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?


  1. Ufff!! Seriously, there seems to be no boundaries to injustice, partiality and politics.

    From what I see, the field of art is super hit.

    How competent are the judges to judge would be my first question, moving on, I think it would be fair for the panel to announce what they are expecting in a performance, or if it is not asking for too much, reason out why A was chosen over B. Agree??

  2. :) Judges = audience and critics, right? The reasons for why they choose A over B can be endless!

    But yes, as a judge in a competition or something, it would be fair to give reasons for their decision. But that's not considered to be the thing to do. I'm not sure why. I'm headed to judge a dance competition in Delhi University on thursday. Perhaps I will get some insights into this! :)

  3. First, let me acknowledge that I have little formal training in any of the performing arts. So my response is based in my experience as an audience and consumer, if you will, of the performing arts. The concerns you are expressing remind me of the concerns expressed about western classical music which has a pretty small audience relative to popular music. Much of what would be considered authentic classical music is not much of a crowd pleaser. Instead it is Yanni and other of his ilk who , in popular imagination, are considered great classical musicians of the modern day. This is arguably for many reasons a) their music is more accessible (easy to understand, catchy) though I'd take Bach any day over Yanni b) Their music does not demand much of the listners attention and engagement c)the people in the actual classical music world are themselves caught in a time warp of traditions, hehrirachies, and aloofness. Many classical music teachers, particularly of the Russian school cherish the hard a** way to teaching where they constantly remind their students how they are falling short or why they are not good enough to be classical musician. I beleive this precious attitude has something to do with making classical music so daunting, inacessible to most people. After all who wants this constant negative reinforncement bordering on torture. Moreover the audience of western classicla music is no longer the former crowd of everyman and elite alike, it is often an older crowd for whom attending concerts is less about genuine appreciation of what's going on on the stage and more a way of signaling their "good taste" , wealth, camraderie with their own social strata etc. However this is perhaps not the entire picture and I am not sure if that is what is happening with dance. I feel as pointed out in the post above the standards are defined by the audience and by that I not only mean the people sitting in the auditorium but who write, teach, talk about and patronize dance. The question then to ask is what kinds of audience is dance or Indian art being produced for? Who are the consumers and patrons? One could cynically argue that its being produced for a noveau riche crowd whose tastes are a function of showing off their status, money . But I take heart from a recent experience that this might not be the case. While in Delhi, I attended a play at IHC. It was awful in every conceivable way. It was good to see that the audience didn't mutely suffer through the play lest they be criticized for not being sophisitcated enough. Instead many people voted with their feet. The actors and the directors, though, seemed to think the crowd was not sophisticated enough to appreciate their lousy work and seemed to be in a bubble of their own pretentiouness. I feel if they had taken the time to understand the context of the play and certain other basic tenets of a good play it would have been a much drawn a bigger crowd. Another point, for an actor, his/her body and voice is as important as the words and expressions they use. And here was a stagefull of actors with bodies, movements and voices that violate the most basic standards of being a good actor. I am not sure why the play was as bad as it was.Is it a lack of good teachers, schools or artists who acutally care about their art in some authentic sense. Perhaps you can tell afraid all this has been quite disheartening but I feel it is also an immense opportunity for performing arts in India to raise their standards because I think good work will elicit an audience. And I think it would be great to see dance that liberates itself from its bollywood influences and instead speaks in its own language in a confident, well-crafted, vital manner.

  4. We live in a world of Dance Reality TV shows! And that's the truth...! For example, how good a judge someone like Malaika "Munni" Arora can be is anyone's guess. But then, you can't search for excellence in Pop!
    The classical will always be the eternal. The challenge artists and artisans alike face is to make the classical, into the contemporary also. Often, you must carry the burden of years of tradition that has to find a "NOW" usage. And in the end, it's a wonderfully satisfying experience, to have kept the tradition alive and to pass it on to the post-modern, right?

  5. @ Mitali - Woah. What an impressive monologue! I totally agree with you. Don't you think that the display of bad art is in some ways connected to the existence of a lazy uncritical audience? I'm not saying that if the audiences are more critical, then bad art will disappear, but I do think that audiences and performers need to be more in sync with each other, rather than living in 'their' bubbles of pretentious sophistication, as you say. Much needs to be done!

    @Manish - I think you make a pertinent point when you talk about turning the classical into something contemporary. That is precisely what I've been trying to do, through performances, lecture demonstrations, even my blog (see an earlier post - Demolishing Dichotomies: The Clash between Classical and Contemporary). Have a read. I think you might find it interesting, given your views on this. :)

    Cheers for reading!