Season times
- GS Rajan, Delhi

January 13, 2011

Come December, classical musicians and dancers from across the world try their best to visit Chennai to participate in events related to the music-dance season, perform and to meet fellow artists, not to mention enjoy the food.

NRI dance teachers and their students from many parts of the world also take this opportunity to display their creativity. Veterans and the press notice a few lucky ones. Over the years the number of shows organized by various sabhas has only multiplied. Some sabhas also take money from dancers to give them a platform. The media, under pressure from various vested interests, makes sure to ignore some artists. Notwithstanding the ups and downs, however, the Mad-Ras music and dance season still attracts more and more rasikas to Chennai during the months of December and January. Another interesting factor is that organizers and festival directors from Europe and elsewhere also visit Chennai during the season to pick the best for their festivals abroad.
Mythili Prakash
Janaki Rangarajan
Photo: Lalitha Venkat
While RAMP (Rama Vaidyanathan, Alarmel Valli, Malavika Sarukkai and Priyadarsini Govind) were on top, I noticed some promising young dancers ready to take their place in the spotlight, with overall quality in their presentations. Mythili Prakash, daughter and disciple of USA based guru Viji Prakash, is now taking guidance from none other than Malavika Sarukkai. Mythili's show at Brahma Gana Sabha was excellent, with superb control over laya and excellent improvement in abhinaya. Another USA based dancer, Janaki Rangarajan showed outstanding flexibility in her body movements and steady kaalapramaanam. Then we have Jyotsna Jagannathan, Navia Natarajan Menon, Aishwarya Narayanaswamy - fantastic dancers to be watched. Strangely most of these most promising Bharatanatyam dancers all have associations with USA. No wonder RAMP tour USA almost every year.

Chennai is no more Bharatanatyam-centric. Some of the dancers who were extremely good were Surupa Sen and Arushi Mudgal - Odissi; Neena Prasad and Gopika Varma - Mohiniattam; Malti Shyam - Kathak.

On the experimental side, Anita Ratnam was the best. Her production titled 'A million Sita-s' with superb music, costumes, lights and props stood out.

It is natural that musicians and dancers tend to get inspiration from their seniors. However, my humble suggestion to the second line Bharatanatyam dancers is that they may try to bring in their own individuality and not give the impression of a 'cocktail' of RAMP.

There was also talk and discussion about quality in presentation and the poor facilities being provided by sabhas. Along with renovating seats and technical equipment, sabhas should also engage professional technical people such as audio engineer, light designer, stage manager and so on to ensure professional presentation. Unfortunately for some senior gurus, the audio engineer is still the 'sound man' and the light designer is an 'electrician.' As artists, it would be better to set our own house in order before shouting against sabhas.

Senior gurus instead of running arangetram factories should advise their students to get into writing, research, lights and costume designing, stage management, organization, presentation and various other fields where artistic and arts-trained people are required. Everyone cannot become a performer. And to maintain a dance career means investment and expenditure and no return, except for those few lucky ones who reach a stage where they can demand adequate remuneration. Without hard work and quality, some have come up accumulating a good number of shows and awards with support from politicians and influential people or by making secret liaisons at the highest levels. At the end of the day, however it is the dedication and quality that will win. Luckily the second level promising dancers are all highly educated and know how to handle the 'mamas', which is a positive signal.

With all these ups and downs, Chennai's 'Mad-Ras' ('Mad-Ras' = Mad (the english word) and Ras (the Hindi word for Rasa) season will only grow and grow in the years to come.

GS Rajan is a top ranking music composer and classical flautist. He was also Deputy Secretary of Sangeet Natak Akademi. He has been writing on classical dance and music for the last 20 years.