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Experimentation and Tradition?

A tete-a-tete with two seasoned and creative dancers who have carved their own niche in the field. Kirti Ramgopal, a well known name is the art circle of Bangalore, is a performer to the core, and Anuradha Venkataraman, a dancer from Delhi recently relocated to Bangalore is grace personified in all her endeavors.
Kirti Ramgopal
Anuradha Venkataraman

How do you see your career ahead? Your concrete plans?

Kirti: I set milestones for myself. My focus now is to perform solo at many more prestigious National and International dance festivals. I’d also like to work on a Solo production. I started teaching recently. My long term goal is to set up a good dance institution and to also teach under-privileged children.

Anuradha:I plan to only have a journey with dance, and discover the moments of joy. In this journey whatever comes will be an experience. I don’t want to focus on the destination but the path.

What is your opinion about the pay-to-perform culture?

Kirti: I do not espouse the pay-to-perform culture. I am of the mindset that ‘money should not fetch work. Work should fetch money.’ I haven’t paid to perform till date and am happy that I get recognition for my work and not by money. I wistfully hope many people would stop this awful growing trend that is also tearing away opportunities from deserving artists.

Anuradha:The whole culture of paying to get a performance is diluting the standard of art. Dance per se is an expensive profession in terms of payment to accompanying artiste, costume and jewelry on top of that if you are also expected to pay and dance, not many can afford it. Some have argued that it is an investment into their profession, as at initial stages when you aren’t recognized, one should pay and dance at number of places. In this manner you get noticed and are invited again next year. It is a dilemma one has to resolve within. Public performance is an important aspect of this profession, without which it remains only as a passion. One has to decide whether the aim is to be there known as one of the best dancers or justify to yourself why you left everything and plunged into dance. Personally for me pay-to-perform is a strict no thanks.
Experimentation and tradition are not mutually exclusive. They are two sides of the same coin. What is tradition today was an experiment of the past

Experimentation is criticized as having diluted the tradition and audiences complain of too much repetition in the name of tradition. Where does one draw the line and deal with this?

Kirti: Experimentation does not necessarily mean diluting tradition. There is so much to explore within the realms of Bharathanatyam; the vocabulary and possibilities are endless. The boundaries can always be stretched but the elasticity can snap if stretched too much! In frequently presented items, what differentiates a good performer from a not-so-good one is the ability to present near-perfect technique, attention to detail and the ability to add an ‘out-of-the-box’ thought. Even a sanchari or a jathi done differently can come like a breath of fresh. Eg: In a Sanchari depicting Viraha from Lord Shiva, we have all learnt to send the Sakhi or a bird as the messenger – why not try to send a deer or request the crescent moon or have a rhythm sequence showing Shiva’s adornments and request them to carry the message of love.While deciding the repertoire, the audience should also be kept in mind. Eg: a Hindi piece presented in North India or a Marathi abhang presented in Western India helps audience enjoy the recital better and eliminates complaints of repetition. For a foreign audience, they do not necessarily understand the lyrics but if the dancer explains the emotion and can convey it in presentation then they are able to relate to it. Eg – ‘emotion of love between a man and a wife (in a Javali), a woman’s anger when let down by her Lord (in a padam), love between a mother and child (in a devaranaama).Drawing lines to ‘finalize’ and deal with this situation is not easy as Art is a ‘qualitative’ field unlike Sports where results can be ‘quantified’ and judgments passed. Art will always draw criticism; constructive or destructive. The point is to give a ear to what meaningful people say, mull over and then with discretion, rework to see how the presentation can be refined. Only when one is convinced about one’s work can one convince another.

Anuradha:Experimentation and tradition are not mutually exclusive. They are two sides of the same coin. What is tradition today was an experiment of the past. Artists have a responsibility to push the boundaries of art and also to maintain the continuity of tradition. However, I find, experimentation for the sake of it or when commissioned hypocritical and artificial. An honest and heartfelt exploration of new ideas or traditional themes is always welcome. I don’t think one has to draw line anywhere, traditions are not static and you cannot stop artistes from thinking.

Some juicy/ memorable backstage moments in your dancing career?

Kirti:Many performances as a student of the institution I grew up in under my Guru Smt. Padmini Ramachandran’s training are memorable. My teacher would make us do impromptu/un-rehearsed group items at performances; very challenging, nerve racking yet enjoyable!
On one occasion, the Vocalist was skeptical if he would reach Bangalore due to riots. He arrived just before the program and I was palpitating since we hadn’t rehearsed even once for this two-hour solo recital. In a mad rush, we noted down the items, no. of times of repetition for each line and went on stage. The program felt like a totally improvised show but remains one of my most memorable good performances!

Anuradha:I was getting ready to perform in Chennai; Guru Narasimhachari had come back stage and asked if I was nervous. Somebody said she is very seasoned she needn’t be. He remarked, whichever stage of life you are in if there is not that little nervousness you will not deliver your best to the audience. Never take the rasikas for granted.
Ultimately art has to shine through the hard work of the artist and unless that effort is seen in presentation, he/she cannot sustain in the field.

One good lesson learnt out of experience..

Kirti: Taking care of one’s body is very important. Warm-up and regular exercise is necessary to avoid injury and to build stamina. Sufficient rest should be taken during continuous rehearsals and performances.

Anuradha:Still learning! Practice is the only thing that can make you better.

Having God Fathers and Dancing Mothers is an easy entry and assured sustainability. Your views?

Kirti:Having God Fathers and Dancing Mothers can be an easy entry but does not assure sustainability. It is definitely a boost to have God Fathers who’s influence through cash, kind or a call, land a performance for the artist at a prestigious festival while many of us struggle to apply, follow up and bag a slot at festivals. Having Dancing mothers is also a huge bonus as the artist can learn from, think with and discuss, seek help and guidance from the Mother/ Guru. Besides, the Mother knows which festivals, when, where, how, etc and has already built a rapport with accompanying artists. Hence, the struggles are fewer for the artist. But ultimately art has to shine through the hard work of the artist and unless that effort is seen in presentation, he/she cannot sustain in the field.

If given a choice, one thing you would change in dance..

Anuradha:The idea of freely learning for the joy of it; re-defining the Guru-Shishya parampara.

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