Contemporary audiences lack knowledge of classical dances: Bharatanatyam dancer Geeta Chandran

New Delhi: Acclaimed Bharatanatyam dancer Geeta Chandran, recently honoured with the Sangeet Natak Akademi award, believes the lackadaisical attitude of today’s audiences towards classical dances is because they lack knowledge of these art forms.

“Contemporary audiences lack knowledge of classical dances. We have to first verbally brief them about our theme before we start our performance; we need to educate them so that (they) understand our presentation,” Chandran told IANS in a telephonic interview.

“The nature of audiences has changed. Today, all programmes are for an hour or a little more; earlier it used to be longer. Audiences now don’t have time for long performances,” the Padma Shri awardee added.

Chandran noted that since audience preferences are changing, it has led to a change in the presentation of classical dances as well.

“There are fewer takers for the purest form of Bharatanatyam now. Dancers are now more professional on stage, they are coming up with different kinds of content and the choreographic device has come up in a big way,” she stated.

Many professionals are adopting innovative ways of presenting classical dances, giving them twists and turns — sometimes even with Bollywood music, said Chandran, adding that they cannot, however, be considered as classical dancers.

“They (the artists) could be called entertainers, not classical dancers. For me, there is no question of mixing Bharatanatyam with Bollywood or other music, because it is something which is sacrosanct and preserved very beautifully. For popularity, one may do anything, but it cannot be considered in the mainstream classical field,” she said.

She expressed the firm belief that the age-old charm of Bharatanatyam will always remain alive, no matter how it is amalgamated with other forms.

“The traditional space for the solo Bharatanatyam artist is there, and is very well preserved and taught and performed in the purest form. I don’t think there is any fear of the dance being lost because there is space for everybody,” she commented.

However, she also acknowledged that artistes need to be given full liberty to choose the way of presenting a dance form.

Noting that change is inevitable and “should not be resisted”, she said it should be effected “without losing the ethos and philosophy” of the dance form.

“It is the choice of the artistes whether they want to collaborate with something else… but that’s a different space,” she said, adding that those who wanted to move out and push the boundaries should go ahead “as there is also an audience for that”.

Chandran runs her own dance academy, Natya Vriksha, where she enrolls students once in three years. Although she appreciates the enthusiasm of the younger generation for learning classical dances, what disappoints her is their lack of staying power.

“I think today’s generation is finding it difficult to stay. They want to jump in from one activity to another. However, it is also the responsibility of a teacher to approach the students in a way which makes them remain focused,” she said.

Asked what she would suggest to those who want to step in to the world Bharatanatyam, Chandran commented that it all depends on an individual.

“It (depends on) how much one wants to explore and express with the body… It can be the poetic aspect, the mythological part, storytelling or body movements,” the danseuse suggested.

Chandran lamented the lack of government support and encouragement in uplifting art forms and also hoped for more corporate support.

“They (the government) are doing what they can but the funding is not enough for art. And, therefore, the corporates need to learn to invest in culture, CSR needs to be encouraged,” she said.