Artists learn to spin during a pandemic | Bengaluru – 71Bait

Here’s something. Think listening to a concert on Zoom is like performing live? Do you think seeing a dancer on YouTube will show you the full dimension of this art? Do you think that looking at a painting on a website or in an app is the same as seeing it face to face? The answer for most of us will be a resounding no. And yet, in this seemingly endless tragedy of Covid, technology has been our route to cultural consumption. Our engagement with art has been mainly, if not exclusively, online. This gives us a false sense of security.

This past year I have been looking at art offered online by the Museum of Art and Photography (MAP). I listened to a virtual piano concert organized by the International Music and Arts Society (IMAS). I have attended countless virtual book launches organized by the Bangalore Literature Festival and did a 3D walkthrough on the Indian Music Experience (IME) digital platform.

The problem is that engaging with art gives an almost false sense of security. It gives us the feeling of having recorded something, although what we have experienced is only a shadow of reality. Technology makes the arts accessible and ubiquitous, universal and ubiquitous.

What it lacks is the immersive emotional depth that only a live experience can provide.

So what do we do? Technology is here to stay in the intangible cultural realms that lend themselves to collaboration and participation. Today even Antakshari jamming sessions are held virtually with participants all over Bengaluru.

While technology can enhance many experiences — learning a language, for example, is just as easily done online — it does the performing arts a disservice. To experience the deep emotional resonances of a dance or theater performance, you have to be there. Performing arts aren’t portable like books, they’re not two-dimensional like movies. No, a dance performance requires physical closeness, as does yakshagana or a theatrical performance in Bengaluru’s beloved Rangashankara.

Covid has forced performing artists to adapt. Singer Sanjay Subrahmanyan created and monetized his YouTube channel. Dancer Rukmini Vijayakumar has adapted her performance to the flatness of the screen, performing the kind of dramatically choreographed work that increases her reach. Numerous dancers and dance schools are adapting to this invasion of technology into their art forms. They connect with their audience in new and unusual ways. Several arts institutions such as the Attakkalari Center for Movement Arts and the Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography (disclosure: I am on their board) offer diploma courses online. Kathak, Odissi and Bharatanatyam teachers, including stalwarts like Nirupama and Rajendra, are using social media – Instagram – to teach students and reach new audiences. Bharatanatyam teacher and dancer Praveen Kumar teaches a class on Shaale, a digital learning platform.

About Shaale. About eight years ago, in 2014, I met a young man named Skanda. I wanted to do a Sanskrit podcast that “connects the ideas of ancient India with the modern world.” At least that was the slogan. I didn’t speak Sanskrit. But I had just read an article by Aatish Taseer in Open Magazine entitled “What Sanskrit Had Mean To Me”. The piece talked about how Sanskrit opens India in a beautiful way – like the petals of a lotus. Skanda and I brainstormed and created a series of episodes for which I interviewed eminent Sanskrit scholars at Seva Sadana in Malleshwaram.

At the same time, Skanda was working on his online platform called “Shaale”, which means school in Kannada. He wanted to get the best teachers in music, dance, poetry, literature and more to teach students online about Shaale. Today, Shaale offers master classes in Bharatanatyam, Carnatic or Hindu music, Mridangam, Sanskrit poetry by the inimitable Shatavadhani Dr. R. Ganesh and many more. (I have no commercial or personal connection with this platform and do not earn anything by this mention.)

For those of us who live far away and don’t have access to excellent teachers, online courses are a godsend. But for those who have access to live teachers, online learning becomes a poor substitute. They may offer an initiation, but they don’t connect us to the bones of the art form.

I have a problem consuming culture virtually. I particularly dislike how technology has turned live performances into flat screen recreations. All media change form. Technology diminishes the performing arts for the most part.

Now that Covid is receding I have decided to personally enjoy the sheer physicality, presence and immediacy of dance. In the coming month there are two dance events, both at the Bangalore International Centre, one organized by the Prakriti Foundation and the other organized by the Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography. There are live performances at Gayana Samaja. I decided to visit as many of them as possible. Personally.


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