Art without frontiers
Sharon Lowen

An artist knows no barriers of race, geography or language. The creative impulse overrides all constraints and creates its own space. The Performing Arts of India, Development & Spread Across the Globe, edited by Sharon Lowen, a classical dancer of repute, mirrors the journey of foreigners who are totally at home in the world of classical Indian dance. Excerpts . . .

THE 1990s brought together artists, gurus, and arts scholars in conjunction with a unique series of classical Indian dance and music festivals that changed the perception that non-Indian practitioners of these arts could be regarded as artists and not simply students...

We experienced the performances of artists who learned their art forms after spending their formative years in another culture. How are they drawn to the tradition? How do they enter into the tradition? How does any student in modern times enter? In the first yearís seminar, Pt. Ravi Shankar related the story of his guruís reaction to hearing about the first flight to moon, "so many miles up," he had asked, "but how far down have we gone into the sea? Though we havenít gone as far down as weíve gone high, it is much more difficult to go deep."

We all are trying to go deep. Success depends on so many factors: inherent talent and ability, hard work and good fortune in finding the right guru, an environment and living conditions that allows one to concentrate on the art, interact with colleagues, audiences and connoisseurs to name a few.

It is fascinating to examine how arts and artists survive and flourish under varied circumstances. Side by side it is important to thoughtfully consider how we all can responsibly further the arts using our Indian and collective capacities.

Artists are drawn to a particular aesthetic genre because of inner resonance with the form, which crosses boundaries of region and even nationality. The sadhana (devotion to work or practice as a means toward self-perfection) of an artist is inherently difficult and success of a performer uncertain, more so for those born outside the tradition who leave the security of their home culture to devote years of their lives to their chosen art.

Opportunities for foreigners are limited more by restricted entry into the world of performance patronage than by lack of artistic skill. As more non-Indians have been drawn to Indian classical dance in recent years, the standard has been improving. Just as many of the top Western classical ballet and modern dancers are from Asia, traditional Indian classical dance forms are becoming international as boundaries fall between borders and art.

Iíd fielded the publicís recurrent doubt that, while there could be one or two rare exceptions to the "foreigner as student but never artist" assumption, there could hardly be enough videshis (foreigners) to sustain an entire festival.

***

The various genres of classical dance and music of India are rooted in spiriual consciousness. This nurtures a context inspiring an artist to reach toward creative artistic and spiritual goals, both in study and performance. For those willing to take up the challenge, whether born in the village of the art formís origin or hundreds, even thousands of milies away, we should respect the courage and dedication of their effort and applaud the results when sincerely merited. The heartfelt, generous transmission of art from teacher to student and performing artist to audience demands a sadhana that bears fruit for everyone involved in the process.

Heart over matter
Jai Govinda

Danseuse Veronique devoted to kathak
Danseuse Veronique devoted to kathak

ART crosses boundaries. Great poetry, music, painting sculpture or dance is timeless. Youíll find the best of Michelangelo, Salvador Dali or Picasso in museums all over the world, the poetry of Tagore in universities around the globe and even the pop music of musicians like Michael Jackson, everywhere you turn. some traditions and cultures have passed the test of time by their classical beauty and have, to great extent, influenced what we see or hear today. In this world of confusion, we have turned to India for renewed answers in the field of Ayurvedic medicine, meditation, yoga, astrology, stone healing, the influences of the planets on our life and, of course, in the field of dance and music.

The whole aspect of Indian classical arts in the world cultural community can be divided into three levels: the philosophical part, the historical part and the practical part. We are discussing cultural exchange and the importance of Indian Classical Arts. At the philosophical level, the very fact that there have been annual Videshi Kalakar Festivals organised by a government agency like the Sahitya Kala Parishad, with inputs and initiative of Sharon Lowen and Naresh Kapuria, itself explains the philosophical part.

Why India? And why culture? What is culture, when we discuss culture, what does it imply? I think the best definition ó despite all the books that have been written on this subject ó is that culture is about people at the very basic level. If you donít have a people-to-people dialogue, I think all these huge Festivals of India abroad, these high profile cultural exchanges, amount to nothing (if people were not involved).

It could be someone from Mexico, from China, from Netherlands, from wherever. Culture really connects and thatís what makes any aspirants to understanding of an alien culture very important.

One must also not forget Indiaís basic spirituality and cultural strength that, despite a long colonial rule lasting 400 to 500 years, (actually a thousand years, if you take into consideration the Islamic invasions beginning tenth century onwards. Even that got assimilated in India and although India was ruled by assorted Islamic chieftains prior to the Moguls for nearly 500 years prior to European colonisers, India rarely had a conflict with the Islamic civilisation) the fact that India celebrates foreigners today, through this festival and countless other ways shows the depth of the culture.

It is not merely music and dance. It is a generosity of the spirit. When you meet your guru, you are learning from gurus, you are learning from people who are totally new to your culture. Delhi may be a political jungle. It is a capital culture; any capital city in the world has shades of such nuances.

The Performing Arts of India, Development & Spread Across the Globe, edited by Sharon Lowen, published by Shubhi Publications, Gurgaon, Pages 209, Rs 1900.

HOME