Love one another but
Make not a bond of love
Let it rather be a moving sea
Between the shores
Of your souls
- Kahlil Gibran, poet
Welcome to a brand NEW YEAR and the start of a NEW DECADE !
The last month of the year brought such a whirlwind of contrasting experiences that I am still breathless from the tsunami of visuals and sounds that have hit me for the past 31 days.
From devout crowds at my ancestral temple, to an urban library where John Lennon met Andal; from being spellbound by a flute next to the ocean to eyes moistening as I watched a mother sing baby Krishna to sleep while narrating the Ramayana - this has been an overwhelming month for me.
As patron, presenter, producer, performer, speaker, writer, host and single parent- all the while maintaining a calm demeanour - HAS NOT BEEN EASY.
Amidst the chaos of daily protests and arrests across India due to the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) a month of singing and dancing seemed at odds with the reality of our daily lives. But then the Chennai Margazhi season chugs on...
And just in case you were thinking that ALL roads lead to Chennai in December, there is slight modification. Only certain parts of Chennai celebrate MARGAZHI. Go beyond Gemini Circle to areas like Nungambakkam and Kilpauk and you will be asked, "What is happening? What Season?"
This online dance portal began at the dawn of the millennium and it is already in its 3rd decade!
And how much our dance lives have changed!
And the most evident indicator has been the recently concluded NATYA KALA CONFERENCE at Krishna Gana Sabha.
#TWINKLE TWINKLE BIG BIG STAR
With Rama Vaidyanathan
Take a bow, Rama Vaidyanathan!
What a coup you have achieved!
I have never seen such excitement and enthusiasm EVER at a dance event.
I would not call it a conference but would change the word to something else
NATYA KALA CARNIVAL. Because that is what it was! A MELA, A BAZAAR, A CELEBRATION.
The sheer numbers, the wide smiles on faces, the 20 plus countries that were represented by the faithful diaspora and the unflagging energy from 8am to 3pm was eye popping. There were more sessions that were focused on performances, demonstrations and in the DOING which is what the current #WHISTLEPODU generation really want! I wonder what academics and scholars would have thought about the event? But then who really cares when there was so much joy and all round amazement at what you have pulled off!
Nobody, not even yours truly, imagined that you could have done what you did! That the 1000 or more attendees paid the 500 rupee registration fees and that you were able to augment the payments to participants was also very heartwarming to hear. To see Dominique Delorme, who is one of the best interpreters of his guru Muthuswamy Pillai, return to India after decades was marvellous. To watch the solidarity of the dance world collect behind Leela Samson, when she is passing through such a difficult time, was also heartwarming.
Sudharani Raghupathy, Padma Subrahmanyam and Chitra Visweswaran
The curation was certainly from the palate of your own global travels, the dancers and dance makers you have met and interacted with and that is how the 5 day event unfolded. One moment on the opening day set the tone and warmed many a heart. To see Sudharani Raghupathy, Chitra Visweswaran and Padma Subrahmanyam on stage after I watched them 35 years ago in VIRALIMALAI KURAVANJI brought tears to my now somewhat cynical eyes.
Your equanimity and poise during what must have been many moments of tantrums and trials were admirable. I will even forgive you that RAJINIKANT swagger on stage while performing your MURUGAN varnam! You have re-energised my rather smug and complacent city with a fresh injection of the RAMA STAR POWER!
I am not forgetting Akhila Krishnamurthy and #TEAMALAAP. Kudos to Saatvika, Nivedita and Rajesh and the entire team who have not slept or seen their families for the entire week.
AND... NEVER TO FORGET
Sashwathi Prabhu, granddaughter of the visionary founder Sri R Yagnaraman. Dragging the traditional Sabha into the 21st century takes a huge amount of energy and commitment. Bravo!
Congratulations all around!
#NKC SOME THOUGHTS
While admiring the success of the conference, I must add that it is very irritating to have an audience with ITCHY FINGERS. Clapping at anything and everything is frankly - irritating. Is there no discernment left? Any jathi, any swaram, any moment is blindly applauded? What about waiting until the end of the piece to applaud? Or is that too much to ask from the current crop of TIK TOKS?
The food at the canteen was a hopeless letdown. Dancers need unlimited coffee and food to continue to converse, debate and STAY at the venue.
All these words like EXPEDITION, EXPLORATION makes it sound like we are setting off on a trek but much is OLD WINE IN A NEW BOTTLE. Panels never go anywhere and everybody is being too polite or plain hypocritical. The discussion about CURATION never even touched upon the SAME KIND OF BHARATANATYAM that is being programmed. Why diversity is not encouraged and what about the now global topic of LGBTQI dancers? Why are the same names being featured year after year when the seniors are frankly a let down? Why are original commissions not considered?
Why is there such a glaring lack of academic and professional papers? Are dancers becoming LAZY? Do they just want more dancing, items, photo ops and shopping? Except for Arshiya Sethi's and Rajika Puri's seamless and beautifully prepared presentation about her personal optic on the vast changes in the world of BHARATANATYAM, there was little by way of intellectual fodder. For this INSTAGRAM generation that is so smart, but so attention challenged, the planning was spot on. However there is much more to a CONFERENCE than sari competitions and awkward installations on unsightly cardboard mannequins. The diehard optimism all around make it hard for anyone to actually be self reflexive but this is the moment when it should be done.
Focusing on BHARATANATYAM has to go beyond pretending to refashion an ALARIPPU onto a playground (cleverly imagined by Harinie Jeevitha) or a giant bird (Christopher Guruswamy)! Why the ALARIPPU? Was it just being playful? I shudder at the avalanche of GILLI DANDI and GARUDA items that may be unleashed upon us!
Why is there such a divide between music and dance? Why don't musicians attend dance performances and why are dancers so tone deaf these days that they cannot or are unwilling to understand music and musicality for dance? Music rasikas actually FLEE an auditorium after a Carnatic recital, some actually "shuddering" if you ask them to stay on to watch the dancer!
As many corporates who attend some dance shows agree - THE SYSTEM IS BROKEN. The template of funding, subsidies and volunteerism is not working any more. Does classical music and dance need a T 20 formula to kick start the financial aspects of the game?????
I must admit that I MUTED all posts on NIRIKSHANA 3 months ago, finding the bludgeoning of the event too OTT for me to take. But I know that I was in the minority and that both RAMA/ALAAP were on the right digital track to make the event a high point for many in the Chennai season.
Kudos again... but there is more to be done after the euphoria wears off.
#DECEMBER CONFERENCE CLUTTER
In the noise and hoopla of the 39th NKC event, the earlier 3 conference events were eclipsed. But they had much to offer by way of thought, content and planning. NATYA DARSHAN convenor Priya Murle brought a very imaginative outreach in her advance events and smartly designed programming that concluded at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan auditorium on the previous weekend. The morning outdoor dances from Kapaleeswar Temple to the venue were very cleverly ideated. Priya concludes her 2 year tenure and we wait for the next convenor to be announced.
Kalakshetra had a very interesting conclave that brought several allied ritual and performing arts to the venue. The highlight was the ARAYER SEVAI presentation by Professor Madhusudhanan Kalaichelvan. It is a must-see ritual, now confined to only 4 Vishnu temples in Tamilnadu and Karnataka. The A TONAL chanting is so similar to the vocalisation of KOODIYATTAM. The elongated voice and the gesture language is a fascinating complement to the hasta-mudra lexicon of dance and theatre.
Apoorva Jayaraman's NAVADISHA was a beautifully planned day of topics that were discussed and shared in an intimate atmosphere. Apoorva is a thoughtful artiste and galvanising her generation to ponder about issues that her colleagues are grappling with was done in a very aesthetic and insightful manner.
Please read all the various observations about ALL the conferences in our portal.
#TA KI TA TOM
It was lovely to see Alarmel Valli back on stage after a two year hiatus and battle with health issues
The new BHARATA KALAKSHETRA auditorium was bursting at the seams on every night of their December festival. The crowd there is a far cry from the POP ART/TIK TOK dance generation of the NKC and the ambience at the Banyan Tree is an unbeatable and unmissable Chennai experience.
Vaibhav Arekar and his team at SANKHYA DANCE COMPANY proved yet again that there is so much possibility in abstraction. His various December season appearances augur well for the future of the Bharatanatyam form.
Sharanya Chandran has matured after motherhood. Her ARDHANAREESWARAR opening by poet Vidyapati was beautifully executed with imaginative choreography.
Shijith Nambiar performed with passion and near perfection at SPACES, where he revealed a new body fluidity that I have not seen before. Athletic, agile and intensely danced, I was delighted to see him in a rare solo appearance. Over articulation of the ARUDIS is not necessary for someone mature like him.
Deepa Raghavan impressed me in her solo, although she needs to stop making CUT AND PASTE impressions of her various teachers. Guru Kanaka Srinivasan's VAZHUVOOR imprint is strong enough for this talented performer to develop.
Srikanth and Ashwathy continue to evolve and impress me as a dancing couple. I now wish to see Ashwathy in a solo version. Her quiet grace has always been a pleasure to watch.
Meenakshi Chitharanjan was roundly applauded for her composed and sedate TODI raga varnam. Seems the old is coming back slowly in the midst of so much speed and BLUR-BN.
Aniruddha Knight has overcome a particularly difficult year to dance again with conviction and passion.
Uma Satyanarayana showed us why she is such a talented inheritor of her guru Chitra Visweswaran's dance lineage. Her inherent musicality is a hallmark of Chitra's training that softened the already feminine Vazhuvoor Bani to a more intuitive somatic response to rhythm and melody.
Pasha's Miracle on Wheels
Syed Sallauddin Pasha also made his "season" appearance with his MIRACLE ON WHEELS show. Not for any Sabha but for the COAST GUARD annual family event. 3000 people thronged the University Centenary Auditorium and gave his talented ensemble a standing ovation after each item.
My endless campaign for clean stages, hygienic toilets and black curtains are beginning to pay off. Krishna Gana Sabha and Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan have spruced up all aspects and have a plain black backdrop for the season. FINALLY! Now to get those ugly FLEXES removed!
Musicians embraced fashion designers. Singers Sowmya and Rithvik Raja were dressed throughout their performances with a special design team. Kurtas, saris, blouses, accessories were all picked and assembled by a faithful team months ahead of December.
Malavika Sarukkai's 2nd annual KALAVAAHINI Dance Festival concluded successfully with Bijayini Satpathy attracting a full house and Margi Madhu sending goosebumps through the audience as he "played" with Sita's lustrous tresses. What detail and what perfection of emotive control through all that make up and costuming!
Vyjayantimala continues to amaze us all at 87 with her music and solo dance performances. She continues to reprise her iconic ANDAL TIRUPPAVAI performance each year.
The 13th anniversary of Chandralekha on December 30th was marked at her SPACES complex by a unique SOUND INSTALLATION as various dance greats recorded their impressions of how much this radical artiste shaped the thoughts and re-imaging the female body during her lifetime.
Why do dancers need so much awkward English prefaces and explanations? I cringe at the bad grammar and unnecessary words that seek to somehow EXPLAIN the performance to audiences. That too bad English for a familiar Tamizh varnam or Padam? In Chennai? There must be a REASON to have to EXPLAIN the work. Not the wrong choice of words that break the flow of the performance! Even Vaibhav Arekar over articulated the already beautiful choreographic choices made in his SEASONS. Introductions must also be planned as part of the performance. Stance, the flow of words, the tone, attitude must all be rehearsed.
The PORCUPINE INDEX is out! Dancers cannot stomach anything other than praise! It shows so clearly in the much talked about session in CRITIQUING at the NKC and elsewhere when even a slight diversion from adulation and worship is denounced as "UNQUALIFIED TO BE A CRITIC!" Really, dancers? Then who qualifies? Only those who are POLITE? Only those who choose words so carefully that they end up saying nothing? You are so used to only hearing your own echo chamber that when the real world catches up with you, it is termed RUDE, IMPOLITE etc. Add that to spineless culture editors and the shrinking size of THE HINDU FRIDAY REVIEW, and you have your answer!
RIP Dance Criticism!
Finally, I was horrified to see several of the #METOO accused musician predators of last year back on stage and being awarded and feted. It was plain disgusting how the BOYS CLUB have normalised sexual deviance and are blithely forgetting that they too have wives, daughters and granddaughters. CHEE! THOO!
#MY MARGAZHI IN AVATAR
I did not need to pile on so much on my platter in one month, but it just all came rushing in.
Kaisika Natakam (Photos: Lalitha Venkat)
December started with the 21st annual revival performance of KAISIKA NATAKAM at my ancestral temple in Tirukurungudi. It was, as always, a very special moment for thousands of devotees who attend from all over India and sometimes from across the waters. The moving story of caste and the power of music are not new to the Indian Bhakti tradition but the 4 hour ritual performance never fails to move me. This year visiting artiste, Chitra Sundaram from London, performed two of the songs with deep devotion.
The Sunday before Christmas always features a music morning by the ocean. SPACES, the magical creative crucible where Chandralekha lived and worked, has been the annual venue for the 5 AWAKENING concerts I have produced. Featuring pianist Anil Srinivasan who is always joined by a stellar classical musician, the morning has become somewhat of a habit for many Chennai-vasis and other visitors to our city. This year it was the superb flautist Pravin Godkhindi who transported us into another realm with his brilliance.
Christmas morning was a fresh highlight with the supremely gifted Geeta Chandran in full flow at my 10th ARANGHAM STUDIO SERIES. Designed as an intimate event to attract 50 people who could watch performances of dance, music, theatre and standup comedy within touching distance of the artiste, the morning was truly uplifting. Geeta revealed why she is a very special artiste with a gift of nuanced abhinaya and a beautiful singing voice. The Surdas bhajan of mother Yashoda putting baby Krishna to sleep while narrating the Ramayana to her son is a masterpiece of intensely intimate "Vatsalya" and "Bhakti". The morning was filled with so many dancers and proved why we need more and more smaller spaces for such experiences that can never translate to a larger proscenium theatre.
It also proved that while using live accompanists, a dancer must find the space to improvise and flow with the music. Popular dancers like Bijayini Satpathy, Malavika Sarukkai, Aditi Mangaldas and even Rama Vaidyanathan are so over rehearsed that every movement, every step, every effect, every flourish is already pre-planned. There is never a moment to relish the music or respond in the middle of the lyric. Then why have a live musical ensemble? Where is the space for RASA? When does the dancer look to the orchestra and smile at a flourish of a raga or a flute's melody? The Western impresario's eye is trained to only pick up on technique and anything less than drilling the physical routines for 8 hours a day is considered lazy. Alarmel Valli in my generation and the younger Divya Devaguptapu are dancers who love and relish the presence of live musical accompaniment.
The updated version explored the often ignored later chapters in her revolutionary NAACHIYAR TIRUMOZHI. The dark and sensual aspects of Andal's passion were quilted into the entire work using my technique of theatre, visual props, ritual chanting and live voice. And NO. I do not play ANDAL. She was a teenager and I refuse to pretend. Creating an age appropriate presence for myself in the work took time. To retain the cultural imprint of Tamizh while juxtaposing just enough English was a journey in itself. The overwhelming response from the audience has moved my dancers and myself. I realise that performing ANDAL in the month of MARGAZHI in Madras has a special significance. The cultural memory is so deeply imprinted that even an outsider feels moved.
While NAACHIYAR NEXT took over a year to re-create, I spent a mere 48 hours working on UNI-VERSE, the words and worlds of poetry for NATYA DARSHAN outreach event in early December. With a talented team of Vedanth Bharadwaj, Archana Raja and L Subhasri, we brainstormed for 8 hours and created a journey from Sambandan and Nammalwar's riddled Pasurams to Tagore meeting Dikshitar, from Lennon and Andal to Gully Boy and Eminem. We also segued to Philosophy via Kannadasan's famous VANDA NAAL MUDAL song from the film PAAVA MANNIPPU.
The ending was particularly special. A contemporary protest poem using references of SITA and DRAUPADI engaging in locker room talk... about DRAUPADI'S UNAPOLOGETIC REVENGE "washing her hair in her enemy's blood and calling it PURIFICATION." It is a resounding reminder that dancers should STOP PULLING AT DRAUPADI'S SARI. There have to be other ways to show Krishna's mercy.
The eclectic audience that attended this session was proof that there is an audience outside sabhas and Mylapore/Adyar/Mambalam/Teynampet for the classical and contemporary live arts.
#AND THEN THERE IS MORE
I am also excited to take A MILLION SITAS to the iconic NATARANI theatre later this month. To have Mallika Sarabhai present this solo dance theatre work that is close to both our hearts is something to look forward to.
It is also with immense pleasure that I welcome back home a dear friend MOHANA HARENDRAN, daughter of my Kalakshetra guru Neila Sathyalingam. Mohana brings her young students to Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in a morning performance of Subramania Bharathi's compositions in MAZHALAIYUM BHARATHIYUM.
#NEW YEAR DAWNS
As we enter the third decade of this century, perhaps we can pause and take stock of how far we have journeyed and how much our lives have changed. Through dance and family.
As the wonderful guru RAM DASS said:
WE ARE ALL LEADING EACH OTHER HOME.
That is what Art hopes to do. Find our "home" within ourselves and in each other. To find the core of compassion, no matter how bitter the disagreements, how varied the opinions. To find the generosity to hug, to share, to console, to encourage, to spur on, to motivate, to urge forward, to lead.
I hope you find the time this week to sit silently in front of your life and contemplate how magical it really is as we turn the page to greet the New Year.
I am always grateful for the gift of the dancing body and hope that this new decade will greet me and my loved ones with health and positivity.
From the sacred precincts of the Parthasarthy Temple where I always greet the New Year, I send you the warmest greetings and a special THANK YOU for the faith you have placed in this portal and the consistent work of my team- Lalitha Venkat, Sumathi and Raksha Patel. And all the writers who continue to watch, observe and comment on Dance.
To all those young dance artistes who reach out to me in various ways for all sorts of advice, tips and recommendations - keep doing that!
Janaki Patrik (Photo: Briana Blasko)
We are delighted to introduce a new writer to our growing roster of interesting commentators. Janaki Patrik has been a friend from my New York City days and has always been a faithful interpreter of the Kathak tradition of Pandit Birju Maharaj's lineage. Her quiet elegance and commitment have been qualities that I have always admired. Her many decades of learning, teaching, performing and watching classical and contemporary dance in a global city like New York has shaped her philosophy of dance and life.
Her writings debut on our portal this month.
Welcome to the NARTHAKI.COM family, Janaki Patrik!
HAPPY NEW YEAR. Welcome to the Chinese year of the RAT! The qualities of resilience, adaptability and determination are what we all need in abundance for the coming new dawn!
- Dr. Anita R Ratnam
Nellai Kannan and Hari Prasad
PS... Dancers... guess who were the busiest during the season? The dance musicians of course! Here are mridangist Nellai D Kannan and Hari Prasad. They start their day at 5am and end at 11pm with 8 rehearsals a day for dancers!
Blog: THE A LIST / anita-ratnam.blogspot.in
Wishing you a wonderful new decade of eloquent and entertaining writing on Narthaki. The one portal that makes me feel a part of all the Indian dance action whilst comfortably being at home. Really enjoyed reading this New Year post...especially the dawn of the new alarippus. I do agree that us young dancers need to be less sensitive to harsh criticisms. I really appreciate what Ramaa Bharadvaj said about having a witness approach to our work and not be too attached to it. So much to ponder on, process and most importantly as Sonal Mansingh-ji addressed in her keynote address at NKC - Nirikshana happens with Pareekshana - investigation followed by action!
- Hiten Mistry, Leicester, UK (Jan 4, 2020)
I'm glad to have read your editorial on the first day of the new year. I do agree with you across every point made. Appreciate you for the same. Hope dancers awaken and try to refine themselves with true presentations than copy/paste or recorded nuances.
- Usha Karra (Jan 1, 2020)
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