Saturday 2 March 2024

Article - Response to T. M. Krishna's Opinion article - Jeetendra Hirschfeld

 In his latest opinion piece (11 February 2024), singer T. M. Krishna again reminds us of the historical and ongoing injustices within Bharatanatyam art, focusing on its appropriation by the Brahmin community in the 20th century. In his article, T. M. Krishna adeptly blends academic discourse, employing terms like "rupture" and scholarly vocabulary ending in "-ness", with accessible English. Unlike many dance scholars who employ intricate terminology and convoluted sentence structures, the singer opts for clarity, potentially ensuring his message resonates with many. He also appears to acknowledge his caste privilege by using the inclusive "we" in his piece.

T. M. Krishna raises valid concerns regarding the homogenisation of Bharatanatyam aesthetics on the 21st-century stage and the distinct "Carnatic-ness" of nattuvanar singers compared to the mechanised approach of contemporary singers, including his own (and I guess his disciples). While some of his points are well-founded, it is significant to note that historians universally recognise the fallacy of single-cause explanations for historical events. Countless causes converge to shape an event, leading to multitudes of consequences branching out from it. But as is often the case, the repeated mention of certain historical truths becomes ingrained through incessant repetition, leading to unquestioning belief.

What caught my attention is when T. M. Krishna says: "When I hear the great nattuvanars or dancers belonging to the same community singing even a flash of a raga or line, I hear this Carnatic-ness. It is in the way they pronounce the syllable, move the raga, articulate the svara."

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Friday 1 March 2024

Anita says...March 2024

To be alive at all is
to have scars

- American writer John Steinbeck

An extra day in February was most welcome to collect my thoughts after a month of relentless travel.

Just two days before February closed, I had the unique opportunity to be in the presence of one of India's most charismatic politicians. The extraordinary security checks, the fastidious search of everyone's social media handles, the minute by minute instructions of where to stand, how much physical distance that was to be maintained and what to say felt like a complex handbook of rules. Surrounded by business professionals who were speaking finance, economics, profitability and employment, I was the sole artiste in this private meeting. The term VIKSIT BHARAT was being chanted ever so often during the speeches that followed and I was left wondering about the most developed form of expressions of this very idea that the Indian performing arts contained. The most evolved and the least supported. VIKSIT means DEVELOPED and while there is so much political emphasis today on a DEVELOPED INDIA - education, medicine, space, technology and manufacturing, it is in the arts - the classical arts - that India is truly VIKSIT. Yet, the needle has shifted and the mood is stubbornly tilted towards popular culture and the visual spectacle.

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Wednesday 28 February 2024

Profile - The last film of Kumar Shahani - Ileana Citaristi

I got in touch with Kumar Shahani for the first time after seeing his maiden film Maya Darpan which ends with Chandralekha's choreographic sequences of Chhau dance performed by dancers clad in white, red and black performing on a red surface which keeps on appearing and disappearing projecting a carousel of powerful and fragmented messages. Chandralekha's fascination for the Chhau idiom and my connection with her during the East West Dance Encounters of the 80s had been one more reason for me to approach him.

From then, I started visiting him whenever I was in Mumbai and spent quite a lot of time sitting in the veranda of his Napean Sea Road apartment, listening to his fascinating and erudite talks on dance, music, films and politics. When from 1996 onwards I organised the Festival of Films of Performing and Visual Arts in Bhubaneswar I managed to show three of his equally iconic films Khayal Gatha, Bamboo Flute and Bhavantarana, all three powerful statements of his deep understanding of music and dance not only as aesthetic tools but as visuals impregnated with epic, philosophical and spiritual connotations as well. 

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Monday 26 February 2024

Interview - Saroja Vaidyanathan's son on her philosophy, Part 2 - Shveta Arora

How Saroja ji responded to the fear and lockdowns during Covid-19

She didn't have any fear of living or dying. But she had the depression of no vibration. "I want some dancing," she would say. If you come to Natyalaya, what you experience - it's not one person or two people dancing, there is a very positive vibration. I feel that during Covid, she missed the ghungroos, the sound, that beating on the floor. It is a physical vibration, apart from the mental vibes. And then the kids being there, laughing, this and that. It's a mela with all these kids there.

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Interview - Saroja Vaidyanathan's son on her philosophy, Part 1 - Shveta Arora

On 21 September 2023, when Guru Saroja Vaidyanathan left this world to take her place in a higher one, the world of dance lost one of its leading lights. She was mourned not only by her disciples but by contemporaries and gurus in all dance and art forms; not only in Delhi, but all over the world; and not only by rasikas, but by people whose lives she had touched despite them having nothing to do with dance at all. She was universally loved and respected in Bharatanatyam and in life.

Many tributes of Guruji were written following her demise, which mentioned her 'conservative family', an early marriage and then the decades of awards and honours that recognized her undeniable prowess in Bharatanatyam. A Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan awardee, Guruji began learning Bharatanatyam at the age of seven from Guru Lalitha of Saraswati Gana Nilayam (putting her in the parampara of Guru Kattumannar Muthukumaran Pillai of Thanjavur). She also learnt Carnatic music under Prof. P. Sambamoorthy at Madras University. An indefatigable 'content creator' from before it was called 'content', she wrote four books, compiled an encyclopaedia on Bharatanatyam, produced a DVD about the basics of Bharatanatyam, and was a member of every conceivable body related to dance, including the Ministry of Culture and ICCR. Over her decades of teaching, not only in Delhi but in Bihar, where she first started classes, she has trained hundreds of dancers to their arangetrams and thus produced perhaps not only performers, but also teachers of dance. Her choreographies featured prominently in international and prestigious events like the Queen's Baton Relay (2009), the XIX Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony (2010), the Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas (2017) and many more. She broke a world record with a day-and-a-half-long Bharatanatyam marathon relay in 2017 and her choreographies on the Ganga, pollution, AIDS, yoga and other subjects have been much acclaimed. Of course, the Ganesa Natyalaya in Delhi, the result of decades of her work, is a physical testament to her forest she created, starting with herself as the single seed.

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Friday 16 February 2024

Ekah! - Dance Matters: Column by Ashish Mohan Khokar

Ekah danta... runs the stuti on Ganesha.... But in dance finding qualified soloist of substance is not easy. It calls for minimum twenty years of work: Five years foundation, five in training, ten in performing experience professionally. So average is forty by the time one reaches national stage. By then either half have married or have families or no possibility to stay with the dance. 40-60 is the best run for a soloist, other things being equal.

The art of the soloist had steadily been on the decline, especially in Kathak. Bharatanatyam has enough volume so staying power is equal. Orissi is fifty-fifty. Group works is the vogue. It is so, as a teacher can show many students on stage at one go. The guru today is just a title, mostly. Solo training means focused attention. Teachers have assembly like training. Solo art is all but diminished. Reasons are many: first of all, gurus are not gurus but mostly art-teaching schools. More the number of students, more the earnings, outreach and social standing. This leads to a rather flimsy foundation. Gurus or teachers say parents are more ambitious and force them to fast-track and do debuts quickly so their ward arrives on the scene quickly! That helps visibility if not marriage market. Lastly, the students themselves. They change gurus like they change wardrobe or hair styles. Some are caught between wanting to be successful and stars while some think they are born stars. 5k followers on social media make them feel they have arrived. They don't have the staying power to learn to talk first before learning to dance first. Social media and self-reviews give most a fake sense of belief that they are good or worse, relevant. End result of above three: sub-standard end result, shows to empty halls and no real professional standing. No solos for sure.

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Thursday 1 February 2024

Anita says...February 2024

How can I begin this month’s musings without mentioning January 22nd and the inauguration of the Lord Rama temple in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. Nobody, anywhere in the world it seemed, could escape this extravagant show. My WhatsApp was flooded with texts and questions about “What is happening in India?” World media was full of India’s “dangerous tilt” towards autocracy. Diaspora Indians were seen celebrating in many cities across the planet. Opinions were sharply divided but the overwhelming majority made their feelings clear - from Ayodhya to Silicon Valley, on the streets of MALDIVES and onto the Times Square marquees in New York City. 

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Sunday 28 January 2024

Simple tale of 'Arisi: Rice' spins lavish cross cultural entertainment - Taalam: column by Leela Venkataraman

The occasion under the aegis of the Music Academy was the Usha Marti Subrahmanyam Endowment Dance Program on Jan 15, 2024, with a packed hall of Chennai's socialites, treated to Singapore-based Apsaras Arts Dance Company's presentation of a lavish multidisciplinary production, innovatively conceived by Artistic Director Aravinth Kumarasamy, designed on what is taken for granted as a mundane everyday part of life - namely ARISI:RICE! Sharing the stage were Bharatanatyam dancers of Apsaras Arts, guest dancers from India, and Balinese dancers from the GEOK Ensemble....

The Narthaki Studio Series held amidst the very special ambience of Anita Ratnam's home has over the years, offered performance space for off-beat programs not attracting conventional Sabha patronage, during the Chennai Season. Hailing from a powerful musical tradition, wherein the reason-to-be for the Dance, is the Music, Aniruddha Knight, as performer, while remaining faithful to the musical heritage, (expressed in movement improvisation in Bharatanatyam through gestures and abhinaya) has shown himself to be a fine teacher....

Seldom has a Lifetime Achievement Award evoked such a warm response of total approbation, as when Bragha Bessell received one bestowed on her by Prof. M. Ekambaranathan Educational and Charitable Trust on an evening arranged at Tag Centre....

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Saturday 6 January 2024

India's biggest annual dance conference: The Natya Kala Conference - Dance Matters: Column by Ashish Mohan Khokar

The Natya Kala Conference is an annual feature of the Krishna Gana Sabha. For those outside Tamil cultural landscape (and this portal and column travels far in the virtual world) sabhas are basically registered art bodies /societies from last century that serve the cause of the arts and culture. What began as a guild is now gold in terms of land and location; power and pelf. Trustees and members are either eminent citizens or families and they are pillars of the art eco systems. They dispense patronage while creating trends. Each may have preferences and power structures, yet, most are genuine and totally devoted to the purpose it was set up for.

So, the Krishna Gana Sabha (KGS) has for 40 years held the NKC (Natya Kala Conference). The current head Y Prabhu (son of R Yagnaraman who started and steered it for decades) with daughter Saashwathi are in-charge and do their duty with finesse, advised by stalwarts and icons in the field.

Rama Vaidyanathan needs no introduction to Indian dance audiences worldwide. A Delhi-based Bharatanatyam dancer, she is now also a star with substance and spunk. A student of Bharatanatyam's benchmark icon Yamini Krishnamurti, Rama is now herself a benchmark in dance and NKC convenorship. This year was dedicated to 'Swarna Saroja' in memory of her mother-in-law, Saroja Vaidyanathan, a veteran Delhi based Bharatanatyam dancer guru who started the Ganesa Natyalaya, whose 50th year anniversary too was being celebrated. 

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Monday 1 January 2024

Anita says...January 2024


LET’S GO 2024!
Happy New Year
We have done it!

Navigated through the past 12 months to replace our calendars and look forward to a brand new year.
The year 2024 is the Chinese year of the Dragon.
The United Nations has declared this year to be the year of CAMELIDS, a cluster of animals that include Llamas, camels, Alpacas and others who are vital to the indigenous peoples and local communities.

In 2023, some may have sailed through. Others trudged... some soared... or crawled... or limped... does not matter... we have all reached the starting point of yet another year... and it is a leap year!

What does it mean for us as a creative community?
What can we do to make our lives and our immediate world safer, more harmonious and more vibrant? What can we do for ourselves and our emotional well-being?

Coming to you from Chennai, I know what a roller coaster year it has been. And how strange the fluctuating moods of the final month were for my city and myself.

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