In India, classical dancers are often heard moaning about the lack of an audience for their art form. Barring complaints little is  done to improve the situation, for one is steeped in the superior belief that these haloed art forms are beyond being understood by a people getting more and more ‘corrupted’ by western influences. The situation of audience numbers for Bharatanatyam or Odissi in Malaysia would be no better than the Indian counterpart, but for the fact that there is a strong group of young energetic art managers who believe that art and artists having entered the market place cannot sit back and not work at luring the audience. During the Dance Diverse City 2015 at Kuala Lumpur, one saw how market savvy youngsters were engaged for the sole purpose of letting the general audiences know that viewing these art events was a worthwhile occupation. These are experts who have studied all sections of people, areas where most people congregate, how to mount the performances during a period when other distractions – religious or otherwise do not divide the attention of the people. How to publicise events by reaching out to all ages of the society, particularly the young, through television (has to be very short and capture the viewer’s attention), through posters put up in all public places and in hotels and restaurants and making dance events part of a festival of varied fare of all forms, and using every contemporary devise for communication like the internet, the Face page, tweets and what have you. Using the most famous name associated with the dance group (the name which sells) as a mascot, and building advertisements round the name as event. For their new production ‘Ganjam’, it was interesting to see how Sutra Foundation’s Mala Chandran as PR consultant was busy working out ways of ensuring sale of tickets with a good audience – and that in a big auditorium like the Istana Budaya which seats well over 2000 people! At the end of an exchange with Anita Ratnam and myself, it was heartening to hear Mala conclude positively about how the audience for classical dances like Bharatanatyam and Odissi was definitely improving. She was also looking at very popular regional celebrations where, without hurting the classical integrity of Odissi (or excellence in quality), one could devise very short and very simple group dance compositions, which could become excellent promotional material, rendered or screened in these spaces.

It is not that Indian groups are not publicity savvy. But somehow, lone classical dance events featured in various venues fail to attract the broader kind of audiences, one would wish for. And in many regions, one still harbours a feeling that luring audiences for classical dances is demeaning. In Chennai for instance, Classical Carnatic music does not need anything beyond a mention of the intended programme in the papers. During ‘the Season’, almost all the seventy odd sabhas presenting programmes through the day invariably have good audiences for music. It is dance which needs to work at convincing people, for the audiences are very small, and performing before thirty odd people seated in a large hall, is not unusual. But better management and a certain societal value attached to a high profile dance festival like the week long Music Academy‘s Classical Dance festival during the fag end of the Season in January, has acquired a stature in people’s perceptions, attracting handsome audiences.

If Classical Dance does not get away from its elitist tag, it has a bleak future.


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