Love and Authenticity in the age of anxiety - Dance and Ageing
Chitra Sundaram, Bharatanatyam dance artist and editor of the magazine PULSEdance - South Asian Dance in the UK, reflects on our ageing as dancers
[From "Animated" Spring 2007 p11]
Ask not of me, my beloved, for that earlier love...' [From Faiz Ahmed Faiz given to me by Suman Buchar; English translation is mine.]
"Why love?" she asked, referring to my title. "Because traditional South Asian dance, or more specifically Indian dance, was, and is about love. And as we grow older, our notion, our understanding, our experience of it, and how comfortable we are with love and all things commonly associated with love - youth, beauty, passion - changes... not becomes less or more, but changes. It changes, anxious to remain authentic, truthful to itself." I explained. She nodded, affirming, and quoted me in soulful Urdu a poem that speaks to growing older.
These dances are about love, and are erotic. And I use the word 'erotic' aptly; you need to re-learn to read it, not in the fearful Original Sin sense which has driven its meaning narrowly towards 'sexual attraction' but rather from Plato: "[Eros] is that interior force that drags man toward everything good, true and beautiful". And that interestingly enough, is a quote from Pope John Paul II (November, 1980).
I'd love for you to understand 'erotic' as meaning passion, for life itself and to better it; for this reason, well before Freud, Indian dance/drama treatises speak of Sringara - inadequately translated as 'erotic mood' - as the source from which all others flow.
So, to stay with the poem, the singular object-focused love of those besotted youthful days grows and alters, encompassing life, becoming even more acute, more concerned, more questioning... in nights that are filled with hot flashes, anxieties and mortalities - our own, and of others around us. Dancemakers, especially as they mature, are exquisitely vulnerable to this unbearable heaviness of being, and it shows in their work, even as they make light of it through comedy and self- deprecation or grotesqueness - as we have seen elsewhere, and here. It also reaches for places in our souls, when physical virtuosity is done amazing us.
So many stories to make your own
Yet, not everyone wants to speak in his or her own words, or about himself or herself. The good thing about South Asian dance is that it has a seemingly infinite array of stories and endless familiar situations, that one can pick and choose from and slot into, and tell and re-tell as if they were our own, renewing it with our own feelings. We often miss the point that because the form is codified, it is also actually abstracted, making it available ; to be anyone's - hence its superior cross-cultural comfort and currency - if its techniques, themes and tunes are OK with you, that is.
But alas, the gods who crowd daily Indian lives also come with these stories, bustling into the theatre... and completely upset those who prefer gods to stay put in places of worship instead - and out of art that should be Enlightened-ly secular. During a London Q&A after my performance of Moham - A Magnificent Obsession, a woman exclaimed, in utter disbelief and disappointment, "I was so taken up with (the heroine's) situation but now I learn she was in love with a god and not a man, and I don't know what to do with that!" So the gods-and-goddesses feature is a drawback in this South Asian model, at least in secular western societies. (But, is secular man without his longings of soul and spirit, whether or not it is for the 'divine'?)
The persistent myth is that South Asian dance is about gods or God. The truth is that it is supremely about us human beings, and our longings and other feelings of soul and spirit, for something beyond our mundane and maudlin, deceived and depressing lives - even art. And so we can accuse, complain, tease, love, make out or entreat without cries of "Libel!" or "Moral blackmail!" or "Adulteress!" (A mere mortal cannot withstand being the object of such intense emotion?) Clearly, this dance, with its predominant place for catharsis for both performer and audience, with its poetically camouflaged craving, irony, sensitivity, delicacy and beauty, is a wondrously subversive way to good mental health without interminably longing for NHS-awarded psychotherapy!
Yes, we dance to forget but we can also dance to remember, to re-member and re-join our less-than-perfect body parts into a fit-for-purpose whole, our selves into life - our own and that we have with others.
Buy one, get a lot more free
Blood memory transfusion
Heavy/light/bright-ness of being
So let's use our exquisite heaviness of being to remember and create, our laughter and forgetfulness to get that wonderful lightness of being and fill the space in and around us, as Diane Amans put it, with a "brightness of being". Revelling in emotion and intimation and measured physicality. South Asian dance provides an excellent brightness-of-being model.
Whether you can lift your lagging leg beyond your failing ear dissolves
in such brightness. Go for the gold!
|DANCE GIVES US A WAY OF FINDING THE 'EXTRA' IN 'ORDINARY' MOMENTS TO DRAW UPON; UNLIKE OTHER ARTS, DANCE ALSO ALLOWS US TO EXPRESS THROUGH WHAT WE OWN, ANXIOUSLY MAYBE BUT IRREFUTABLY AUTHENTICALLY - OUR BODIES|