
This situation has arisen because of the education system adopted after independence. "The hi-fi, who go in for convent schools, are alienating their children from Indian culture," says Dhananjayan. "If the education system had been integrated with our ethos as it was traditionally this situation would not have arisen."
Beyond the school level, Dhananjayan suggests, the need is for courses in art administration and art journalism.
An initiative of ABHAI was to invite editors to send young journalists to be trained as arts writers. "We got no response at first. Then at the last minute when the season starts, they say send us people!" the Dhananjayans see youngsters half their age showered with honours, and laugh at how they refused the Padma Shri when it was offered them, protesting that it would be improper to accept when so young while their seniors had not been honoured. "Maybe it was a mistake," muses Dhananjayan, considering no one has offered them one since then. "Look at Guru U.S. Krishna Rao," he says about the late doyen of Bharatanatyam who passed away in Bangalore recently. "How many people have been inspired by him. He taught so many. But he never got a Padma award. Even his SNA award came after many of his students got it." Comments Shantha, "In conferring awards, the deciding committees go by how often a person is performing. The criterion should be the artiste's contribution to the field."
The Dhananjayans were offered the prestigious Kalidasa Samman from Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal, even before their guru received it. "When I brought this to the notice of the organisers, they said, `Oh, send us Rukmini Devi's biodata.' That's when they woke up," recounts Dhananjayan, and Shantha sums up, "They go by just the popularity of the moment."
Send this article to Friends by