The traditional way of disseminating the performing arts through a unique system of teaching and learning called the guru-shishya parampara was an Indian innovation.
It was a one-to-one teaching/learning process wherein the guru or the teacher/mentor, taught, customised, envisaged and developed the classical dance on the dancer/student and used all their experience to create an artist who would not only dance the technique flawlessly but also be able to create in turn his or her own work, thereby enriching the tradition further.
Today the pressures of teaching and learning are different. Time is in the centre of this discourse. Students of dance are also pursuing formal education. Hence, dance learning is not a full-time activity. Also the space for classical dance has shrunk in the entertainment arena, and succeeding or ‘making it’ as a solo classical dance is very difficult.
Dance today has also moved from small theatres to often large public spaces where a solo dancer is often lost in the space’s largeness. Also, since entertainment is very often being defined by Bollywood, spectacle has become the name of the game.
Many times the challenge for a classical dancer/choreographer is whether he/she can create a spectacle with the classical forms. Hence, group presentations have become almost imperative. Collaborations with other classical dance forms are also very common.
Group work in the classical idiom can be broadly classified as:
1) Dance dramas
2) Often solo pieces are also done in a group
3) Thematic presentations
4) Choreographic works
Very often all these are clubbed as group choreography, which is not really the right way of viewing this whole genre. The word choreography sits uneasily on Indian classical dance.
Keeping in mind these changes in the performer and the nature of the performances, have we thought about a pedagogy change which keeps these ground realities in mind?
In group work, are bodies trained to have a harmonious look when they dance together? Are dancers conscious of other bodies while dancing? What is the relation of geometry to dance movement? And above all, can a choreography pedagogy be developed for Indian classical dance—and not just Bharatanatyam—as a tool for the future?
The well-established centuries-old solo pedagogy does not work in group work. And today, with large performance stages and the demand for the classical to be a ‘spectacle’, young choreographers need well-recognised tools for choreography. The challenge is out in the open.