Classical sessions

music & dance

Classical sessions

December always makes one sigh about how time flies and wonder where all that time goes. For the classical arts scene, it was yet another eventful year, with a bounty of wonderful happenings and happy developments, a few ugly controversies and sad scenes.

There were several milestones — more than there is space to mention here. The M S Subbulakshmi centenary year saw a cascade of tributes in print, on TV, and at events, with a host of memorial concerts and awards given in her name. Kathak dancer-choreographer Kumudini Lakhia’s Kadamb Centre for Dance, Ahmedabad, completed 50 years of existence. Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra successfully presented its 59th edition of Ramlila, orchestrated by Shobha Deepak Singh.

World music — in which several cultural traditions intermingle — has become an established genre worldwide, and this year, too many Indian classical musicians were part of these events. The trend of using modern gadgets and social media for learning, during performances and for promotions, got stronger in the classical dance and music fields.

Young winner

Carnatic vocalist Sanjay Subrahmanyam became this year’s recipient of the prestigious Sangeeta Kalanidhi award. Choosing this talented 47-year-old vocalist for the award evoked varied opinions. Some held that it was unfair to “older, more richly deserving artistes”, while the others said the award committee was wisely showing the courage to go by merit alone instead of giving precedence to grey hair. After all, they said, only musical prowess and track record matter, and not age or gender.

The word ‘gender’ reminds us that once again there was a controversy over the sidelining of female accompanists by senior male vocalists in the Carnatic music scene. Many woman artistes who play the violin, ghatam or mridangam will tell you in private that top male vocalists do not like the idea of a woman accompanist on stage. And that this prejudice or gender bias results in lost opportunities, and is an implied insult too. The issue remains muted though, as most women instrumentalists do not like to go public for fear of the repercussions on their career. In Bharatanatyam, the Margam flourished, especially in performances of its leading exponents like Alarmel Valli, Malavika Sarukkai, Priyadarsini Govind and a long list of other competent artistes, too numerous to mention here, even as experimental productions also found space.

The same can be said of all the other classical dance forms like Kuchipudi, Kathak, Odissi, Kathakali and Mohiniattam, wherein we saw both the traditional repertoire and interesting innovations find performance platforms and audience appreciation. In all these dance forms and also to some extent with Manipuri and Sattriya, teachers-choreographers are showing more willingness to push the boundaries. We also saw more collaborations with non-Indian dance traditions like flamenco, Thai, Indonesian etc.

It has been heartening to see in recent times that male classical dancers take centrestage in more platforms after decades of seeing little of them — whether for lack of performance opportunities or because there were few performers. Chennai saw the eight editions of the all-male-dancer Nartaka Festival. Delhi witnessed an interesting male-dancer-centric event, Purushaakaram: The Male In Bharatanatyam. Orissa’s Gotipua, with its all-boy cast, also gained more visibility, though, of course, it is performed in stree vesham (female impersonation).

The field of arts saw much controversy and unpleasantness over the ‘award-wapsi’ issue and the flurry of returned national awards by artistes and their exhortation that others should follow suit. Some artistes returned awards, some refused to, many spoke out while others maintained silence. Each side accused the other of political bias and insensitivity. A middle road was taken by some artistse who said that awards-return or no-return and speaking out or remaining silent were entirely a personal choice.

Contemporary dance, which has many modern influences, has become increasingly popular in India, and this year we saw many interesting productions, some of which reinterpreted stories from the epics and puranas, or had current social or environmental issues as themes. Several were in the dance-theatre genre.

While these innovations and experiments flourished, there was a revival of the old, too. For example, we witnessed the revival and restaging of Kaisika Natakam (going on for nearly two decades now), a 15th-century all-night ritual theatre at the Azhagiya Nambi Temple in Thirukkurungudi. The recently-revived art of Vilasini Natyam, too, had its annual show at Ranganathaswamy Temple, Hyderabad.

Hearteningly, in both Hindustani and Carnatic music streams, a highly talented younger generation is emerging. So, along with icons and established names like Zakir Husain, Shivkumar Sharma, Pt Jasraj, Girija Devi, Kishori Amonkar, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Amjad Ali Khan, Umayalpuram Sivaraman, T N Seshagopalan, R Vedavalli, Rama Varma, Sudha Ragunathan, Bombay Jayashri, Pantula Rama, Malladi Brothers and countless other gems from both streams, we have exciting new talent to listen to.

On the world stage

Around the world, NRIs and citizens of Indian origin have founded and nurtured Indian classical music and dance festivals with the biggest ones in USA, Canada, Europe, and South Asia. This year, successful editions of the Darbar Festival, Milapfest, Cleveland Thyagaraja Festival, Bengal Classical Music Festival, LIAF, IAAC events, TANA and AATA events etc, offered performance and lecture-demonstration opportunities to leading and upcoming Indian artistes.

On a smaller scale, Indian performing arts fests were also held in Africa, the Gulf countries, Australia and South America.

The recent devastating floods put a question mark on Chennai’s Madras Music Season — India’s biggest annual classical music and dance festival. Certain programmes have been rescheduled. Some organisers and artistes cancelled all their programmes, saying that all resources should be used for relief and rehabilitation.

However, major sabhas have decided that the show must, and will, go on — for the sake of artistes and art. Everyone is optimistic that the city and its arts scene will be flourishing once again.

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