The title of this column is not a commentary on the current fashion scene. Rather, it is an abstraction of the fashion metaphor that has seeped onto the classical dance platform. When I say R-A-M-P, I actually am referring to the four top Bharatanatyam(BN hereafter) soloists of today who can be counted off to the four letters of this fashion acronym. Start the guessing game y’all but continue reading.
If you want to be a star soloist BN dancer of today you MUST adhere to the following moves. Shake, shimmy, strut, shrug, pout, slide, grimace, wink, leap, pose. The last move is a must. Pose, pose and pose whenever and wherever. Like fashion models. All four dancers have attained cult status. They perform to sell out crowds. Eager devotees stare at them without blinking and cell phones secretly capture all their moves, including costume designs. They are venerated as Goddesses and hundreds drop to the floor backstage. Yet, are they performing Bharatanatyam or a review of what they have accomplished at the gym, a fashion show and the running track? Atheleticism, speed and stamina have replaced all that BN gurus have long taught us about this magnificent classical style. Ease, grace, emotional depth, poetic lyricism has been re-formed and re-vamped by these four divas for our present age of speed and greed. Watching them perform like wannabe film heroines makes me long to run home and turn on my DVD to see Padmini in “Tillana Mohanambal” or the famous Vyjyanti – Padmini dance marathon in “Vanji Koti Valiban”. That is full out filmi dancing with panache!
I am not a nostalgia buff neither am I in need of an emotional laxative. I adore Yamini, Kamala and Vyjayanti and realize that those days are long gone. Of the four devis, I like one the most. She knows who she is. All four lay claim to being “pure, authentic, classical and pristine”. All I see, however, is the dancer and not the dance. I want to breathe with the performer, not be choked tight with tension. I want to be shaken and stirred. I do not want to see every move rehearsed to death, every step, every musical ‘gamaka’ and ‘niraval’ stripped of spontaneity, verbose explanations which are never manifested in the actual performance, and four women in their forties and fifties dancing as if they are still twenty years old.
I was beginning to think that all successful BN dancers had to adopt this new formula until I watched Toronto based Sri Vidya Natarajan stun a small Chennai audience at Chandralekha’s SPACES with power, passion, honesty, musicality and sheer splendour! Wow, I thought, that is what BN really is and can be! Outspoken SriVidya was quick to add that she was not performing “Mami Natyam”. For those who did not get her slant at at the Natya Kala Conference, she elaborated- “I am not performing Brahmin Dance!” Ouch!
Who am I to complain? Having stepped away from the classical scene 18 years ago and not being part of the rat race or the glamour circuit, I observe the scramble to the pinnacle which all four divas are stretching for. There is nothing that can stop the juggernaut of the R-A-M-P nayikas. They are the stars who can do anything and get away with it, manufacturing consent through zealots and gullible writers who fawn over them. For the many younger and commmitted BN dancers who watch in dismay, I say. Get onto the catwalk. Ignore your dance training and strut your stuff. RAMP rules!