Patronising the Arts
Their importance generally passes unnoticed. But without the various academies of performing arts, some state sponsored and most private efforts, the apex organisation of which is the Jawaharlal Nehru Manipur Dance Academy, JNMDA, it is anybody’s guess how difficult it would have been to even find nat sankritan singers or pung percussionists, for the many religious functions of the Meiteis. Thanks to these institutes, today these arts and many more have a stable footing, as well as the opportunity to grow in excellence. It is also remarkable that all of these institutes churn out not just dancers but also their own theatre productions using the idioms of traditional dances and music they research and develop, many of which are excellent by any standard. Although, the service these institutes render is multi-dimensional, the most invaluable arguably is in their part in developing and providing a rich vocabulary of body language and movements for the performing arts as such. As to how much such institutes can influence and shape the quality of the arts anywhere in the world is a debate resolved a long time ago. As for instance, there can be no question as to how the discovery of Plaster-of-Paris revolutionised modern sculpture art.
Seemingly unrelated developments in industries have also had profound influences in evolving new paradigms for the arts. The assembly line, supposedly invented by Henry Ford and perfected by Japanese car manufacturers, for example made it essential to re-look at the valuation of art in terms of its uniqueness. You see a beautiful car with perfect symmetry, aerodynamics, colour, interior etc, and may gape at it wondering how it would not qualify as a work of art. But unlike Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa which is the only one of its kind, making it priceless, chances are you will discover an identical car at the turn of the street, leaving you to wonder again which is the original and which the copy. And at the dealer’s you may find hundreds of other perfectly identical cars, convincing you at last that the idea of original and copy does not make meaning anymore. The age of computer has compounded this even more. Art as well as art appreciation obviously has had to shift positions to keep pace.
So the medium matters. It determines the quality, and indeed the paradigm of any art form. If Manipur today did not have so many high calibre artistes who are trained at once as dancers, singers, percussionists, and not to forget, perfect athletes and acrobats, our world renowned theatre would be a lot different – and debatably for the worse. A theatre director or a ballet choreographer may have the most profound ideas and visions to communicate, but they can only do this if there is a suitable medium and vocabulary to do so. Today, traditional theatre is rich precisely because of the richness of the medium and vocabulary available. For this the various institutes of performing arts, voluntary as well as statutory, owe a lot of our thanks. Equally, it is the tradition of committed boys and girls, who for the love of the arts, choose to be trained to become professionals in the field, who must have our gratitude. They deserve our praise even more because in most cases, they persist inspite of there being hardly enough from the profession for them to take home as salary. The good news is, government patronage has been much more abundant in the last decade or so. The Manipur University for instance now a department devoted to the study of performing arts. Since as a Central university, funds would be a lot more liberal, this should be a further boon. Considering the diverse nature of the ethnic composition of the state, efforts must be made to bring in more participation from the communities other than the Meiteis. But beyond the statutory encouragements, what ultimately would make the difference between success and failure in the enterprise, ae the services of masters of the respective cultures as well as young men and women who can dedicate themselves to the pursuit through thick and thin. Art must go beyond the living cultures of Thabal Chongba, Kut, Lui-Ngai-Ni etc. It must no doubt take off from the platforms these living traditions provide, and then strive to perfect them. It must be said, Meiteis artistes, more than those of other communities have lived up to this expectation, even though with little or no material rewards. Now they are beginning to reap the fruits. Other communities must now join and partner in this important project.