Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Good,the Bad and the Ugly

Post-script: I know that by writing this post, I run the risk of offending some people, or certainly sending them into a defensive state. Just to be clear, I'm not saying all the dance that's going around is bad. I'm just saying there's enough bad dance going around for me to throw these questions out into the void. So here goes.

I'm sure I'm not alone when I walk out of a dance performance feeling dejected, depressed and demoralized. There is too much mediocrity around! At least that's what I feel. I see flaky fluttering around the stage being applauded much too often. Where's the strength and depth that I thought was indispensable to dance? But then again, this dancing that I call 'jelly dancing' (its like watching flabby jelly blobbing around on stage) is everywhere. There must be a reason for why its around. I wondered whether it is my fault - whether I am prejudiced about this jelly dance. Or whether the standards for measuring good dance have simply changed. 

I just want to throw a few questions out, in the hope that I will have at least highlighted these questions in case they have slipped to the back of our minds, in case there's a chance we'll reflect on these questions and think about what the possible answers are - How do we evaluate good and bad dance? Is it the appearance of the dancer? Could it be the 'fair and lovely' syndrome? Or how fat or thin he or she is? How big her eyes are, or how crisp his smile is? Or is it how well-connected he or she is? Is it how agile he or she is? Do bends and stretches matter anymore? Do we really see leaps in dance anymore? Is abhinaya too literal now-a-days? Do we care how the dancer holds his or her mudras or sits in aramandi/mandala position? 

How are we judging dance?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Choreograph me (but my way)

I recently signed up for a part-time job. I was to choreograph something for them, and the theme they had chosen was 'Unity in Diversity' in India. Yes, done to death, I agree. But I agreed to do it because I could think of several ways to do it differently and frankly, I could have used the money. But as time went on, I got more and more uncomfortable with the way things were shaping up. 

The first obstacle lay in the fact that the organisers (them) and the choreographer (me) had very different conceptions of unity in diversity. But given that they had hired me for their show, I went along with their conception of it, but only on the condition that we did not do any 'filmy' stuff. Not that there's anything wrong with it, but most importantly because I'm not trained in it, and am not qualified to teach it.

After numerous phone calls late in the night to tell me the same things, and after telling me my choreography was either too slow, or unsuited to the kind of audience they were expecting, I finally lost patience. When they asked me to produce all the music for their entire performance (which included a 'fashion show'), turned a lot of it down for being too classical/too slow (what's the big deal with speed?!), and said they expected me to be on call from 10am to 4pm everyday, I told them it wouldn't be possible. We parted ways.

I later thought about why I felt so liberated, and was so happy to let go of a substantial sum of money (which I could have used to make ends meet this month) over a few extra hours than I'd imagined. It wasn't the few hours of extra work, or the 'out of office hours' phone calls. It was the fact that I'd been hired more as a coordinator than a choreographer. They wanted me around to make sure everything fell in place, in the manner in which they wanted. My choreographic freedom was completely curtailed. My aesthetic sensibility was held in utter disregard. Under such conditions, I found it impossible to work. A completely different experience to what I'd had at Sardar Patel Vidyalaya, where the teachers trusted me, and the amount of time I needed to work with the kids. I had complete freedom to work, and the only interference came in a positive form - discussions, suggestions and not narrow-minded ultimatums. What's the point of hiring an outsider if you're not even open to their suggestions?

When choreographers are hired, I hope they are hired for their choreographic skills and their aesthetic sensibilities, not for their coordination/organisational skills, or the amount of time they spend on the work. The process should be rewarding for both the teacher and the students. And the end result should be good. How the choreographer ensures that the work is good should really be left up to the choreographer.

Monday, January 03, 2011

A Must Watch - Aronofsky's 'Black Swan'

I was waiting for the day someone would make a film about the darker side of the dance world. A side that the audience rarely gets to see. Yes, this is an extreme example, but its a disturbing and true glimpse, none the less, into the dark side of dance. With outstanding performances by Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis and Vincent Cassel, its worth a watch. For dancers, yes. But also everyone else.