Go watch a performance, just do it!
If you’ve come to an ICAPS program, you’ve heard a version of this spiel, but seriously, go watch performances.
Well, finish reading my piece, and then go watch a performance - if you’re anywhere on the Eastern sea board, I’m pretty confident there’s at least one that you go to within driving distance this weekend. That’s my plan, too, to watch the fabulous Prakriti Dance’s Festival of Solos.
And, if the venue allows for it, take your kids, too. They’ll thank you for it. You might say “But, Ameya, my kids are not just that into it.”
That’s okay, do it anyway - I’m sure you make your kids do other things they would rather not be doing, like eat bendakaya because it’s good for the brain. And, it really makes a difference. One day, they’ll be asking you to take them. Or, maybe, just maybe, going on their own.
I’ve had the fortune of living of having called many different places home over the years, and wherever we were, I have at least one memory of going to a performance. The first one I remember is of Swapnasundari, in Singapore. I don’t know how old I was (I think maybe under the age six? I don’t remember my brother there, and my childhood memories are all tagged either pre-brother and post-brother.) I remember being in absolute awe of her singing as she danced. I had never seen anyone do that. Another performance I saw in Singapore was of Anuradha Nehru and her students performing, while Mastergaru was conducting the nattuvangam. (On a tangential note, if you saw Bhoomi today, tell me how it was - wish I could be there!) I was simply spell-bound. I remember four dancers who seemed absolutely celestial dancing. This was after my brother was born, so I was in the second or third grade.
I have so many memories of watching dance performances at the Kalabharati in Vizag - not just my mother and other students of Kuchipudi Kalakshetra, but other programs too. It was where I discovered Odissi (I think her name was Pranati Mishra, I know I was mesmerized). One performance I attended was a drama of a modern theme. I remember bursting into giggles of delight when one of the dancers was wearing a sash labeled “Mixie”, and when the main character “started” the blender in the kitchen, she started spinning in place (supported on mridangam by the one and only Lal Mastergaru, and choreographed by Shyamala aunty).
I could go on and on - I can, to this day, 18 years later, sing the melody of a dance production I saw in St. Louis, though I don’t remember which group was dancing, and whether it was in Bharatanatyam or Kuchipudi. One of my favorite memories is a series of shows in high school where various schools and teachers came together to perform, including the Siddhendra Aradhana at the Siva-Vishnu Temple, and a fundraising program in the wake of the 2003 earthquake and tsunami, where many of the classical dance teachers in the Richmond area performed.
This summer will be one of my most favorite summers in recent history - it opened with the Sangeetha Natya Mahotsavam, followed by an opportunity to watch Madhavi Mudgal and her troupe perform (still in shock that I got a picture with her - thanks Kasi!!!!) as well as Prakriti Dance’s production “Amba-Shikandi: A Journey of Courage”.
In fact, some of the work I am most proud of is the performing avenues I’ve been able to organize and sustain in the Richmond area - ICAPS, the Sangeetha Natya Mahotsavam, and the Navaratri Cultural Celebrations. Why? Because they are opportunities to watch performances. I encourage people I meet to go to any performance they can, and here’s why.
Art changes lives.
I don’t know how to flesh that out. That’s like trying to explain sunlight to someone living in a cave. But it does. It plucks you from your world and, transforms your soul as well as the world around you. All I can say it, try it out.
Live performances are an intimate conversation.
This is something that the rasa theory goes deeply into on a technical level, but I will save that for a different day. For now, I’ll say this. When you watch a live performance, for the duration of the program, a bond is created between and the performers. They will tell you so many stories and reveal inner depths that just get wiped away by the camera lens. I could never get my all-American husband to watch dance videos, and I thought it was because he didn’t like our music or because he didn’t understand the language of Indian classical dance forms. I was dead wrong. Turns out, the issue was the screen. He is rapt with attention for any live performance, and has astute observations. Which brings me to…
Art is transcendental.
It just is. You’re never too young or too old or too “uncultured” to enjoy a performance. If you allow your mind to quiet and just take in the sights and sounds, you will be drawn in.
You will encourage the artists.
All the amazing, incredible superstar artists today were young students of the arts at some point. Go to that arangetram invitation, watch and encourage the group of classical dancers at your local cultural program even if you don’t know the song. Who knows, it might be the next who’s-who of the art world. And even if it isn’t, you’ve made their day, and you have shown them that the art they have dedicated so much time to is valuable.
Now, if you are a student of the arts, I’ve got a few more things to add.
If the performance is good, you’ll learn from it.
Watch for their technique. Watch how they manage the stage. Watch the items themselves, and their interpretations. Watch how they introduce pieces, choices with lighting and sound. Incorporate the elements you like into your own work (but don’t copy. Imitation is NOT the sincerest form of flattery. Inspiration, not replication.)
If the performance is not that good, you’ll learn from it.
Ditto. And make note of what you liked, and what changes would have made it more compelling. Incorporate your findings into your own work.
If it’s your style, you’ll benefit from it.
This one is straight forward enough - you have a frame of references as far as the technique, the mode of expression, maybe even the items. It’s a treasure trove of inspiration. Take what you like, note what you don’t, learn from both.
If it’s not your style, you’ll benefit from it.
This is an opportunity to learn a different language. Keep an open mind, allow yourself to be drawn into their world. Don’t compare, just take it all in.
You will be inspired.
You will, as long as you let your guard down. Whether they are seasoned artists or new to the stage, they have taken a physical, spiritual, and creative journey that has intersected with yours on that day. Isn’t that incredible? Who knows, it might just change your life.
The bottom line is, go to performances. And if you see me there, come and say hello and we can geek out together. Oh, and invite me - I’ll do my very best to be there.
Oh, and before I close, give yourself credit as an audience member, even if you feel you “know nothing” about the arts. The ancient treatises certainly did. Nandikeswara wrote in the Abhinaya Darpana:
Sabhaa kalpa tarurbhati
Veda shakhopa shobhitaha
Shastra pushpa samaakeernaha
Vidvat bhramara samyutaha
The audience is the wish-fulfilling tree (Kalpa vriksham)
The Vedas form its branches
The sciences are flowers that blossom from it
Scholars are the bees that are drawn to these flowers.
See you at the next program (hopefully this weekend at the Festival of Solos, or at the next ICAPS program, or at Navarathri… we’ve got options, let’s talk now)