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Tradition and Beyond
by Dr. Mamata Niyogi-Nakra

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Posts: 5
Location: Montreal, Canada

PostPost title: Tradition and Beyond
Posted: Wed 07 Jan, 2004 9:24 pm
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Note from the moderator: The following is an outline of the points involved in the teaching of Bharata Natya outside India. It was distributed to the participants of the Summer Residency Course in 2003. Please feel free to comment on any of the points mentionned below.


What is tradition?
    - a historically established legacy whose roots can be traced back in time.
    - a framework for continuity taking advantage of the past experience.
    - a framework with defining characteristics.

Is tradition limiting or liberating?
"Freedom is to be able to do what one wants to and not only what one likes to"
– Dame Ninette de Valois.

Tradition is the framework that gives the freedom to express; add to it discipline and one has a launch pad for creativity. It is limiting only for those with limited imagination.

Defining characteristics of the Bharata Natya tradition
The Bharata Natya tradition is made up of hastas, facial expressions, body positions and adavus that provide an extraordinary capacity for a wide range of movements and expressions of moods and sentiments, which have provided a rich storehouse of music and dance compositions, accumulated over centuries.

The following might be considered, among others, as the defining characteristics of the Bharata Natya tradition:
    1. The narrative elements using codified gestures to interpret the accompanying song or for telling stories.
    2. Facial expressions and body postures that express emotions and sentiments.
    3. Ardhamandali, the half knee-bend position and the geometrical patterns that emanate from it as the hands and feet change positions.
    4. Addami, the free movement of the head.
    5. Ankle bells and bare feet.
    6. The margam repertoire from Alarippu to Tillana.
    7. Themes and stories from the religious texts.
    8. The dress, jewellery and make-up.
    9. Carnatic accompanying music.
    10. Nattuvangam, the rhythmic framework provided by a conductor of the dance.

For any given piece, a certain minimum number of these, not all, are necessary to constitute what has been called the ethos of Bharata Natya.

Evolution of tradition and going beyond
    1. Tradition is not something handed down frozen in time.
    2. Perpetuation of the practice as found: Is it protecting tradition or limiting it?
    3. What is the role of individual talent in tradition?
    4. Repossession of tradition with understanding and its enrichment over different periods of history.
    5. Repossessing under different circumstances and in alien soil.

Going beyond
    (a) Explorations in themes and treatment.
    (b) Using new technologies.
    (c) Looking anew at the old and the forgotten.
    (d) Moulding tradition to suit the environment.
    (e) Sprouting branches with new leaves and fruits: is tradition evolving or a new art emerging.

It is what we want to do that leads us into uncharted territory and takes us beyond what we inherit.

Points to ponder
What is “going beyond”? How to go beyond?
Working within the tradition and yet pushing its frontiers.
Using the tradition in other areas, as in
    i. therapy
    ii. scholarship and history
    iii. Arts in education programme.
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Posts: 3
Location: Toronto

PostPost title: text and tradition
Posted: Sat 17 Jan, 2004 2:18 pm
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Hello everyone!

This is indeed an exciting moment as this is my first post to this eagerly awaited forum. This is the first 'flowering' of our summer SRC efforts! My deepest and most inexpressible thanks go to Mamatadi and Bans Uncle for founding our new (flowering) garden of knowledge; and thanks in advance to all of you friends who will contribute on an ongoing basis.

I want to ask you about your impressions concerning the relationship between 'text' and 'tradition'. We have, in the past, talked about what tradition is, but we have not quite explored the many possibilities of what constitutes 'text'.

When we think of 'text', we most often think about the graphic representation of thoughts or objects in the world -- namely 'written' but also sometimes 'oral' or 'performative' texts (for example, abhinaya, narrative, storytelling, etc.). But does 'text' always necessarily involve the representation of something else? Can we not call the body itself a 'text'?

The Latin word from which we derive our own word for 'text' is 'textus', which means "tissue or fabric", and 'texere', which means "to weave". In other words, 'text' is both a process and the outcome of this process (textus and texere): I may, for example, interpret a text through Bharatanatya movement, but my interpretation need not be a 'representation' of something -- instead, it could be considered a textual "weaving together" in itself of emotion, thought, and movement.

Those of you who have read the ancient Greek poem called the 'Odyssey' will recall the artful character Penelope, wife of the cunning Odysseus, who, as she waited for her husband (believed to be dead, but in fact on his own god-imposed 'odyssey'), was pursued by many suitors who vied for her hand in marriage and the glory of Ithacan kingship. Penelope liked to weave, and she told her many suitors that when the fabric on her loom had been completed, she would announce her decision. And day by day, those who watched Penelope sit at the loom and weave her thoughts believed that they were ever closer to the day of completion. But what they did not know, is that at night, when nobody was watching, Penelope would go to the loom and unweave the threads of her day's work.

What does this show us? It suggests that 'text' involves both 'doing' and 'undoing'; it is a process of both weaving and unweaving. This is an important point, I think, when it comes to the relationship between 'text' and 'tradition'. We have to realize that interpreting 'tradition' also involves a continual process of weaving and unweaving, doing and undoing.

But in order to undo, for instance, a fabric on a loom, one has to have developed the technique of 'looming'. Unweaving, in other words, demands expertise, technique and conscious engagement. This is why, when one undoes tradition without the appropriate skill or technique, it cannot be said that one has created a text (textum, texere).

The point I want to make is this: it is not the undoing of tradition (i.e., traditional texts, etc.) that threatens the artistic process and the work of art, but the lack of technique that is necessary to interpret and create text.

Text and technique (the Latin 'textus' and 'technicus' -- the latter meaning "skill or craft") are inextricable in this sense. And tradition itself is nothing more than the received repository of text and technique over a span of time. In order for a text to be created, tradition demands to be upheld (held up?) and undone; but this is only possible through proper technique.

Nandita and Dan, in Toronto
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Location: Toronto

PostPost title: Tradition and Beyond
Posted: Fri 22 Oct, 2004 1:04 pm
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Hello! I thought I’d post reports "A" and "B" on the Toronto and Montreal showings of ALCHEMINEMENT part one -- melanosis -- here in the “Tradition and Beyond” section, perhaps to generate discussion specifically focused on issues of what the modernist poet and critic T.S. Eliot would call “tradition” (what we have) and “individual creation” (what we are here calling beyond). What does it mean to go “beyond”? Can one truly go “beyond” tradition? What, in fact, is tradition? ... these are all excellent questions, and perhaps we can begin with reference to Eliot’s essay (“Tradition and the Individual Talent”) and go on/beyond from there.

Here (below) are reports "A" and "B" from the Montreal and Toronto showings of melanosis (the first of ALCHEMINEMENT's three stages), posted here to start off our discussions, perhaps with reference to Eliot's essay ("Tradition and the Individual Talent"), on the topic of "Tradition and Beyond":

Post Number One (A):

ALCHEMINEMENT part one -- melanosis -- at the Conseil des arts, Académie de danse, and National Theatre School, Montreal 25/26-09-04

* * *
Mamatadi has asked me to write a few words about the ALCHEMINEMENT performances at the Conseil des arts, Académie de danse, and National Theatre School, which were presented last weekend (September 25-26) as the final part of the three-part Kala Bharati performance for the city’s Journées de la culture. It is a pleasure to do so -- and, what’s more, in order to do so I find myself faced with the pleasurable imperative (the ‘impleasurative’, if you will) of having to write a few words about the weekend’s performances as a whole, since the Kala Bharati show did indeed form a single and singular technical Bharatnatya triptych (or ‘technobharatnatriptych’, if you like).

The first part of the presentation, in which Renu, Sasha, Jaya and Srinkant introduced the basic steps and rhythms of Bharatnatya, was without a doubt the perfect beginning to the proceedings, since every audience member -- be they familiar with the art-form or not -- could from that point on clearly discern the continuum of Bharatnatya techniques from the most gloriously traditional pieces (the second part of the Kala Bharati triptych) to the most apocalyptically ‘untraditional’ (the third and final part of the triptych, constituting the first instalment of NANDAN 's ALCHEMINEMENT : the phase of ‘destruction’, ‘darkening’, or alchemical melanosis).*

The second part of the presentation, presenting the gloriously traditional pieces, was beautiful to behold and displayed the marvellous choreographic symmetries and mathetic harmonies characteristic of Mamatadi’s kinetic aesthesis. It is always a unique pleasure to watch the Kala Bharati dancers (Neha, Richa, Renu, Sasha, Jaya and Srinkant) weave the wonderful tapestry of their dance-text, and this weekend was no exception. Breathtaking! And the transition -- or rather, the affective transport -- from pleasure to pain, from grace to force, and from the harmonious to the discordant that the passage (le cheminement) from ‘tradition’ to ‘beyond’ enacted was itself a sublime and unsettling switch: a switch which elicited one rather excellent response in the first (morning) question-and-answer period suggesting that Bharatnaya remain on the side of beauty and harmony rather than venturing into the unsettling/disturbing terrain of sublimity and discord (vive la résistance!) ...

The final piece, for all of its darkness and destruction, was in fact a very constructive addition -- in part thanks to the first part of the Kala Bharati triptych, which highlighted the basic elements uniting ALCHEMINEMENT with the previous cheminements (pas-sages/wise-steps): here the previous cheminements undertook and underwent a transmutation or transubstantiation (l’alchimie des cheminements, l’ALCHEMINEMENT), and the full range of the art-form flowered -- perhaps in what could be taken as a rather "Baudelairean" manner (as a fleur du mal), following the suggestion of the first commenter; or perhaps, instead, in a more "Nietzschean" vein (au-delà du bon et du mal), as NANDAN themselves claim. Responses in the subsequent shows by Vincent Warren and Simon Brault amongst others, tended to be unanimously positive and wonderfully perceptive (picking up on the themes, techniques, and affective strategies with remarkable keenness of insight). Even the Adi and Kinkini (the youngest dancers) in attendance at the final performance on Sunday reacted marvellously to the piece, visibly registering on their faces -- and with their hands -- its underlying mood, and showing in so doing a fine attunement to its spirit, body and soul.


* Post-Scriptum
Re: ALCHEMINEMENT parts two and three --
(the next instalment, the silver phase of alchemical leukosis, and the last instalment, the golden phase of alchemical iosis -- i.e. the whitening and the reddening of melanosis, moving from unfathomable darkness to the brightest silver and then the deepest gold -- should be ready sometime in the new year [2005], so that the entire trilogy of ALCHEMINEMENT, from its dark beginning to its golden end, can be up for production and full presentation by the end of 2005 and/or beginning of 2006)<

Post Number Two (B):

ALCHEMINEMENT part one -- melanosis – at Trinity Saint Paul's Church, Toronto 15-10-04

* * *
The Toronto premiere of ALCHEMINEMENT part one -- melanosis -- was a great success, and the audience of invited artists were remarkably responsive and very generous with their requested insights (requested, of course, by NANDAN; for the evening was arranged not only as a showing of the work in progress, but as a "workshop" and "brainstorming session" as well).

Debashis Sinha (, the composer of the soundscape featured in this first part of the trilogy, was very much impressed with the development of the Offerus-like protagonist, and noted that he “missed this character and this character’s interesting perspective on the events” when, for instance, Nandita exchanged his role for that of the King (the Tyrant) at one point, or for the various members of the King’s procession in other sequences. “Why not have the whole piece be devoted exclusively to this intriguing fellow?” he asked, adding “I love this piece!”

Noah Shilkin, the legendary keyboardist (under the moniker of “Neil”) for Australia’s Mother Goose -- and now a musician and producer here in Toronto (, was in agreement with Deb, loving the performance and saying that he too was craving to “know more about this character,” suggesting that perhaps the King’s procession, and even the Tyrant-King himself (not to mention the Devil), could be portrayed sheerly through the protagonist (Offerus)’s reactions -- which, he warned, would be very demanding on the dancer, on the very tradition of Bharatanatya (its traditional elements and repertoire), and on the musician, Deb Sinha, as well, since the music in this case would have to become a character, or characters, in addition to the dancer.

Rolling with that idea, Shyamala Dakshinamurthi ( then noted -- with reference to Dan’s opening remarks about [1] the overall structure of the piece, [2] its narrative elements (the Offerus myth), [3] its alchemical theme, and [4] its transformative principle from melanosis to iosis -- that the trilogy’s ultimate culmination in the “golden realisation” that Tyrant, Devil, Hermit and Christ-Child were all merely aspects of Offerus himself (the overall vision, according to Dan/NANDAN), was in keeping with these suggestive ideas.

Stanley White, to whom Dan often refers by the [k]nightly (shyamalian?) nickname “HINDUSTAN” (his Hindustani nomen), noted the effectiveness of Nandita’s breathing technique in conveying the feeling of struggle and of marshalling one’s energies, and also noted the power of Nandita’s vocalisations, stating that he had never before heard a classical Indian dancer yell out a war-cry, and that it had an enormous and powerful effect.

Renowned photographer Becca Miller ( captured the event on photographic film, while Mexico City post-production wizard Mariana Martinez composed an elaborate video montage of melanosis itself. Playwright guru Kate Minski put pen to paper to document the proceedings, and répétatrice Rubena Sinha was on hand to describe for those in attendance the development of the piece from Montreal to Toronto (back and forth).

A fascinating evening of dance and discussion. And the venue -- the Chapel Room of Trinity Saint Paul’s Church near the intersection of Bloor and Spadina -- could not have been better: stained glass windows, a red backdrop, and intimate surroundings. Wonderful! Alas, this is only a brief overview -- Nandita promises to post her own comments in the next week or so, and also to respond to the beautiful feedback that is beginning to appear on this Kala Bharati website. Love to all, NANDAN.

Yours encore,
love, NANDAN.
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Posts: 6
Location: Toronto

PostPost title: Post-Tradition (
Posted: Mon 10 Jan, 2005 3:05 pm
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Our resident multi-instrumentalist,
Debashis Sinha* has started
with fellow multi-instrumentalist
Ben Grossman, a discuission-forum
devoted to the concept of Tradition and Beyond,
which they aptly entitle the "Post-Traditional" --
for more. -- Thought we would "post" this here,
if only for the sake of synchronicity
(meaningful coincidence).
Yours as Ever,



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