Dancers in Chennai and Bengaluru are discovering the benefits of going online
Is dance performed for the audience or for the artiste themselves? This question has been debated since time immemorial and dancers are constantly torn between both these schools of thought. While the online format has given dancers and audiences a new way to experience the classical arts; not many artistes enjoy the online format — especially when it comes to performing to an absent audience. We caught up with several classical dancers and dance troupes from Chennai and Bengaluru to find out more about the impact of the pandemic on their art form…
Artistes have always been afraid of experimenting with new things. Purists also look with disdain at anyone trying to break the mould or anyone attempting anything new. “Dancers were forced to face the new normal during the pandemic. It was ‘go online’ or don’t perform and the pandemic in many ways pushed artistes towards experimenting with new formats. It also helped dancers discover new talents within themselves. I saw a danseuse track her pregnancy online for a huge dedicated audience, while another discovered the baker within and a brand new food-loving niche online. At narthaki.com, we’ve always had to be open to new ideas — we were one of the first to go online and talk about Indian classical dance in that space. The pandemic was therefore exciting for us, as we had to reinvent ourselves all over again,” shares Anita Ratnam, actress, dancer; and founder/managing editor, of the website in Chennai.
“Going online during the pandemic opened up my art to a whole new audience and I began to see great responses on streaming sites like YouTube. My videos existed on the platform before that too, but a lot more people began to seem receptive to this digital format during the lockdown. My workshops moved online, and while I ensured I stuck to a comfortable limit in interactive sessions, seminars online saw close to 80-100 participants from across the world. If these classes/workshops were done live, the numbers would average around 20-30. What really changed for me during this lockdown was learning to create and choreograph for the digital medium instead of a stage. I started working with traditional pieces for camera as well as some experimental work,” explains Rukmini Vijayakumar, actress, dancer; and artistic director of Raadha Kalpa Dance Company, Bengaluru; who continues to hold classes online.
Shruti Gopal, danseuse with Bengaluru-based Punyah Dance Company; and an artistic director with Upadhye School of Dance agrees. “We never realised that the online format could help us reach out to a much larger audience. Our classes would usually have 80-90 students at maximum. But the pandemic allowed us to reach out to close to 300-400 students as classes could now be held online. As performers, we were able to reach out to larger audiences too and attend so many training classes and workshops by artistes who would have been otherwise inaccessible to us. The only drawback was the fact that we had to often perform live or record performances without an audience — and the lack of the energy that is reflected from the audience was clearly felt. It was tough to perform without that exchange of energy,” she elucidates. Upadhye School of Dance recently announced the dates for their next set of online classes to commence in May 2021.
On the other end of the spectrum, however, were dance groups that benefited immensely from their art going online. “We posted these videos online, like the Harry Potter meets bharatanatyam one, simply because we’re all huge Harry Potter fans — but it led to more than 500 people reaching out to us for classes. We weren’t sure we were ready to teach yet; we were literally thrown into it. The four million views that the reel received on Instagram, really changed things for us,” exclaims Krishna Manognya, artistic director, Aayana Dance Company, Bengaluru. The dance company continues to accept students and can be contacted via their Instagram page.
“The first video of ours that was much appreciated and was viewed by more than a million people on Instagram was Natanam Adinar — a purely classical piece that is pretty popular among bharatanatyam audiences. The more recent video that reached more than six million people was a small reel from the song Aigiri Nandini which was initially performed for a studio launch. This reel has drawn a lot of attention towards the team and is translating into an active interest in our Anartana School of Dance that’s still accepting students for online classes,” adds Chennai-based Simran Sivakumar, founder/member, Team Anartana.
While classical dance performances start returning to the stage, slowly but surely; a lot of dancers and dance schools have chosen to continue with their online classes.
“The pandemic allowed us to host two festivals that could have only worked in an online format. The first was Boxed, that allowed dancers to record their short performances for an online competition that was spread over several weeks; and then there was Aandal’s Garden that celebrated Aandal’s poetry through the whole month of Margazhi. The format allowed us to open up the celebration of Aandal’s poetry from the Thiruppavai to artistes from all across the world; and that was only possible because the festival was online. That said most artistes can’t wait to get back to live performances at venues with an actual live audience,” concludes Anita.