Classical cuts 2017
It's that time of the year when everyone looks back at memorable moments of the past year even as they await the dawn of the new year.
In the classical arts arena, too, artistes look back at the milestones crossed, new frontiers chartered, emerging talent, and at the same time, draw inspiration from the great contributions made by grandmasters, so aptly expressed in the song 'Endaro Mahanubhavulu', sung by the bard Tyagaraja on the banks of River Cauvery in Thiruvaiyaru.
The songs of this vaggeyakara (a lyricist as well as a composer) continue to be a part of the Carnatic music kutcheri repertoire to this day, and, therefore, 2017 has reverberated with the celebrations of his 250th birth anniversary.
The other landmark events have been: the 1,000th birth anniversary of Saint Ramanuja, the centenary year of Dr S Ramanathan, Ramnad Krishnan and Ambujam Krishna, the 150th birth anniversary of Veenai Dhanammal, with concerts and discussions highlighting their contributions.
In January each year, artistes eagerly await the announcement of the Padma awards. There were hits and misses, praise and criticism. K J Yesudass was honoured with the coveted Padma Vibhushan, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt with Padma Bhushan, centenarian Chemanchery Kunhiraman Nair (kathakali) and Aruna Mohanty (odissi) with Padma Shri...
The baton of classical music has been successfully passed on from one generation to another. Established artistes like Aruna Sairam, Sanjay Subrahmanyan, Bombay Jayashri, Sowmya, Sudha Raghunathan, T M Krishna, Vijay Shiva, Sriram Parasuram did turn out to be crowd-pullers.
Young musicians Abhishek Raghuram, Chertalai Ranganatha Sharma, Nisha Rajagopal, Amritha Murali and Bharat Sundar have chosen to delve into Carnatic music. In the arena of dance, young artistes like Mythili Prakash, Jyotsna Jagannathan, Shijith Nambiar and Parvathy continue to pursue the art despite difficulties and pressures.
Dance productions are increasing and gaining a lot of support in performance circuits because of the mushrooming of dance schools and their need to showcase each and every student.
Many of them also make use of multimedia presentations without a proper understanding of either dance or multimedia. But there is a lot of hope for this kind of art when one sees the programme Mughal-e-azam, a mega production that has had 'more than 75 shows running house-full'!
Vocalist Shubha Mudgal has won recognition as a composer and has been involved in several projects related to music education. Along with her husband and tabla exponent Aneesh Pradhan, she curated an international conference on 'Unravelling Song-Texts' based in an Indian situation at FLAME University, Pune. Her love for experiments, coupled with a deep need to understand history and cultural roots, also took her into the world of 19th-century poet Premghan.
Carnatic vocalist Aruna Sairam presented a concert with 300 children (including 20 differently-abled children) who were part of a choir singing in different languages, besides presenting a special concert of Ambujam Krishna's compositions.
T M Krishna continued to take music into unchartered territories and made classical music more accessible to the layman.
Social media continues to be a great influencer. More players have entered the fray for the right or wrong reasons. Yet, beneath it all, more often than not, it is the case of 'quoting out of context' or misrepresentation. While artistes earlier concentrated on art more and less on vocal expression through print media or debates on public platforms, I perceive a change in the many roles the artiste plays now, donning many hats. I find it interesting to always welcome changes and observe them, but it remains to be seen where they will take us.
For instance, contemporary dancers wax eloquent on, of course, how important it is to 'move beyond classical and hybrid forms'. At this point, I'm reminded of a dancer who almost risked her well-established career to unearth the nuggets of a dance form that suffered from negligence due to changes in cultural history.
The almost-forgotten temple-dance rituals of devadasis were revived and brought to light in 1996 by Dr Swapnasundari, who also brought out a book on the subject to highlight their contribution to the arts.
It becomes pertinent to mention that she has not only carried on a tradition, but she has chosen to leave the safety of her supreme position as an acknowledged kuchipudi dancer when she first sought to give a new art a classical status and then continued to surge ahead.
Now, the festival of vilasini natyam (theatrical dance traditions of the Telugu devadasis) is now an annual event.
Cause for collaborations
It's interesting to observe that Bengaluru is becoming a centre of focus for certain artistes from Chennai who are looking for collaborations.
Bombay Jayashree did that while she trained young children and conducted a choir in Carnatic music, which was received well. Dancer Malavika Sarukkai recently chose to work with dancers from Bengaluru while she premiered the birth of the dance production Thari here. Indira Kadambi's solo production, Varsha Rithu, enthralled his audiences in Bengaluru with natya, nritta, music, costumes, lighting...
Meanwhile, Bengaluru's Praveen continues to enthral Chennai audiences, too, with his aesthetic performances. The city can also take pride in the fact that veteran vocalist Neela Ramgopal was chosen to receive the Akademi Puraskar from Sangeet Natak Akademi; Music Academy's Musicologist Award went to T S Sathyavathi; TTK award to Ghatam Sukanya. Young vocalist Aishwarya Vidya Raghunath from Bengaluru is slowly and surely making deep inroads into Carnatic music.
Karnataka has been home to unsung yet inspired musicians like Malini Rajurkar, Shyamala Bhave, Jyothi Hegde and many others.
There was a void created with the passing away of three giants from the world of Hindustani music - Girija Devi, Kishori Amonkar and Veena Sahasrabuddhe.
The world of bharatanatyam was poorer with the loss of D S Aiyyelu, the renowned dance costume designer responsible for enhancing the visual appeal of many a dancer, from Vyjayanthi, Padma Subrahmanyam to the younger ones ready for their arangetram. D S Aiyyelu had been creating magic for more than seven decades and loved to experiment with designs by exploring cloth textures and materials.
For the first time since it was created in 1875, Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake was staged in Delhi. Shankar Mahadevan completed 20 years of his song 'Breathless'. At Kalakshetra (Chennai), the banyan tree wears a lonely look as it awaits a new director to steer it ahead. I also hear a whisper about a Bengaluru-based kuchipudi dancer being appointed as its new director. One hopes that the vision of its grand founder is continued as a tradition.
Chitraveena Ravikiran, the child prodigy who stunned many great vidwans with his musical knowledge (as a two-and-a-half-year-old), is being honoured with Sangeetha Kalanidhi, and bharatanatyam exponent Lakshmi Vishwanathan has been chosen for the award Nritya Kalanidhi, and both these awards come from the prestigious Music Academy. Sri Krishna Gana Sabha has chosen Rama Vaidyanathan as the recipient of the Nritya Choodamani award and Srekala Bharath to receive the Natya Acharya award.
December is the season when concert halls in Chennai are constantly filled with the sound of music and the vibrations of dance.
This year, there was more magic in the air because Chennai was recognised as part of 'UNESCO's creative cities network'.