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  • Writer's pictureSreya Mukherjee

UTSAVAM 2020 - Day 2

Updated: Nov 2, 2020

Utsavam 2020, in its fifth edition in collaboration with Kalakshetra Foundation and DakshinaChitra, shed light on a theme that immediately draws attention and is also the need of the hour – Future of the Arts. It granted cognisance to the significance of looking at the arts in tandem with what is happening around us and what captures audiences. By extension, this symposium sought to focus on how artists could morph with a glance at the current world. The talks and discussions outlined the shifts in perspective to looking at the arts in a world of augmented and virtual reality. Focusing on the performing arts of the four South Indian states, this theme of the future of the arts was seen at the symposium through two different lenses – one, current trends that predict a future that could be positive or negative and two, the things we could do now to shape a future we desire. An event showcasing the versatility and the multifaceted dynamics of the art scene in South India, Utsavam ‘2020 had a very cogent and clear vision – aiming to ensure progress and relevance. The event opened its arms to the idea that the future is plural – parallel possibilities could co-exist. Further expanding on this theme of plurality, Utsavam 2020 also looked atacknowledging the past, discussing the present and looking out for a future that is all-encompassing, assorted, casteless, ecological and feminist.

Author: Sreya Mukherjee

Sreya has completed her Masters degree in History from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. She has interned with the National Museum, New Delhi and DakshinaChitra, Tamil Nadu. She was a Sahapedia-UNESCO Fellow in 2017. Currently, she is pursuing a PhD in History from Washington State University in the US. Her interest caters to social history of the subcontinent with a focus on consumer culture and gender dynamics in modern India.

Edited By Anu Bhaskararaman

Anu is a dancer, theatre artiste and editor. She has been training in Bharathanatyam under Smt Seethalakshmi Vijay since she was seven years old. She has also trained in ballet, and completed a Diploma in Movement Arts and Mixed Media from Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts, Bangalore, with Honours in 2019. She has been acting, singing and dancing for theatre since 2010. With a BA in English and MA in Linguistics, she worked full-time as an editor at Orient Blackswan Pvt. Ltd for a year, after which she has been freelancing while also pursuing dance.

DAY 2 - 7th March 2020 (Saturday)

Panel 1 - Sustainable Futures in Dance and Dance Theatre - Hanne M. De Bruin, Revathy

Ramachandran, and Sangeetha Maheshwaran moderated by Devina Dutt.

This panel began by looking at the meaning of the word sustainability and its connotations. The panel established that this word, now so crucial in the arts, takes on meanings specific to the context that it is used in.

Thus, they proposed that there is no one definition for sustainability and is instead, versatile in definition. This is not to say that this word can be used lightly or without thought. We must always choose our words with utmost care, especially in the context of conservation and preservation.

Devina Dutt shed light on the patronage system that we have inherited, that is still prevalent. It has undergone changes over the years, some beneficial and others that place artists in the position of requiring the aid of patrons and donors. . This, in turn, can limit the artist as they may find the need to cater to the requirements of the donor. In this day and age, attracting crowds and filling up auditoriums, among other things, take priority, which can conflict with pure artistic endeavours. CSR companies have not yet added culture to their radar, which can make the path to preservation tenebrous. The art scene is perpetually short of funds and often for the purpose of funding, art has to be tailored to suit certain criteria. In such a scenario, sustainability becomes crucial.

Revathy Ramachandran delineated the importance of creating a conducive environment for people involved in the arts. She mentioned the different kinds of leaders in the field – idealists, opportunists and profiteers. She cited Rukmini Devi Arundale as an example of a leader who was a trailblazer, setting ideals for others to follow. For her, it was crucial that the younger generation understand their roots and be able to imbibe the spirit of landmark creations. She also made no compromises on her vision and put in a lot of personal effort into it. Ramachandran also highlighted how the terms ‘success’ and ‘popularity’ undergo paradigm shifts in their meanings.

In the past success was synonymous with happiness. Now it seems measured on a scale of materialistic accomplishments and fame. In 1993, Kalakshetra was taken over by the government and went beyond training artists to become an institution that also created jobs. The institution transitioned out of being a gurukul and with this, there seems to have been a reduction in voluntariness to participate in collective endeavours. The alumni used to plant the saplings of the trees on campus when they were students; now there are gardeners. Therefore, the acculturation becomes more formal and technical. Funding fills the coffers and also equips the institution with the resources to conserve what Rukmini Devi did. She was an innovator and a trend-setter – her presentations are considered to be aesthetically elevating and more importantly, sustainable. The main aim then, is to conserve what exists. By preserving the dialogues and stage crafts she had introduced herself, Rukmini Devi ensured that they are available to all.

Hanne shed light on the fact that all the problems relating to sustainability mentioned above stem from the very situation of these cultural forms and their operations in the informal sector. Nevertheless, she defined sustainability as a multifaceted term that encompasses accessibility to funds, performance spaces, artists, training and knowledge. The significance of sustainability is higher in the rural setting, atleast in part due to a prevalent belief that the rural arts are more backward or less refined than urban arts. Hanne elaborated on how popular theatre forms can be organised as performance in situations where a written script is unavailable. But this is a short-term solution. It is vital to understand that the repertoire of such popular forms, whether folk or rural, is rich in the grammar of the Tamil language and the history of its people and culture. Challenges often arise when art forms from different states interact. However, she opined that art forms express themselves best when composed in languages of the place these forms originate from.

Sangeeta Isvaran handed to us the skill set that comes with internalising the five C’s – curiosity, community, communication, compassion and change. The panel discussion put across to us that change is inevitable. But when it happens, there should not be hindrances or resistance. There should be a surrender to go with the flow, as it emboldens creativity. The future is plural and multi-disciplinary. Sustainability will be ensured and guaranteed as long as one creates his/her own opportunities and does not take no for an answer.

Panel 2 – Art Law 101 –Prabha Sridevan in conversation with MS Bharath

The panel started by defining what intellectual property is and by clarifying common misconceptions around it. It also clearly laid out the differences between terms such as patent, copyright, geographic indications, and made it clear that they cannot be used interchangeably. The discussion stated the significance of being able to understand that our intangible intellectual property bears the same importance assigned to assets and tangible property. This panel was a presentation on the definition of copyright. It elucidated on how the concept came into being as well as the confusion regarding the laws that exist to protect the arts. These are a complex set of rights as they sets out to ensure the security of the various forms of intellectual property – literary, artistic, photographic, dramatic, musical, and sound recordings among others. Since the aim is to protect one’s creations from appropriation and also to promise a formal official acknowledgement if others’ works are being used, a necessary step for the creator is to recognise the need for registration. In today’s world, copyright guarantees security as violation of it brings on recognizable offence. However, there are several layers and catches in understanding copyright. So MS Bharath cited a case study to simplify who has legitimate ownership and how to comprehend that. He spoke at length about the complexities in understanding this and the judgement passed by the Madras High Court in _______ vs. Cleveland Cultural Alliance.

The biggest take away from this discussion was the realisation that one must know what one owns and therefore, put a fence of ownership around it. It is crucially important to know one’s own rights, ignorance of which could make room for others to trespass and take advantage. No matter how many laws or by-laws exist, some of which may complicate the concept of copyright for laypeople, all these legal edicts can be understood and traced back to a flipped arrangement of the word ‘copyright’- the right to copy. In simple terms, all it denotes is one’s exclusive right over one’s own creation, one’s authority to copy his/her own creativity and control who else can make use of it as well.

Panel 3 – Shaping the future – A panel on emerging dance choreography – Thilagavathi

Palani, Veena Baswarajaiah and Masoom Parmar moderated by Shreya Nagarajan Singh

The panel opened with Thilagavathi Palani speaking about her experiences teaching small children Kattaikkuttu, motivating them to explore movement instead of sitting in front of the television. Her efforts have resulted in a whopping number of performances by her students that can easily cross a hundred nights worth of shows. She picked out what she felt was unique from the main tools and techniques and juxtaposed them with her own reflections on social issues into pieces she choreographed herself despite facing several hurdles. Nothing bogged her down from her uninhibited resilience to try and create opportunities for herself to be successful. She recounted how she was asked to perform in Chennai for 45 minutes, which posed a challenge, as she normally perform for 8 hours straight in her village. But being the powerhouse that she is, Thilagavathi adapted her choreography by incorporating a new element in the form of heightened acceleration.

Masoom Parmar picked up one of his productions – Aaj ke Naam – to highlight how much

Research, and how many sophisticated nuances go into choreographing a piece to present something that is not only seen as visually pleasing but also provokes the audience to think and educates them. He spoke about how he weaved anecdotes from his personal life and fused them with noteworthy poems of Kabir and Sufi saints to create a text that does not echo what has been done before. By deconstructing his production, he explained how to fuse identities and reconcile them as an intersection of religion and artform. He brought three facets of social existence into this piece – the religious aspect, the never-ending insecuritiesassociated with body image and one’s personal experience of love and loss.

Veena defined choreography as something, which when unfolding in front of an audience, will have relevance by being able to connect with them. It will embody tradition, art, and aesthetics and at the same time, play with space, voice, and light. She posed a question - whether classical dance forms bring their connotations on the basis of their music, costumes, lights, and stage and sans any one of these elements, will it lose a layer of its name. She went on to pursue contemporary dance, working in companies where knowledge of Bharatanatyam is pivotal. She conducted in-depth research due to the fact that the Shastras could not answer all her questions. Having put herself at distance, therefore, helped her look at her dance form critically and de-exoticise it. She moulded her understanding of dance to narrate different compositions – be it works responding to climate and addressing the crisis of water or depiction of a rudraveena player at a metro station. Such intersections bridged the gap between the performer and the viewer as it could move people up close. She went on to work in theatre where working with non-dancers helped her to look at the anatomy of a performance from a different vantage point. Choreography, according to Veena, becomes a language, one that we write with our bodies. This means that expansive and multifarious articulations are made possible using bodies as conduits of expression. Current trends in choreography look at different ways of evoking emotion through performance among the audience.

One never finishes learning. Choreography is a separate skill that is benefited by an

acquired knowledge of dance. The take-away from this discussion was the zeal to experiment

and the need to have an outside eye review the work. One has to be updated about current cultural trends and events because a subconscious absorption of it instills a better understanding. At the same time, we should also cut ourselves some slack and allow ourselves to fail, bearing in mind that even when we start with full conviction, we might derail. Nevertheless, the future of the arts lies in breaking the rules, constant trying, and enriching ourselves.

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