‘One’s wounds, joys will reflect in art’
Bharatanatyam exponent Rajashree Warrier speaks to TNIE about contemporary changes in classical
dance and its enduring allure...
KOCHI: Rajashree Warrier has been a prominent face in the realm of Indian classical dances across the world. The Bharatanatyam exponent, writer and musician enthralled art lovers of Kerala with a mesmerising performance at the third Kalandhika National Festival, which concluded on Sunday at the Fine Arts Society Hall in Kochi.
In a quick chat with TNIE, Rajashree speaks about contemporary changes in classical dance, audiences, and the Bharatanatyam-vs-Mohiniyattam debate in Kerala
You started dancing in childhood, and have been propelling Bharatanatyam at the national and international levels for the past two decades. What fuels this journey?
My passion for art; my deep love for Bharatanatyam charges me up every day. And this passion grows stronger with each passing day. If something brings us immense happiness, it’s only natural that we lean towards it more often, right (smiles)?
What are your thoughts on the contemporary changes happening in art forms?
Art often reflects the period we live in. Even within a traditional structure, it will get influenced by the era we live in. And then there are certain memories that time gives to a person. That will be the signature of their art. When we portray a character, all the wounds, joys, doubts, and worries that have been in our lives may reflect in the art.
Do you believe that having a discerning audience is essential for art forms? Do we currently have a quality audience for classical art?
Whether in our country or abroad, there has been no dearth of quality audiences. Some sections in the audience may not be well-aware of a particular art, and that has advantages and disadvantages. The quality of the audience depends on many things, like their viewing habits, how much Bharatanatyam they have seen, etc. Those who are used to seeing Bharatanatyam in a particular way might feel that it is the only right way.
There are some who get so caught up in these right and wrong convictions. However, when we show them the art that comes from within ourselves, they relate to it. But it requires more effort from an artist. We should be able to raise the level of the audience by showing them true quality art.
I guess Kerala has a very intuitive audience. There are many kinds of people in the world. Among them, you’ll find those who come to witness the dance; others who come to observe the performer; and occasionally, there are those who attend to listen to the accompanying music. So, there will be various types of audiences. In my experience, the audience is often not prejudiced. Such a section may exist among the audience. We may be able to touch them, too, with the greatness of art.
What is your opinion on the shift towards a more competition-oriented culture in Kerala’s art scene?
I believe Kerala has more of a competition-oriented culture. But it seems that a lot is changing; it reached a peak, and now it can be said to be on a decline. Now people understand that a competition is not about using a lot of money to outdo someone else, and money can only take us so far. You can gain some fame, get likes by paying money, and become popular quickly. But it will not last long. I don’t think my opinion has much value here. Therefore, I feel that I should not make big comments about this. Everyone has their own preferences. People will realise realities at some point, and the realisation will guide them in the right direction.
Could you share your thoughts on the need to preserve and pass on Bharatanatyam’s traditions to the next generation?
We are performing and teaching, and everything we do actually helps to preserve the art. Practising the art, understanding the technique properly, and keeping it free will benefit its growth. Else, it will become like this clogged stream. We call a work classic when it has elements that can connect with all audience. Every art is like that. Like health, if we take good care of it today, it will remain in the pink tomorrow.
I don’t know about the ‘tradition’ part, though. It’s a trap word. It seems that we should not even use the word without understanding its many dimensions.
What is your response to those who argue in favour of promoting Mohiniyattam in Kerala, citing how Bharatanatyam originated elsewhere?
It’s a tricky question. Bharatanatyam always holds a significant place in festivals in Kerala. There must be many reasons for this. Look at the number of well-known performers who experiment with Mohiniyattam and take it very seriously, when compared with Bharatanatyam.
Do all Mohiniyattam dancers prefer to remain in Kerala and showcase their art form only here? Are they capable of such selflessness? In that case, there is no need for Bharatanatyam; only Mohiniyattam and Kathakali would suffice. I don’t think such a decision can be taken by the Mohiniyattam artists. India is home to many art forms, each of which finds its way to various corners of the world. What we are doing right now is bringing a lot of things here, and taking out what’s here.