Saturday, 13 June 2020

Order of Australia Award for Shobha Sekhar

Melbourne based musician Shobha Sekhar was conferred the prestigious Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM). The Governor-General and Chancellor of the Order of Australia, David Hurley AC DSC (Retd), announced that Shobha Sekhar would be conferred with this medal, in the Queen's Birthday 2020 Honours List.

The Order of Australia recognises individuals who have demonstrated outstanding service or exceptional achievement.

Shoba Sekhar, founder of Kalakruthi school of Indian classical music in Melbourne, was initiated into music by her grandmother Lakshmi Bai, she continued her tutelage under stalwarts like D.K. Pattammal, R.K. Srikantan and D.K. Jayaraman. Dulcet-voiced Shobha is also a reputed veena artist and has won appreciation for her concerts and lecdems across continents. She founded her school Kalakruthi in 1994 and the school is now accredited by Music Academy, Chennai.

Shobha is a long term correspondent of Sruti and we congratulate her on this momentous occasion.  

Award for Apsaras Arts, Singapore

Vidhya Nair

Singapore based Apsaras Arts, was one of the first of six organisations who became inaugural recipients of The Stewards of Singapore’s Intangible Cultural Heritage Award – an award given to those dedicated to the promotion and transmission of the intangible cultural heritage in Singapore.

This award conferred by the National Heritage Board (NHB) Singapore aims to recognise practitioners (individual and groups) of intangible cultural heritage (ICH) who are dedicated to the promotion and transmission of their practices and have made outstanding contributions in their field.

This award spotlights Apsaras Arts as a leader in the Indian arts community and is important to the vision of the founders’ Neila and Satyalingam’s in creating a dance company that celebrates local dance traditions and nurtures young aspiring talents to be showcased internationally.

To thank the community and acknowledge the 43 years of service to Singapore society, a commemorative video was released on 9 June 2020 showcasing 43 faces and voices associated with the company sharing adjectives that reflect their relationship and what this company means to them.

SICH Award 2020 Link:

Saturday, 6 June 2020


Its Covid here, its Covid there, its Covid-19 everywhere! It has had its impact on every sphere and will continue to do so in the future too, to the extent that people are now talking about BC and AC—‘Before Covid’ and ‘After Covid” eras! Hence the spotlight in this issue is on Covid and the arts; USbased noted musician and composer Kanniks Kannikeswaran has attempted to analyse arts in the post-Covid scenario. Will arts as we know, ever be the same again?

On television and print media, we are bombarded with facts and figures about the pandemic from morning till night, which can be quite depressing. We have also presented a few statistics for you, but they are heartening figures about the Covid relief work undertaken by some prominent organisations in the arts fraternity. Three cheers to all the artists who are contributing in some way or the other to help others in need. On the one hand, music, dance, painting and other creative activity can be a soothing balm and calm the mind in a positive way. But what about performing artists for whom these could be the source of stress? Read what T. Nandakumar has to say about it in our ‘Wellness’section.

In our ‘News & Notes’ segment we have two reports— one of a regular festival held live in Patiala on a grand scale before the pandemic struck, and the second is a roundup of online events interestingly and intelligently put together by Apsaras Arts from Singapore during the worldwide Covid lockdown. In the coming months we will likely have more and more reviews of music, dance and theatre events streamed online via Zoom, Instagram, Facebook and other platforms. Let us too keep in step with the times! In fact, in this issue we have a first person account from Rama Kousalya, a traditional, septuagenarian musicologist who cast aside her apprehensions about social media and learnt the ropes to successfully coordinate and conduct online the jayantis of Tyagaraja and Syama Sastry from far flung Tillaisthanam! Certainly an inspiration for all of us to gear up and become tech-savvy soon as this will probably be the “new normal” in the near future.

We do have our regular profiles of personalities. This time, Sruti contributor Anjana Anand, who is also a Bharatanatyam dancer and teacher, has interviewed two senior dancers who have blazed a trail abroad— Malaysia based Ramli Ibrahim and US-based Hema Rajagopalan. Ramli is a classic example of a multifaceted artist who has transcended barriers through his art; he has been decorated with top honours in Malaysia and India. Bharatanatyam exponent and teacher Hema Rajagopalan, who turns 70 in a few months, has been one of the pioneers in propagating the dance form in the diaspora. 

For classical music lovers there is a moving account of how Neyyatinkara Vasudevan rose from humble beginnings, through hard work and perseverance, to become one of the leading musicians and teachers from Kerala to make waves in the Chennai Carnatic music scene and around the world. There are also two analytical articles on the Varnam; one attempts to explore the unpublished varnas of Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavatar. In the second article, senior Bharatanatyam exponent and scholar Nandini Ramani provides insights into the structure of a traditional pada varnam.

Our varied content this month surely offers interesting fare for you to spend time on a positive note.

Thursday, 4 June 2020

Apsaras Arts – Roundup 25th to 31st May 2020

Vidhya Nair

The last week of May 2020 marked the end of the “Circuit Breaker” in Singapore’s lockdown and end of mid-term holidays for school children. With many online content offerings, it was a challenge to hold audiences yet Apsaras Arts had a unique week with many unexpected outreach opportunities and engagements.

TWO gether Season 2 series in collaboration with @Aalaap_concepts

This week, three Bharatanatyam dancers from Apsaras Arts – Seema Hari Kumar, Mohanapriyan Thavarajah and Nikita Menon paired with three Indian dancers, Bhavna Reddy (Kuchipudi), Vrinda Chadha (Odissi) and Souvik Chakraborthy (Kathak) respectively. Each pair created thirty minutes of discourse and presented nritya and abhinaya pieces that showcased the beauty and the unique voice of each of their dance forms. In some of the pieces, it seemed the way the dancers communicated through their hand and facial gestures and expressions so seamlessly enough for us, the audience to disbelief that the dancer pairs were indeed performing in the same room instead of being miles apart! The dancers shared that this twogetherness imposed greater clarity of collaboration and no conditions for any impasse, a disciplined commitment to prepare credible pieces within the short preparation window. They also felt that this initiative broke down barriers of distance and helped them reach out to fellow dancers in similar mental and emotional anguish during the Covid-19 lockdown, bridging this physical gap with engagement in dance and common ideas.

Anjaneyam – Hanuman’s Ramayana: Encore! on Sistic Live

Apsaras Arts’s 2017 production Anjaneyam- Hanuman’s Ramayana received an encore re-rerun, albeit on an online platform, Sistic Live as part of a tie-up with Esplanade, Theatres on the Bay’s featuring three Singapore-made productions from the Chinese, Malay and Indian community. Over eight days, from 24 May to 31 May, patrons could purchase tickets to watch the full production at their leisure. A large number of new patrons, both local and international were able to access this link and Apsaras Arts received much feedback and accolades for this work that featured an ensemble of close to 200 cast and crew who worked tirelessly to create this high-energy production. Digital outreach is now expected to exist in the new-normal as arts companies engage with viewers in the post Covid19 age. As technology and access gains momentum, we can expect more digital offerings and this is a trend that Apsaras Arts is preparing itself for in coming days.

In the course of the week, reflective conversations on the production were organised to give greater insights on its making. Esplanade hosted a talk on 30 May, where Aravinth Kumarasamy who created this production and helmed its artistic direction, spoke at length on how this staging was made possible and the long-standing relationship Apsaras Arts has created in collaboration with Esplanade in the past 15 years with many innovative works. Do watch this conversation here:

Spotlight Series Session 4 with author and 
theatre personality, Gowri Ramnarayan

This session themed Shaping a Nayaka – evolving characters onstage was held on 31 May. Gowri Ramnarayan, using images from her theatre productions shared the thought process behind the techniques used to shape characters such as Yasodhara, the wife of Prince Gauthama and the use of thought provoking monologues on the characters from the epics such as Manthara, Urmila, Shantha and Soorpanaga, the lesser known heroines from the Ramayana. It was an absorbing session attended by over 60 participants. The Q & A helped dance practitioners to ask questions on how the stage can be used with images of these Nayakas through cloth, painting, lighting and choice of words in scripting and the importance of silence and pause within a performance which all help to create a spellbinding experience for an audience.