Closing Address by Sadanand Menon

Sadanand Menon began by saying that the conference was one where we collectively experienced a collection of thoughts which don’t comfortably fit together. Are the ideas behind the conference new or are there connections that we can find in the past? Dance comes with a history of discontinuities. The idea of continuity is a construct. We have the huge history of women temple dancers without a clear historical record. We are still in the process of excavating that reality. This was followed by a change in patronage, when the dancers shifted to royal courts, and from there they moved to the streets. It is important for people today to be aware of this history. The ‘deep memory ’ of this baggage needs to be acknowledged and not run away from. Unfortunately a large part of this history has been lost to us. The visible image left is that of an dancer who dances for an nationalistic urbanized audience which is limiting, deeming many forms of the performing body as transgressive and rejecting it.

In these time of the rise of the right wing, how does one make sense of the body and what does one say with it? Does one work with the body only to make it look interesting or does one ‘talk back to power’ with it? There has been a ‘talking back’ to the hegemony of classicism in the world of Indian dance. Practitioners from other disciplines need to be engaged in conversations who have been also engaging with this ‘talking back’. One needs to creatively work with confusions into a conversation which could lead to enlightenment. Contestation is inevitable in this moment of history. Art has to become an engine that challenges a certain kind of leveling cultural formation. We need to have the resource of the arts to address this and engage with this. One can not, then, simply experiment. This is the moment for an aware intervention given the reality of an assault on the body from all sorts of restraining devices. The traditional artist often ends up endorsing the system. The contemporary artist with the application of consciousness, stepping out of the space of ambiguities, must then challenge the system that surrounds him or her. The modern moment ended up privileging the bourgeois self. However, modernity seems to have collapsed proving to the artists that they are not better than anyone. Art has to find new resources.
What does one do with one’s received past? As long as traditions are reworkable they hold their importance. Chandralekha used to say that we must pick up our tradition once in a while and hold them against the sun to see they reflect light anymore or not. Tradition doesn’t always need to be rigid. It could be the potential source for multiplicity, creativity and possibility of change. The contemporary moment cannot be a moment of half baked ideas. One needs to know the foundation to talk back. If the piece is not making someone uncomfortable one is only feeding into the cultural monolith.

Building the audience is an important task for the people who attended the conference, which is not to say that one needs to seduce the audience, but bring the audience to dance. This could include people who want to engage in the same kind of conversations but from different fields who would want to collaborate in the project of bring a new language to ‘talk back’.

Menon finished by mentioning the presentations of Jhuma Basak, Preethi Athreaya and Sanjukta Wagh which talked about bringing in the marginal history of contemporary dance into the mainstream and unlearning habits which is a process that has to be self reflexive in order to speak a new language.

Dancers need to read into time and respond to it. They also need to get out of themselves and realize that there is a larger world outside and must respond to it.

The conference concluded by those in the room holding hands and promising to ensure that the circle of a supportive dance community would be much bigger in the next IGNITE festival!

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In/Dividual/In/Stitution Panel Discussion with Jayachandran Palazhy, Leela Samson, Parwati Dutta

Sadanand Menon introduced the three panelists who are associated with different kinds of pioneering dance institutions in India. Jayachandran Palazhy is the founder of Attakalari which is a contemporary dance institution in an urban location, while Parwati Dutta, director of Mahagami, an institute that works in the performing arts, teaching Kathak and Odissi, is located in Aurangabad, a non-metropolitan city in Maharashtra. Leela Samson is associated with both private and official institutions, including, most recently, the Sangeet Natak Akademi and Kalakshetra.

Jayachandran Palazhy talked about his interest and investment in the movement arts. He said that contemporary dance in India is not a form; rather, it is an idea. It is constantly evolving. Artists have to identify their needs and find ways to procure it for themselves and the dance community.

Parwati Dutta talked about her experiences of coming to Delhi as a student and the need she felt to do something new as an extension of the tradition. When she first went to Aurangabad to start Mahagami it was a cultural desert. She says that she felt like a farmer going to a barren land with the determination to plan something there.

Leela Samson said that there will be rupture and discontinuity and glorious moments in every institution. She says that India has far too many expressions even within one expression. Thus it is difficult to form a government policy for performing arts. She ended the discussion by pointing out that dependency on the government means that you will always be the receiver. She urges artists to stand together and be independent.

#snippets from ‘…a thinking and feeling body’

Lawrence Liang: Is the body an archive of the past or of the present?

Preethi Athreya: For me, the two things are the same. You are living and breathing every minute. There’s only the present really speaking. You only have access to your sensual and sensorial present. The present is valid in its own point of time. For the performer, it is the here and now that has resonance.

Sadanand Menon: The whole idea of the body being a repository of memory could be looked at in times when there are certain taboos placed on the body. For instance, in the 1930s when Bharatanatyam was reinvented.