Talking tradition and authenticity in classical art forms

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For the 17-year-old American Indian Kathak danseuse Arunima Saxena, Kathak is a way to express, a connection with her roots, an expression of fluidly through movement, and an effort to build solidarity. But this dancer of six years didn’t want to just learn the moves. She wanted to go beyond and do something for the community. So, she did a focused research and interviews with Kathak students and teachers to understand the challenges dancers both in the US and India and to learn what “stands out the most” about the dance form.

“As an Indian-American, I have always found it difficult to connect with my roots in a way that feels concrete. And Kathak began to do that to me. I knew the impact it had on me and wanted to learn the impact it had on other people, and what they thought could be improved . My two core findings were economic pressures the dancers faced, and accessibility or commuting to classes, which was more prevalent in the US,” says Arunima, who believes it’s important to step outside the “norm as well as retain what has been passed to us”.

Conforming or experimentation with form or style in the realm of Kathak dance—this thought led the young danseuse to organise a discussion in the Capital —Conformity and Resistance: Tradition and Authenticity in Classical Arts at the Indian Habitat Centre—that delved on all this and more. The event was co-organised by Anuradha Saxena, and Neel Sen Gupta, a Delhi-based dancer.

Sharing an anecdote from the event, she adds: “Bharatnaytam dancer Ananya Chatterjee told me about her performance on the streets of Connaught Place. It gave an interesting point of view, as the dance is usually performed in a pious area on a stage. This idea of expanding repertoire is very enlightening,” adds Arunima.

Hindustantimes

Is authenticity in classical Indian dance forms what artists makes of it, or what the artist interprets it as? Questions such as these made way into discussion between the panellists Dr. Urmimala Sarkar Munsi, Aishika Chakraborty co-editors of book ‘The moving Space: Women in Dance’, Siddhi Goel, a professional Kathak dancer, Ananya Chatterjee, a Bharatnatyam dancer, Hindustani classical singer and a theatre artist, and Shivani Verma, a disciple with Pt. Birju Maharaj troupe in Delhi; and Parmeet Singh, a tabla player, among others, were seen in discussion.

The panellists shared their point of view on how they are dealing with their dilemma of authenticity vs evolution, and conforming vs resistance in their day-to-day lives. While Shivani, said, one should reflect on emerging narratives, and dancer should be fluid within the discipline without completely uprooting it, Urmimala Sarkar Munsi, believes, the survival of these forms is tied to the retainment of dance forms.

“The panellists brought very different perspectives and their point of view on how to handle this debate over what is authentic, conformist or a resistance view,” says, Boston-based Anuradha Saxena, adding, “Some of the interesting takeaways was the topic of sustaining yourself in the art form with techniques, evolution to express whatever you want to, [freedom to] express their thoughts and not constraining yourself as an artist, and that survival is not necessarily tied to retainment of dance forms.

“An interesting example came in context of Bharatnatyam, that there are limited set of movements you expect to use to emulate an emotion. And now as emotions get more complex and nuanced, dancers feel they don’t have the tools to showcase that emotions to the audience,” adds Anuradha.

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First Published: Aug 31, 2019 15:01 IST

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