Swarna Kannan - The Golden One

October 14, 2012

SWARNA KANNAN - THE GOLDEN ONE was a one-time only specially commissioned performance in homage to the poetry of Ambujam Krishna. The two day festival on September 29 and 30, 2012 held at the Music Academy, Chennai, was a private family event and as such was not open to critical review by the media.

Below we share some of the responses and reactions from audience members who are from the creative community of rasikas, curators, artistes, designers and musicians.

Responses and reactions

October 14, 2012

With Swarna Kannan, the topic is of divinity; you are fortunate to have a tool, dance, with you and you are in a leadership role. And my humble thanks for opening your arms and sharing the invaluable music through that medium where there is a visual treat. Otherwise, limitations of language call it Tamil devotional songs and how many of this next gen youth will listen... but bringing in an element of visual design was such a great idea. People like you in leadership roles must do this every often. The new gen needs more of this. They go to the cinema because it is there, a new one every week and they know which language to choose.

If I may humbly suggest, you should promote videos of the experiments, if I may call them as that.  It feels as if you have decided to pour yourself into yourself, and what we see is a birth of all that is. Hats off to you, Anita.  My pranaams.

- Rashmi Menon (simplyrashmi@gmail.com)

Rashmi Menon is a fashion consultant.

October 15, 2012

A study in contrasts - music expressed?
Can classical music be expressed through classical dance- can melody be seen to have a soul?

I recently attended two successive evenings of Ambujam Krishna’s compositions being sung and danced to. Two evenings so very different and so very thought provoking. The poetry and the music of Ambujam Krishna is full of soulful bhakti, the poetry simply  elegant. 

The first evening was called Swarna Kannan and the dance performed by Anita and Pritha Ratnam. The second evening was performed by Priyadarshini Govind.

A study in contrast that I thought I must give thought to. And share those thoughts.

Two very different evenings and two rather different approaches. The music for both evenings was brilliant and Ambujam Krishna’s compositions, poetic and full of deep feelings. I came back thinking that the two consecutive evenings merited discussion. This is not a critique and I certainly cannot and do not consider myself knowledgeable enough to presume to be one. But I am a fan of classical music and dance. Even more, I am a fan of how an artist delivers the product to me, the rasika.

The question I wish to discuss - Did the performances succeed in delivering what the evenings merited - and that is, the visualization of the compositions and the soul of the music?

Firstly, I must admit that the music on both evenings was superbly rendered. Be it the vocals or the instruments, they were splendid, full of expression, poetic nuance and the all important soul. Perfectly rehearsed and delivered, the musicians were completely involved with the music. It was a rare privilege to hear young artistes with so much maturity and sensitivity.

Anita and Pritha understood the need of the hour - the importance of the music and visualized it beautifully. The stage was artistic, the décor stunningly simple and creative and the lighting most subtle. The choreography was perfectly created to give the music center stage – there was drama, bhakthi, rhythm, poetry and stillness throughout the sixty minutes of the performance, timed to perfection. Best of all, the musicians were placed in the orchestra pit of the Music Academy - they could actually see the dancers and their expressions. I have always wondered why this was not done ever before! A perfect spot for the music and the dancers. The lyrics and the music just flowed from the musicians to the dancers to the audience. It was a singularly moving and wondrous experience. No single artiste took center stage - the music did. Every aspect of the evening, physical, visual (costumes and lighting), music and movement were in complete harmony.

The second evening’s performance was by the exquisite dancer Priyadarshini Govind. Those who are interested in dance know her as a most skilled artist in every aspect of Bharatanatyam. Her statuesque stage presence, nritta and expressive abhinaya have been widely appreciated. And in this, no doubt, she rose to the occasion. She was accompanied by a brilliant orchestra with two of Bombay Jayashri’s disciples, Keerthana and Poornima, rendering the beautiful music of Ambujam Krishna.

Then why did I leave that evening, feeling unsatisfied? Why was I not moved the way I was the previous night? Why, when the music was so poetic and moving, was I not transported to a higher plane?

Well, it is my opinion that the dancer did not quite consider the evening as a vehicle for projecting the beautiful music. It was an evening of presenting a Bharatanatyam Margam – certainly in the inimitable style of Priyadarshini. But it seems to me that she missed the point entirely. Her dancing was beautiful, as always, her expressions were elegant and provocative, as always, yet something very essential for this unique evening was missing entirely.  Soul.

Bharatanatyam and the dancer’s skill in footwork and abhinaya, was the focus. The music seemed incidental to her performance - just an accompaniment. Whereas, the musicians touched us with their deep understanding of the lyricism and melody of the music. They brought out so many nuanced phrases, so much bhava and bhakti, and most importantly, their own inherent respect and admiration for the compositions of Ambujam Krishna. And in any case was that not the objective of the evening? Isn’t that why the family of the composer hold this celebration each year? Isn’t that why we rasikas enjoy listening to compositions of a poetic composer? 

I wonder why Priyadarshini thought differently. With the divine music that she had to work with and with the idea of giving space to the several compositions being heard for the first time, her treatment should have been less about the dancer – rather, it ought to have been more about the music being given center stage. Those in the audience whom I know, and who I also know would give some thought to the idea of the evening, had a similar response. I could not appreciate the explanations between items. This audience already knows the basics. It should have been left to us to understand, appreciate and imagine. It cut into the flow of the music and the performance.

With such exquisite music and musicians that she had and a composer of lyrical poetry, Priya, with her vast experience, ought to have completely submerged her personality with the music, thought “out of the box” about the manner in which this could be done.

Then, I am sure that she could have created a very different and beautiful evening, instead of the Sabha Kutcheri . The costume too was a standard, highly embellished work that perhaps could have been done away with. A beautiful Kanchipuram saree, worn comfortably, just simple ornamentation and a string of flowers in her hair was all that she needed. Then the audience could have had the opportunity of witnessing a beautiful dancer, who has the imagination and confidence to do away with the ‘required look’ innumerable and complex jatis and other standard components. We would have seen an artist, focused on the vision to explore in depth,  the poetic works of a dedicated composer.

We are all blessed with the memories of Balasaraswathi – no glamour, a saree worn simply, a braid with some flowers and her trademark bullakku. Oh, how she transfixed and transported an audience to a higher aesthetic appreciation of the music. Dance and music became one. She could get completely involved in it and could persuade the audience to do so as well. Priya has it in her to do that, without forsaking an iota of her classicism. I believe she just did not think deeply enough about it, the uniqueness of this opportunity.

This is just my opinion of the two evenings – I would not have minded at all not to have this study in contrasts!

- Uma Ganesan (balaumaganesan@gmail.com)
Uma Ganesan is an arts curator and organizer.