Indian-ness through sur and taal

It is the dream of any professional dancer to fill mainstage halls of 1000 or more. Capacity crowds who listen and watch in rapt attention and then gift you with a standing ovation. Does this

Published: 18th November 2009 11:46 PM  |   Last Updated: 15th May 2012 11:48 PM   |  A+A-

It is the dream of any professional dancer to fill mainstage halls of 1000 or more. Capacity crowds who listen and watch in rapt attention and then gift you with a standing ovation. Does this happen? Of course it does. It happens if you are a dance or music teacher in the US or UK with 200 or more students. In that position you can rent a professional theatre, and sit back and watch the parents and friends fight for tickets and preferred seating.

I was witness to two such events on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. In East Brunswick New Jersey the dance academy Tala Sruti was holding its annual event at the impressive Hammarksjold hall. The wonderful theatre was filled with immigrants from Chennai, Bangalore, Cochin, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad. Millionaire professionals assembled to cheer their offspring, taught by guru Renuka Srinivasan, in various Bharatanatyam dances in an evening that allowed for the proverbial curry concert intermission. We chomped on idlis, sambar with hot masala chai. Elsewhere on the same day a few miles away, Padma Bhushan Alarmel Valli danced with her visibly upset presenter, moaned the clash of dates that diluted her audience.

In London, the South Bank cluster of theatres is the most prestigious venue for any dancer or singer. And Purcell Room is a real jewel among the many auditoriums. What performance filled that magical space? A Carnatic choir of British Indian kids under the watchful gaze of guru Manorama Prasad. Once again, a full hall, mostly parents and children. Selling out the house was the least of the problems. Elsewhere in London and the UK, dedicated Indian girls and boys collide with parents and conservative immigrant values to pursue professional careers as contemporary dancers. Our folks are more interested in the zing of Bollywood and making every cultural occasion an excuse for a party.

Unlike the US, England has opened its coffers for the arts and all agencies receive millions of pounds to teach, promote, present and train British budding artists.

I returned to India with so many thoughts colliding. Here we dancers work in rustic and rudimentary conditions. No dance floor to protect our pounding feet. Bad theatres, poor acoustics, rude audiences who walk in and out at will, disappearing funding mired in sociopolitical problems, too many mediocre dancers jostling for space in a corrupt system that thrives on the rule of YOU PAY YOU DANCE. A poor scaffolding upon which to build a legacy of the performing arts. Lack of infrastructure, training in the allied arts, management. However, it not Indians but India that allows for the blossoming of the creative mind. It is on this soil that artistes return to be inspired and to renew their spirit.

anitaa.ratnam@gmail.com

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