December 1995. Editor: Anjum Katyal
On a recent trip to the United States I found myself constantly surprised by how often theatre people doing serious, exploratory work found it necessary to explain that they were incorporating dance and live music into their productions, while I continued to wonder what the fuss was about. Of course theatre incorporated dance, singing, live music -hadn't it always?. And yet. It is true that our idea of theatre is open enough to include dance and choreography-based work, to the extent that 'dance drama' is a commonly accepted genre; many of our folk performance forms move unselfconsciously between narration and dialogue, songs and dancing, and several modern directors who draw inspiration from indigenous performance have used this free flow interestingly. However, some recent attempts to innovate with the use of dance in theatrical productions have left me with questions about contemporary experiments in this direction. I shall restrict myself to discussing two in particular: Veenapani Chawla's Savitri and Shyamanand Jalan's Ram Katha Ram Kahani. Neither of these two productions was able to convincingly integrate dance and theatre despite elaborately conceptualized 'choreographic' effects. As a viewer I was left wondering -why had the dance element been introduced at all? Was it to heighten a certain 'exotic' effect? Nothing very innovative or challenging in dance terms had been achieved, or even attempted. In complete contrast to these carefully orchestrated, elaborately mounted stage productions was an impromptu, intimate, informal performance that demonstrated how dramatic and effortlessly theatrical dance can be when there is an unselfconscious passion for (commitment to? belief in?) the medium the performer is exploring. The performance was spontaneous and intense. To a great extent this effect was achieved because of the performer's own complete involvement in what he was doing -one sure way of making sure you don't lose your audience. This experience reaffirmed for me how little one actually needs for theatre to work -take away everything but the body of the performer and his/her conviction/belief/passion, and the performance is bound to succeed. Innovation and experimentation are healthy words in any vocabulary. They signify growth. It is particularly important for a culture like ours to remember that tradition is a process of continuous selection and accretion, that it never stops evolving, that it cannot be viewed as something frozen, final, complete. Therefore, the attempt to innovate on 'classical' dance norms is important. Equally important is the need to probe and question the direction, priorities and principles of such innovation. When an attempt at fusing dance with theatre results in a reduction of both, then hard questions need to be asked by those responsible.
CONTENTS Blueprint for an actor: questions of training K.C. Manavendranath Crossovers: Explorations across disciplines Interviews with Khilton Nongmaithem, K.P. Krishnadas, P.N. Rajiv, R. Rajkumar 'I am still exploring... Astad Deboo Modern trends in choreography in India Bharat Sharma The Music of Umrao Vidya Rao Two Poems Chandrasekhar Kambar Theatre Log A Retrospective of Badal Sircar's plays Golay Memorial Seminar on The Modern Dramatic Statement M. Sarat Babu Notebook Book Pages Download the complete issue here