Virtual space — let the ripple not become a wave

A transformation is visible in all aspects of life. The field of Natya has not been spared of these influences, which are causing ripples at the cost of sustenance and credibility. Is digital humanity a reality to face? Digital media is an asset that we have earned through technological strides world over. If not for this, it would have been impossible to stay connected in situations like the lockdown we are facing today. But how are we going to utilise this in the future is the question. Is it going to enhance our supremacy in the arena of traditional arts, or is it just going to be a scaffolding over a heritage monument? Are artistes deploying it now to gain a professional edge or will they end up running a perpetual race in this new play field?

Dance is universal to many cultures. It has offered contributions to even neuroscience by providing pathways to study the brain’s plasticity. Additionally, there have been studies that evaluate the therapeutic effects of dance and movement in the brain. There are significant changes in the current world, where digitisation is an unavoidable trend.

The traditional method of reading relevant books printed on paper has transformed into digital texts through various web portals. On a positive note, digitisation has led to the possibility of borrowing literature from various domains and facilitating interdisciplinary research.

Artistes have been incorporating scientific developments for a long time. Nevertheless, this possibly creates ‘dents’ in the enterprise, which are not always identified. Dance movement is a fluid as well as a complex phenomenon, that would require sophisticated sensors to digitise it.

A scientific theory comes into relevance and importance only when practised without treading on toes. Discipline is an indispensable characteristic, in terms of indoctrination and instruction, system and order, training and control, rules and codes.

Video recordings in social media and massive online courses have allowed many enthusiasts to learn by watching. However, we need to ask — how much of the essence can be captured through watching a video?

Oral transfer

In a case study abroad, researchers explored the use of kinetic sensors to study the motion of the performer’s body and made a presentation using 3D gaming technology and multi-sensors for dance learning. It was a contribution towards using virtual environments as learning systems. Several such sensors were placed across the performer’s body to study their movement. However, the core problem lies in the fact that majority of this research is conducted in Western dance while our model still relies a great deal on oral transference and creative intuition.

Indian dance is dominated by rhythm — aspects such as Nritta, accompanied by Abhinaya, which requires years of expertise in subtle facial expressions. During dance training, pure technique and structure can get communicated as the basic emotional stance is that of vigour. On the other hand, the intense involvement of expressions, the devotional quotient, and the one-to-one transmission with the teacher and the taught in close proximity is hard to replace or simulate. It takes years of hard work, dedication and study to master the nuances and achieve the guru’s nod and the spectator’s acceptance. Almost an entire lifetime is spent to make that full circle from student to various stages of growth.

Over the years, we have in a way, compromised on the number of dance items when our ritualistic classical dances moved from temple to proscenium. Again we adopted changes in presentations — from a large number of accompanying musicians to fewer, followed later by absence of live music, often replaced with recorded music. The ensemble, artistes and spectators together are believed to always enliven the entire space. Today, the dance arena has reached a stage where, there is no direct involvement of communicative spectators, who as ‘Sahrudayas’, contribute by their attention and appreciation, which in turn raises the performer’s sense of fulfilment.

Stalwarts and sensitised audiences have generally become scarce. Mediocrity appears to suffice to gain visibility, again from the average spectator. Discerning audiences form the cornerstone of this art but virtual platforms have to take into account audiences of all categories. For a sincere Prekshaka, who views the performance on a gadget, it is akin to eating a traditional Indian sweet with a fork! The RASA can never be tasted in this fashion. Even the live broadcast of a programme, while it is happening on stage is better in spontaneity, than when it is consciously practised for a camera shoot. An organic product could be at conflict with animated projection of skills and expertise, not always well-assessed.

Time to read and introspect

Teaching mainly through cyber space is a half-hearted solution to tackle the ongoing problem. The concept has been prevalent for years now. The best way to utilise a period like this would be to read up on theory, hone the skills and introspect. Insecurity need not dictate our choices as it results only in noise. There could be better balance after resting and re-evaluation of life.

The way forward if imperative, would be to use digital humanities in mapping the movements of maestros to ponder and learn lessons from. The unique features of the guru-sishya Parampara are deep love, respect and mutual communion. There is exchange of knowledge — not only regarding dance but related subjects and life itself. What is needed is a path-breaking language which will strike a balance — preserve traditional roots and culture and use the digital platform to pass them on to enquiring minds. In this way, practice-based research can cultivate a fluid exchange between Sastra and Prayoga — theory and practice. So that the core attributes are not not left behind.

Because Natya promises a good life for an individual and a civilised society. And Natya Sastra was given to foster ‘righteousness,’ not just entertainment.