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Chennai December season: What they say
- Compiled by Lalitha Venkat

December 14, 2008

From my childhood I have been part and parcel of the Music Academy music season, with my father Dr. Raghavan carrying on the responsibility there with a missionary zeal. I have enjoyed a golden era of music and dance of stalwarts at the Academy and because of my father, had the privilege and joy of having known many of them personally as I grew up there. Every December I always live in those golden memories. I have also been a performer during those times, presenting myself in front of an august, scholarly gathering at the Academy in December. How I wish the revival of that glorious past with very few festivals, each one selecting only the best in music and dance in the real sense of the term and doing away with mediocrity with conviction and courage. However, as a rasika, who has been witnessing the changes in the cultural scene of Chennai in December, I feel that a unanimous decision by all the organizers of the festivals has to be taken to check on the several issues that affect the artists as well as the audience which is becoming thin year after year. Without the rasikas, what is the purpose of a festival? Without the rasikas, to whom are these artists performing?
- Nandini Ramani

The amount of energy that classical dance and music receives is simply fantastic. Look at the scenario from this perspective. Young talented dancers, seasoned dancers, old themes, new themes kept alive, research done for new presentations, the amount of music created, search for new motifs in dance, or placing of old motifs in contemporary age and so on... I am truly amazed.
- Rajashree Shirke

Come December, Chennai is brimming with music and dance. What more could the artists and the rasikas ask for. The artists get a chance to showcase their latest works and the audiences are at least sure of a sumptuous feast at this part of the year. But sadly, Kuchipudi does not get its due, except in a sabha or two. I sincerely hope the sabhas take note and provide a platform for talented and worthy artists.
- Alekya Punjla

The December season is a fantastic festival, really the Woodstock of India! So unique and beautiful. The beauty of this festival is that it is majorly a private affair with hardly any Government support! That is something unique to Chennai.

I love to come to Chennai to perform as I find here a true recognition of talent. There is very little parochialism, or feelings of region or language, that you often encounter elsewhere. The Chennai December season, is truly national and should be branded so! The sabhas do not distinguish an artiste as local or from outside Chennai. The bottom line is good work! I love the atmosphere here! And love to bring all my works to be staged here.
- Ananda Shankar Jayant

The season is getting more crowded and less imaginative annually. It is impossible to mount anything special or imaginative in the cacophony of performances. Money is playing an increasing role in opportunities and good dance is difficult to watch unless you are doing the regular quasi-margam. I welcome the move that more and more sabhas, except Music Academy, allow recorded music. This cuts down the mess and the stress caused by dance accompanists. Black curtains as backdrops have become more the norm. My battle for 18 years has succeeded in many sabhas removing those ugly decorations and banners - or at least removing them for my performance. This year Krishna Gana Sabha has added more lighting on their grids and Kartik Fine Arts is providing all my lighting requirements for FACES. Both sabhas have agreed to more time for rehearsals at night and a growing consciousness to visual aesthetics is apparent. However, it is us dancers who must insist on being given one hour between the afternoon concert and the evening slot to prepare the stage.

40 years ago, my mother would bring people from home to sweep and swab the stage before my performance. I still have to continue the same tradition. Stages are filthy and not maintained at all. The less said about the green rooms and toilets the better. We do not have a single hall with acoustical fidelity. To call our city the cultural capital of India and have such poor theatres is a real joke!

But it is in this contrast that such intensity can be seen and only those dancers who can navigate all such paradigms can succeed. My patience is slowly wearing thin.
- Anita Ratnam

Quantity over quality. For the general public, new entrant and the NRIs, it's a feast! It is like going to a mithai shop and not knowing what to buy and what to eat! But can one eat mithai or wedding food 12 hours a day for 30 days without suffering acidity, diarrhea or indigestion? Normal human beings may find it too much of a good thing and stay away for most parts and partake only what can be digested. But it is an amazing spread and for the month and half now, Madras is all decked up and dancing! Enjoy.
- Ashish Mohan Khokar

The Chennai Season is surely a mad time as referred to by many critics. It has however become a season for showcasing amateur dancing at the cost of performances by good, professional and serious dancers, who resist the temptation to pay and dance instead of receiving payment for the dance. However it is a gala time for the orchestra accompanying the dance.
- C V Chandrasekhar

Come December - Run Away Season
These days, December coming is a nightmare for us, struggling to accommodate rehearsals of our students - both local and NRIs - and arranging musicians who are not available on time and schedules. Making compromise on quality accompanists and coordination between dancers and musicians getting worse, make all artistes tense for the performances to go well. So as far as performing artistes are concerned, this is a month of frustration on all sides, including losing money and not getting any returns. Days of excitement during season is over for us, but the new generation still look forward to get a chance to perform in the season.

I would say December art season is no more witnessing qualitative performances of Music and Naatya. The quantitative and extended season certainly operate in diminishing return theory. So for me and Shanta, December coming is yet another busy month, that is all.
There were years when we used to have 20 to 25 performances in December, but not Sabha performances. Seasonal conferences, tourists, temple festivals and cultural meets of educational institutions. So the month of December used to be very hectic with rehearsals, travels and performances. There was a sort of excitement being busy and bringing good revenue for the profession. We had our own set of musicians who literally spent day and night with us like a happy family. So performing in Sabhas did not in any way excite us. Being performing artistes, throughout the year was season, no matter December or any other month. A decade ago, we decided not to perform for all and sundry Sabhas in December and accepted not more than one or two performances, thinking that our chances will go to youngsters, so that they can built up their career. But this did not happen.

Now our reaction is to run away from Madras during December to avoid forcefully attending mediocre performances, conducting rehearsals for the students and also conduct their performances where there is hardly any audience to witness the efforts put in by us and the performer.

- V P Dhananjayan

The season is the season. Cooler climes, mood for music and dance. Opportunity to see some great performances. It is getting more and more difficult, so no hopping around like earlier. One has to choose a venue and stick to it. I like the frenzy of the season and the discussions that go on over coffee and bonda in the canteen. Love meeting old friends and changing the evening program depending on the mood of the moment.
- V R Devika

Too much of Bharatanatyam and not enough of other dance forms. A sense of dejavu cannot be avoided. Of what use are performances with twenty persons seated in the audience? Performing in the sabhas has become adding one more chapter to the biodata of the artist.
- Leela Venkataraman

This will be my second demonstration in Krishna Gana Sabha for Natya Kala Conference. It is quite delightful to know that there is a gathering for art sake.
- Margi Madhu

December is the best time to be in Chennai, I always look forward to the balmy sea breeze, some good music and dance and the opportunity to meet up with friends who are flocking there for the season.
- Navtej Singh Johar

The unending extravaganza of music and dance which happens every year...! It always gives a great confidence and rejuvenation to a beginner and a senior artiste as well. If you miss your participation as a regular performer of the season or as a regular connoisseur of these festivals, the whole year it makes you think... You Missed It!
- Neena Prasad

The month of Margazhi (14th December to 14th January) is traditionally known for prayer through nama sankeertanam. The extension of that holy concept is the Chennai music season which directly or indirectly kindles religious and spiritual values along with aesthetic values. One may say that it is a maddening season with hundreds of festivals all over Chennai. If somebody is maddened by music and dance, it leads to an inner peace which the world needs at this hour of constant conflict and terror. The sound of our percussion is thousand times better than the country bombs.
- Padma Subrahmanyam

Chennai December season - Busy Busy Busy... this is never ending, the schedule of the Festivals will never change, and we artistes have also got used to it. Artistes prepare themselves with new creative ideas and thematic productions be it dance or music. It's great to be busy. I only wish all the sabhas are filled with rasikas.
- Parvathi Ravi Ghantasala

Because of the immense talent, the numerous programs that flood Chennai especially during the Chennai season, it becomes both an inspiration and a challenge to choose, choreograph and present pieces that would sustain the interest of the audience.
- Priyadarsini Govind

The December season - what it means to me...
A glimpse into the past as to how life was before the Industrial Revolution, when people had leisure, which was spent on delving into Iyal, Isai and Natakam.

The season is of great importance to me being a performing artiste and choreographer. I research, prepare and present my ideas. This helps in understanding myself and the art better. The season fills me with expectations and excitement, it also brings with it hard work and toil, the fruit of which is the appreciation that one gets from the rasikas.

This year I have worked on a new production Daayinee...the eternal giver, which brings out the various paths trodden by the women of India through ages - Her plight, suffering and turmoil which she silently bears and yet moves forward. The poems of Mahakavi Bharathi, and verses from Manusmriti, Bhradharnanyaka Upanishad, Quotes of Thiru Vi.Ka, Vivaha Mantras have been used along with Zoya Zaidis' poem- Women Burning Bright to narrate the concept.

I look forward to presenting this feature during the ensuing December festival season which has been part of my life now for more than three decades.
- Revathi Ramachandran

I was introduced to the Chennai December season by noted Bharatanatyam exponent and dance writer Nandini Ramani four years back when I was invited by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan for a lec-dem. Since then, I have come here every season. Every time it's a pilgrimage for me and it feels great to be a part of this great meeting place of artistes, gurus, rasikas and dance writers. In our region, we almost starve as regards enjoying of dance festivals, so it gives me immense pleasure in hopping from one Sabha to the other like a thirsty 'Chalak' bird encountering the rainfall after a long drought.

One thing, however, crosses the mind; the turn out of audience sometimes is really very small, leaving one wondering why it is so.
- Sharodi Saikia

A festival with music, dance and other activities, real cheerful and educative season, but one should be able to identify true talent, dedicated artistes both young and senior. The sabhas should stand for values of the artistic productions.

An artiste should present himself with deep understanding and should be able to reach out his abilities and art to the audience. In this endeavor, the organisations and the sabhas need to support the artiste.
- Sheejith Krishna

Chennai December season is so very art filled that we get to interact with art lovers both as performers and audience from all over the globe! Though a floating crowd, the excitement is prevalent all over, be it in rehearsals, performances, reviews and audience views! Look forward to this every year.
- Srekala Bharath

I have been a part of the December season for the last 58 years, as a rasika and a performer. When I think of the December festive season, it kindles varied emotions in me. In my early years, there were probably a handful of organisations which hosted mostly kutcheris and very few dances. Whereas now it is heartening to note that it has grown in magnitude and popularity. We have heard that kings nurtured fine arts especially performing arts, in history. I am tempted to draw a comparison of the circum-ambience of the present day December fest to that which existed centuries ago. I wish not to comment on the content and substance as it is very relative, subjective and cultivated.

"If the flower were to represent the civilization, then, the fragrance would be its culture. Indian culture is distinctive. The uniqueness of the dance in India lies in its freedom of expression, within the framework of tradition, and that freedom is for us to cherish."
A shining evidence of the above thought is our own December season.
- Prof. Sudharani Raghupathy

Over the years there has been a proliferation of events. Both of music and dance. The Indian Diaspora is also making it a point to visit Chennai to savour the music and dance.

The sponsorship coming from corporate sector, banks, private individuals, and also Indian Diaspora has generally helped in mounting several events and programs. The music industry in terms of sales of CDs is reaping dividends.

But when there is a surfeit of performances, it becomes counter productive. Because of too many programs of dance and music, the choice is at times difficult. And as is seen during last few years, at many dance programs the attendance is so poor that one feels sorry for the performer who has no audience except a few friends and relatives. This has been voiced again and again by several concerned people. But in a democracy none cares. The media is also playing truant. Sruti magazine conducts the opinion poll and also writes about the mad mad mad season of Madras giving statistics. Last year I was shocked to find only two performances of Kuchipudi, one or two of Odissi and the rest was Bharatanatyam and Bharatanatyam and more Bharatanatyam. One gets tired of it. There is also no quality control and whatever media /reviews appear, thanks to the initiative taken by The Hindu in form of tabloids, yet a solution does not seem to be within sight. I gather from regular visitors and local friends that the young generation of musicians is doing very well and there is interest amongst the young generation for classical Carnatic music. Also what Anita Ratnam started as The Other Festival has come to stay providing a platform for contemporary, experimental and innovative dance and music, Ranvir Shah has extended it with poetry and literary festival.

This is indeed a good sign but the flip side is also to be taken into account when so many dancers continue to perform to near empty halls. What is this madness ultimately leading the exponents to? One wonders. One is forced to be choosy and selective and forego many performances. The December season invariably gives an opportunity to meet local friends and friends from abroad and catch up with them. Of course one looks forward to attending the Chennai season to savour best of dance and music. But one has to perforce exercise discrimination.
- Sunil Kothari

Over-crowded...Could become counter-productive if the programs are not more spread- out. This can only happen through greater co-ordination between Sabhas.
- Swapnasundari

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