Indian dances are not attracting sufficient audiences due to "closed minds" and "non-exposure", says veteran Kathak exponent Shovana Narayan. The danseuse feels classical arts should be included in school curricula to increase aesthetic appreciation.
"There are several issues in terms of audience attendance. There is a mindset in the 'none' or 'never' attending viewers that classical dance is beyond understanding. They seem to have a closed mind to it," Narayan told IANS in an interview here ahead of World Dance Day on Wednesday.
She attributes the poor audience turnout to the the "non-exposure to classical dance forms". "The 'unknown' is to be feared'. However, in my interaction with such audiences, I have found them to be very receptive. Hence, it is the issue of 'closed mind' that has to be addressed in an organised way," she said.
Narayan, who is lobbying for more patronage to classical arts, especially dance, feels that "appreciation of classical arts should be part of the main school curriculum".
"This process has started, but it needs to be intensified. We don't need to learn the practicals of classical arts, but theoretically young minds should be made aware of the historical evolution, the beauty and nuances of the various art forms. Through my son Ishan, who was schooling in Austria, I came to realise the importance they attached to art education. Art appreciation as part of his main curriculum," she said.
Earlier, the danseuse felt, the ability to appreciate arts was addressed at homes.
"But since the homes themselves are now bereft of this sensitivity, educational institutions have to fill the gap. The study of the 'Natyashastra' (the ancient treatise on Indian dance) can be included not only in schools but also in some of the specialised study modules such as architecture and biology. 'Natyashashtra' is a perfect example of dissecting and studying every movement in a manner similar to what is done in biology," Narayan said.
At the same time, the dancer felt that the number of children learning classical dance had increased manifold over the years.
"Children devote long periods of time to it, which indicates that they are not doing it under parental pressure. Classical dance, therefore, has not lost its social relevance," she held.
Narayan also pointed out that classical dances were changing with time to appeal to wider and younger audiences.
"Look at Kathak, it was first documented in the fourth century BC when a Prakrit verse written in the Asokan Brahmi script paid tribute to Kathak's 'shringara' in praise of the lord on the banks of the Ganga at Varanasi. It was dedicated to Lord Adinath. Kathak was also mentioned in the 'adiparva' of the epic 'Mahabharata'. It shows the adaptability of the dance form in evolution," she said.
But with the impact of Sufism, she said 'tarana' came to stay.
"Heavy display of rhythmic virtuosity came about during the medieval period as idol-worship was against the tenets of Islam; and along with it, the medium of music and dance as forms of worship. In the field of 'abhinaya' (mimetic exposition) where the element of Sufi interpretations was incorporated, 'Mohan' (Lord Krishna) became 'sajan' or 'saiyan' or 'piya' (beloved)," the danseuse explained.
The trend continues, she added. "Mythology is being re-visited and portrayed in contemporary terms. Episodes such as the disrobing of Draupadi have been likened to the disrobing of earth of its environmental cover. Similarly, the myth of Kaliya-daman (Lord Krishna slaying the demon-snake Kaliya) is compared to the issue of water pollution. Thus the ability to evolve and adapt to changing times has been the strength of our classical dance," Narayan said.
On May 3, she will recapture the spirit of Dance Day in a special programme titled Rhythm & Joy at the Ashoka Ampitheatre in New Delhi.
Narayan is working on several new projects as well. "I am choreographing the works of Ali Sardar Jafri, then one on Schubert's cycle of songs Winter Journey in association with Yvonne Timoianu (cello) and another on the universality of emotions of women artistes across the globe. There are other broad rhythmic compositions, which I am still conceptualising," she said.