Thursday, 20 August 2015

M.V. Narasimhachari passes away

The dance fraternity of Chennai is shocked at the sudden demise of Guru M.V. Narasimhachari on 19 August 2015 in Chennai. He was 72 and was active till his last breath. Narasimhachari was an exponent of Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi, a dance guru,  musician, music composer, laya expert, mridangist, imaginative choreographer and yoga practitioner. He married Vasanthalakshmi in 1969 and together they danced, taught, composed and set up their dance school Kala Samarpana at Alwarpet in Chennai. It was the earnest desire of Chari Sir (as he was popularly known) to give back to the arts field that had nurtured them for so many years. Few know that the Charis have instituted endowments in reputed organisations like Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, Narada Gana Sabha, Indian Fine Arts Society and Kalakshetra, to encourage young talent.   A recipient of several prestigious awards, Narasimhachari had the rare distinction of receiving awards from five Presidents of India. He served as President of the Association of Bharatanatyam Artistes of India for eight years.

As a person he was always cheerful, punning on words, encouraging young artists and spreading joy wherever he went. There was never a dull moment in his presence. He was a good soul.

Sruti offers its heartfelt condolences to his wife Vasanthalakshmi and other members of the bereaved family. <>

Swaramurthy Trust awards

By BuzyBee

The Swaramurthy V.N. Rao Memorial Trust celebrated the birth centenary of Swaramurthy V.N. Rao, along with the “Veeneya Bedagu” Music Festival from 29 July  to 2 August 2015 in Bengaluru. Mysore V. Subramanya is the Chairman of the Trust.
Chief guest N. Murali, President of the Music Academy, Chennai, conferred the Veena Seshanna Memorial Award on violin vidwan M. Chandrasekharan and the Swaramurthy V.N. Rao Memorial Award on Carnatic vocalist M.S. Sheela.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Record participation in Yuva Rasika

By Samudri

The Music Academy in association with the Music Forum organised a mega event Yuva Rasika on the 8th  August at the TTK Auditorium of the Music Academy. The workshop featured lecture-demonstrations by well known musicians like S Sunder, Padma Subramaniam, Sikkil Gurucharan, Radha Bhaskar and Mannarkoil Balaji. 

The workshop was inaugurated by N. Murali, President of the Music Academy, R. Thyagarajan, Chairman of the Shriram Group and Dr. Kamakodi, Managing Director of City Union Bank. 

The event took off with a flawless invocation song, rendered by the Sargam Choir conducted by Dr. Sudha Raja, with over 75 students singing in perfect unison. Musicologist and musician, S Sunder, who is also the convener of Music Forum, welcomed the gathering and gave an account of the activities of the Music Forum.

V. V. Srinivasa Rao on the violin and Mannarkoil Sri. Balaji on the mridangam accompanied the speakers whenever necessary.  Ramanan ably conducted the day's proceedings and maintained proper timing throughout.

The workshop attracted over 1200 participants, from 28 city schools and music institutions as far flung as Sholingur and Chengalpattu.

The top four institutions which deputed highest maximum number of registrations, Sivaswamy Kalalaya, Velammal Group, Vel’s Vidyashram and the Sargam Choir & Rhapsody Group bagged the annual Rasika Awards for 2015.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

"Riyaz is not performance"

By Shuchita Rao

Veteran sarod maestro Buddhadev Das Gupta has the unique distinction of balancing a successful career in engineering along with Hindustani classical music. A recipient of the Padma Bhushan award from the Government of India in 2012, he is one of the artists featured in The Raga Guide CD collection (Nimbus Records), an important learning resource for students of  Hindustani music.

Well into his mid-eighties, the maestro, aided by his son and disciple Anirban Das Gupta, conducted a three-day workshop on Hindustani music for students at the LearnQuest Academy in Waltham, Massachusetts on 19, 22 and 24 July.  He guided students of vocal music, sarod, sitar and electronic guitar on aspects of riyaz (regular music practice), the correct method of holding the instrument and spacing fingers while playing musical notes, and techniques for creating taans (quick melodic passages) in several ragas such as Jaijaivanti, Kedar, Malkauns, Chhaya Nat and Khamaj.

In the workshop sessions, Pandit Buddhadev Das Gupta stressed on the importance of  learning the key phrases that define Indian ragas and bring out their essence.
“Riyaaz is not performance. Isolate yourself to a quiet spot and practice few phrases relentlessly until you feel happy with the results. Play what you have practiced in front of someone who understands music and has got it right. Aim to deliver musical phrases well, without any mistakes. Devote a small portion of each day for riyaz – continuity is important,” he advised students. His sincere love for classical music (particularly the sarod), his willingness to share his knowledge, and his sense of humour touched the hearts of the workshop attendees.

Buddhadev Das Gupta in conversation with Shuchita Rao

Is the sarod a demanding instrument to play? Why did you not learn to play an easier instrument?

It is a very demanding instrument indeed. First, the tonal sound of the sarod drew me to it. Then, the appearance of the man playing the instrument – my Guru Pandit Radhika Mohan Maitra (aka Radhu Babu). He was a prince. It was rare to see a male who was so handsome.

Was Pandit Radhika Mohan Maitra your only guru? Were there other musicians too who influenced your music?

Radhu Babu was my Guru (A to Z). At times he asked one of  his senior disciples, Anil Rai Chowdhury to supervise my riyaz. I was also influenced by the music of vocalists such as Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Amir Khan, Ustad Faiyyaz Khan and Kesarbai. Bade Ghulam Ali Khan had a heavenly voice. His delivery of phrases dug into my heart and mind. He was an unparalleled gavaiyya.

Classical musicians have traditionally found it hard to secure a living by depending solely on art. Was that the reason why you did not pursue being a full-time sarodiya?

My father, a civil servant by profession, was afraid that being financially successful as a full-time musician was perhaps a possibility –  but there were no guarantees. He forced me to study science and pursue mechanical engineering. I did not like it but it provided me my daily bread and for that I am grateful. Had I been playing sarod the way I play it now, I may have survived being a full-time sarodiya.

You approach music from a scientific point of view and encourage students to ask questions about music. Do you attribute it to your educational background? Was your guru open to answering your questions about music?

I do believe that my educational background has helped me understand music better. I encourage my students to ask questions about music. My guru was open to questions and his answers were right to the point and very convincing.

How does a student learn to construct aesthetically pleasing musical phrases? How does one breathe life into them and make them luminous?

Playing phrases with a touch of sruti (the appropriate approach notes) is the key to constructing beautiful sounding Indian classical music.

How do you feel about electronic music taking over the market?  The sitar and sarod sounds are easily available on electronic instruments!

Our traditional instruments lose their identity when reproduced by electronics. The excellence of natural sounds is somehow lost.

What is your view on the value of free music-sharing through internet today? Does its abundance and easy access help listeners in any manner?

It is good that music is freely available on internet sites but it is important to listen to the right kind of music.

Fusion music projects are now popular. Tell us about your collaboration with the pianist Pandit V. Balsara for Compact Disc recordings. How do you define traditional boundaries when you collaborate with other musicians on a fusion music project?

Pandit Balsara was a wonderful player. He had tremendous grasp of the sentiments contained in the music he played. There are certainly some boundaries to be respected when playing classical music for any fusion musical project. Everything needs a boundary. The collaborating players in a fusion project must be of comparable calibre.

Can classical music be made to reach a wider audience?

It can be done by educating people about classical music and explaining it to them. I have been doing it for many years now.

What is your advice to aspiring classical musicians?

My advice would be – Choose the right medium, practice assiduously, and do not expect to jump over everyone’s head to make it onto the stage in a very short time. <>

A pleasing vocal concert by Vyjayanthimala

By Sulochana Saralaya

Famous Bharatanatyam exponent and former star of the silver screen, Vyjayanthimala Bali, sprang a pleasant surprise on art lovers of North Bangalore, when she presented a Carnatic vocal concert on 20 June 2015  under the auspices of M.E.S. Kalavedi. The well attended performance -- Ammanni Iyengar Memorial Endowment concert -- was held in the renovated auditorium of M.E.S. College, Malleswaram.

Vyjayanthimala called it Nadanubhavam – a tryst with music  as the performance  with mridangam,  flute and male vocal support did not include elaborate raga alapana, niraval and swaraprastara. The concert comprising compositions of the Trinity, Swati Tirunal, Narayana Teertha, Subramania Bharati and Tanjavur Sankara Iyer, laid emphasis on the emotional content of the lyrics. Vyjayanthimala being a sensitive artist and exponent of Bharatanatyam, was able to infuse bhava into the sahitya, especially in the Devagandhari (Enneramum un sannidhiyil), and Bagesree (Govindamiha gopikananda) compositions. Popular Kannada poet Pu.Ti. Narasimhachar's Ako Shyama avale Radhe, rendered in Poorvikalyani was another gem.

The concert which commenced with Dikshitar's Sree Parthasarathey, included  Sujana jeevana of Tyagaraja, Swati Tirunal's Kapi varnam Sumasayaka, Syama Sastry's Kanakasaila viharini, a bhajan, tillana, a Divya Prabandham, and concluded with a Tiruppavai verse. Vyjayanthimala's intuitive feel for raga bhava, voice production in the lower octaves, perfect diction in Telugu, Tamil, Hindi and Kannada, and her zest and enthusiasm, deserved the long ovation she received at the end of the concert. The presentation was marked by elegance and aesthetics in music and attire.

Vyjayanthimala had the good support of talented youngsters Girija Shankar (vocal), Shruti Sagar (flute) and Srivanchiam Sriram (mridangam). It was interesting to note that Vyjayanthimala's voice, while she sang, resembled that of her guru, D.K. Pattammal. It was not a usual kutcheri but an offering. True to its title, it was an enjoyable musical experience. 

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

K. Raghavendra Rao passes away

By K.R. Mohan

Kalale Raghavendra Rao (80), writer, longtime contributor to Sruti from Mysore, and an engineer by profession, passed away on 3 August 2015 at his residence in Mysore. He was suffering from age-related ailments. He leaves behind his wife Prema, son K.R. Vasudeva, daughters Sudhamayi Havaldar, Chandrika Gururaj and Manisha Gupta. His eldest son-in-law, Dr. Nagaraj Havaldar, is a noted Hindustani vocalist in  Bangalore.

Rao had worked in many parts of India. His last assignment was as General Manager and later on Director of Oriental Electric & Engineering Co. Ltd., Kolkata, for 17 years. As the president of  Karnataka Association and Madhwa Samaj of Kolkata, he had invited a number of artists from all over India for performances at Kolkata and his residence was a veritable guesthouse for eminent artists.  
After retirement, Rao was engaged in studies of philosophy and scriptures. He authored four books – Gift that is Life, My Enjoyment of Music, On the Other Hand, and Rigbhashya and Astrophysics, besides several research articles. His last work Vishnu Sahasranama: Aadibhautika Interpretation, has received scholarly review in Vedanta Kesari of August 2015.
From young age, Rao had good exposure to Carnatic, Hindustani and Western music. He was very knowledgeable about them and was quite a regular contributor to Sruti from 1986 to 2002. The late N. Pattabhi Raman held Rao in high esteem for his well researched articles. <<>>

(The author is a Mysore-based freelance writer)

Friday, 7 August 2015

A concert in memory of Mallikarjun Mansur

By Shrinkhla Sahai

A morning concert is a rare event in Delhi. Risking the vagaries of the Delhi audience and Sunday morning inertia, a concert of morning ragas was organised by the New Age Foundation, commemorating the death anniversary of Mallikarjun Mansur, the late Jaipur-Atrauli gharana stalwart. 

Vocalist Priyadarshini Kulkarni and sarod maestro Biswajit Roy Chowdhury gave an inpressive recital with their thoughtful selection of ragas and intricate artistry. Delhi's rasikas turned up in good numbers at the India International Centre to enjoy a morning of Hindustani classical music. 

Priyadarshini Kulkarni started with a leisurely elaboration of raga Miyan ki Todi with the bada khayal Baajo re.  She was accompanied on the tabla by Sanjay Deshpande and on the harmonium by Vinay Mishra. The austerity of her rendition was deeply reminiscent of Mansur’s gayaki. Another hallmark of his style was immaculate layakari, which the vocalist displayed in the chhota khayal Eri maayi aaj badhawra. She concluded with a nostalgic composition in the combination raga Yamani Bilawal, dedicated to the memory of veteran journalist Praful Bidwai who passed away recently. 

Biswajit Roy Chowdhury presented a sober and nuanced interpretation of raga Jaunpuri. He followed it up with an energetic and playful rendition of raga Gaud Sarang layered with delightful pauses and rhythm-play. Durjay Bhaumik provided the tabla accompaniment. The audience warmed up to the narration of an anecdote from Mallikarjun Mansur’s life about the stalwart’s first meeting with Bhurji Khan, when he sang Raga Gaud Sarang to persuade the maestro to take him as a disciple. 

Both musicians have deeply internalised the vocalism of Mansur and express his aesthetics without imitation. Their individuality lends another dimension to his vast musical legacy. It was a simple, sincere and moving tribute to the legend. Delhi rasikas look forward to more such musical mornings.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

SAFE Ramabhadran is no more

By Gayathri Sundaresan

Carnatic music patron P. Ramabhadran passed away on 15 July 2015 in Chennai. He was 88.

He spent all his life promoting and propagating Carnatic music, wherever he lived. He, with a couple of like-minded friends, founded the Music Triangle in Bombay to cater to music lovers residing in the western suburbs of the city. He continued to support the organisation even after moving to Chennai, by identifying promising talent and providing a platform for them in that mega city.

He founded SAFE –  Shanti Arts Foundation and Endowments –  in Chennai in memory of his daughter. Through this organisation too, his aim was to showcase bright and potential talent. The October and December concert series showcased both promising youngsters and senior musicians.

An ardent admirer of GNB, he spearheaded the Global GNB celebrations during GNB's centenary year.

Just one year short of its twentieth anniversary, Ramabhadran Mama, as he was fondly known, decided to honour eleven musicians during the December event last year. Did he have a premonition that he would not be around to hold the celebrations this year?

Many are the artists who have passed through the portals of  the Music Triangle and SAFE, who acknowledge their gratitude to these sabhas and to Ramabhadran in particular.

He also earmarked funds for charity, supporting needy students of music with scholarships to learn from eminent musicians. All this entirely with his own resources, without having to depend on donations or sponsorships.

The quiet, dignified presence of SAFE Ramabhadran will be sorely missed at all the sabhas.

Sri Krishna Gana Sabha presents Choodamani Awards

During the 60th Gokulashtami Sangeetha Utsavam held on 1st August 2015, vidwan P.S. Narayanaswamy conferred the title 'Sangeetha Choodamani' on Carnatic musician and teacher Neyveli Santhanagopalan, and the  'Aacharya Choodamani' on Carnatic musician, scholar, and arts administrator S. Rajeswari,  as Cleveland  V.V. Sundaram,  J. Balasubramaniam, Sudharani Raghupathy, Nalli Kuppuswami Chetti, Y. Prabhu, R. Venkateswaran and  S. Ramasubramaniam look on

Vasundhara Komkali is no more

By Shrinkhla Sahai

The town of Dewas in Madhya Pradesh, which emerged as a musical capital for Hindustani classical rasikas, stands silent today. Renowned vocalist and guru- Vasundhara Komkali passed away on 29 July, 2015, after a brief illness. Affectionately called ‘Vasundhara Tai’ by the music community, the octogenarian was the wife and disciple of the legendary Kumar Gandharva and a true embodiment of his musical legacy.

Born as Vasundhara Shrikhande in Jamshedpur, she was barely a teenager when she first met Kumar Gandharva at the All India Music Conference in Calcutta. Fascinated by his gayaki she requested him to teach her and he asked her to join him at Bombay. This did not happen immediately. She was training with Kalipada Banerjee and was already an established musician by the time she arrived in Mumbai much later, in 1946. Kumar Gandharva directed her to receive taalim from the Gwalior gharana stalwart Prof BR Deodhar, who had also mentored him. Later, she became a devoted disciple of Kumar Gandharva and they married in 1962. Her music became transformed as she profoundly imbibed the musical ideology and technique and the spiritual intensity of the maestro’s style.

For her substantial contribution to music Vasundhara Komkali was honoured with a number of awards, including the Padma Shri in 2006 and the Sangeet Natak Akademi award in 2009.

Ms Komkali is survived by her daughter Kalapini Komkali, a respected vocalist in the same genre.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Systematic efforts to propagate Indian arts


By Anjana Anand

Singapore’s success story of its transformation from humble beginnings as a fishing village to a global, cosmopolitan hub in just a few decades is legendary. What is as inspiring is the importance the government has given to the growth of the arts. Today Singapore boasts of a vibrant arts scene where the best of artists crave to perform. The biggest and earliest established schools for Indian classical art forms in the island are the Singapore Indian Fine Arts Society (1949), Nrityalaya Aesthetics Society (1953), Apsara Arts (1977) and Temple of Fine Arts (1982). Today many artists have been given the opportunity to pursue their passion as a career. How did this tiny island manage this? I met some of the country’s cultural medallion winners and young awardees to take a peek at the Indian arts scene in Singapore and to marvel at how these artists have carved a niche for themselves.

Singapore awards the ‘cultural medallion’ to artists who are pioneers in their fields. They have been recognised for the excellence they have achieved in the arts. Madhavi Krishnan, Neila Sathyalingam and Santha Bhaskar are the first few Indian women to have been granted this prestigious award for Dance in 1979, 1989 and 1990 respectively. Santha Bhaskar and Neila Sathyalingam are the founders/co-founders of dance schools established in Singapore in the last few decades. Santha Bhaskar’s husband, the late Dr. K.P. Bhaskar, started Bhaskar’s Academy for Dance in the 1940s in India and later in Singapore in 1952. It was later renamed as Nrityalaya Aesthetics Society. Today, true to its name, Nrityalaya has branched out to teach not only Bharatanatyam but Odissi, Kathak, Kathakali, both Carnatic and Western music, as well as Indian art to name a few diciplines. 

The Bhaskars have their roots in Kerala. Santha Bhaskar’s first flight out of India was to Singapore and she recalls with humour how she finally saw the different races which she had read about only in history books while studying in Kerala. K.P. Bhaskar, her husband, already had a hundred students in Singapore by then. She acknowledges that her artistic vision grew with her exposure to other art forms in the country – Chinese and Malay dance – as well as watching performances of artists from different countries. Her daughter Meena Bhaskar, a young artist awardee, continues in her mother’s footsteps, teaching, performing and choreographing.

Neila Sathyalingam, who also established her arts school called Apsara Arts, along with her husband Sathyalingam in the 1970s, too agrees that the multi-cultural ambience in Singapore contributed to her work in the arts. She remembers Singapore being a cultural desert back then – so much so that she wanted to return to Chennai. Trained in Bharatanatyam at Kalakshetra, Chennai and having taught there for a few years, Singapore was a challenge for her.

After being immersed in the active Chennai arts scene, how did these women begin from scratch in a completely new environment? Both are pioneers. They took the traditional form they were trained in and found a new methodology and avenues to practise and propagate their art form. It is not an exaggeration to say that many of the Indian artists now established in Singapore were introduced to Bharatanatyam through their association. 

Neila Sathyalingam remembers how her husband advised her to start teaching at community centres which were offering arts lessons at subsidised rates to interested students. They provided free space at different locations. He felt that students who came to learn at the centres would always value what they received from their teachers. True to his word, today many of the students she first taught at these community centres are pursuing dance full time in Singapore as teachers. They also help Apsaras Arts with productions as they have been trained in make-up, hair styling and other allied skills too. Neila started working with other ethnic artists and together they formed the ‘Little Angels’ group which began performing all over Singapore. Later, the People’s Association (PA) also formed their own dance troupes. The annual Chingay Parade became an event that she looked forward to, where Chinese, Malay and Indian dancers came together to showcase their talent at a national level.

Of course, it took years to create that interest in the next generation. Neila Sathyalingam remembers taking her group to dance in all the areas in Singapore. They took the arts out of the auditorium and into the streets where people could be exposed to Bharatanatyam. She recalls her students’ horrified expression when they were asked to dance in an open market place where poultry was being sold. They danced on boats, at shopping festivals – wherever there was a crowd. She proudly says that it was the efforts of these brave dancers which took the arts to the masses and helped bring recognition to Indian dance. It was only through these experiments that curious and interested students of other ethnic groups came to learn the art form. Similar efforts by the Bhaskars also explains how the student base at Nrityalaya grew from 100 to 2000 in the different disciplines.

How far did they have to compromise on the classicism of the forms? To an extent, there was a compromise. Although one section of the students was ready to go through the slow and systematic training required for a classical form, there were many who had no exposure to Bharatanatyam. The talent was abundant but their time for classes was limited. Both Neila Sathyalingam and Santha Bhaskar feel their first priority was to reach out to Singaporeans and introduce them to the beauty of the art form. The lessons had to be given in digestible doses. Many Chinese students joined along the way. Only a few remained as the rigour and cultural specificity of Bharatanatyam kept many from continuing beyond a point.

Singapore is a shining example of the rewards reaped because of the involvement and commitment of the government. The Ministry of Culture, now known as the National Arts Council (NAC), has played a major role in shaping the policies for artistic development in the country. The financial support given in the form of various grants helps artists pursue their passion. This has created a new generation of artists willing to pursue the arts full time. It also gives each ethnic community a strong cultural identity, which in turn has given a boost to tourism in the country. Today, Singapore is a meeting point for artistic endeavours. The Singapore Arts Festival boasts of the finest artists from around the globe. 

Neila Sathyalingam applauds the work of the NAC which has given artists like her both recognition and financial aid to realise their dream. As she says, we can have many plans but without the support of the government, there is only a little that individuals can do. Realising the importance of art in people’s lives, schemes and grants for budding talent as well as established artists have been launched. Aravinth Kumarasamy, the dynamic Managing and Creative Director of Apsaras Arts, is a versatile musician who also learnt Bharatanatyam from Vazhuvoor Ramiah Pillai. As a computer software engineer now fully devoted to the arts and a ‘young artiste awardee’ (2000), he is grateful for NAC’s support. He says, “NAC provides many grants to artists, which include study, grants for experimental work, presentation grants for putting up shows, research grants, travel grants to showcase one’s talent overseas and even residency grants for artists to immerse themselves in their chosen field. These grants also include support for the costs of running an organisation. In addition to the grants, NAC recognises artists with the two coveted awards – Cultural Medallion and Young Artiste Award which also provides a grant for the artists to work on a dream project. However, it is still a financial struggle to run an arts organisation. Corporate sponsorship is getting more and more difficult.”

In an effort to introduce arts to children, Singapore’s visionary plan begins in schools. It is done as part of school education, outreach programmes, arts schools and festivals. Ghanavenothan Retnam, a flautist and composer who trained under his father R. Retnam, is a full time musician in Singapore. He is one of the musicians invited to be part of the STAR programme (Singapore Teachers Academy for the Arts). He trains teachers to teach music in schools, based on a syllabus formulated by artists. Art appreciation is a compulsory subject in schools where students learn Chinese, Malay and Indian music as modules. Ghanavenothan, who received the ‘young artiste award’ in 1995 is happy with the encouragement he has received. He feels that the audience base in Singapore has grown because of these efforts. He cites the example of his Chinese student who plays Carnatic music on the flute and has won many prizes in Indian music competitions. He says this has also created work opportunities for artists through job openings in schools. Ghanavenothan notes the changes that have taken place since his struggle as an artist in his younger days. He juggled college work, classes and performances to pursue his passion. Today, he says, youngsters have more exposure to great musicians and teachers as many artists come to Singapore to conduct workshops. Due to this exposure, intensive workshops have become popular amongst young artists. For example, in the past three years, more than 60 dance instructors have attended the five-day course at Dance India Asia Pacific to upgrade their knowledge from the eminent visiting faculty from India and abroad.

Nawaz Mirajkar, a percussionist and composer who came to Singapore in the 1990s echoes the same sentiment. He came to Singapore after training in tabla under his father and guru, Ustad Mohammad Hanif Khan Mirajkar. What was to be a two-year stint was extended and today, Nawaz has made Singapore his home. Awarded the ‘young artiste award’ in 2011, Nawaz is busy with his collaborative projects. Two projects which were well received are ‘Taal Express’ featuring percussion from all over India, and ‘Damaru’ showcasing rhythms from around the world, blending both classical and folk forms. 

Both Ghanavenothan and Nawaz admit that pure classical music has few takers. There is a constant demand for fusion as only new work and experiments seem to attract crowds. At the Temple of Fine Arts where Nawaz teaches, he continues to pass on the tradition he has inherited. Ghanavenothan teaches at Bhaskar’s Arts Academy and composes music for the orchestra. Both these young musicians manage to balance their passion and the need to adapt to changing audiences.

It is heartening to note that NAC has addressed the problem of the audience base for classical forms by launching a scheme in 2010 for the preservation of traditional arts in each community. The plan includes the setting up of a large centre (to be inaugurated in two years) where artists can present their work and house archives of traditional art forms. Singapore artists feel that more coverage of the arts in the media can go a long way in reaching the masses. Keeping the arts alive is a collective responsibility, they believe.

The cosmopolitan ambience in Singapore and the international Festival of Arts promoted by the government have not only brought to the local people a wide range of performances, but has set standards of professionalism. Aravinth says, “Audiences in Singapore have the opportunity to see world class performances from Asia and Europe. Hence, their expectations are high and they want to see well-researched and good quality productions. Indian dance choreographers have to push the boundaries in terms of themes, light design, stage set-up, costuming, and music. to meet the demands of the audiences in Singapore.”

What is the scene like for performers who have been trained in traditional arts but have moved out to try experimental work combining different disciplines? Nirmala Seshadri, the Founder and Artistic Director of N Dance and Yoga, a Singapore-based company that focusses on research and experimentation in dance and somatic practices, is optimistic about the opportunities in Singapore. Recipient of the ‘young artiste award’ and with a Masters in Dance Anthropology, Nirmala is an example of an artist who has been able to follow her own path and carve a niche for herself in Singapore. She says “I felt the strong need within me to engage with my present milieu and time and to embrace the multiple identities that I represent, including that of being native Singaporean, Indian and a global citizen. I firmly believe that dance has a powerful role to play as social commentary in the contemporary scenario.” Trained in butoh and yoga, Nirmala has presented many of her solo works like From Ishta Devata to Ishta Devata (2009), I Watched the Flowers (2012), I Carry Your Heart (2015), and The Vanishing Point (2015).

Nirmala is not too worried about the audience base. She feels that Singapore has created enough opportunities for exposure to the arts. Beyond a point, she believes that an artist should only trust her creative instincts and stay true to her work. “The audience will automatically come,” she says with conviction. Today, Nirmala is a part of the arts community as a performer, writer and adviser. She has devised a technique combining yoga, butoh and breath which she shares in education and healthcare.

Singapore is indeed an example to follow. Art needs support to flourish. True, the government cannot be burdened with the full responsibility of providing opportunities for artists. However, the government’s cultural policies can go a long way in providing the means to make arts a viable profession if society believes in the power of art as a binding and healing force, and the need for creative expression. In the words of Rukmini Devi: “When you partake of an art, perhaps like a hairline, there is a development of your own nature… it is a gradual but sure change of civilization.”

(The author is a Bharatanatyam dancer and teacher)