Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Veterans pass away

Adyar K. Rama Rao, veteran vocalist, nattuvangam artist and gottuvadyam player, passed away on 3 May 2015 in Chennai. He was the elder brother of Guru Adyar Lakshman, and an alumnus of Kalakshetra. He served his alma mater for several years and was also associated with Darpana Academy in Ahmedabad. He also provided accompaniment for senior Bharatanatyam exponent Komala Varadan in Delhi. On his return to Chennai he became part of the faculty in Vyjayantimala Bali's dance school and soon became an integral part of his brother Adyar Lakshman's institution Bharata Choodamani. ABHAI – Association of Bharatanatyam Artistes of India – honoured him with the title of Kala Seva Nidhi Lifetime Commitment Award in 2014.

G. Karunambal of Sri Rajarajeswari Bharata Natya Kala Mandir, Mumbai, passed away on 29 April 2015. She was the daughter of natyacharya T. Kuppiah Pillai, wife of A.T. Govindaraja Pillai, and sister of Gurus T.K. Mahalingam Pillai and Kalyanasundaram Pillai. She and her husband were among the first teachers to travel to Bombay to teach Bharatanatyam. Starting with private tuitions they went on to become part and parcel of the Rajarajeswari school from the day it was founded in 1945. She was the leader of its cultural troupe which performed in 15 cities in America and Canada in 1995, as part of the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the Kala Mandir. She served as principal of Sri Rajarajeswari Bharata Natya Kala Mandir for several years and trained over a hundred students including famous dancers like Damayanti Joshi, Kamini Kaushal, Nalini Jayawant, Guru Mani of Kalasadan, Praveena Vashi, Sudha Chandrasekher, Lakshmi Iyer, Jayam and Asha Amarnath.

Sruti's heartfelt condolences to the members of the bereaved families.

Remembering Veenapani

By Gowri Ramnarayan

What can you say when a friend dies of heart failure at age 67? An artiste with a singular aesthetic vision, intriguing creativity, amazing originality? A theatreperson whose intuitive grasp was matched by her intellectual acuity? A woman whose spiritual orientation did not distance, but sensitized her to the traumas of the material world?  Whose one-of-a-kind theatre strove not for emotional catharsis, but epiphanic wisdom?

Veenapani Chawla’s pluralistic vision came from many fields. With postgraduate degrees in history and political philosophy, courses in piano and singing, voice training in London and theatre apprenticeship in Denmark, Veenapani acquired skills in several Indian performance traditions -- Mayurbhanj Chhau, Kalaripayattu, Koodiyattam and dhrupad.

When I first met young Veenapani in old Madras, I found her glance as arresting as her tasseled choli. We exchanged giggles as only adolescents can. Decades later, when we reconnected -- as theatre personality and journalist -- we instantly slipped back into that effortless camaraderie. I saw Veenapani was engaged not merely in creating theatre “shows”, brilliant as they were, but in building a modern performance methodology steeled by traditional Asian theories and techniques.   

She told me, “Night after night, Koodiyattom maestro Ammanur Madhava Chakkiar refracted emotions with the same power and freshness. Watching him I realized that, by varying multiple patterns of breath, we can depict different shades of emotions accurately. Fear can even momentarily stop breath.  Japanese Noh drama and Koodiyattam have honed breathing techniques for centuries. If we could create a hybrid methodology from different traditions, what infallible means we shall have to texture each moment in performance!”

With the next breath, she could say, “Wow!” as she bit into a piping hot potato bonda, dipped in roasted khuskhus, fresh from the kitchen, and add with a conspiratorial smile, “Shall we watch “Kakka Kakka” (a Tamil thriller!) tonight?” All her scholarship could not dislodge her childlike joy in small, unexpected things.

I knew the journey had not been easy. Veenapani had to virtually squeeze water out of rock. Her indefatigable fundraising efforts managed to establish her Adishakti theatre commune in Pondicherry, with residential quarters for the repertory, and a gem of a theatre. She conducted workshops to exchange knowledge with diverse experts, including the yearly Ramayana symposium. She had the endearing generosity to offer her space to other needy theatre persons for developing their work. 

Veenapani’s internationally acclaimed theatre has been described as an amalgam of myth, metaphor and magic. Certainly much of her scriptwriting and directorial work reinvented myths with multidimensional meanings. Her “Impressions of Bhima” place the archetype in a subaltern landscape, with cartoon and caricature to inscape his psychical evolution. “Ganapati” reinterprets creation/creativity, by retelling primordial birth myths in a cyclical structure, from multiple perspectives. Her interactions with rhythms of many kinds, genres and folk traditions, found new narrative resonances in this play of few words.

In “Brhannala”, incomparable archer Arjuna crosses the gender divide to become a woman teacher of dance and music. Focusing on his name “Savyasachi” (ambidexterous), Veenapani melds science (Einstein), psychology (Niels Bohr), metaphysics (Sri Aurobindo) in actor Vinay Kumar’s superb movements, gestures and expressions. She shapes her own metaphors -- modern and universal -- to prove that polarities can be resolved in a startlingly new apprehension of reality.      

Veenapani belonged to the tradition of epic makers who strove to dispel darkness, discover dharma. She embraced modern technology, relished layering hybridity.  Pioneering such theatre was experimenting with truth, heightening sensuous and spiritual awareness.

Fortunately, Veenapani had the foresight to delegate responsibility, respect creativity in co-workers. Surely these legatees will find the adishakti, elemental power, to continue the quest. 

Violin Workshop

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Appreciating Carnatic Music

Long time Sruti associate and senior contributor to the magazine, Dr Lakshmi Sreeram (a PhD in philosophy from Bombay University, seasoned vocalist in both Carnatic and Hindustani music, and guest faculty at IIT Madras's teaching courses on classical music) will be teaching a new online course entitled Appreciating Carnatic Music starting in May 2015, as part of the union HRD Ministry funded NPTEL* (National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning), a joint initiative of the IITs and IIScs. 

All those keen on acquiring an informed rasika's level of appreciation of Carnatic music, even if they have little or no prior knowledge of the art form, may register for this course and benefit.  To learn more about the course, please go to

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Sruti Contributors honoured

Nritya Vachaspati  Award for Dr. Sunil Kothari from Chancellor of Alliance University
on 28 April 2015 at  Bangalore on the occasion of  World Dance Day 

Shrestha Kala Pracharak Award for Sujatha Vijayaraghavan,
from Ganesa Natyalaya, Delhi on its 41st anniversary, on 19 April 2015

Nataka Choodamani Award for Dr. Gowri Ramnarayan,
from Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, Chennai on the inaugural day of the 23rd Chithirai Nataka Vizha, on 14 April 2015