Song of Surrender

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

For students, by students

Svanubhava makes its Bangalore debut

By Priyanka C Prakash

The violin duo Mysore Manjunath and Nagaraj end their Shanmukhapriya swarams (Marivere dikkevaraiyya Rama.) with an energetic and exciting muthayanam, in front of an ecstatic audience, and hand over to mridangist BC Manjunath and khanjira artiste G Guruprasanna, who play an absorbing taniavartanam. There are intricate nadai variations, short mathematical patterns woven effortlessly into larger sequences, and traditional combinations with an innovative twist.

When the kuraippu begins and the exchanges between the two percussionists begin to taper in length, the listeners are sitting at the edge of their seats. Finally, they reach the mohra and korvai, and finish on a grand note. Over 600 young children in the audience cannot restrain themselves any longer – they are up on their feet – jumping, cheering, and applauding in delight.

The environment in the room is electric, and the excitement palpable.

Each child has a wonder-struck expression–the expression of a child who discovers something new, pure, beautiful and magical.

This is just one of many experiences at the Bangalore debut of Svanubhava, the brainchild of TM Krishna and Bombay Jayashri.

After successful editions of the festival since 2008 in Chennai, New Delhi, Trichy and Jaffna, Svanubhava debuted in Bangalore on July 19th and 20th, 2013. Organized by a group of young students of the performing arts, this garnered a phenomenal response from diverse groups –fellow students of the performing arts, school students, college students, artistes, educationists and teachers, journalists, connoisseurs, and even researchers and critics.

The line-up of events had a distinct local flavour.

Day-1

The festival was inaugurated by senior Carnatic vocalist Neela Ramgopal. She motivated the entire team by saying that the future of the classical arts is safe in the hands of youngsters who have taken the initiative and shown so much enthusiasm in organizing an event of this scale.

The first programme was the indigenous folk art form, Veeragase. Veeragase combines elements of story telling, dance, drama, music and percussion in its execution. We witnessed some gripping story telling seamlessly integrated with spoken and musical narratives, synchronized and intense dance movements, along with stellar support from the percussionists. The artistes wore striking red costumes, with bright make-up and chunky accessories. The impact of raw strength and energy was stunning—a perfect example of sophistication and power in a folk art form. This was my first time witnessing a Veeragase performance, and it definitely made a profound and lasting impression on my mind.

Each session was followed by a question-and-answer session and an open floor, when school students and other members of the audience could ask absolutely any questions. It was very heartening to see the children so uninhibited, full of curiosity and wonder.

The next performance was by Abhishek Raghuram, accompanied by Charulatha Ramanujam (violin) and Arjun Kumar (mridangam). Abhishek wowed the audience with a scintillating Bowli (Sri Parvati), Saranga (Neevadanegana), Charukesi (Adamodi galade) and Varali (Mamava Meenakshi). The subtly-intricate patterns in the Saranga niraval, and the striking Varali swarams were the crème de la crème of the performance.

After the Q&A session, the entire auditorium thronged the green room, hoping to get a photograph or autograph of their superstar–prompting comparisons with the Khans of Bollywood!

Next up was a performance marked by some of the best abhinaya we have seen. The performance spoke volumes of the class, experience and many decades spent in the practice and worship of the art. The husband-wife team of Anuradha and Sridhar regaled the audience with a fascinating array of stories from the Mahabharata. It was a show of perfect coordination, involvement and utmost surrender to the art form. One of the most poignant scenes that remain etched in my memory was of Draupadi being protected and saved by her lord Krishna. Anuradha Sridhar portrayed it with emotion, devotion, and dignity. Sridhar said, “We have performed all over India and abroad, at many venues, but this joy of performing to students is the most special experience.”

The penultimate item on Day-1 was traditional puppetry from Karnataka by Anupama Hosekere. In a performance that took nearly five hours to set up, Anupama, along with her team of artistes, presented many stories and anecdotes from the life of Prahalada. She explained later on that, a full production of this manner takes nearly two years to prepare–making the puppets, stitching clothes for them – with attention to colour, texture and fabric, perfecting their movements, composing music with particular attention to raga selection for the appropriate emotion, choreography, and of course, narration and execution. She answered the children’s questions with élan, too. Truly an incredible feat.

Day -1 ended with an erudite conversation on the ‘Interconnections of Music and Dance’ between TS Sathyavathi and Vaijayanthi Kashi. Vaijayanthi Kashi alluded to the music and rhythm all around us – even in the way we speak, intone, emote and connect. Dr. Sathyavathi, in her scholarly style of speaking, explained how theatre, music and dance can come together as an integrated whole, while being distinct in themselves. A particularly beautiful moment was an impromptu performance by Vaijayanthi Kashi to Sathyavathi’s Hamsadhwani swarams, and a riveting Neelambari swara-passage rendered by Sathyavathi.
Day-2 began in true martial-arts style with a stellar display of strength, agility and power by the nimble-footed Kalaripayattu group from Kalari Gurukulam. Musicians Team Agni began with a percussion prelude – beginning softly, and building up to a crescendo. As a perfect climax, the artistes entered the stage – attired in black, with coordinated red waistbands. A mix of vigorous jumps, quick footwork and perfect balance, the performance had several ‘wow’ moments.

Followed the violin artistry of the Mysore brothers. Beginning with the Abhogi varnam, Evari bodhana, the charanam was built to a climax with deft tempo variations and a remarkable fluidity of rendition. Vatapi Ganapathim bhajeham had some truly rocking swarams played in their inimitable style. The Shanmukhapriya alapana that followed was testimony to their musical brilliance. Depth, felicity, wistfulness and introspection – all found place in their rendition. Manjunath said after the performance, “It was an incredible experience performing to school children – they are future students, artistes, practitioners and patrons of the arts. The energy in the hall was just magical.”

The next performance was quite the crowd-puller. Padma awardee and doyen of theatre B Jayshree was in conversation with versatile actor Ramesh Arvind. The two contrasted acting on stage with acting before the camera. Jayshree captured respect and admiration through her charismatic personality and poise. Ramesh Arvind connected with the children, and even had them on stage for an impromptu session on acting.

The penultimate programme was an incredible Hindustani vocal concert by Pt. Parameshwar Hegde, accompanied by Vyasamoorti Katti on the harmonium and the young Adarsh Shenoy K on the tabla. With a powerful and expressive voice, Hegde took us through the ragas Multani and Desh, among others, in a variety of tempos, moods and emotions. The stage setting was befitting to the grandeur of the concert – two beautiful Miraj tanpuras on either side of the artiste, with the nada of the sruti reaching the very last rows of the auditorium, creating a serene and meditative atmosphere.

Svanubhava - Bengaluru ended on a high with a demonstration and laya-vinyasa by V Krishna on the mridangam, Guruprasanna on the khanjira and Arun Kumar on the morsing. Krishna, apart from being a mridanga vidwan of repute, is also a professor at a top engineering college in Bangalore. He established a fascinating connect with the audience within minutes of the performance, and demystified tani avarthanam to students. Demonstrating and explaining concepts such as sollu, sollukattu, nadai, nadabhedam, teermanam, kuraippu, mohra and korvai”, he beautifully explained the arithmetic behind tani avartanam. He stressed that the kanakku should be aesthetic. The team ended with a stunning tani avartanam in Adi talam.

It was one of the most enriching experiences being a part of the Svanubhava-Bangalore team. Working under our mentor TM Krishna Anna has been memorable–whether it was his management sutras on how to approach corporates, or his comments on how to speak to schools. He made us believe in the immense difference this festival could make to the performing arts spectrum. To see the results has been most gratifying.

After preparing for the festival for almost a year, we are grateful for the incredible response we had on both days – from school principals, teachers, students, young artistes, and the entire artistic community.

(Priyanka C Prakash is a young performing vocalist, and member of the Svanubhava team)

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