One thing that unusually bothers me is the fact that our systems of cultural patronage in dance do not support the creation of legacy. And this issue has to be addressed heads-on if classical dance has to retain its appeal to young talented dancers. What do I mean by creation of legacy? How does the work of a dancer working in the isolation of his or her studio become accessible to larger publics? While votaries of the e-world may subscribe to the view that e-promotion can enable legacy, I vehemently differ. The legacy of dance can only be generated when different audiences view the art and enjoy its “live-ness”.
However, any new work of dance created by an artist very often is presented in just one or two or three shows. Max. Period. Our systems of cultural sustenance have not been expanded to embrace creation of legacies. While government or private funding has undoubtedly started trickling in to enable the creation of a new works, there are no matching grants for travelling with that work!
Thus a dancer in Chennai could create a new classical work with funds available from the Ministry of Culture or the Sangeet Natak Akademi, which would then enable that work to be premiered in Chennai. But then what beyond that? How would the artiste be able to reach out to audiences in Mumbai, Bangalore or Kolkata. Where is the financial support for that kind of performance travel? So dancers today remain caught in narrow geographies, and the creation of their legacy becomes severely curtailed.
The creation of legacy is also compounded in the shrinking column place for writing on the arts—especially dance—in our mainstream media. Today, we are told that media columns are priced like real estate, and that one has to pay to occupy that space! For anyone even remotely aware of the economics of dance in India, this would seem totally numbing!
I have faced first-hand both sides of this. When I created Her Voice which creatively integrated puppetry and classical Bharatanatyam in a unique work based on the Mahabharata, we were able to travel and stretch to about 20 shows through the largesse of a grant from the Ford Foundation. Similarly, Mythologies Retold created for the Rasaja Foundation was able to undertake a five-city national tour because that Foundation was able to mobilise further corporate support.
But several other original works could not be given a similar shelf life. For example, my Gr-Chakra, created in 2010 through a grant from the Ministry of Culture on the theme of environment protection, faded away after just one show at the Kamani auditorium in Delhi. Imagine all that intellectual theorising, the creation of a new varnam, the sets, the costumes, the music, all in limbo for want of funds to promote legacy! So as the pressure mounts on dancers to create new and creative works, we must realise that faulty economics prevents the translation of creativity into lasting legacy.
This then becomes a new challenge for cultural policy. How can we engage potential sponsors to participate in the creation of performance legacy? The dance community needs to pull its forces together to create new ideas for this to happen. In our increasing interface with private sector funding and in seeking community support for the arts, this aspect needs to be underlined. Government committees and decision- makers need to be sensitised to the issue of creation of legacy. We are constantly being told that money is no object in India today. Well, classical dance is yet to see any of it for legacy building.
( The writer is founder-president of Natya Vriksha, Delhi. She is both a performer and teacher. )