Sunday, 31 May 2020

Bereaved

Veteran Bharatanatyam exponent and guru Sudharani Raghupathy, on the sudden demise of her husband R. Raghupathy, on 29 May in Chennai. Sruti offers its condolences to her and the family.

Vidushi T Rukmini passes away


Eminent violinist T. Rukmini passed away this afternoon. She was 84.

Born on 27 November 1936, T. Rukmini has been one  of the most preferred violin accompanists in the Carnatic music scene for years.  Rukmini's first performance as accompanist was at the Town Hall in Bangalore when she was just 16 years old. She accompanied T.R. Mahalingam (Flute Mali) in a benefit programme. By then she had already taken part in some concerts presented by the same organisers and earned a name as a competent accompanist. In her career, spanning decades, she has played as accompanist to stalwarts as well as up-and- coming musicians of many generations. audiences not only with her vidwat and the way she has played her part as an accompanist, but with her stage presence and the pleasantness which always seemed to surround her.

Sruti conveys its heartfelt condolences to her family members.

To read more on vidushi T. Rukmini pl see Sruti 182

Thursday, 28 May 2020

Apsaras Arts – Roundup – 16th May to 25th May 2020

Vidhya Nair

In the third week of May, Apsaras Arts presented  an in-depth discussion on the making of Anjaneyam – Hanuman’s Ramayana - Aravinth Kumaraswamy in conversation with Chitra Sundaram, dancer/choreographer and theatre personality based in London. This session was hosted by @samarpanafortheartsandwellbeing and received an interactive audience who also engaged in Q&A with Aravinth.  Chitra posed candid questions on the making of the mega-production Anjaneyam from the genesis of the idea, the text references and how the story came to be scripted. She also asked about the theatrical techniques employed and how Bharatanatyam came to be combined with Balinese dance. They shared many interesting anecdotes about bringing legendary dancers VP Dhanajayan and C K Balagopal who played sage Valmiki and the elder Hanuman respectively. Aravinth also shared his experiences on working with Esplanade, one of the prestigious venues in Singapore.  Link: https://youtu.be/lUm2rZOGl80

Shukran: A Tribute to Singapore’s Migrant Workers was an initiative by Kathak dancer, Sunena Gupta to create community awareness and outreach through dance. Apsaras Arts’s Kathak dancer/choreographer, Shivangi Dake Roberts performed a segment in the third episode of this five-part series on the theme Fizaa- Tropical Paradise. Her performance was received well among Kathak enthusiasts in Singapore Link:  https://youtu.be/6OYmHzjjlgs


Aalaap Concepts, presented, Home Sketches@Aalaapconcepts with dancer Mohanapriyan Thavarajah. Aalaap’s theme of Home Sketches featured six dancers reflecting on the idea of home. A place of refuge, an abstract space filled with emotion, feelings and memories. This session saw Mohanapriyan engage in a conversation with Aalaap’s founder-director, Akhila Krishnamurthy; he shared his memories of growing up in Srilanka, his education in South India and his professional move to Singapore which led to his eventual growth as a dancer. He then presented a short abhinaya divinity piece that called upon oneness with the Almighty as an ode to being called back home.

22-25th May – TWOgether Season II@AalaapConcepts. A collaboration with Apsaras Arts

Season II of TWOgether featured six pairs of dances from Singapore and India presenting contrasting classical dance forms. In the first three sessions, Bharatanatyam dancers from Singapore and France faced up to a Mohiniattam, Manipuriand  Kandyan dancer.

Each performance was unique as each pair showcased aspects of their dance forms in varied ways – by their song choices, nritta items, explanations on the characters they often create in their solo work. The audience was able to interact and pose questions. Most cited the key challenges they faced which included navigating the technology of Instagram, time lag in music and expressions and getting to know an overseas partner and finding a common working ground in under a week, yet appreciated the opportunity this concept offered them to sharpen their own skills.  From the audience perspective especially in Singapore, the artforms intricacies and interactions with Mohiniattam, Manipuri and Kandyan dancers are extremely rare to see and hear up close.  This collaborative concept allowed for intimate interaction with these dancers – their thought process and their willingness to adapt and find comradery with an overseas Bharatanatyam exponent.

·       Launch of SISTIC Live – Anjaneyam : 24 to 31 May

Apsaras Arts was invited to be part of a joint showcase by Singapore’s Esplanade, Theatres by the Bay and SISTIC ( largest ticketing platform in Singapore) for a Live Production feed that enabled three Singapore made productions from the Chinese, Malay and Indian genres in this inaugural digital feature.  

The production, Anjaneyam – Hanuman’s Ramayana which premiered for a single show in November 2017 as part of Esplanade’s annual Kala Utsavam Festival is part of this prestigious feature.

In the last four days, a substantial number of tickets have been applied for from both Singapore and overseas patrons to watch the entire production in the comfort of their homes with surround sound and brilliant stage production and artistic craft. Patrons can avail these tickets at no cost or offer to pay a nominal donation which will go to support Apsaras Arts during this pandemic downturn.

For information on Anjaneyam, behind the production.
To download the ticket link to watch Anjaneyam till 31 May 2020

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Who is Bharata?


Indira Parthasarathy

Who is Bharata, the author of the Natya Sastra?

Unlike Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, who raised the question, “What is Truth?” and would not pause for an answer, I would pause and venture to think aloud about the question that I have raised.

Was Bharata from Kashmir or Kanchi? Was he an Aryan or a Dravidian?

True, it is difficult to find a perfect answer for such questions, considering the hoary past of our Indian heritage, deeply submerged in the darkness of pre-history and proto-history. The ethnic divide as Aryan and Dravidian was an imported concept created by the Western philologists to fulfil the political agenda of their masters – the rulers of an occupied colony. But Max Mueller, who introduced the Vedas to the West, later revised his earlier opinion and said that these terms referred to the linguistic divisions of the languages spoken in the northern parts of India and the southern regions. That Tiruvaimozhi by the Vaishnavite saint Nammalvar was hailed as ‘Dramido upanisad’ by the saint-scholars from both regions during the medieval period, is worth pondering over.

Sanskrit, as a language of communication between the various intellectual groups in the north and south, was a ‘created’ idiom as the etymological root of the word itself suggests, that is, ‘one that is cultivated’ – like English is, as of now, the world over. The early Rig Vedic language is totally different from Sanskrit of the later periods. Scholars from both regions – north and south – wrote in Sanskrit. And all those southern philosophers, poets and grammarians had a comprehensive knowledge of Sanskrit, to whatever caste they belonged. Kamban could not have excelled Valmiki in his masterly literary recreation of the Ramayana in Tamil without knowing Sanskrit.

That Bharata wrote his dramatic manual in Sanskrit does not make him a north Indian as one hailing from Kashmir. Secular literature in the field of art and culture found expression in the southern region much before it was known in the north. The authors of these treatises could have written them in Sanskrit but this does not warrant a north Indian origin in regard to their Nativity

Bharata was called ‘Bharata Muni’ and not ‘Bharata rishi’ like the authors of the religious works in Sanskrit were called. ‘Muni’ is a word of non-Sanskritic origin, according to the eminent scholar Manmohan Ghosh, the English translator of the Natya Sastra.

‘Bharata’ means ‘actor’ and according to the traditional stories in regard to the author of this dramatic manual, though he was born a Brahmin, he was considered belonging to an inferior status in the caste hierarchy since he was an actor-author, This could have been the reason he was not given the exalted status of a rishi as was given to the authors of the itihasas, Ramayana and Mahabharata. This is corroborated by the Silappadhikaram, in which it is mentioned that an inferior category of Brahmins, such as the musicians and practitioners of theatrical arts, lived in the outskirts of Madurai city, far away from the colonies of the Vedic chanting Brahmins.

So it is possible to believe that Bharata, who came in the rich tradition of Tamil heritage and culture, could have composed the Natya Sastra in Sanskrit to give this art a pan-Indian appeal. According to Adiyarkunallar (14th century CE), the commentator of Silappadhikaram, a treatise on theatre written in Tamil, called Bharatam was lost. It is difficult to say, which was earlier, the one written in Tamil or the one written in Sanskrit.

This brings us to the question of Bharatanatyam – whether it had its origin in the Tamil region or elsewhere. Of course, Bharata had nothing to do with the dance form associated with his name. What was once known as Sadir, and remained an exclusive possession of a privileged section of women in a feudal society, was ‘sanskritised’ (literally and as the sociologists would have it) and came to be known as ‘Bharataanatyam’ at the dawn of the 20th century.

The contemporary Bharatanatyam style perhaps owes its origin to Silappadhikaram (5th century CE), where it is described in detail in Arangetru Kathai, Kataladukathai and Venirkathai.

The erotic aspect of this dance form is brought out in Venirkathai. Eight varieties of dancing styles are described. (1) Histrionic gesticulation of the heroine at her initial meeting with the hero that happens accidently. (2) A dance form in which the hero comes much too often to draw attention. (3) The hero coming in disguise to meet the heroine. (4) The feigned ignorance of the heroine in regard to the hero’s presence at the spot where she dances. (5) Posture of an offended lover and the lovers’ quarrel mediated by an intermediary. (6) Expressions of bitten love narrated to the companion. (7) Acute pangs of separation exhibited by various expressions of sorrow and misery. (8) Theatrical action of swooning in desperate mood of love hoping to be bodily lifted by her lover.

Kovalan, the hero of Silappadhikaram mentions these eight styles of erotic dancing as befitting a courtesan like Madhavi and that he is not amused by her theatricals, when he decides to reject her and return to his lawfully-wedded wife Kannagi.

Sadir, which was later baptized as Bharatanatyam, was in true succession of the styles of dancing as portrayed by the epic. A thin line divides eroticism and bhakti. Instead of a human lover, God was chosen as the Supreme Lover, which became the sum and substance of bridal mysticism.

Sunday, 24 May 2020

Covid and folk artists

V.R. Devika


My cellphone rang… it was Roja Kannan (president of the Association of Bharatanatyam Artistes of India). “Devika”, she said, “ABHAI has been asked by IGNCA to identify artists in dire need of help during this COVID crisis. Padma Subrahmanyam advised me that you could identify such folk artists.” Immediately I sent the phone number of  leather shadow puppeteer Selvaraj who was not only without any performing engagement in March but also had met with a road accident. His son was asked a huge sum of money for a surgery in a private hospital nearby as he had no means of transport to go to a government hospital. ABHAI immediately transferred Rs.15000 to them that was a great help said Selvaraj’s son.

Then I gave ABHAI the contact for Terukoothu artist Kumar, son of Kalaimamani Dakshinamurthy who passed away recently. Kumar is struggling to keep the company together and trying to get performances in his father’s absence, knowing well that it was Dakshinamurthy’s prowess that had been getting them performances.

Then I called kattaikuttu artist Thilakavathi Palani. Thilaka said she was going around to the villages of Kanchipuram, distributing amounts sent by musician  T.M. Krishna to artists who were shell shocked at the cancellation of all night performances and Bharatakoothu festival in which the whole village participates in rituals connected with the Mahabharata. After listening to the musical narration of the Mahabharata in the morning, episodes are enacted in the koothu form all night,  culminating in “Padukalam” when the huge statue of Duryodhana gets destroyed and the icon of Druapadi Amman from the temple also ritualistically has her hair tied up at the same time when the artist performing the role of Draupadi does so. March, April and May are the busiest months for koothu artists who may also take on casual work in farms during the lean months.


Thilakavathi Palani works for the NGO “Katradi” (Wind Dancers Trust) founded by Sangeetha Isvaran and Elizabeth Haynes. They sent foodgrains and cash to many artists who are among the poorest of the poor like the pambai rhythm players, neyyandi melam, karagam artists and medai natakam artists who perform during temple festivals and household rituals. Thilaga has been packing bags containing rice, dal and oil and going around on her two-wheeler to distribute to Kattaikuttu artists and others.

“We learn that there are several artists among migrant workers. Katradi has been receiving appeals from marginalised communities like the Irula and Narikurava tribes, traditional performing artists, daily wage earners, single mothers whose lives have taken a catastrophic downturn when livelihoods have disappeared,” says Sangeetha who is planning to set up an office in the village of Kalavai koot road for better coordination of distribution. “Community workers from the Katradi team (most of them folk artists) are following up each appeal, assessing the situation and delivering the help needed while respecting the rules of social distancing.”

Dadi Padamjee of  UNIMA also has been reaching out to puppeteers to help them. Radhika Ganesh of Ek Potli Ret Ki is also raising funds to help craftspersons, folk artists and others.

Even as I write this, I am moved by a story that came up.  Eighty labourers in Andhra Pradesh’s Puttaparthy, that included many Kashmiri craftsmen who weave exquisite carpets and make wooden artefacts, were asked to pay 1.8 lakhs for a bus ride to the Hyderabad station by the local authorities. However, the brothers Ram and Laxman Rao who own gold jewellery shops and petrol pumps in the area, advanced the 1.8 lakhs needed for the journey to the railway station. The brothers said,  “We have known the Kashmiris who stay in our area; they are our brothers.” Shek Tariq, a Kashmiri shawl and cloth seller, said they were miserable till Ram and Laxman came to their rescue. 
I sighed. There is still hope for humanity.

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Reinventing the classical performance for the virtual audience

Aarthi Srinath

COVID-19, in a few weeks, has achieved what many Chief Technology Officers have striven to do for years - forced businesses and professionals alike to embrace the online virtual world! This is true for performing Indian classical artistes too.

I usually catch up on kutcheris in the December margazhi season. But today, despite being in a lockdown mode, I have access to choicest selection of performances to ‘attend’ from the comfort of my home, every single day.

We are at the cusp of a new format of performance taking its legitimate spot in the world of performing arts - the virtual performance. Our classical artistes are only beginning to scrape the surface of this new format with solo live performances on social media and insta-live chat interviews. The opportunities are however, endless. 

The biggest opportunity that this virtual format has created is that of a brand new audience - the social media savvy millennial. The virtual space has allowed the physical-space deprived artist to take control of their performance and reach a much larger audience.

Classical dance in sabhas has always brought in a younger crowd, but the Carnatic audience tends to often be in shades of grey. However, with online live and recorded performances, the audience demographic has the potential to change - classical music and dance can now reach many youngsters in their twenties and thirties, not just in India but in any part of the world.

But it is not as easy as that. These millennials who are online, are being simultaneously bombarded by a million brands and entertainment options out there, all vying for a slice of their interest. How does the classical artist grab the interest of their new virtual audience and make an impact? How does the artist give their virtual audience goosebumps and make time stand still, and their hearts feel like it has doubled in size?

The answer lies in the Natya Sastra - the holy grail of all Indian performing arts. According to the Natya Sastra, the goals of theatre are to empower aesthetic experience and deliver emotional rasa. This goal for the artist remains unchanged whether the performance is live at a sabha or virtual on social media - it is and always will be about establishing and deepening the connect with your audience. However, the means to achieve this end is different.

To be successful performers in the virtual world, the artist needs to reinvent their performance for the new online audience. Technology is going to be the biggest enabler to re-shape this online art experiences and evoke rasa in the virtual audience.

This is possible in many ways, and several artists are experimenting with many of these:

Reinvent Tradition - While building on the strengths of tradition, artists need to reinvent tradition and plan performances differently, away from the conventional repertoire. Shorter concerts with popular pieces, capella performances with multiple shots to create the orchestra effect and newer concert formats such as limited audience closed-room concerts are some options.

Personalize - Design the virtual performance based on audience interests by crowd sourcing suggestions. Try the participant-driven ‘Unconference’ approach and allow your audience to shape the flow of the performance on-the-fly.

Educate and Engage -  Your ‘newbie’ audience may not know enough to appreciate the performance in its entirety. Use this opportunity to educate them about your performance through comments and explanations running at the bottom. Live lec-dems and chats are another way to engage with the audience beyond comments, and build that connect.

Invest in audience experience - Performing art is sensory, and sound and light play a very important role in elevating the audience experience. Assuming that most of the online performances are going to be shot on the mobile phone, artists need to invest in modern lighting and sound technology that amplify their performance to the online audience.

Soon, lockdown will end, but virtual performances are here to stay. The new virtual audience, in reality, may not be as forgiving as they have been during the lockdown. If the performing artist wants to make the online format a financially viable one, where the audience is ready to pay to watch, the virtual experience needs to be worth it. It is now up to the artist to make the most of it!

The author is a digital marketing entrepreneur, today, performing bharatanatyam artist, yesterday& rasika of the performing arts, always.

Friday, 15 May 2020

Birth Centenary Tribute: Pandit Ravi Shankar


Meena Banerjee

Who could imagine that the 100th birthday of Pandit Ravi Shankar (7th April) would come and go so quietly! The sudden impact of the pandemic in late March this year caused cancellation of hundreds of events centered on the legend's birth centenary in Kolkata alone! The tune and tone of the present struggle for survival is not very different from the Bharat Ratna's boyhood days.   

Aamake keu bujhlo na (no one understood me)”, Pandit Ravi Shankar would often lament before tabla maestro Kumar Bose, a close associate of Panditji from 1980 to 1994. Ironically, Panditji’s shockingly candid confessions in his autobiography (My Life My Music) paint a clear picture of a strife-ridden life which scaled peaks of popularity and reverence under the shadows of controversies. “They are good! All greats are shadowed by controversy,” adds Ustad Shujaat Khan with conviction.   
Panditji’s father Shyam Sunder Chaudhuri, an intellectual gyan-margi and lawyer, was the Dewan of Jharwa State, Rajasthan. He left his family of four sons and a pregnant wife, while his eldest son Uday Shankar was already away at the Royal College of Arts, London. The distraught mother shifted base to Banares where Robu, her youngest son was born on 7 April in a small house in front of Til-Bhandeshwar. Little Robu, who clung on to his mother, saw and realised how much she sacrificed to make the ends meet.

Pandit Vijay Kichlu who knows the family since 1941-42 when his educationist father joined as the administrator of Uday Shankar Academy, Almora. He recalls, “Paris also exposed him to Western concept of music ensembles. His concept of Indian classical vadya-vrind perhaps was inspired by them. During my Allahabad University days, I came to know him closely through my friend Bindu Mukherjee who was close to Raviji. He had a remarkable sense of humour; laughter was his passion.  
A voracious reader, he always maintained physical fitness and practiced yoga. As an organizer, I found him very particular about each of his concerts. A stickler, he would plan the entry, order of sequences, lights, sound and keep the stage-hands on their toes! But, in extremely pleasant manner. His good looks, jovial character, winsome manners and venerable expertise won hearts in seconds. His professionalism ignited controversies on one side; and surged down to serious raagdari as well. Traditional to the core, he based his alapchari and baaj on typical dhrupad. Even his scores for several films vouch for this trait. When SRA happened in 1978, he accepted my request to be one of the founder trustees. He also helped include two of his world renowned friends Yehudi Menuhin and Satyajit Ray.”

Pandit Kumar Bose adds, “after the sudden demise of my father (tabla maestro Biswanath Bose) I met Panditji, he asked, “Babar smarane prog koro, ami bajabo (Do organize a memorial concert dedicated to your father, I will play) and you will play with me. Get in touch with Dubey for a date. I realized that he used to follow the track of all the musicians with a special purpose to get them in his varied productions. He preferred to utilize the new energy of youngsters. He was well aware of my career-graph. I was flabbergasted by this suggestion; because ‘Panditji’ meant a big event, beyond me; but it happened. The next day he offered me to join him, but with a caution that I will not get time to play elsewhere. I was already committed to Ustad Amjad Ali Khan who had helped me in a huge way after Baba’s death.



“Finally, after almost a year, I signed the contract and entered his world which was entirely different! Etiquette, punctuality, sophistication, gratitude – there was a lot to learn from him. Whenever he stayed in a person’s house he would ensure that his telephone and laundry bills will be borne by him. He never missed such little things like thanking his host soon after reaching the next concert spot. As a human and as an artist he was very professional but very informal at home. I was amazed by his elephantine memory. Once a young boy touched his feet and told his father’s name. Panditji rattled all the details dating back almost 50 years! On another occasion, he was scanning airport book-stalls to buy a new novel but couldn’t because all were read by him. A passionate film-buff, he could recollect all the details of films seen, along with the actors’ life history.

A fitness freak, he walked a lot at airports, hotels, house-gardens; without fail; but was an incorrigible foodie too; especially loved Indian and Bengali food. A riyaazi, he maintained a strict schedule; even for small talks and jokes!

“Controversies are good; that is the price of popularity!’ quips Ustad Shujaat Khan with his typical positivity. They prove that they were worth it. My father Vilayat Khan and Ravi Shankar were like elephants. None were wrong. They were walking different paths. And yet he spoke high of a youngster like me. I used to call him Robi-kaka. Once he told me, “Your father is a great master. I am so happy and proud that a person and musician like you are taking his music ahead. Whenever I met him he gave pointer in my career - very pleasantly, smilingly, while appreciating my point of view. These are the blessings one cannot forget.”



“My father never allowed anyone to badmouth him. They were rivals, competitors but not enemies! They had different ideologies of music and its presentation. I did admire his calm, cool presentations; but musical inspiration? I was under the huge umbrella of gayaki anga of Vilayat Khan and Amir Khan. I am their bhakt. Robikaka could translate that thrill in tantrakari with bol-tihai, which I enjoyed. Despite all, none is greater than music. It is their music which lives on.”
      


Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Dancers Lockdown Diaries




Mahalakshmi Ashwin, Bharatanatyam dancer and teacher

For the first time in my life and my little knowledge of history, India and the world as a functional human colony has come to a standstill. I am sure the world is not going to be the same place it has been. Priorities of societies will change, governance will be based on necessity, economies will no more be based on scales and for the first time, our children might start learning life skills before everything. The pandemic in my view will change the perspective towards life, country, borders and value.


To me, as an individual, a wife, a mother and an artist, whose world is nothing but my home, my dance studio, my students and my Bharatanatyam, how has governance, economics and this pandemic changed my priorities?

Pretty much nothing has changed in terms of my daily routine, only that I have a few more hands to handle the domestic requirements. For the first few days, cooking, watching movies with family and playing games with children was fun and after the first few days, all these activities became necessities to push time. Only then it dawned on me that this eating-playing-watching cannot be the remedy. It was slowly pulling the family into cyclical gadget dependency. I thought of introducing a few routines to break away for all of these, to keep myself physically and mentally active at the same time, carry on whatever I love to do the best – dance.

Now that walking outside is forbidden, Yoga, which was an occasional companion became a mandatory feature in the mornings. Yoga with family is a lot of fun, besides the health benefits. Next, I turned to students, ensured I spoke to them over whatsApp or phone every other day. I started giving them assignments that they can do and send to me as videos every day. I have never been a great fan of distance-teaching earlier and people who are close to me know that I have discouraged it as much as possible. But now, this gave me a new perspective. I could achieve more than what I could have otherwise.
Parents of my students on the other hand were extremely grateful that I was diverting them away from gadgets. I gave myself a target, to teach them certain things which I can, from a distance and learnt to do it over WhatsApp. I could achieve a few items in my bucket list such as teaching my senior students to compose for new sahitya or making them focus more on theoretical aspects of a composition, and things I have been procrastinating earlier. Thanks to the lock down, students can do a lot of homework joyfully.
I ensure I dance for at least one hour every day, thanks to the luxury of time I have now which is absent otherwise.

Thanks to Kalakshetra’s free streaming of all my favourite productions, I try to watch them as many days as possible. Besides that, as a mandatory feature watch at least one performance online everyday and make my students also watch the same. We discuss these performances on what they have learnt and how much they can learn.

I have not stepped out since 22 March and this lockdown has been a boon in disguise.

                       *************************************************

Shweta Prachande, Bharatanatyam dancer

Inspirations

In a time when we are unable to be in class physically or practise, I am tremendously grateful for the performance, practise and theory webinar-sessions on Abhinaya and various elements of dance being conducted by my Guru Smt Priyadarsini Govind as part of Navadarshana for students, teachers and practitioners the world over.

I have also had the most humbling experience to be working with Sumanasa Foundation and TM Krishna anna for the disbursement of monetary aid for artistes across various demographics, genders, communities and art forms. Connecting with over hundreds of artistes and speaking to them and trying understand their situation is a constant reminder of how lucky we are. I think this is one experience I will hold close to heart always.

With respect to the idea of “working from home”, I have been very excited to be part of the album titled #wfm which was conceived and is being created and produced by Rithvik Raja. I have had the opportunity to be part of this unique work in progress, where he has teamed up with 6 other artistes, including myself, to bring out this album that is an artistic representation of the times that we find ourselves in. We have all individually worked from our own spaces at home to bring about this project.

Reading and Researching

The lockdown is keeping me mentally charged and rejuvenated through the project that my colleague Apoorva Jayaraman and myself are working on and curating for Aalaap. This is a passion project titled “Constants in the Dynamic” and it is truly an enriching process to be able to interview and speak to a number of gurus and artistes over the course of creating this series.

In the small pockets of time, I am able to catch up on some of the informational webinars and live sessions that are taking place online.  I have also started reading The Romantic Manifesto by Ayn Rand (a much loved book esp in times like these), and the Dance of Siva by Ananda Coomaraswamy.



Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Apsaras Arts - Coping with Circuit-Breaker in Singapore – Weekly Roundup



Vidhya Nair


In commemoration of International Dance Day, Aravinth Kumaraswamy, Artistic Director, Apsaras Arts was invited to give a presentation on the role of costumes and set design in ensemble productions. In this session, he shared insights from AngkorAnjanejayam and Agathi, three past Apsaras Arts productions. He shared how bespoke sets are used and reused to depict a variety of scenes within a narrative and also the application of lighting techniques and digital mapping to create realism and build emotional connections with the audience. Aravinth also shared how costumes created blend the aesthetics of the grandeur of the ancient kingdoms of Cambodia, Java and Bali through detailed research on colour and design, yet retain the fluidity needed to execute movement as prescribed within Bharatanatyam.  This online presentation DANCE-A-THON was jointly organised by Sahapedia, Milap and #PuneCulturalMapping.

Natya Katha, an initiative of dance through stories was the brainchild of Mohanapriyan Thavarajah to engage his teenage dancer-students to apply themselves intellectually through research and study.  The topic was Hindu demi-gods. The students outdid themselves with innovative presentations and storytelling techniques which was shared via a live Zoom presentation with other young students and teachers of Apsaras Arts.  
Stories on Nandi, Garuda, Suka Rishi, Narasimha, Kamdhenu, Ragu and Kethu were shared. The students used multimedia, props, video animation alongside slide presentations and delivered their stories with conviction and detailed research. Several created interactive quizzes and even demonstrated through Bharatanatyam, dramatic sequences of their demi-god stories. The students said that this project endeared them to their demi-god and they appreciated the depth and morality of these stories and the role of storytelling within their dance practice.

 In this latest edition of Apsaras Arts Spotlight Series, three internationally renowned dancers joined to share their dance journeys, shedding light on how they came to pursue Bharatanatyam and Odissi despite not being of Indian-descent.  Ramli Ibrahim, from Malaysia,  shared how he created his own dance company, Sutra Foundation and the challenges he faces in creating multiple nights of sold-out shows without institutional funding but still considers his Malaysian multi-cultural identity as integral to his interpretation of Odissi dance. He spoke about his extensive travels within India learning from several eminent teachers and finding his own voice. 
This was also echoed by Frenchman Dominique Delorme, who shared his harrowing first encounters in India from the funeral pyres of Varanasi and living in squalor conditions while learning Bharatanatyam. He spoke passionately about how he considers dance to be a natural instinctive calling and learning the techniques from eminent teachers like Padma Subrahmanyam. 
The third panellist was Guiditta de Concini, from Bottega, Italy. Her introduction to Bharatanatyam came to her as an adult and mother of two. Subsequent training introduced her to a number of gurus like C Balagopalan and Leela Samson, who embraced her wholeheartedly and accepted her without judgement or impediment and allowed her to explore her own artistry. She found her knowledge and application grow with various experimental works she was able to create and gain viewership in her hometown of Bottega. 
The session was attended by over 100 participants from around the world. Many of the participants were deeply inspired by this session remarking that they were embolden by these international dancers who overcame barriers and became names to reckon with and are performing without inhibitions or cultural barriers.  Several rasikas shared that the knowledge they gain through these sessions is enhancing their appreciation for the deep aesthetics of Indian classical dance. Engaging with these acclaimed dancers through this online platform is making them look forward to head back to theaters post Covid-19 lockdown





Monday, 11 May 2020

Interview - Mrinalini Sarabhai


‘No shortcuts to technical perfection’: Mrinalini Sarabhai - Interviewed by S. Janaki




On the contemporaneity and relevance of classical dance

The classical dance forms will remain relevant for all time to come. Their contemporaneity depends upon the imagination and ability of a gifted dancer who interprets themes which have relevance in our world today. For example my work titled Memory deals with dowry deaths. Normally traditional Bharatanatyam does not depict themes of tragedy. The issue of dowry deaths in Gujarat stirred me so deeply that, as dance is my expression, I created Memory, using only the sollukattu expressively, with dance movements and abhinaya. Another example was Shakuntala where I used Kathakali. When rejected by King Dushyanta, Shakuntala challenges him about the loss of the signet ring. She also turns to the audience and questions how women could be subject to the indignity of rejection. In this composition I brought the entire cast on stage including Durvasa who moved through the characters as destiny moves through our lives.

Can new concepts be introduced into traditional classical dance?  What are the guidelines to be followed while doing so?

Yes, but the concepts should be based on appropriateness – ‘auchityam’. New concepts do not necessarily mean day to day issues but can also include abstract thought as I did in the ‘Nasadiya Sutra’, from the Rig Veda. There was no musical accompaniment, only recitation.

Can a classical dance form be treated merely as ‘a dance vocabulary’?
Not necessarily. It depends upon the choreographer and how she uses the form as a means of communication.
What is it that defines the classicism of a classical dance, say, Bharatanatyam?

Classical dance forms have their own vocabulary components, basic stances, and a series of movements that define their salient features. In Bharatanatyam, the basic
stand ‘araimandi’ forms geometrical patterns like circles, horizontal lines, etc. which distinguishes it from other dance forms. Also classical Carnatic music is an important component of classicism in Bharatanatyam. The technique has to be studied thoroughly from guru-s. I may add here that in Tanjavur I used to practice eight hours a day with Meenakshisundaram Pillai.

How faithful should the dancer be to the original traditional compositions of Bharatanatyam? Can we change the set teermanam-s in a traditional varnam (for example, of the Tanjavur Quartet)?

Any serious dancer would remain faithful to the original traditional compositions because they have depth and gravity and the dancer would like to reflect the spirit and show respect for tradition. Personally, I would not change a traditional varnam as they have been formed by great guru-s. In Darpana we published the compositions of the Tanjore Quartette with the help of Sivanandam and K.P. Kittappa to preserve the heritage, as I felt many precious items were being lost.

How much liberty can we take in nritta segments and in presenting sanchari-s/ sangati-s?

It depends on the creativity of the dancer, after mastering basic techniques.

Is the “body” overtaking the “soul” in Bharatanatyam as it is performed today?

Any serious dancer would see to it that the soul is maintained and the body must not take over presentation. If we notice such trends today, then it becomes mere movement not classical dance. What I always did in my programmes all over the world was to start the programme with classical items, and after the interval,
dance the new compositions that I had choreographed.

On the growing emphasis on glamour, physicality and technical virtuosity which seem to overshadow the spiritual aspects of Bharatanatyam?

These are recent trends but any serious dancer would not like these elements to overshadow the spiritual aspects of Bharatanatyam.

Your advice to the younger generation of dancers?

Be completely dedicated in your chosen dance, and practise hard. There are no shortcuts to technical perfection!


Reproduced from Sruti Archives, October 2007. To buy this issue click here https://tinyurl.com/y99hx92z

Saturday, 9 May 2020

Sruti Lockdown diaries with musicians


Sruti has been receiving emails from artists, rasikas and Sruti readers on their inspirations, experiences this lockdown and what they are listening to during this period. Sruti has compiled this series as lockdown diaries and sharing some of them with you. #artistdiaries



K. Arunprakash, mridangist

As a musician 24 ×7 is not enough to learn this art form. There are so many things in Carnatic music and Carnatic laya to master. This learning process has nothing to do with the stature we have in the music field (stature arising out of name fame and money). As a musician, I constantly keep working towards the challenges that this art form throws at me. So the learning, researching, analyzing everything is an ongoing process for me- lockdown or otherwise.

Click here to listen to Arun Prakash’s compostion of a tillana on motherhood in raga Sarangaprakashini https://youtu.be/NHe_gLBWmg0

T.V.Ramprasadh, Carnatic Vocalist 


Post the lockdown, It was just me with with my son and our pets. I knew that this was a task on hand - to cook, clean, take care of the plants , dogs and my own online classes. My son Vishnu is a good help, but the onus still being on me, I can feel the strain and fatigue in getting through the household chores. I told myself to change something permanently in me, for the good, during this period and am working on it positively. I have managed to get myself to be more organized and am working hard on my music, like old days.  I have bonded well with my students and am trying to give them that extra.
I did not imagine that the world can come to a standstill. I have learnt to live every moment fully, not to postpone anything, and engage with loved ones.  Nothing is permanent, though that fact was in my mind, this time around the tug on the carpet below my legs was telling. I have learnt how we do not want so many things in our life and how to channelize energies into productive pursuits. Felt good in working on various philanthropic initiatives and spread good.

Bharathi Ramasubban, Carnatic musician

The lockdown, albeit for a grave reason, has forced us to quieten down and be more introspective. To be able to sing just for the sake of singing is refreshing.  Earlier, my usual practice schedule, in terms of timings, used to be quite fluid. But now, with so many things to juggle, it helps when I plan my day. It has also been a good time to revisit old compositions and learn new ones that I have been meaning to learn for a long time.

The emergence of virtual concert experiences has been interesting. Several organisations have been conducting virtual music fests. However, I still do miss the synergy and give and take that happens between artistes on stage. The Covid-19 pandemic and the consequent lockdown have ushered in so much uncertainty, both short and long term. It has been particularly hard for artistes who are solely dependant on their art for their livelihood. We must come together as a community and reach out to them. Hope, kindness and empathy are what will ensure we come out stronger at the other end of this experience.

Gayathri Girish, Carnatic musician 

Call it a pandemic, lockdown or anything else, none of which are synonyms but relate to each other in a manner that unfortunately stokes unbridled scare and terror in all of humankind. However, amidst all this trepidation, worry and anxiety, comes a rare kind of strength - to explore the kitchen, for example, honing the hitherto untested culinary capabilities, delegate work amongst family members, spending quality time with them and trying not to miss the house- helpers too much.
I got an opportunity during this lockdown period, to create a video on selected slokas titled Roga nivaarana stotras as guided by Kanchi Acharya and am currently working on another project guided by him. I am also part of an online nama chanting satsang, where we have undertaken daily nama chanting to help us all tide over these difficult times.

Also, with the concert calendar going haywire, I have been trying hard to learn new pieces, revising songs that I haven't sung in a long time and also reading books when time permits. Yes, our lives have certainly gone topsy-turvy, but we shall emerge from it stronger and more resilient. Jai Hind!

 Gowtham Bharadwaj, Singer


This lockdown has been a time to manage time effectively and do things purely by staying at home . There is time set for office work and practice by the night and also giving scope to collaborate with fellow artists. There are so many art forms and creations that have been inspiring but for me, it's been exploring by myself and spending time within the four walls doing things l like Am listening to Hazir and Nescafe Basement