A fine season for fine arts

Dance & music

A fine season for fine arts

Conversations with veteran musicians often include their observations about changed times –– “We had to search for good gurus, wait for them to accept us as disciples and then leave home to do gurukulavaas(am) or spend hours everyday at their homes. Today, gadgets offer so much at one’s fingertips.”

There was yet more evidence this year of major growth in the number of classical music/dance performances uploaded on YouTube, lots of CDs offering lessons, more teachers taking to Skype and other long-distance teaching methods, and newer cellphone apps for classical music and Bharatanayam too. Apart from speeches at sabhas, and articles in the print media, established artistes used Twitter, Facebook, Pininterest, etc., to announce performances, share news and views.

Experimental tunes

Hearteningly, however, the good old live performance is still flourishing. From chaste renditions that pleased purists, and thought-provoking experimental performances and intelligent fusion to bizarre innovations and absurd re-interpretations, 2014 saw them all.
The year saw many interesting productions. Distinguished Carnatic vocalist T Muktha’s birth centenary was observed in many ways by her disciples.

Nandini Ramani presented Smriti Kusumanjali. Dance diva Alarmelvalli once again presented her tribute Bani with Bombay Jayashri, which was also another example of the new trend of collaborations between musicians and dancers. Kathak dancer-guru Shovana Narayan’s latest production Shunyata involved Kathak and Chhau dancers with Buddhist monks from Sherabling Monastic Seat, who had won a Grammy for their chants. Spirals saw famed dancer Anita Ratnam collaborating with pianist Anil Srinivasan and vocalist Sikkil Gurucharan.

Many Indian classical-dance traditions originated, centuries ago, in temples, and later moved out to other performance spaces. Today, the finest of temples have become backdrops for famous dance festivals. This year saw successful editions of the Khajuraho Festival of Dances, Konark Dance and Music Festival, Mamallapuram Dance Festival, Hampi Dance Utsav, Mukteswar Dance Festival, Nishagandhi Dance Festival etc. As always, there were some murmurs about the choice of artistes.

Gwalior’s Tansen Festival, Dover Lane Festival in Kolkata and the Madras Music Season showcased veterans, performers at their peak, and upcoming artistes, though young talents told us they would be happy for more opportunities. This year saw the 58th edition of Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra’s Ram Leela at Delhi. Vocalist-percussionist T V Gopalakrishnan was conferred the Sangeeta Kalanidhi title.

Even as kathakali, a male preserve, is seeing the entry of female dancers, and in kuchipudi this trend is now well-established, the number of solo male dancers on the Indian scene has dwindled. Odissi features, possibly, the largest number with many teachers including dancer-choreographer Bichitrananda Swain focusing on training male artistes. Odisha’s folk-form Gotipua found more platforms and admirers. The best of Manipuri dancers too shone at performances.

Great losses

There was tragedy. Mandolin wizard U Shrinivas’s death in his prime left music lovers shell-shocked. A peerless artiste, he was considered a phenomenon in the world of music. He was also universally liked and admired for his utterly childlike nature and incredibly modest attitude.

Eminent Kathak dancer, guru, choreographer and dance-curator Maya Rao passed away. She was mourned by a legion of students and admirers. Sitara Devi, the legendary kathak danseuse who brought the genre to Bollywood, also left us. The illustrious vocalist and guru of many brilliant disciples, Sangeeta Kalanidhi Nedunuri Krishnamurthi also passed away. 

Books on Indian classical music and dance are hard to come by. This year saw a few memorable titles including Voyages of Body and Soul: Selected Female Icons of India and Beyond, Maya Rao: A Lifetime in Choreography,  and a graphic biography, Maharaja Swati Tirunal: A King of A Composer.

At various fora, we saw many veteran artistes, critics and long-standing connoissuers expressing disappointment at dwindling audiences and the shrinking space in the media for classical performing arts. However, it is also true that there is a growing number of sabhas/organisations across India and abroad featuring these arts.

Europalia brought an Indian cultural extravaganza to the West for four months ending January. Last year’s Bessie award was won by outstanding kuchipudi and contemporary dancer Shantala Shivalingappa, while this year, kathak dancer Akram Khan and dancer-choreographer Aakash Odedra won the honour.

It is a pity that we, in India, see next to nothing of these brilliant artistes — and others of their kind from around the world. A film on Shantala is ready for release next year and we hope at least that comes to India.

The Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhana in the US keeps going from strength to strength every year, as does Milapfest of Britain. Rising percussion star Pandita Anuradha Pal performed at Vienna. Kuchipudi dancer, songwriter and singer Bhavana Reddy created waves with her debut album and for weaving elements of kuchipudi and Carnatic music into her pop-music performances.

The Taj Express, an extravaganza of Indian classical music and dance in Bangkok, was part of Thailand’s annual International Festival of Dance and Music. Jomtien Beach saw Indian classical dance to mark Ganesh Chaturthi. Even tiny Seychelles saw Tavil and Nadaswaram players besides other artistes from India at its 2014 Carnaval International. Tabla masestro Zakir Husain and Hindustanti vocalist Shubha Mudgal were among Indian artistes to perform in Dubai.

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