The Music Academy fest 
Text & pics: Lalitha Venkat, Chennai 

January 28, 2009 
The third edition of the Music Academy dance festival was inaugurated on January 3, 2009 by Roland Hermann, Consul General of the Federal Republic of Germany. Calling it an enlightening festival, he spoke about the antiquity of the arts, India being rich in dance tradition, how dance was more a physical technique in the west as compared to it being more a part of religious life in India.  He spoke about German dancers like Pina Bausch and Susanna Linke, giving parallels in music and dance systems in India and Europe.  

Formerly the dance festival of Music Academy had been restricted to one or two days, but it has now extended to a week or so, thanks to sponsors, said Malati Rangaswami, Secretary of the Music Academy. The first program of the festival was by Alarmel Valli. Clad in an off white and gold costume, she exuded her usual lively energy. She started with a Shakti Vandana. For the Varnam, Valli chose 'Mohamaana...' a composition of the Tanjore Quartette in Bhairavi ragam, rupaka talam. "I learnt it when I was 12. It is now more than 20 years since I danced it. I have now re-choreographed it and dedicate it to my guru Subbaraya Pillai who passed away in March. He introduced me to the principles guiding choreography. This is my tribute to the infinite generosity of a great guru who gave freely without holding back, for the freedom he gave to express myself," said Valli. This item had mixed reactions from the audience present as some felt her rendition did not do justice to the beauty of the original piece.  

Because the inaugural ceremony had extended, Valli could not present some abhinaya pieces she had planned. Instead of a Sangam composition, Valli presented a padam "Yaarukkagilum bhayama..." in Begada that she had learnt from 'Muktaama.' She concluded with Swaralaya in Abhogi. The accompanying artistes were CK Vasudevan on nattuvangam, Shaktivel Muruganandam on mridangam, Ranjani Arun on violin. The vocalist was Latha Ramchand and her diction was so unclear that we could not decipher even the Tamil lyrics.  

The next program was 'Vivarta: Manifestations of Vishnu' by Lata Pada's Sampradaya Dance Creations from Canada featuring guest artistes from India. This production was specially created for Toronto's 2005 Metamorphosis Festival and is based on the 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu, how he returns to earth in varied manifestations to intervene and restore righteousness and harmony. The simple backdrop was very effective with filmy black material sporting the eyes of Lord Jagannath on the left of the stage, through which the dancers made some entries and exits. Interestingly, the 4 musicians from Bangalore Balasubramanya Sharma and Pallavi Arun on vocal, Praveen D Rao on percussion and R Dayakar on violin - were seated on the rear part of the stage on the right, facing the audience. The music itself was a mix of live and pre-recorded, but seamlessly blended.  

The dancers were well coordinated and the unflagging pace and smooth transitions from one avatar to another earned them great applause. The dancers were Karthik Datar, Parshwanath Upadhye and C Somashekar from Bangalore, Aarti Joseph, Shruti Javali, Atri Nundy and Sivatharshini Sivaratnam from Canada. Sai Venkatesh's expert light direction added to the attraction of the program. The good news is choreographer Lata Pada, Founder and Artistic Director of Sampradaya Dance Creations, is the first Indian to be awarded the Order of Canada, for her contributions to the development of South Asian dance and commitment and support of Indo-Canadian community.  With the Music Academy show, the troupe had just completed a successful 11 city tour of England and India.  

The 2 programs every morning featuring prominent dancers had a good crowd and best of all, it was free. Kapila Venu gave a brilliant Nangiarkoothu recital on 'Sita Parityagam' on January 7, starting with the coronation in Ayodha and events thereafter, leading to Sita being abandoned in the forest and her final merging into Mother Earth. With text by her father G Venu, and choreographed by Kapila herself in 2008, the entire program was solely dependant on the dancer's dynamic expressions and actions with just a few spoken sentences. Her mother Nirmala Panikker kept talam and the musical accompaniment with 2 mizhavu and one chenda player were placed behind the performer on stage, the sounds moving into a crescendo or lapsing into soft tones adding to the moods of the scene being portrayed. For a classy recital like this, she earned a standing ovation. No wonder the whole performance was watched in pin-drop rapt silence by the rasikas.  

Kapila Venu
Shijith Nambiar
The following Bharatanatyam recital was by Shijith Nambiar, a product of Kalakshetra. "Shankarasrigiri" in Hamsanandi was a choreography of Leela Samson. The Varnam on Krishna "Ninne nera nambinaanura" in ragam Atana had lyrics by Thuraiyur Rajagopal Sharma and choreography by VP Dhananjayan.  The padam in Mukhari "Ososi naamadhi" was choreographed by Leela Samson, with music by Muddunatesa. The Swati Thirunal kriti "Smaranam praja ki kalyani grihe..." in rag Behag followed and a Thillana choreographed and composed by Seetarama Sharma in raga Valachi completed the dance recital. The dance by itself was quite polished but it was distracting to see the flying beads of sweat dripping all over the stage from the minute Shijith started his performance, till the end. I quite feared that he might slip on stage or get dehydrated!  The orchestra comprised of Deepu Nair on vocal, Ramesh Babu on mridangam, Muthu Kumar on flute, Eswar Ramakrishnan on violin and Rakesh on nattuvangam.  
The first performance on January 8 was by veteran dancer Vyjayanthimala Bali. The hall was jam packed. Clad in a pleasant pink sari, she presented stories about the birth of  Krishna in 'Ragam-Taanam-Pallavi' format. The first part of the story was set to a raga alapana in a garland of ragas and narrated the episode of Sri Suka telling King Parikshit of the auspicious omens. The taanam "Tham adbhutam baalakam" in ragam Naatai was about the birth of the child Krishna, his being carried to Gokulam and the Kamsa episode. Vasudeva saw the lotus-eyed child, who had the color of the cloud, carrying the conch (sangu) and the disc (chakram) in his four arms, the mace (gadha), marked by srivatsa on his chest and wearing kousthubhamani and he was described as adhbutha baalaka (wonderful child). The pallavi "godhuli dhusarita komala kuntalagram" in Karaharapriya and kanda triputa talam, was set in traditional varnam pattern of Bharatanatyam; the pallavi and varnam were juxtaposed and pallavi swaras were set to adavu korvais.  This item was about Krishna as a cowherd, Krishna playing with the gopis and so on. His curly locks of dark hair become soiled with the dust raised by the hoofs of the wandering cows as he moves them from one grazing area to the other of Brindavan, the dust settling on the tips of his beautiful tresses. The program ended with a mangala slokam set to ragam Surati, and signified the merging of the jeevatma and paramatma. With sustained energy, Vyjayanthimala executed movements that belied her age, and her inspired presentation earned her a standing ovation. The accompanying artistes were Adyar Balu (mridangam), Vijayaraghavan (violin), Vanathy Raghuram (vocal), Gayatri Sasidharan (nattuvangam) and Devarajan (flute).  

Next was 'Usha Parinayam,' a vivacious Kuchipudi Yakshagana performance by Vedantam Venkata Naga Chalapathy Rao and troupe, depicting the story of Usha and Aniruddha. The music was by Chinta Venkataramiah and choreography by Pasumarthi Rattaya Sarma. The highlight of the recital was the sthree vesham by Vedantam Venkata Naga Chalapathy Rao. Being a condensed version did not detract and the recital maintained interest throughout.  

Vedantam Venkata Naga Chalapathy Rao and troupe
Mavin Khoo
The evening program featured an 'athletic' Bharatanatyam recital by Mavin Khoo, with his guru Adyar K Lakshman conducting the recital. He presented an item on Muthuswamy Dikshitar's Mahishasuramardhini, followed by "Vanajakshi vaa nee" and the Jayadeva ashtapadi "Sakhi he keshi." He completed with a ragamalika thillana. Traditional Bharatanatyam with meditative abhinaya and slow movements was peppered with ballet twirls and leaps and the super speed jathi movements were mind boggling. He was accompanied by Baba Prasad on mridangam, Pushkala Gopal on vocal and Vinod on violin.  

The second half of the evening featured Ramli Ibrahim and Sutra Dance Theatre in 'Pallavi' solely devoted to the pallavi genre in Odissi style, where both dance and music complement each other. The pure dance movements bring alive the dance sculpture seen in temples and the choreography spanned 5 to 35 years ago. Rageswari Pallavi choreographed by Durga Charan Ranbir was performed by Ramli and his star pupil January Low, Kalyan Pallavi choreographed by Sudhakar Sahu, Kalavati Pallavi choreographed by Deba Prasad Das that concluded with a short song by Oriya poet Banamali Das, and Chakravaka Pallavi, a choreography inspired by Nijinsky.  

Ramli Ibrahim and Sutra Dance Theatre
The accompanying orchestra from Bhubaneswar comprised of Guru Dhaneswar Swain on mardala, Sukant Kundu on vocal, Abhiram Nanda on flute, Swapneswar Chakravorty on sitar and Suresh Kumar Khuntia on manjira. The dancers were Tan Mei Mei, January Low, Michelle Chang, Geetika Sree, Sivagamavalli, Shantona, Revathi and Guna. Ramli and his dancers maintained the high level of finish and meticulous dancing that are their trademark, enhanced by Sivaraja Natarajan's wonderful light direction, but the smoke effect was a little overdone in some parts.