Owning Your Expression
Today as I sat there explaining myself to a contemporary dancer I realised that expression has been challenged all my life... especially by me. It all came down to the question "where do I fit"? And displacement has been my theme all along. From being a refugee who was chased out of the country I was born in, to living as a temporary resident in Madras to living the rest of my life in Australia and constantly being asked "where are you from?" Displacement has been my theme and so I never had a grounding or a sense of belonging to any place. Indian classical dance as I was taught it, was what I later tended to accept as home but I could never fully see myself as a "fine arts classical artist". I mean I'm the one who dropped out of English Lit to do English and found it far more comfortable to write stories about my migrant experience than to sit there an disci-per what the red tin meant in some poem.. I was the one who insisted on slouching because I didn't want to walk like I had a carrot stuck up my backside, the way the "posh" people did.. I was the one who resonated with street styles of dance..
Does that then make me "contemporary" but god I need my work to convey exactly what I am trying to say to the audience, I can't let it just be ambiguous! I'll be honest I never saw eye to eye with the Dada movement or Dali.. I didn't see why I needed to disrupt.. I preferred the classical harmony of the Renaissance... So where does that make me fit? How am I to be classified.. ? Lets take Shastram for example.. Is it the world of Indian Classical dance or is it a study and commentary on the world of Indian Classical dance.. so where does Shastram fit? Classical, Contemporary, Commercial?
On one hand there is this idea of how you are defined.. and on the other hand there is this idea of who does your art resonate with? There are also artists who look at what is "in trend" in "main stream" and create based within those parameters.. I have completely struggled to create within anyone else's parameters.. or even appreciate something because the rest of the world does.
For example lets take Usha Jey's fusion Hip Hop Bharathanatyam. While I definitely saw where she was coming from and supported and appreciated that aspect, a part of me was struggling to appreciate the technique.. because overall instead of the dance harmonising two dance styles I found it disrupting the two styles because there was also an element of Kuthu in it.. I couldn't unsee this and I struggled to find "nalinam" or that elegance in the movement. Which in my head was an essential part of sringaram as I perceived it at the time. However the whole world went wild for it! I literally sat there studying exactly what was happening and realised that it was the rebellion in the dance.. instead of working with harmony where the fusion was not seen, so that it gelled perfectly, there was a disruption to it and therefore a sense of rebellion which the world loved and always seems to love!
And although so many people sent me this video because they thought this is what I was doing, I had say I was trying to do exact opposite with my work which is create a harmony between the two styles without disrupting the two. This is an idea that has been instilled through classical dancing.. "fuse but hide the fusion" It certainly didn't resonate as much with the world.. no where near it!
But then as an honest artist, do I then go and change my expression so it resonates with the world or do I stick to what makes sense to me?
Further lets take me as a Bharathanatyam artist.. certainly my technique needs work but again my aspiration is not to be like the classical dancers I commonly see on stage.. more I like the way classical dancers such as padmini , rakini and vyjayathi mala and kumari kamala danced on the silver screen, that mixed with some ideas I'd picked up along the way.
Again it may not fit into any pre-constructed space or definition and I may be an artist who belongs no where! Not in the classical space, not in the commercial space, not in the contemporary space.
However, I can gladly, after much analysis and exploration, say that my expression whether it be theatre or film or dance.. definitely belongs with me and I belong with it.
All my life I had tried to fit into this space or that space and undervalued and criticised my own expression because of my lack of sense of belonging.. But the greatest thing about an artist or any human for that matter, is that we have the power to create and the right to express in which ever way we please.
The secret then is not to belong.. but to own...
I must say after decades I can happily say I own my art and unless we are looking for a commercial return, it also doesn't matter who agrees appreciates ones art. Each to their own! Own it and enjoy it!
Just had to get that off my chest! Having said all this.. if you want to sell tickets or get paid for your work, you better resonate!! lol..