Monday, 14 October 2019

Endemic problems stir animated discourse - Taalam: column by Leela Venkataraman

Prachi Hota's planning of a discussion Samanubhasana mounted at the IIC Annex provided a good platform for a free exchange of views on certain issues which the arena of classical dance will always have to contend with. It is encouraging to see youngsters in the dance world willing to participate in panel discussions, unafraid of expressing their views on various subjects. The first subject of 'Understanding the Pay and Perform Culture' never ceases to stir high passions and righteous indignation. Bharatanatyam dancer Tanya Saxena, a disciple of Saroja Vaidyanathan, provided an excellent start to the discussions with her well thought out, clear-headed introduction summing up all the aspects of this hydra headed monster which makes a dancer pay the organizers for a platform to perform, rather than being paid for her services. The exploitation comes in a host of packages - like providing an 'honorarium' which is for 'production costs' by the sponsor who of course gives the performer nothing; asking the dancer to manage with a lump sum provided (within which all expenses of light, sound, fee for the musicians etc have to be met); allowing the dancer to perform to recorded music and providing hospitality for the day (but never travel costs from another city); mentioning that the organization cannot afford to pay but will provide a stage and an audience (!); charging a 'registration' fee for organizing etc.

"Where does one draw the line?" asked the dancer. While money is a big concern, it may not be the sole criterion. The organization and the size of the audience, if fairly good, are matters of deep importance to a dancer. One can console oneself that through such a program one can cultivate a relationship providing goodwill, which hopefully will help one's future prospects. Tanya also made a forceful statement about none of these so called events (taking advantage of young dancers looking for a platform) being curated with care. They are haphazard with nobody to oversee events, even though the stage comes at a price. The dancer made out a strong case for dancers who seem particularly vulnerable to this state of affairs, with their also acquiring, over the years, a pitiful image of constantly having to beg for money. Musicians get a better deal.Why is it only the dancer who is supposed to provide entertainment with no compensation for her efforts?

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