Monday, November 29, 1999

How about corporate cultural responsibility, asks Geeta Chandran

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New Delhi, June 17 (IANS) Classical dances should be included as a regular cultural component in the country's tourism package 'to project India's soft power', says noted bharatanatyam dancer Geeta Chandran, now working on a performance for the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony.'It is something I describe as corporate cultural responsibility under which the state government is expected to be 100 percent responsible for the promotion and packaging of culture,' Chandran told IANS in an interview.'Dance has become a potent tool of communication. It breeds people-to-people synergy that is not always possible through dialogue and conventional diplomacy. It is one of the most sophisticated forms of cultural diplomacy.'The danseuse, whose troupe will stage an hour-long dance performance at the opening ceremony of the October event, said performing arts should be packaged with tourism, culture, religion and archaeology to create a holistic Indian experience for visitors - and the government must take up the task of packaging it better.'You can always add a beautiful kathak recital on the banks of the Ganges in Varanasi or stage a bharatanatyam recital in a south Indian temple in Chidambaram or Thanjavur as part of the regular travel itineraries,' she said.At the moment, the annual cultural festivals in heritage tourism destinations like Konark, Khajuraho, Purana Qila and in the temples of southern India are the only 'platforms where the country's traditional performing arts are showcased'.Chandran, who likes to call herself 'a child of nature', performs the Thanjavur school of bharatanatyam. She last week presented 'Gr-Chakra', a multi-act bharatanatyam exposition highlighting eco-degradation and ways to address it on the World Environment Day.'I remember visiting Kerala during school breaks, climbing trees and plucking mangoes. I started talking about environment in my dance during the 1980s, with gender,' she said.Chandran's renditions are linked to social causes. In the 1990s, she included themes like 'gender discrimantion, (interpersonal) conflict resolution, stigma against dark women in mythology and female foeticide in her choreography.'Chandran said she 'wanted her choreography to open intellectual discourses'.'I tried to be as contemporary as I could without compromising on techniques, aesthetics, quality and the vocal accompaniments. Too much of activism in the arts makes it propagandist, but I also ensured at the same time that I remain honest to my dance.'I believe that one cannot innovate and give in to the market forces at play without understanding the traditions and the essence of classical artistic genres,' she said.Chandran began training in bharatanatyam when she was five.'My mother took me to Swarna Saraswathy - a dancer from the Thanjavur devdasi tradition. I did not know then that she had made the transition from being a temple devdasi to a professional dancer. I knew about it later,' she said.She has worked under the tutelage of gurus like Vazhuvoor Sadasivam, K.J. Govindarajan, K.N. Dakshinamurthi, V. Krishnamoorthy, S. Sankar and Jamuna Krishnan.Chandran was conferred the Padma Shri award in 2007.The performer has a long wish list. She seeks more patronage for the dance form 'because unlike Bollywood that is participatory, classical dance like music cannot be participatory; it has to be heard,' she said.'You cannot expect bharatanatyam performances in a stadium. Classical dances have an elitist tag to it. Corporate bodies must plough more money back to sustain classical Indian culture, much more than what it is doing now,' the performer said.The dancer is also working to build a pool of fresh talent with Delhi-based institutions like the India International Centre (IIC).'For the last five years, we have been organising the Young Dancers' Festival that provides an opportunity to budding talent below 25 years from the country's backwaters to come to the mainstream. One of my missions as a teacher of dance for the last 20 years is to nurture new talent,' she said.(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at

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