Changing audience in the evolution of dance: Asian Civilizations Museum

Singapore, 12 June-2014, Malavika Natraj: Rasikas of Indian classical dance in Singapore gathered at the Asian Civilizations Museum on June 9, to witness the unveiling of The Power of the Female: Devangana Sculptures on Indian Temple Architecture a book by Dr. Gauri Parimoo Krishnan. Presided over by Ambassador Kesavapany, Singapore’s Ambassador to Jordan, and the Guest of Honour Ms. Vijay Thakur Singh, the event was the result of a collaborative effort between Apsaras Arts and the Indian Heritage Centre. By highlighting the pivotal aspects of Indian culture and classical dance, the launch of Dr. Krishnan’s book, followed by a panel discussion on the spectator’s role in the evolution of Classical Indian Dance, added great value to Dance India 2014. Also present at the event, as panellists, were some stalwarts such as the Dhananjayans, Lakshmi Viswanathan and Madhavi Mudgal.

Changing audience in the evolution of dance: Asian Civilizations Museum

Changing audience in the evolution of dance: Asian Civilizations Museum
The launch of Dr. Gauri Krishnan’s book was part of Dance India festival in Singapore.

In her PhD thesis-turned-book, Dr. Gauri Krishnan talks of interpreting the sculptural forms of women that grace the temples across India. A dancer herself, Dr. Krishnan says that the art has truly enriched her life, and provided her with the inspiration to author this book.

Who were the female figures in temples and why were they there? Dr. Krishnan sought to find the answers through her research for the book. As she travelled extensively across Western and Central India, the writer found that the sculptures had similar poses and gestures. Some were erotic and some sexually explicit, while others were ferocious and holding weapons. They were symbols of fertility, of the ‘mother’ and also of warriors. Delving deeper into the Vedic texts, she realised that the images symbolised sringara rasa (beauty) and veera. They were forms of primordial female energy. So ‘devangana,’ which literally means ‘part of the divine’ seemed a fitting title for her book.

Following the launch, the panel discussion, moderated by Tan Boon Hui, examined the changing nature of spectators in the evolution of Indian Classical Dance.

“This book is close to every dancer’s heart. It highlights the power of devangana, which is important,” said Lakshmi Viswanathan, who opened the discussion. “Our gurus taught us that each time we dance, we create an aura of the spiritual around us.”

With the nature of the changing audience today, Indian classical artists are facing the challenge of a new generation of spectators that have not been taught to deeply appreciate the classical arts. When asked about the nature of audience involvement in performances, V.P Dhananjayan said, “Our classical art forms are rich, they require a lot of study, but there is always an audience. These days, we don’t have royal patrons, and so we have to ‘market’ the art. Marketing is not a bad word in itself, but how it is done is important.”

While artists today are dependent on the right kind of publicity to survive, they also believe that the power of the performance will evoke a response from any audience. “The purpose of dance is to educate, enlighten and entertain,” explained Shanta Dhanajayan. “If natya covers all these aspects, the audience participation is bound to be there,” she added.

Madhavi Mudgal said, “The audience only knows the strength of the art that is communicated. Even an audience that is clueless about Indian culture or Indian art forms will be moved by the strength of our art forms.”

Also on the discussion panel was Audrey Perera, the arts event organiser credited with bringing the international music festival WOMAD to Singapore, who said that from her experience, the human soul responds to what is true and beautiful, regardless of origin. G.T Mani, well-known media personality and emcee in Singapore who is deeply interested in Indian classical dance, expressed a similar view.

Keywords: Gauri Krishnan, Dance India festival, The Power of the Female: Devangana Sculptures on Indian Temple Architecture, evolution of Classical Indian Dance