Research Methodology for Performing Arts
ISBN 9789395515870




Part 2

Scope of Research in Performing Arts

There has been much work in the fields of both dance and music by performers, teachers, scholars and academicians. However, some would have written books, some attempted articles covering topics related to dance while some others may have written study material or made paper presentations. Research work involves the thinking process of all the above but differs in the way it is perceived and presented without any personal preference or bias.

Most of the topics related to music and dance deal with

Concepts - Here the researcher may choose the concept of ‘Kamalā’ and how it features as part of the lyrics in the various compositions in a Bharatanāṭyam repertoire.

Composers - The researcher may choose the contribution of Ghanam Krishna Iyer a popular padam composer.

Treatises - The researcher may choose the references to dance in the text Nartana Nirnaya.

Periods of time - He may choose the changes in the development of Bharatanāṭyam after Independence.

Comparative studies - The researcher may choose to compare hastās detailed in the Silappadikāram and the text Pancha Marabu.

Qualities and Shortcomings of a Researcher

Before undertaking the research, the scholar must keep a few points in mind. The researcher will have to make a preliminary study of research work in the field of dance and the allied fields even if it is not directly connected with the topic chosen. This is,

To ensure that the researcher is aware of the types of research conducted before him.

To be able to start from a point that the previous researcher has left behind.

To familiarise oneself with all the existing literature in that field.

To know if there are unexplored areas waiting to be researched.

Qualities of a Researcher

The scholar must have basic knowledge in the area of research. If a dancer wants to research about Navā Varṇams 27, she must have at least a basic knowledge of Carnatic Music.

The scholar must be interested in the topic chosen and must be attached with the research work. The scholar must like the topic chosen to work.

The scholar must not get into research to gain status in the society and should not do it for monetary benefits.

The scholar must be persistent and patient with his research. Sometimes in the case of performing arts, they have to deal with the sentiments and temperaments of composers, authors and teachers. Very often, in the field of performing arts they will have to work with veterans and elderly people who may be short tempered, rigid in their opinions and sometimes harsh with their comments. The scholars must possess the discretion to omit comments that may antagonise others and be diplomatic in choosing to present the findings in an accurate manner eschewing any exaggerations.

The scholar must have a sense to foresee changes and have a vision of the future. In dance, the dancer needs to incorporate changes in the repertoire and in the learning process. For example, research involving a production of yesteryears may not have the technical inputs of modern times. However, when it is recreated, care must be taken to simulate the ‘traditional’ feel whilst using modern technology.

The scholar must be straight forward in research. He cannot claim another person’s opinion as his own. Other people and their bodies of work can be a source of inspiration to create something, but care must be taken not to copy content as it is.

The research work must have stability in judgment and the researcher must not be carried away or be influenced by friends, seniors or teachers.

The researcher must have decency in writing. Unnecessary appreciation and unreasonable criticism must be avoided. In dance research, the scholar should refrain from praising a person based purely on their fame.

The scholar must be ready to put in a great deal of effort to ensure that he or she not reproduce or imitate anything but must present it by reviving it in context.

The researcher must work with passion. This is their driving force.

Mistakes of Researchers

The researcher may supply insufficient arguments or material, for example if we choose to research the topic of nāyikās 28 or Heroines then it is not sufficient to quote examples only from Tamil padams 29.

The researcher must refrain from giving excessive and unwanted material as part of the research. For example, the study of ornaments and costume need not have details of āṅgika abhinaya 30 pertaining more to the bodily movement and anatomy.

The researcher must refrain from stating the same fact repeatedly.

The researcher must avoid self-contradiction. For example, when you state that the nāyakā leads the plot, your thesis must not say that the entire drama revolves around the nāyikā.

The researcher should refrain from using colloquial slang words in the thesis unless it is essential to the context.

The researcher must take care to avoid confusing the reader with what is being stated.

Every part of the thesis should be to the point and should not beat around the bush.

The researcher cannot start with something and jump to another point without justifying it; for example a researcher who speaks about geometry in body movement cannot shift to the expressions and emotions without giving a link.

The researcher cannot start with a concrete idea and end with something inconclusive. Similarly he cannot quote something which will not be useful for any argument. For e.g., the researcher cannot start with the concept of Navarasā and finish with the idea that none of them are interrelated.

Survey of Literature for Research

In the performing arts, both the practitioners and the teachers rely on oral traditions passed on from one generation to the other or from the teacher to the pupil. They base their training equally on texts and manuals written by either scholars or teachers.

The present generation of practitioners have benefitted from learning from both these inputs especially since teaching and learning is not confined to one-on-one learning pattern but has become institutionalised. The teachers of yesteryears had a thorough knowledge of both theory and practice; but they paid more importance to the practical aspects because it is a performing art form. Their knowledge in other disciplines related to their art form was envious but much of that was transferred to the student only if the teacher found him worthy enough; or if he chose to transfer it to uphold the tradition with all the inputs and sustain it by transference for the next generation.

Dance teachers of yore were musicians, composers and naṭṭuvanārs 31 in their own right, but they did not have a formal method of transferring the knowledge that they had inherited. Instead, the student was expected to live either with the teacher, do the chores in the household and also learn the art form whenever the teacher felt like imparting it. Likewise, it also depended on the capacity and ability of the student to grasp the nuances, sustain it in memory and be able to reproduce it whenever tested or performed.

Research works in the performing arts have been revolving around

Biographies of artistes.

Compositions or choreographic works of a person, lineage or school.

Sociological conditions that existed at a particular time in history and its impact on the performing arts.

Sociological conditions that impacted a change or development of a composition.

People, places and institutions that have fostered the growth and development of artistes.

Fundamental concepts that form the core of theories and concepts of performing arts.

The necessary requisites that make an art form unique, impact the society it is developed in and sustained for its growth.

The changes or comparative studies of theories or compositions that are traditional in nature versus those that are contemporary in nature.

Comparative studies of texts, styles or forms in performing arts.

Limitations of Research Works

The performing arts especially in India has largely been an oral tradition passed on from generation to generation or teacher to student.

Documentation of their work has been limited to very few treatises with descriptive analysis of their compositions. Since it is a visual art form most of the documentation is easily understood when filmed and archived for posterity. However, this facility has surfaced only in recent years. The old compositions were documented with reference to the dances seen by critics or colleagues of a teacher or his prized students. However, details of how it were performed are not present.

Literary texts mention dance performances and competitions indicating specific information relating to the names of the compositions, place of performance and some technical details as well. This is inadequate as it does not cover all the details of the composition, context and style of performance.

Biographies of artistes that form the subject matter of dissertations are limited by paucity of material when it is restricted to hearsay and references to the work by family or by students. They sometimes tend to glorify the work out of proportion due to their love and loyalty and can be biased in the analysis concerning the credibility of the work.

Sociological conditions can be deterrents to the research work. There could have been a ban on writing some material that was not allowed or patronised by some ruler or head. Such writing if done could be destroyed, and many a time rewritten in another language attributed to another person. Years later these flaws are overlooked and even endorsed by the society.

Institutions that patronised an art form may have closed down or may have another head with views that are contrary to the founder. If this is the topic of the thesis it is bound to have contradictions and paucity of material that may have interpolations.

27. A musical composition
28. Heroine
29. A musical composition also adapted in the Bharatanāṭyam repertoire
30. A division of the 4-fold abhinaya that deals with the limbs of the body
31. Conductors, the male members belonging to the families of the devadasis