Saturday, October 15, 2016

Exclusive or Inclusive Performance Art Hardly Matches up with Performing Art

(Dancer Chandralekha)

Late dancer Chandralekha stopped doing Bharatanatyam at her prime age and at the peak of success and fame. Chandralekha says in a documentary directed by the television news veteran Sasikumar for the now defunct PTI Television that she did not find any connect between the dance form and theme that she did then and her own being. The shepherdesses were still churning milk and carrying the butter pots in their heads. Naughty Krishna was still teasing them and stealing the butter away with his truant friends. What did this enacting of a ‘performative event’ do either to the dancer or to the audience? Apart from displaying the virtuoso of the dancer what purpose did it serve? Why it was necessary for all the girls who danced to keep an unfading smile on their lips? What about those dancers who seldom smiled? Chandralekha felt that school of dancing quite oppressive and choking. She left the stage with a career well begun but not even a quarter done. Chandralekha went into hibernation for almost twenty four long years and re-emerged on stage with her experimental dance works that changed the history of contemporary Indian dance.

 (Dancer Leela Samson)

My intention here is not to write about Chandralekha for which I find myself ill equipped despite having the confidence of dealing with contemporary dance as yet another form of art. I was at the Ignite Festival of Contemporary Dance organised by the Gati Dance forum in an unusual venue in Chattarpur, South Delhi. While releasing a book on contemporary dance in India (Tilt Pause Shift- Dance Ecologies in India edited by Anita Cheriyan), noted danseuse and former chairperson of the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi, Leela Samson exclaimed about the categories that have come up in the dance scene of late. “Who decides what is contemporary and what is traditional or classical? Who are you dancing for? Who is your audience?” The questions sounded almost familiar as it is in art or music and the methodologies used for unpacking these loaded issues felt more or less the same for/in all the art genres. However, I feel that one has to wait for many more years so that there could be a strong culture of exchanges between/among various art genres for the simple reason that expertise brings in some sort of exclusivity to the art form and it resists the efforts of other genres to share the platform. Hence, even if the performance art practitioners try to share platform with the performing art practitioners including the contemporary theatre actors the former would look ridiculously naive in front of the highly trained performing artists. The same is applicable when the performing artists try to incorporate the finer values of contemporary visual art (fine art) into their works of art.

(a relevant image used here got me into a copyright issue with a relative of the artist in question here suggesting to pay me for the image. Hence I am using a proxy image from the net)

However liberal the disciplines are, interdisciplinarity has some weak areas in it mainly because of the linguistic and formal limitations as well as possibilities. What a painterly language capable of may not find similar resonances in music or theatre, even if we insist there are such areas of overlapping. The exposed areas in such overlapping makes interdisciplinarity always an awkward attempt in generating inclusive art forms rather than creating harmoniously fused works of art through absolute juxtapositions. One of the art forms involved in the interdisciplinary act has to take a backseat or a secondary position either by becoming a backdrop of the other art form involved or a prop for it to use conveniently. Attempt to fuse various art forms in a single production is not a new thing. I remember Alakananda Samarth performing the Myth of Medea with Nalini Malani’s specially designed works of art for the performance. When Samarth did her act, Malani’s works became just props and backdrop for her performance; without that performance, seen as autonomous works of art, Malani’s works looked out of context and less aesthetical. Many artists have done stage props and designs for theatre productions but they were never called interdisciplinary works. But today there is an insistence on this term. I happen to watch the performance of a performing theatre artist, Nimmy Raphael in her production titled ‘Nidravathwa’. Though thematically twisted beyond recognition and cognition, the performance was convincing as the actor could make use of her body and the theatre space with minimum props. Now, if I am asked to compare Rapheal’s performance with that of any contemporary artist today doing performances elsewhere in the country, I would say, they should better stick to their primary training than foraying into the realm of performance for the performers need (or have) a deep and thorough physical and mental culture which the itinerant performance artists lack not only in India but also elsewhere in the world.

(Nimmy Raphael performing Nidrawata)

This perfection that we see on stage of contemporary theatre and dance automatically attributes autonomy to those works of art which in turn resist any kind of intrusion by other works of art. True, a performance piece makes use of sonic ambience, supporting actors in their physical absence or presence, light and sound engineering, music and so on. One should contemplate on this; could a music piece involved in a theatre production and its creator be called an interdisciplinary interventionist rather than a supporter or a creative collaborator or simply a part of the production team? An interdisciplinary work is possible only when one work of art supplements and complements the other work of art involved in it and vice versa. I would say the music or light used in Rapheal’s work or in that case even Leela Samson’s or Chandralekha’s work is never an absolute necessity provided if the dancer or the actor decides the work to be performed in full day light with natural sonic ambience to the effect of the original production. If the effect of the work of art is hampered by the lack or removal of the original production components then we could say that they are interdisciplinary and collaborative; otherwise they would remain as creative components than creative interventions. A painting remains a painting even if is removed from the frame or the gallery lights; just think of it.

(from Chandralekha's production)

This autonomy of a work of art resists, as I said before, interdisciplinary interventions. When a work of art becomes too autonomous and a number of such autonomous works come together in a particular zone, so many exclusivities start finding the areas of sharing. Even without such communion, too much of autonomy could also create individualistic exclusivities. Such exclusivities cause the formation of schools and establishments. This is an inevitability that one cannot escape. The moment one forms a school or causes an establishment, however he or she tries the possibilities of interdisciplinarity cease to exist. To create interdisciplinarity, one has to do away with establishments. Late Chandralekha was a proponent of anti-establishmentarianism. She made her own establishment but at the same time she did not want the characters of an establishment eat away her grand projects. She never considered her disciples as her students; instead she said they were her co-dancers. Chandralekaha was an establishment in herself. She however hated establishments, conventions and traditions. She said that breaking of establishments is a necessity to further the causes of art and to develop individuality in creative act. She said that she danced because she wanted to tell the establishments that despite of them she existed. How many of us are ready to move beyond establishment in the days when everyone is drawn to the allurement or terror caused by the establishment, in the name of nationalism or religion?    

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