Updated: Dec 26, 2020
It is amazing to see so many Indian Classical Music festivals happening online that are providing wonderful platforms for young maestros, and are doing this while selling tickets. A really welcome move by a lot of organisations. Many wonderful musicians are getting the chance to showcase their musical talents, who otherwise were not getting the platform they deserve in the outside world. Having said this, there are a group of artists who don't seem to be included in these paid, online gigs.
I had personally messaged kathak dancers about a month back asking whether the gigs they're doing online are paid or not, asking how many organisers are inviting Kathak dancers to perform at an online music festival. The answers of all those Kathak dancers were the same. There are hardly any big online Indian Classical festivals that have dance along with music, and where the dancers are getting paid.
Most Kathak dancers have been performing for free online in the fear that if they do not perform during this period, they will be forgotten or "out of the circuit".
The organisations that are including dance in their online festivals are only calling the established artists. This is also the case in music, but there are still more online paid platforms for young musicians than there are for dancers. As a result of this, young, talented dancers are performing for free to maintain a steady visibility in the performing circuit. The lack of opportunities for dancers has meant that they will grab at any opportunity that comes their way, whether it is paid or for free.
I guess this is nothing new. Dance has always been sidelined. It has always been seen as a "separate' or a "different community". There has always been less opportunity for dancers in most festivals around India. The same old excuses are given for not including dance is festivals, "we just don't have enough of a budget to include dance" or "we don't have the correct equipment to video dance" or my personal favourite "Our audience doesn't really understand or enjoy dance. It's a different type of audience". All these excuses have resulted in the systematic exclusion of dance from the big Indian Classical festivals held in India.
One of the most prestigious Indian Classical festivals in India is the Sawai Gandharva festival that happens on an annual basis. Every year the festival happens for 5 days with about 22-27 performances through the week. In the last 5 years the festival has included ONE dance every year. One dance over 5 days. One dance out of 22-27 performances in total. Harivallabh Sangeet Sammelan, another prestigious organisation that has seen the big names `of Indian Classical Music on its stage never included dance in their festival till 2019. In an article by Tribune India the general secretary of the event said "In all these years, Kathak has never been part of the festival. This time, we have included it. We will include Kathak in future editions if people will like it." This is a festival that calls itself the oldest festival of Hindustani Classical Music. It is disheartening to see that such a prestigious festival will only continue to include Kathak if it is liked by the people. It is surprising and absolutely odd to me that an art form which is so central to the Indian Arts is excluded from some of the most important platforms in India. Harivallabh did include Kathak for the very first time in 2019, but only as a part of a fusion group. How then do we expect people to be exposed to the traditional form of Kathak. Is it not time that we start including Indian Classical Dances as part of the music community, so that we, the dancers, also open ourselves to more opportunities and not just stay limited to dance festivals and communities.
The root cause of this systematic exclusion of Indian Classical Dance lies in the mentality of our society and how we view dancers in general. This post is just an introduction to the much larger problem that exists in the Indian Classical Music and Dance Community, which I'll touching upon in a couple of weeks.