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Stepping the extra mile

Shirisha Shashank (left) and Ajay Viswanath (right)

This issue of Trendsetters features two long timers in the field of Bharatanatyam. Shirisha Shashank, credited with accomplishments in Carnatic music, and Kuchipudi as well, has had a steady career graph and is currently making inroads into the Chennai arena. Ajay Viswanath, a traditionalist honing his skills in authentic Mysore Bani, is a spirited male dancer finding his niche in the arena.

Note: This conversation was first published in print in Ananya's Abhivyakti, a monthly periodical

Do young solo artistes have a satisfactory global reach out (for both performances and education)? If not, what are the reasons for the absence of the same?

Shirisha: Because of the severe competition from the dancers residing abroad and also flooding of artists from India, it is very difficult to find slots abroad even for acclaimed dancers. Unlike common parlance, the field out there does not necessarily reflect absolute merit because of several influencing factors.

Ajay:The answer would be 'no' and the reasons would be the following. - Solo artistes do not have the privilege to invest sufficient time and travel for global reach out; Solo as a form is well rounded. And if you have to excel it needs an access to allied forms, which at times are not so easily accessible; Solo artistes also invariably resort to teaching as a regular source of income, so it adds on to their demand of time.

How do you compare and contrast between a one-on-one personal training of art and an institutionalized training, viz Gandharva Mahavidyalaya (Music), Kalamandalam (Dance), and Chitrakala Parishath (Visual arts)?

Shirisha: In my own experience, institutions like Kalakshetra offer a comprehensive knowledge of several fields associated with the dance. Whereas, individual training helps one become a solo artist because of the intensive training and focus on performance.

Ajay:I’m biased to institutional training – as it not only provides a broader base for development, but it also draws on the strength of many people rather than depending on one person’s expertise.

Young artistes today are finding solace by taking to allied fields such as compering, acting and part-time jobs for sustainability in the field. On one hand, it may give them an expansion of skill sets, but on the other is the art field loosing out on good talent? Your opinion.

Shirisha: Speaking from my experience in Chennai, it is a common knowledge that talent alone is not enough to specialize and sustain solo dancing over a long period of time. Like game of tennis, pursuing dance career calls for financial investments, at least in the initial stages. Those who could afford could easily overtake even highly talented people who may not afford to invest. Major distractions, marriage, displacement from prominent dance promoting cities etc. could derail ambitions of becoming a solo performer.

Ajay:I wouldn’t see it as a loss, rather I see it as a gain to the allied field. In my own journey, if I have been able to contribute to behavioral field, through my knowledge of dance, that is more satisfying to me, accepting the fact that I might not have created my best choreography in dance. It’s a matter of individual choice, and I respect that individual for it.

IPL has entered into the classical domain as well. Advertisements carrying classical artistes representing regional teams are all over the place. Your take on the issue?

Shirisha: As far as my memory goes, I don’t see any advertisement portraying classical artists or art forms. However, it is a welcome thing as it helps in making the classical art forms popular amongst the youth and the population at large.

Ajay:I would consider it a matter of pride, if IPL needs a classical artiste to endorse, it only goes to say, that the classical artiste has that level of influence.

Give us your opinion on TV shows attracting children and glorifying art.

Shirisha: TV reality shows do attract very talented children into the competitions and it does give them an opportunity to showcase their talents. Many such talented children have found good opportunities in the film industry and on small screens. However, to become a successful performer in the field of classical music and dance requires a totally different understanding of the art forms and these reality shows haven’t so far produced any artist of eminence. Overall I could say that it is another form of publicity for classical art forms at best.

Ajay:I find it a great opportunity for unknown talent to come to fore. Media always glorifies everything. It is sustainability that proves the test of an artiste. And thus I don’t think TV is doing any harm.

Share a specific incident which moved you so much that you felt proud of being an artiste.

Shirisha: In the life span of an artist, there are many eventful days that could be remembered for ever. One such occasion that I particularly cherish is when I was invited to perform by the Kalakshetra Foundation, Chennai as part of the “Madras day” celebrations. In the audience were legends from the field of dance and hundreds of young dancers. To name a few, Gurus Kalanidhi Narayan, C.V. Chandrashekar, Sadanam Balakrishnan, Leela Samson and famed danseuse Priydarsini Govind.

Ajay:One Incident which moved me and made me proud to be in the league of artistes is an incident in Paddukka’s (Dr. Padma Subramanyam) life. It a situation, when her show was cancelled due to rains, and she was surrounded by audience who came to share with her that, they had been waiting for over 5 hours to see her dance, she performed for them right there, in a corner, without stage and other arrangements, for her audience. That’s what makes artistes like her great!

We feel…

Young solo artistes have to slog their own way to find opportunities for performances; some can afford and some cannot and so the leveling of talent is biased. Any platform available for an artiste is welcome and the youth today are stepping that extra mile in accomplishing themselves in allied arts.