Monday, 15 October 2018

Mudicondan Venkatarama lyer

Birthdays & Anniversaries
15.10.1887 - 13.9.1975

Venkatarama Iyer, was a musician's musician whose mastery encompassed both the lakshana (canonical) and lakshya (aesthetic) aspects of Carnatic classical music. Specifically, he was considered an authority on alapana presentation and tanamand pallavi-singing. He was for many years one of the major draws at the morning sessions of the annual conference of the Madras Music Academy at which experts — mostly real experts in those days — delivered illuminating talks or erudite lecture-demonstrations and discusssed raga lakshana-s. His contributions to enlightenment in these areas eventually earned for him the Academy's Sangeeta Kalanidhi title which goes with the honour of presiding over the annual conference.

The journey to the top honour seems to have begun at his birth, for both his parents were musically gifted. His father Chakrapani Iyer was noted for his singing of raga-s and Tevaram-s which are the hymns in Tamil in praise of the divine composed by the saints of the bhakti tradition. In fact, his maternal grandfather Srivanchiyam Swaminatha Iyer was also noted for his singing ability; he specialized in singing pada-s and javali-s with a lilt of his own, which led his listeners to identify him as Talukku [Glitter] Swaminatha Iyer.

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Vempati Chinna Satyam

Birthdays & Anniversaries
15.10.1929 - 29.7.2012
Vempati Chinna Satyam was an Indian dancer and a guru of the Kuchipudi dance form.Chinna Satyam was born in KuchipudiAndhra Pradesh. He was taught by Vedantam Lakshmi Narayana Sastry. He then refined his art by learning from Sri Tadepally Perrayya Sastry and later was trained by his elder brother Sri Vempati Pedda Satyam in expressions. As he learnt the nuances of this style of dance, he was successful in popularising the Kuchipudi dance form all over the world. 
Chinna Satyam sublimated and systematised Kuchipudi, giving it a more classical basis. He refined the art form, bringing it closer to the standards of Natya Shastra and gave it a whole new perspective and introduced new elements, e.g. chari (leg movements) of Natya Shastra that are significantly different from the interpretations of other dance authorities, such as Padma Subrahmanyam. Previously, it had been considered a "rustic" (folk) form of dance.

Chinna Satyam started the Kuchipudi Art Academy at Madras in 1963. The Academy has to its credit more than 180 solo items and 15 dance dramas composed and choreographed by Satyam. These solo items and dramas have been staged all over India and abroad. He composed his first dance drama Sri Krishna Parijatham in the same period followed by another hit Ksheera Sagara Madanam and played the lead role. His portrayal of Lord Shiva and his choreography was well received.

N. Ramani

15.10.1934 - 9.10.2015
Birthdays & Anniversaries

Dr. Natesan Ramanicommonly known as N. Ramani or N. Flute Ramani, was an Indian Carnatic flautist. He was awarded the Madras Music Academy's Sangeetha Kalanidhi in 1996. Ramani is also credited for introducing the long flute into Carnatic music.
Ramani performed his first concert at the age of 8. The turning point in Ramani's career was when he became a disciple of his maternal uncle and eminent flautist, In 1945, Ramani performed his first concert on All India Radio. Following Ramani's first concert at the Madras Music Academy in 1956,at the age of 22, Ramani had reached the highest point in his career and become an artist of international fame, and his concerts became a regular feature.
The "Mali" bani encompassed facial expressions such as slight tilting of the head, varied movement of the lips which produced the vocal effect in the Carnatic never explored before by Sharaba Shastri or Palladam Sanjeeva Rao.Bringing out more of the tradition Mali introduced in the playing of the Carnatic flute, Ramani's distinctive style is the transformation of the Carnatic flute into the voice of a proficient Carnatic vocalist. Stressing such importance on the emphasis of vocal style of playing, he displayed characteristics of the human voice in his concerts often observed in his fast paced yet melodious performances.
Ramani's performances in All India Radio (AIR) have received numerous praises from Hindustani and Carnatic musicians alike and his performances overseas had been recognised with numerous awards.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

D.K. Datar

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Pandit D. K. Datar is one of India's foremost violinists. He had his initial training from the Late Pandit Vighneshwar Shastri. Later he received invaluable guidance from Professor B. R. Deodhar. But his style was really influenced by his close association with the Late Pandit D. V. Paluskar. His gayaki style of playing has a unique quality that is rarely found in today's violinists. Pandit Datar is well known for his systematic presentation of the "ragas" in the classical tradition. He also excels, in presenting thumaris, bhajans and other forms of light classical music.

He is a recipient of the Sangeet Natak Academy Award (1996) and the Maharashtra Government Award (1998). He has been visiting faculty at many universities such as Bombay University, S.N.D.T. University, M. S. Baroda University, Banaras Hindu University and Khairaghar University. He has performed duets with Shahid Parvez, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Vijay Raghav Rao, Sultan Khan, Devendra Murdeshvar and has accompanied D. V. Paluskar, Kishori Amonkar, Saraswati Rane, Hirabai Barodekar, Narayanrao Vyas, Kumar Gandharva and many others.

Pandit Datar has toured extensively in India and has participated a number of times in all of the presrigious music conferences held in Bhopal, Pune, Ahmedabad, Hydrabad, Madras, Baroda, Calcutta, Nagpur, Indore and Delhi. He also had successful concert tours of U. S. A., Canada, U. K., Europe, Iceland, Japan, U.A.E. and countries of South East Asia.

Nikhil Banerjee

14.10.1931 - 27.1.1986
Birthdays & Anniversaries

Nikhil Banerjee was one of the three outstanding sitar players dominating Hindustani music during the last 30 years. Pandit Ravi Shankar, the most wellknown of the three, became famous for first exposing the West to Indian classical music through his cotttact with George Harrison and the Beaties. Nikhil Banerjee was in fact Ravi Shankar's gurubhai; both artists were trained by the same teacher, the late Baba Allaudin Khan of Maihar. Ustad Vilayat Khan, the third sitarist of the trio, represents a long and distinguished gharana of instrumentalists from what is now Bangladesh.

At the invitation of the American Society for Eastern Arts, Nikhil Banerjee first came to the United States in 1967 to perform .on the college campuses and give instructional classes in sitar. In 1974 and '75 the Center for World Music sponsored the teaching programme, which in 1976 and '78 was organized by Musical Traditions, an offshoot of ASEA. Greeted by enthusiastic reviews wherever he went, Nikhil Banerjee saw his reputation soar at home and abroad. In 1968 he was awarded the distinction of Padma Shri by the Government of India, and he was given the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1974. Between 1967 and 1973 six long-playing records of his were released by the Gramophone Company of India (EMI).

In November 1985, Nikhil Banerjee fufilled a lifelong ambition when he performed in Carnegie Hall. Reviewer Robert Palmer of The New Yark Times wrote :

"The extraordinary fluidity and assurance of his rhythmic ideas and phrasing set a pace and a standard that would

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Annapurna Devi is no more

A reclusive genius

Eminent surbahar artiste Annapurna Devi died at Breach Candy hospital in Mumbai on Saturday, 13th October 2018 aged 91, hospital officials said.

Daughter of the Maihar gharana maestro Alauddin Khan, sister of top sarod artist Ali Akbar Khan, and for a couple of decades the wife of sitarist Ravi Shankar before their divorce, Annapurna Devi was considered the greatest exponent of surbahar. She was also a guru of repute, counting sitarist Nikhil Banerjee and flautist Hariprasad Chaurasia among her prime disciples.  
For most of her life, the great musician stayed out of the limelight by choice.

Chitti Babu

Birthdays & Anniversaries
13.10.1936 - 9.2.1996

Chitti Babu (13 October 1936 – 9 February 1996) was a renowned veena artiste in Carnatic music. He was perhaps the most popular exponent of his instrument in his time.

He had a significant stint in film music from 1948 to 1962, when he worked in the south Indian film industry, playing the veena for numerous background scores in movie soundtracks under the batons of many eminent music directors of the time like Saluri Rajeswara RaoPendyala Nageswara Rao, and Viswanathan-Ramamoorthi, among others. His veena playing was a key element in many hit songs in Telugu and Tamil.
While continuing with the principles of his his guru Emani Sankara Sastri, Chitti Babu, created and evolved a distinctive style and identity. He offered exquisite tonal quality and versatility and produced sounds as varied as Vedic hymns and birdsong. He played many western-music based compositions of his own. 

Friday, 12 October 2018

Chitra Visweswaran

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Chitra Visweswaran is a famous Bharatanatyam exponent, reputed guru and an excellent choreographer. Born on 12 October 1950, Chitra was initiated into dance by her mother Rukmani Padmanabhan, and then put through her paces in Western classical ballet in London. At the age of ten, she came under the tutelage of the well known devadasi dancer Tiruvidaimarudur T.A. Rajalakshmi. Chitra performed her Bharatanatyam arangetram on 12 April 1962. An eclectic background covering Manipuri, Kathak, Rabindra nritya and sangeet, Carnatic music and theatre, launched Chitra on a voyage of discovery at a very young age in Calcutta.

In 1970, after graduating in English Honours from Calcutta University, Chitra received the National Scholarship for advanced study in Bharatanatyam from the Government of India. She relocated to Madras and spent her scholarship period of four years learning from the doyen Vazhuvoor Ramiah Pillai. After some years Chitra chartered her own course, imbuing her knowledge of the cognate forms of arts with a scholastic approach and developing an individualistic philosophy of movement.

Her holistic vision of dance and her husband R. Visweswaran’s pursuit of music ensured a continuum through the Chidambaram Academy of Performing Arts (CAPA), which the couple established at Chennai in 1975. Together, they created several solo pieces, thematic presentations and group productions. Backed by research towards the extension of the Bharatanatyam repertoire, Chitra has  created a voluminous body of work, covering several margams, thematic solo, group /dance theatre productions, which reflect her individuality and are a synergy of tradition and innovation. She recently penned the lyrics and composed the music for Sri Pothai Kuravanji.

Chitra Visweswaran was among the first to perform extensively abroad, and in the process,  she equipped herself and her students in acoustics and lighting design. She has performed solo and presented her work at several prestigious venues and festivals including the United Nations, the Festivals of India abroad, and at the golden jubilee celebrations of India’s Independence held in different parts of the world. She was the first Indian dancer to appear on Portugal TV and more recently, the first Bharatanatyam choreographer to be commissioned to present choreographies by the Opera of France at Lille and Paris.

Her performances have been archived by Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi and NCPA, Mumbai. Her dance has been telecast by important television channels including BBC, Singapore Broadcasting Company, Sydney Television, French Television, Doordarshan and Roopavahini. She has presented several papers, lecdems and workshops on dance, and  has collaborated with doyens in Bharatanatyam, Odissi and Kathak. She has served as board member, Kalakshetra Foundation, and the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Chennai. She graced the Rabindranath Tagore Chair in Fine Arts as a Professor Emeritus in the University of Madras. She served as  Member, General Council and Executive Board of the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi, and as Member Secretary of the Tamil Nadu Eyal Isai Nataka Manram. Chitra Visweswaran is the Managing Trustee of CAPA, and Dean of Lalitha Kala Mandir, the fine arts wing of Sri Muthukrishna Swami Mission. She is now the President of ABHAI (Association of Bharatanatyam Artistes of India).

Chitra is the recipient of several prestigious awards and honours including the Nritya Choodamani (1980), Kalaimamani (1983), the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1987), Padma Shri (1992), Honorary Citizen of the City of Bourges, Viswa Kala Bharathi, and Natya Kala Acharya from The Music Academy (2014).

Chitra is a voracious reader and has delved deep into literature, the fine arts,  theatre, history, religion and philosophy. She is an aesthete and a connoisseur for whom Bharatanatyam is not only a passion but a spiritual experience.

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Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Nedunuri Krishnamurthy

Birthdays & Anniversaries
10.10.1927 - 8.12.2014

Nedunuri Krishnamurthy was an outstanding exponent of Carnatic music, a musicologist, guru and tunesmith. His performances provided a rich listening experience. He was one of the few vocalists from Andhra who had attained national stature.

Krishnamurthy was born on 10 October 1927 in a poor family in Kothapalli, Pithapuram Taluka, East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh. His father, Ramamurthy, held a minor job at the estate of Pithapuram. He brought up his son in the traditional Brahminical way, and taught him the customary Sanskrit and religious practices.

Krishnamurthy was initiated to music by his mother and he continued his learning with two local musicians. In 1940 he secured admission in the Maharaja’s Music College, Vizianagaram, of which Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu, the violin virtuoso, was the principal. He completed the course in 1940. He gave his first concert before a small audience in his native place. Before long he got a good break to perform in the well-known Saraswati Gana Sabha in Kakinada. It happened under fortuitous circumstances. The sabha had scheduled a performance of T.R. Mahalingam, the flute wizard. He could not reach in time and Krishnamurthy, who was in the audience, was asked to fill the gap. The concert was well-received.

Krishnamurthy’s coming into contact with Dr. Sripada Pinakapani, eminent musician and musicologist, was a turning point in his career. His training under Pinakapani, in the gurukula system, started in 1949. The intensive training deepened his knowledge and widened his repertoire.

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Birthdays & Anniversaries

BM. Sundaram is hailed as a multilinguist, research scholar, musicologist, writer, composer and an eloquent speaker. On 27 March 2016, students of Vani Sangeetha Vidya Gurukulam where he teaches music, organised a function to celebrate the 81st birthday of the octogenarian.

Bala Meenakshisundaram Sundaram – popularly known as BMS – derives his name from his mother Balambal and his father Meenakshisundaram Pillai, the great tavil maestro from Needamangalam. He was born on 10 October 1934. He was the first disciple to learn music in gurukulavasam from Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna. He has a M.A. in Music and Ph.D in Musicology.

He served All India Radio, Pondicherry, as Music Composer and Music Producer for over a decade. It provided him opportunities to come in contact with the great musicians of his time. During his tenure he arranged for several “Invited Audience” programmes in many towns. While serving in AIR-Pondicherry, he organised several music recitals on the sixth day of the Natyanjali Festival after five days of dance programmes at the Chidambaram Nataraja temple. For as long as he was in AIR, these programmes were an annual feature.

He was a guest lecturer of Indian Music at Wheaton University, Massachusetts, U.S.A. Though he wrote monologues and submitted papers on various aspects of music, he first authored Palai Azhi (on the ascents and descents of more than 4000 raga scales). Most of his works were written and published only after he retired from All India Radio. He might have collected the details and information for these books even while he was in service but the books were printed later.

His writings can be classified broadly into two categories – musicological and historical. Books such as Palai AzhiTala Sangraha and Tana Varna Tarangini are writings on the grammar of music. In Tala Sangraha, he has given the details of some 1100 talas, while Tana Varna Tarangini deals with 880 varnams (with all available pathantara variations). BMS himself has composed 22 tana varnams.

In the second category, he wrote books containing hundreds of brief biographies. At that time, details about vidwans who lived in smaller towns and villages in Tamil Nadu were known only to a few. His first work in this category, Mangala Isai Mannargal, consisted of details biographical, and of the musical lineage and unique expertise of 126 nagaswaram and tavil maestros. He also listed a similar number of vidwans who lived in the 17th and 18th centuries.

His next book, in 2003, was on dancers Marabu Tantha Manickangal (Jewels of Tradition). It covered the biographical details of 121 dancers mostly of those belonging to the devadasi tradition. Tocomplete the folio, Marabu Vazhi Natya Peraasaangal (Great Masters of the Dance Tradition), covering the lives and achievements of nattuvanars was published.

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Bhagavatula Seetarama Sarma

Birthdays & Anniversaries

To those who had the pleasure of witnessing the performances, particularly the dance-dramas, of Kalakshe in the sixties and the seventies, the names of Kamala Rani and Bhagavatula Seetarama Sarma will indeed be familiar. They were the backbone, providing music and nattuvangam. Kamala Rani passed away recently. Seetarama Sarma who came from the village of Koocftipoocfi (which is how the name of the village and the dance-form should be written and pronounced) with a background of dance and Carnatic music, was moulded by Kalakshetra and Rukmini Devi into a composer, singer, and teacher of both music and nattuvangam. He played a considerable part in the production of a number of the dance-dramas of Kalakshetra. He may not have figured prominently in the year long celebration of Rukmini Devi's centenary but those who were his contemporaries at Kalakshetra would readily acknowledge his contribution to the institution. After he left Kalakshetra in 1985, he started his own teaching institution. Kala Peetham. The bright young star of today's Carnatic music firmament, T.M. Krishna is his sishya and dancers Revathi Ramachandran and Jayanthi Subramaniam have learnt nattuvangam from him.

One of Rukmini Devi Arundale's outstanding contributions to the field of the performing arts was the new kind of dance-dramas that she choreographed and presented. Music played a major role in enhancing the quality of these productions. She got musical giants to compose for her— big names like Tiger Varadachariar, Veena Krishnamachariar, Mysore Vasudevachar, Papanasam Sivan. Later it was S. Rajaram, grandson of Vasudevachar. But there were others working silently behind the scenes, at her beck and call— younger people whose contributions were not so well known or as widely unacknowledged. One such person is Bhagavatula Seetarama Sarma whose association with Rukmini Devi and Kalakshetra lasted for more than two decades. Seetarama Sarma has since made a mark as musician, music composer, music and dance guru and nattuvangam artist.
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Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Amjad Ali Khan

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Amjad Ali Khan is an Indian classical musician who plays the Sarod. Khan was born into a musical family and has performed internationally since the 1960s. He was awarded India's second highest civilian honor Padma Vibhushan in 2001.

Khan first performed in the United States in 1963 and continued into the 2000s, with his sons. He has experimented with modifications to his instrument throughout his career. Khan played with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra and worked as a visiting professor at the University of New Mexico. In 2011, he performed on Carrie Newcomer's album Everything is Everywhere.

Khan was awarded 21st Rajiv Gandhi National Sadbhavna Award. Khan received Padma Shri in 1975, Padma Bhushan in 1991, and Padma Vibhushan in 2001, and was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for 1989 and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship for 2011. He was awarded the Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize in 2004. The U.S. state Massachusetts proclaimed 20 April as Amjad Ali Khan Day in 1984. A Gulzar directed documentary on Amjad Ali Khan won Filmfare award in 1990.

Monday, 8 October 2018

Begum Akhtar

7.10.1914 - 30.10.1974

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Initially known as Akhtari Bai, her art earned for her the respect due to a begum sahiba. Her music carried the old world charm of the Lucknow court and, in the early years, “maddened her listeners with a certain intoxicating quality.” (Susheela Misra). Later, there was in it even more of an emotional intensity and a tinge of sadness as well. While she sang khayal-s, thumri-s and dadra-s as well, her singing of ghazals earned for her the title of Mallika-eGhazal, or Queen of Ghazal.

kalamandalam padmanabhan nair

Birthdays & Anniversaries
7.10.1928 - 3.4.2007

The story of a Kalakshetra Icon

CK Balagopalan
by V Ramnarayan

On 4 September, I attended a function at Kalakshetra, Chennai, to mark the release of Leap of Faith,  a book on veteran dance guru CK Balagopalan, the 79 year old alumnus of Kalakshetra I have respected and admired. Speaking on the occasion, the author, Balagopalan's disciple and a nun working in a France-based Christian mission, recalled the generosity with which Balagopalan and his daughter Prithvija taught her and accepted her into the Bharatanatyam fold. Balan's childhood friend and co-artist of seven decades' association, spoke of Balagopal's natural expressiveness and emotional appeal, not to mention his brilliant rhythmic capabilities, thanks to his training with Chandu Panicker Asan, who brought both the boys to Kalakshetra and Rukmimidevi. Sujatha Vijayaraghavan described his extraordinary versatility, and I extolled his devotion to Rukmimi Devi, Kalakshetra and Hanuman. I had been associated with the book right from the beginning, and actually wrote its foreword. Here it is, in full:

Mesmeric Hanuman of Kalakshetra
By Eliza Louis


"Balagopal Anna" or "Balan Anna" has been a dancer and dance teacher I have admired ever since I first saw him on stage some 45 years ago. It was at what is now called the Rukmini Arangam inside Kalakshetra, then an open air theatre, where you sat under the moonlit sky and watched the magic wrought by CK Balagopalan and his dedicated band of colleagues unified by their devotion to their art, Kalakshetra and Rukmini Devi Arundale. The name of 'Athai' or Rukmini Devi probably came first in their morning prayers, so total was their reverence for her.

No doubt about it, Balagopalan was a magician on stage. How else do you explain the mesmeric effect his portrayals of a wide variety of roles have had on succeeding generations of audiences, even though he is a tiny little man, who looks about as formidable as some of the calves in the campus that Athai was so fond of petting? Thin as a reed, dressed in a simple white shirt or jibba and veshti, Balagopalan looked mild and unprepossessing in real life, though the mischief in his eyes often hinted at hidden depths. But once on stage, he assumed a veritable viswarupa, whether he was playing Hanuman, Krishna, Sakuni or Bharata. Of all these varied roles, Hanuman was perhaps his favourite character. He once told me, "My fortunes changed dramatically once I started playing Hanuman. Anjaneya's grace led to many people helping me start my own dance school after retirement from Kalakshetra." Onlookers forgot his small frame as he brought the monkey god alive so magnificently. It was Balagopal's unshakeable faith and devotion that made it possible. With his expressive eyes and mobile face honed by his Kathakali training under his first asan Chandu Panikkar, he stole the hearts of Kalakshetra's sophisticated rasikas in a phenomenal variety of parts including Lakshmana, Bharata, Ravana as the kapata sanyasi, Kannappar (one of his most poignant presentations) and Maha Vishnu. I watched many of these great performances at both the Rukmini Arangam and the later auditorium at Kalakshetra. Every time I was completely overpowered by his rivetting abhinaya and brilliant nritta, both driven by his bhakti to God, Kalakshetra and Rukmini Devi.

The author Eliza Louis and Balaogopalan are both equally lucky--the sishya in her great good fortune of being accepted by such a wonderful guru, and the guru in finding a devout disciple with the academic rigour of a painstaking scholar with true understanding of the art and personality of her mentor. Fortunately, Elizabeth Majella is apparently no dry academician. While she has taken great trouble to collect and thoroughly check her facts, she also reveals unusual storytelling ability. The result is a fascinating biography of an outstanding dancer and dance guru, which runs almost parallel to the story of Kalakshetra, the institution which discovered the talent of a slip of a boy from Kerala and gave him all the opportunities to evolve into a major exponent of the dance drama and a guru who is keeping the Kalakshetra tradition alive through teaching.

The dissertation is neatly divided into five chapters. The first is an account of Balagopalan's life journey. It is a thrilling story that begins with a scouting mission in search of Balagopalan by Kalakshetra's Kathakali asan Chandu Panikkar at the behest of Rukmini Devi  and a chance encounter that led to VP Dhananjayan joining Balagopalan on the train to Madras. Though Balagopalan preferred football to books during his early years at Kalakshetra, and as he progressed as a dancer, Bharata Natyam to Kathakali. Panikkar's main pupils were Balagopalan, Dhananjayan and Kunhiraman, each a towering figure in the institution in the years to come, though Dhananjayan and Kunhiraman left Kalakshetra for other pastures, while Balan and a younger star pupil, Janardhanan, stayed back till their retirement. This part of the work deals with all of Balagopalan's gurus from Asan and Rukmini Devi to other, younger gurus like NS Jayalakshmi, Pushpa Shankar, Adyar Lakshman, Asantha, and the relentless perfectionist Sarada Hoffman. Peria Sarada Teacher was a major influence on all the students.

The opening chapter also contains many heartwarming references to Balagopalan's colleagues, his deep friendship with VP and Shanta Dhananjayan. Dhananjayan and Balagopalan were "like Krishna and Kuchela", we learn. The author has nicely captured her guru's affection and respect for other colleagues like Janardhanan, Krishnaveni, Kala, Ambika and Savithri. His admiration for Krishnaveni is clear in his choice of their performance as Sita and Hanuman in Choodamani Pradanam as his all -time favourite.

The first chapter stresses the vital role of his wife Leela in Balagopalan's life especially in the second half of his career. From her entry into the Kalakshetra campus and the idyll that followed there, to the time the family with children Pranesh and Prithvija moved to their current Kottivakkam residence, Leela has remained "the same village girl, whose life and joy center around her family." Here we gain a glimpse into Balagopalan's temper. "If you are patient at the time of his outbursts, he'll just surrender to you later," says Leela. The picture of a responsible and caring father is complete in this chapter. Equally important is the fact that "Kalkshetra's world view and its values have shaped their children into cultured and refined individuals." Both Pranesh and Prithvija trained to be dancers under their father's watchful eye. The talented Prithvija eventually joined Kalakshetra as a full time scholar and continues to pursue a career in Bharata Natyam career with great commitment.

We also learn about a rare aspect of Balagopalan's character--his love of nature and animals. Amazingly, Balagopalan reared a squirrel and a mongoose as a boy, and once rode a donkey on the beach with disastrous results as his friend Dhananjayan remembers.

Chapter 2 gives a detailed account of the many variegated roles Balagopalan played in dance dramas. Rukmini Devi said of him that the small man could "fill the stage with his presence and make everything else seem puny." He took every character he portrayed seriously and studied it thoroughly to know both its positive and negative aspects. He thought of the character all his waking hours, meditating on them and visualising them, even dreaming of them after falling asleep. "Right from my first performance in 1955 until today, my identification with the character is hundred per cent."

The author speaks of Balagopalan's refined abhinaya, something that easily set him apart from most dancers of his time. She quotes Krishnaveni's daughter Gayatri Balagurunathan as saying, "He was such a lovely Krishna on stage with his enchanting looks" in such productions as Rukmini Kalyanam and Bhakta Jayadeva.

The greatest space in the thesis is devoted to Balagopalan's iconic interpretation of the role of Hanuman, the crowning glory of his career. "In each performance, spectators waited for those for those entrance jumps and landings which were always in diverse postures." He once injured himself seriously during one of these exciting pravesams, only to resume dancing after a longer interval than usual when he received some serious first aid. Typically Balagopalan blamed his relative lack of rigour in his usual pujas in the run-up to that production. The detailed coverage of the many diverse characters and emotions Balagopalan played, from the devotion of Anjaneya to the cunning of Sakuni enhances the value of the dissertation as a guide to aspiring dance students.

The final chapter speaks of Balagopalan's dreams and expectations. Not unexpectedly, it also deals with regrets and disappointments including the ruing of lack of solo opportunities in his youth and the meagre earnings during a lifetime of devotion to Kalakshetra. In this, he was not alone, of course. Awards and titles have come late in life to him, but they must be all the sweeter for that reason. He takes great pride in the achievements of his daughter Prithvija now.

In conclusion, Elizabeth Majella pinpoints the essential Balagopalan by saying, "All through his growing years, and even today in his seventies, he has not lost the wonder and inquisitive nature of a child."  That probably explains best the Balagopalan magic as an artiste and his joy as a teacher.

This is an extremely readable, entertaining and illuminating biography of a great artist and lovable human being. Congratulations to Elizabeth Majella and CK Balagopalan.

V Ramnarayan

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Malavika Sarukkai's Thari


Kalavaahinias an Arts Trust—was registered on 20 May 2015, with Malavika Sarukkai as the Founder & Managing Trustee. The main purpose of  Kalavaahini is to foster excellence in classical dance and the critical heritage of India it represents.

The broader vision of the Trust includes documenting and archiving material in the performing arts and allied subjects; organising seminars of intellectual inquiry where aspects of Indian art—performative or academic—are explored; creating dance productions in collaboration with artists from different disciplines; conducting 'Dance Immersion Programmes'; awarding meritocracy based scholarships to nurture the next generation; and through all this, to keep the intrinsic flow of  tradition, vibrant and salient.

In the last two years, Kalavaahini has awarded four fellowships to
classical dancers to choreograph work within the classical genre, which is original in concept, creative and intelligent in execution. Under the model of the Dance Immersion Program, the Trust has created a space where renowned artists share their vision, passion and creative process. This programme provides an oasis where dancers with serious intent can imbibe, observe, question and reflect on dance. The Trust also produced Thari - The Loom which was premiered last year and was presented to critical acclaim in Bengaluru, Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai. The concept and choreography of this group production by Malavika Sarukkai, featuring five other dancers, was inspired by the unstitched garment, the sari.  This production explored the interplay of the constant and variable in life and art, the eternal and changing—the warp and weft though the shared principles of design, motif and form.
The pursuit of excellence in any serious endeavour demands creative concepts, tenacity, passion and funds to create a stable foundation. The domain of classical art is nourished by the passion and sustained commitment of artists and the philanthropy extended by those who believe in the enduring value of art and the contribution of artists.

Malavika Sarukkai in conversation with Anjana Anand

Thari - the loom

After years as a solo performer, what interested you in group choreography?

Having been a soloist for more than four decades, in the last couple of years I discovered a curiosity in me to work with the dynamics of a group of dancing bodies.  It was a challenge. As a solo dancer, who constantly questioned and investigated the form, going into group choreography meant opening new territory.  

After witnessing a prolific increase in the quantity of group presentations, I was concerned with how we as dancers could collectively raise the bar to bring in a qualitative difference. I realised it included working on the technique of individual dancers, costume, light design, aesthetics, commentary and overall production values. I wished to explore the possibility of creating a group production which aimed for excellence in all areas intrinsic to ensemble performances. Intelligent group work is not merely about multiplying the number of dancers on stage to make it more appealing to the audience. It is about working with a strong concept and finding the ability of translating this into dance design.

Was it a conscious decision to move away from the narrative as a theme?
The narrative is important and allows an immersion into the world of emotions and characters. Poetry is intrinsic to classical dance and plays an important role in the way I see dance. Yet, after working on the poetic content and its many layers, I found a restlessness in me to extend the boundaries of my dance language. I wondered  why the emotion of sringara should be defined only by poetry. Could I not express this primary calling of desire through pure dance? Is it not possible to reconsider angika abhinaya? I asked myself this question about 20 years ago which started me thinking differently and which has since defined my dance.

After several years of dancing the traditional margam I started questioning the content, structure, and context. When presenting the nayika in her myriad moods, there came a time when I wanted to open the window to discover what was beyond. Traditional sringara compositions for me defined a certain construct of response and articulation. I was dissatisfied, as there was a burning desire in me seeking expression. Dance for me is a living language. It is supple, imaginative, vibrant and resilient allowing for personal interpretation and change. I soon ventured into descriptions and comments on nature and environment, narratives which spoke of love, longing and transcendence using metaphors of beauty and depth to speak of a world beyond the everyday. I created in the solo—Thimmakka, Tree Song, Yudhishthira’s Dream, Astham Gatho Ravihi, Sthiti Gati, Aaprachanam - Leave Taking, Samarpanam and several solo thematic productions such as Kashi Yatra, Ganga Nitya Vaahini, Shakti Shaktimaan to name some.
Much of the poetry for these compositions was commissioned as they were specific to my concept and thought process. Intrinsic to my solo compositions and thematic productions is the music concept. I work on this in detail even at the stage of conceptualisation ensuring it is unique, imaginative and refreshing.  Poetry is important but is not centrestaged as the only means of communication. Evocation of the concept through abstraction also has an important role to play.
How did the concept of Thari come about?
Spontaneously, right here at home in my courtyard, while I was reading an article by sociologist Aarti Kawlra about the Padma Saliyar, the community of weavers in Tamil Nadu. The article described the making of the unique korvai sari. The pages danced before my eyes and I knew the seed of my new group production was sown. It was a wonderful awakening!

What is your approach to group choreography?

Sharing stage space was a conscious decision I made and my choreography in Thari  - The Loom reflects that. In my vision, this concept required teamwork with collective energy. I was keen to be inclusive with a generosity of spirit which I hope the participating dancers felt. It was not about forefronting myself and using the other dancers as a backdrop. Instead, my approach required rigorous training on all fronts as no one in the group was a ‘soloist’. I auditioned dancers in Bengaluru and chose those who were fundamentally sound in the Bharatanatyam technique and could be moulded. To help with the training process I invited Srilatha S to be the Rehearsal Director as she was well versed in dance and particularly my style.

All through the months of rehearsals, there was one refrain the dancers continuously heard: ‘Dance the concept, not just the dance’.  I did not want them to be imitative but invest more of themselves in the dance. They had to internalise my approach and bring alive every movement in a way that  connected them to the choreography directly.

The dancers who participated in Thari - The Loom were Jyotsna Jagannathan, Shruthipriya R, Aruna B, Adithya PV, Shreema Upadhyaya, Navyashree KN, Nidhaga Karunad BM.

What was the biggest challenge for you as an artist dancing in your own production?
Dancing with a group of dancers alters the spatial energy. This, in turn, impacts my personal dancing energy in space. I needed to recalibrate 50 years of a developed energy presence on stage. This was difficult.

There is a lot of give and take. I had to learn to blend in with the group and execute movements with exactness each time in relation to everyone else. I was only one part of the visual being created by multiple bodies. Now, that is the biggest challenge for a soloist!
The gen-next and millennial dancers are more accustomed to group work as it is part of their trajectory. They are quick at understanding positions and angles and playing with the sequence of adavus. Jyotsna Jagannathan, who is being mentored by me now, was the Production Assistant for Thari – The Loom. She was helpful in reminding me as to where I needed to be more ‘group-oriented’. As for myself, I wanted to dance every rehearsal but at times I had to sit out to take in an objective view. Not dancing, now that was unusual.
What do you mean by mentoring?
Mentoring is a new word in our traditional vocabulary of ‘guru’ and ‘teacher’. Often, I think it is misunderstood in a shallow sense as a trainer of sorts. A person who grooms already well-trained dancers further. An observation I made is regular teaching could often slip into creating clones, but the rigour involved in mentoring requires an alertness to ensure that the individuality of the mentee is primary.

Mentoring is a many-layered word.  Committed younger dancers face the pressure of many kinds and I felt the need to fill the role of a mentor which I believe is critical for their personal development. It is challenging as it requires a deep interaction with the mentees, exposing them to the horizontals and verticals in dance for a multi-dimensional growth. Presently Mythili Prakash and Jyotsna Jagannathan are being mentored by me.
Mentoring classes involve in-depth discussions followed by a deconstruction of their choreographies in extensive detail. Training is at many levels of technique, thought process and performance aesthetics. Primarily, it is helping them find their individual strengths and honing their skills towards artistry. The technique is vital and a living breath of dance. To quote Beryl de Zoete “Technique is a garment which both disguises and reveals; disguises the person but reveals his art…” Mentoring requires, on both sides, an investment with trust, passion and a burning desire to go further. This combined investigation requires an inner calling.  
Was it difficult working with dancers from different banis?

When I auditioned the dancers in Bengaluru I was mentally prepared that the group selected would be trained in different banis. My aim, was to strive for excellence as an ensemble. Keeping this in mind I worked tirelessly on them conveying the urgency of the concept, which needed translation into dance. For this, technique was paramount and centrestaged in their learning process. The dancers had to push themselves beyond their comfort zone and it was interesting to observe just how they could do raise the bar, if necessary.

Thari proved that our young dancers are capable of more when inspired. Personally, it proved a point that if we as teachers and choreographers demand excellence, the dancers if committed can meet the challenge.

Mediocrity seems to have crept into the Bharatanatyam field. How can we address this?
Primarily by taking responsibility to discriminate as audience and dance fraternity between excellence and mediocrity, sruti and apasruti. Dancing with alignment and harmony is a quality we need to be ruthlessly pursuing. I think we have to relook at the rigour of our training process. Why is it when we think of Kathakali or Koodiyattam, we immediately recognise the need for demanding training? It is ironical that the popularity of  Bharatanatyam as an art form has inadvertently watered down the training process, making it something largely pretty and decorative. I ask, is entertainment Bharatanatyam’s only purpose or is there not a more meaningful level to this evolved art form? Reading the biography of  T. Balasaraswati by Douglas Knight, and hearing her words of spiritual quest, my faith is affirmed. 

Alignment with the tambura sruti in music defines harmony of musician with music. Just as a singer aligns with sruti, the dancer too needs to align with a reference. In dance, harmony with sruti is alignment with Space and Time, the two tamburas of reference without which, dance is flat. While music has an easy external reference point, dance does not, making alignment that much more difficult!

We need to evaluate the teaching process and the pedagogy of this form. When there is quick consumption of dance, there is a tendency to take shortcuts in the teaching and learning process. This is a dangerous trend, because sruti in dance requires an exacting period of training. Failing which, over time, the demand for aesthetics of performance gets diluted. With this non-invested practice, the dancer’s potential to transform becomes less and less visible. Continued in this way, dance becomes skilful but not transformative.

What was the pre-choreography planning stage like?

Once the seed was sown, I let ideas germinate for many months. During this period, an urgent need grew in me to meet with the authentic weavers of the Kanjeevaram sari. I wanted to visit the looms, feel the threads they deftly work with, hear their stories of the loom and sense the environment in which the amazing six yards of intricate beauty and auspiciousness is woven.

The following year, I was happy to have Sumantra Ghosal join me as creative collaborator. Over long discussions constantly bouncing ideas of each other the concept was fine-tuned. This process was useful to sharpen the concept,  making it cohesive.

Dealing with an abstract subject and giving it a visual form is a challenging journey. There was no ready narrative or sahitya to fall back on. Each segment in Thari had to be linked to create a flow in the narrative. The seed idea had to develop to suit the visual medium.

It is one thing to articulate a concept and a completely different thing to translate it into the medium of dance. The sections in the production needed to be connected like thread which weaves fabric together. Each scene had to hold on its own but in relationship to what preceded and followed. I think my intellectualisation of those two years was the first step towards choreography.

How did the choreography begin? What was the guiding impulse?

Interestingly with Thari, I started with visualising the last piece which was the sari itself. This movement from the last to the first is unusual for me, but with Thari it was intuitive.

Working on Thari, multiple ideas played in my mind. The possibilities seemed endless but I soon realised the acute need to sift through them acutely to retain what was pertinent. One had to be dispassionate to assess one’s work.  I was clear from the start that the production should be taut and not much longer than 75 minutes. Whatever was to be danced must be done in that time frame.

Creating structure without a scaffolding in place is risky. I did not have the safety net of incorporating the theme into a margam structure. Thari by its out-of-the-box concept demanded a refreshing structure. It pushed me to seek out the fundamental energies within adavus, deconstruct their usual patterns and combine them with flow to communicate the concept.

For a concept to stimulate me mentally, the philosophic substratum is critical as the whole structure is built on it. Fundamentally, the concept must hold and provide multiple interpretations. For me, each movement of the bountiful vocabulary of Bharatanatyam has its own texture and when combined dexterously it offers another quality in rhythm and design.  Often times, if taken literally, productions can become one-dimensional, offering fact rather than poetry, repetition rather than imagination.

Every choreography is unique and demands attention to detail. I am wary of cliché and conditioned thinking when one is working with tradition. Each choreography is different coaxing me to think afresh and challenging me as I consciously step out of my comfort zone. Risk taking is an essential part of the creative process. Without this edge to my dance I cannot extend the boundaries of Bharatanatyam.

You have performed Thari in many cities in India and abroad. What has been the feedback?

Audiences have nationally and internationally appreciated the level of presentation and performance. Seeing the sari unfold as a metaphor was quite unexpected for the audience and they loved it!

At which point did you start working on the music?

Almost from the beginning when I held the concept in my mind’s eye. This approach afforded me a certain warmth when I discussed the theme with the music composers. I believe strongly in an exchange of ideas with the composers at all levels.

Developing the music is as integral to me as the choreography. Musical texture, kalapramanam, silence, karvai, pacing, sahitya, rhythms—all play an essential role in defining the music for my dance. When I think of dance at one level, the music concept influences my thinking. This thought process in turn shapes my choreography. Dance design and music design are in a constant relationship.

Tell us about the interactions with the different music composers of Thari.

I chose three composers for this work. The last section, Sari, was composed by Prof. C.V. Chandrasekhar whose music sense I greatly admire. Working with him is stimulating as there is a generous sharing of ideas in an environment of friendship and trust.

His experience in Kalakshetra with great Carnatic musicians and exposure to Hindustani music from his years in Varanasi and MS University in Baroda have given him a flexibility to work in both the styles. Our conversations were spontaneous. Images, sounds, experiences flowed into the music concept. He is a true collaborator.

The Warp and Weft piece was composed by the young and talented Carnatic musician Aditya Prakash from Los Angeles. His music has passion, intelligence, suppleness and spontaneity. This made working with Aditya exciting, as he was willing to explore the theme with me. The final music structure evolved after several discussions and rehearsals.

From the moment I conceived The Loom, the first choreography, I was sure I wanted to dance to the authentic sound of  silk and cotton looms. When I conveyed this to Sai Shravanam, we were both in complete agreement as he related to the depth of my concept. To create this piece, we made research trips to Kanchipuram. This sometimes involved Sai sitting directly under the loom and at the feet of the weaver to record the fine sounds of the shuttle slipping from side to side! At times when there was silence one could even hear the tinkle of the thread weights. It was quite an experience!

Sai was excited by this challenge as it involved many stages of creative thinking from rhythm composition, and location sound recording to creative editing. This composition uses only percussion with Sheejith Krishna on the konnakol.

Recording music for a work like this can be quite daunting. How did you prepare for the recording?

Once the music was composed, my musicians learnt it and I worked on the rhythmic structure and choreographed it on myself before the final recording. I find unless I dance the piece with full spirit I cannot establish how it will work.  Sometimes, what is in the mind does not translate well into dance unless it is tried out physically. Concepts which are out-of-the-box can be rather daunting as there is no established mode to fall back on. One has to be cautious, intelligent and creative. It is very demanding. Kalapramanam is critical to my work. Each composition has a particular  kalapramanam best suited to it. The challenge is to find it!

How important is it to have a creative collaborator when you are choreographing the production?

I think it adds tremendous value to the production. When choreographing and performing, we are at times too close to see the big picture. Sumantra Ghosal came in with a fresh mind and perspective. Over our several discussions I had to validate each sequence to him and this in turn gave me clarity. Editing thoughts and images is critical for excellence and this is something I firmly believe in even if I have to be ruthless when it comes to my choreography.

What were some of his contributions to Thari?

As mentioned earlier, his collaboration involved a lot of discussion on the topic which gave me lucidity when designing the concept and choreography. Sumantra wrote poems for this event, which were concept-centric. This turn of events was organic, and not planned. It grew as a natural part of our discussions. He participated in all the rehearsals questioning my purpose and making insightful comments. I needed this interrogation to be a part of the creative process. It was extremely useful.

Sandhya Raman did the costume design for the production. What inputs did you give her?

I wanted classicism to be the driving force for the whole design. I was particular that we did not use synthetic fabric, but only silk, although it was an expensive choice! The golden yellow colour of the initial costumes were her choice and I think it worked very well. Further, there were discussions via skype on the details of the design and accessories and its appropriateness.

At which point did you involve Gyan Dev Singh, your lighting designer?

Initially, I shared the concept with Gyan Dev Singh to gauge his response to this work. Even at our first meeting there was excitement, as the creative field was open. This fuelled more interactions with his watching rehearsals for almost three months before the premiere as I wanted the production to be organic in as many ways as possible. I was amazed to see how an abstract concept was transformed with his sensitive expertise.

How do you manage the intricate light set up needed at each venue?

Productions, like Thari - The Loom require a detailed setup and come with their demands. Ideally, we require a 2-day tech setup to ensure we get the standard of excellence and coordination required. The detailed technical run through is a rehearsal for light and sound cues, dancers positions on stage, sound balance, light intensity and the overall presentation.  I have noticed that when dancers are familiar with stage space, they dance better, giving more of themselves. In this way, when the whole team is in sync, then dance can be taken to the next level. I was fortunate that the sponsors, who believed this production was a validation of classical dance, agreed to the terms for presentation.

Would you say that Thari reflects the next stage in your long journey in dance?

Definitely. It has opened up a new chapter in my life. This is my first full length group work. I had a vision and it is very satisfying to see it take shape. Thari opened up many new facets for me. One fact came home to me clearly again and again. Productions of this type require funding and philanthropy. Classical dance must be nurtured by the informed, it is a joint responsibility of the artist and the patron.

The language of classical Bharatanatyam has the ability to move to the next level of presentation making it resonate with wider audiences; attention to detail makes for excellence; perseverance and passion fuel the process of sadhana. Classical Bharatanatyam is our valued heritage.

When on performance tours or on personal travel abroad, I make it a point to attend as many international programmes as possible. All the best productions have one thing in common—excellence at every level—from concept to final presentation. The creative process involves time, with an investment of spirit, fierce determination and dedication. There are no short cuts.