Classical dancing needs to evolve to become relevant: Savitha Sastry

Saturday, 28 September 2013 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Shabiya Ali Ahlam Q: Where does Bharatanatyam stand in the world today? A: I started when I was seven. For a long time what I did was traditional dancing which is based on mythology and religion. It tends to become something that excludes people because not everyone follows that religion or mythology or feel that it is something that belongs in the past. We don’t have the same excitement about Krishna stories as we had in the ’70s or ’60s. This is because there are so many forms of entertainment now. Today, ‘Star Wars,’ the next ‘Mission Impossible,’ or a Shahrukh Khan movie is more exciting to the present day generation than old tales of our gods and goddesses. Q: What is the reason for this lack of excitement? A: Unfortunately because of the content, traditional dancing stated becoming less interesting and accessible because many people don’t know the stories anymore. So now it is about trying to take an art form that is still beautiful in its physical expression and making it more accessible so everybody can sit down, have a good time, and think of it as an entertainment rather than preaching. No one wants to go to an evening of preaching if they are not into that morality. So now, if it is entertainment, perhaps we can start to get people to connect with these stories in a different way. Q: Your dance deviates from the traditional art form; what has been the outcome of that experiment? A:The youth are starting to get inspired which is the best part. I feel that my work has brought me very close to the next generation where they look at themselves and see how they can relate to an old art form in their own personal life. Growing up in today’s world, they feel that they can narrate their own stories through it.  It is not about doing a Savitha Sastry over and over. What I feel very strongly is that if they look deeper into their own lives, then they probably would find better stories than what I have to tell. Q: Do you think your dance form can help have an impact on the current day generation and society? A: Definitely. You can look at it in two levels. One is art, which is something that is enriching. The place of art in society is something that is undeniably very impactful. It allows access to your heart and soul in a way that nothing else can. Especially when you have a live experience of somebody dancing it is even more enriching than going to the movies. The theatre, music, dance, lights, it all just comes alive in a way that you can just give yourself completely away to that experience. So there is certainly an impact on the society with the art form which is the tradition and culture of India. It is something worth preserving. However, it is worth preserving not without evolution. It needs to evolve so that it becomes relevant. Q: Is an increasing number of youth taking up this art form or is it dying off? A: The population is on the increase. If you look at it as a share percentage of the population then there should be slight increase in the number of dance students. However, what I feel is that despite everything, you would imagine that the number of audience who come to see the show is also increasing. That is not the case. There are so many empty chairs. In most of the dances that play in India, there are empty seats row after row. In cities like Chennai, which can be called as the capital for this dance form, this is the situation. How do you explain that? If you have recorded the number of students learning, you should find the audience has increased as well. That’s not really happening unless there is an obligatory relation as in a friend is doing an Arangetrum (debut on-stage performance of a classical art student). So if there is no obligation, I wonder how many people look at an event and decide to go for it rather than watching a TV serial. Q: Is that a challenge that has to be overcome? A: It is. My challenge is to draw that crowd and tell them what you are doing with that evening is fun and they will enjoy. And that change is what I am finding with my audience. Unfortunately, the rate of spread is slow because it is word of mouth. I don’t have big banners like the Bollywood productions. So you start making an impact and it has a ripple effect. First time you go to a city you get your few hundred, since they find it different. Then when you go back to that city it grows and then the auditorium is packed. Q: What is the message you have for those following this art form? A:If it’s not your passion than you shouldn’t do it. That’s basic. You should never be pushed into it. However, if this is your calling, then there are places that you can take the art. Art is limitless and you don’t have to be restrictive. You just need to be convincing in what you do. I can still showcase Bharatanatyam as Satan and make people feel like they actually saw an evil person. It is such a different concept than what you would see in the traditional art form. Ideas of it can be communicated through dance and all the shades of emotions can be delivered. If it is for you, then the sky is the limit.