Renowned Bharatanatyam exponent Malavika Sarukkai has said that classical dance in the modern era is becoming infected with mediocrity due to the pressures and distractions faced by the new generation, short cuts in teaching and the descent of dance into entertainment.
In a free flowing conversation with author Sudha Gopalakrishnan at the Art Matters dialogue series organised by the Raza Foundation here on Thursday evening, Sarukkai spoke at length about her own journey as an artist, her personal discoveries, practice of art and her vision for the future.
She decried the creeping mediocrity in all forms of dance, because of the culture of instant gratification and dancers who are not putting in long-term effort to find themselves as artists.
"Dancers, like musicians, have to align to a pitch; they cannot rely solely on external cues on stage. We have to locate the 'Tambura', this pitch, within us. It needs a lot of focus and hard work. It bothers me that in dance these days, people have lost that, they have given up finding this 'sruthi', which is why a lot of performances are so mediocre," she said.
Sarukkai, who was awarded the Padma Shri in 2003, said she longs "to see younger dancers who are extraordinary" and performances where the audience come out "moved, and a bit light-headed".
"My observation is that we see a lot of dance but not "dance", there is no immersion. I'm not interested in making classical dance entertainment, which is largely what it has been reduced to today. You have to divert the attention of the audience to the wisdom and truth around us," she maintained.
On the modern teaching methodology for dance, she quipped there were too many quick-fixes and not enough inspiration.
Gopalakrishnan, who herself is an artist, deftly guided the conversation prompting Sarukkai to provide insights into her own evolution as a dancer and her personal challenges.
Sarukkai said she moved out of the conventional 'Nayak-Nayika' shringara narratives where the hero meets the heroine, they part, she longs for him and then he comes back and so forth, to explore deeper emotions such as Bhakti, divinity, freedom and spirituality.
"I began thinking why should I perpetuate the man-centric interpretations. I wanted to feel the trees and the birds; and embrace their existence by feeling oneness with them. My movement vocabulary for Abhinaya is now very different from what my Gurus taught me," she shared.
Over the years Sarukkai moved from the exploring on stage the spiritual and philosophical narratives of Sanskrit poetry, the liveliness and intensity of Tamil poetry, into discovering that Sahitya was not everything in dance.
The Raza Foundation's 'Art Matters' is a running series of panel discussions and dialogues on arts and culture held at the India International Centre in the Capital. The conversation with Sarukkai was the 46th in the series.
The Foundation, set up by the late artist S.H. Raza, provides support and platforms for various arts, publications and fellowships, especially aimed at young talent.
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