Tuesday, February 15, 2011

More or Less

Amongst the many dilemmas an artist faces today, is yet another one - regarding how many performances to accept in a month. My personal predicament came when I was suddenly bombarded with performances, and found myself hesitating. Was I mad to even consider turning down a performance within a week? Just because I had another one coming up that I had committed to a few months ago? But then again, I was thinking about this next performance, and how the rehearsals for the performance I eventually turned down would eat into rehearsal time for the next one. Luckily that performance didn't work out for the organisers as well. So I didn't have to worry. 

Worry? I know some would say that is being arrogant. Worry about too many performances? Who did I think I was? How could I even dare to enter the league where I had too many performances to handle?

But I don't think I really care about all that. I want to perform, as often as I can. Often enough to stay afloat. BUT not so often that I'm doing a lot of performances badly. I'd rather do fewer performances well.

It is a complex issue, really. Because less performances means less income, less livelihood, less exposure. But is income all there is to performing? Is a lot of bad exposure better than a little good exposure?

I've had my experiences with that, to be honest. Performing prematurely, without enough training - I did that once with Kalaripayattu, and regret it. I will only perform it ever again once I've trained further, and deeper, in it. That's really ok for me. I perform it less, but I'll understand it better. So that when I do perform it again, I won't be injured, I won't feel like I did it in a rush, or that I did it merely for exposure, experience and to sustain a livelihood. Don't get me wrong. These things are important in today's world. Enough of my writing has testified to this fact. But I don't think I ever want to do it at the cost of quality and hard work.

I think the point I'm trying to highlight here, the conclusion that I have come to, is that sometimes less is more, because you gain more from less performances if you spend that non-performance time working hard towards the fewer times you do get to perform.

Essentially..perhaps less is more, because sometimes you gain more from less than you do from more.


  1. the age old conundrum of quantity and quality...

    these things are sorted in manufacturing by things like the Demmings method, among others.

    But unfortunately, as an artist, you're out of luck, and will have to grope your way there.

  2. I prefer quality over quantity any day. Any day.

  3. well, let's not be so harsh on quantity. i feel sad for it everytime somebody sneers at it, like a rural cousin.

    there is value in somebody seeing you perform right, even if you're not 100% there all the time? it's not like every painting by Michelangelo was a masterpiece.

  4. No, no. Not at all. Prefering quality over quantity does not imply that quantity is being sneered at. Thus, I emphasized its importance, as well as the importance of the financial aspects of art.

    All i'm saying is that quantity mustn't overrule quality. At least my own personal take is that I'd prefer to do work that is of good quality less frequently as opposed to doing mediocre work more often.

  5. Excuse my ignorance, who decides what you have to perform? you or the sponsor?

    Are there items that require less rehearsal that you can swing in for short notice?

    I'd say, your principles must make you stronger not make it harder for you. Do not take it on you when you deny dates, take it on your principle, so you'd be proud and not disappointed.

  6. Well, it depends. In some cases, the organiser (I'd say organisers because we usually deal with organisers and not sponsors) decides. An ISCKON or a Chidambaram can demand only Krishna or Shiva pieces respectively. But other times, the choice of pieces is left up to the dancer. We're only told how long or short the performance should be etc.

    Hmmm...I'm not sure I like the whole idea of 'swinging in'. I mean, there are some pieces that I could do with my eyes closed with just one rehearsal, but then again - there are pieces I could do with my eyes closed but I'd like ten rehearsals before I went on stage. Rehearsal is a rehearsal. For abhinaya pieces, yes I sometimes feel that rehearsing them too often for a performances reduces the spontaneity of the facial expressions, but on the whole - compromising on rehearsals cannot possibly result in the best performance.

    I'm not disappointed at all that the one performance didn't happen. In fact, I'm a bit relieved. Because I really do think I may have been forced to compromise on rehearsal time for the next performance, which I had committed to earlier :)

  7. I know performance, I've studied it extensively so this is something I can comment about. When an artist goes on tour or has a lot of performances lined up there's two ways to go about it. Actually 3 but that's out of our league right now! First is the one you speak about. Where less is more. It is. You do more meaningful performances, give each one something memorable. Then there's option 2. You prepare a show, rehearse it like mad and tour with the same troupe playing the same show every night but it's a show with a lot of thought ,and it's something you spend a whole lot more time preparing, making it something bigger than say a bunch of one off well thought out shows. I dunno, call sometime I'd love to discuss this in greater detail!!

  8. I agree. I've done the second option with Leela Samson's dance troupe. It's different with the kind of solo performances I'm talking about, though. Here, one performance is totally different from the other. One performance is 15 minutes to set music, along with Odissi, and Kathak dancers, another is 25 minutes at 1am at a Shiva temple, yet another is a 90 minute performance for the National Archives and finally, there's one to inaugurate a conference on Abhinavagupta (ancient scholar on abhinaya). So as you can imagine, each performances requires different pieces, there each have a different duration and a different purpose, and its impossible, and even unfair and callous to perform a 'package'.

    When touring, yes - I've done that. Have a set 50 minute piece which we rehearse like CRAZY and then just hop in and out of theatres in different cities - 20 performances in a month.

    This blog post is about the first kind of performances though.

  9. I dont know performance..but my two bits anyway.
    I think that you shouldn't compromise on quality but at the same time do enough performances to make ends meet. It's completely a personal balance you need to find.
    In this particular scenario each performance is completely different and makes the situation very difficult. I think in the long run it makes sense to develop a repertoire of a variety of different pieces that you practice regularly that you can pull out when you need. And maybe when a differently themed performance comes around you can do a mixture of pieces you know like the back of your hand and a couple of things you need to practice.
    Practical Stuff.. which I am sure you already know but my two bits.

  10. I've found my personal balance. I like 'more is less'. That's the conclusion that I came to. My blog was a reflection about the system, really. A system which pushes you to do more and more, whether its good quality work or mediocre or downright awful! That's what the system demands and also what the system respects...how long your list of performances is, may have more worth in our system, than the quality of those performances. :)

  11. Just caught up with this and you've raised an important point Aranyani. In fact, several. The freedom to chose and perform, quality vs quantity, a system that dictates an artists' career, excellence vs mediocrity, what are we feeding the audience, how are we shaping the future of the dance sector, who is responsible for what?

    These are important questions that neither the artist/s nor the audience can or should avoid. As far as the system is concerned, no one is better placed to challenge the system than the artists themselves. Who is the system anyway? A bunch of ex-artists working as bureaucrats? Compromising on quality has its consequences and it always comes back to bite you in the backside. Yes, there are so many balls that the artists have to juggle, such as finance, exposure, number of performances, but the one thing that he/she can hold on to is the integrity to his/her own work. As the connoisseurs of culture, the artists must take responsibility for the quality of their work. When I go to a doctor, I expect the best. If I don't get that I will not go there again. In fact, I may tell my family and friends not to go there too.

    And you said quite aptly - it's what works for you that is important at the end of the day.