#DHRecaps | The year ends on a range of notes

A round-up of the year in classical arts

In the classical arts scene, 2018 was a year of great performances, exciting collaborations, and wonderful bursts of creativity. As usual, tradition continued to hold sway even as artistes experimented and innovated in their individual domains and collaborated with other genres. Of course, there was also plenty of half-baked choreography, badly curated art festivals, and much confusion in the name of fusion. It was also one of the most tumultuous years with heated debates over communal and caste aspects in classical music and even dance; and the #MeToo controversy.

The debate over whether or not south Indian classical music has caste and/or communal biases and how these factors should be addressed became a source of much contention in the world of Carnatic music. Talks and writings on this matter led to a schism in the world of music with artistes, sabhas and connoisseurs becoming divided over the issue.

The #MeToo storm sweeping India entered the Carnatic music world too as allegations hit several well-known musicians. In the classical-dance world of south India, many artistes came out with their stories. 

India’s first interactive music museum, Indian Music Experience (IME), opened in Bengaluru.

It allows visitors to engage with its many installations in the Sound Garden and several galleries that showcase all genres of Indian music; the exponents of these genres; musical instruments; music dissemination and so on.

The most coveted award in the Carnatic music world was announced. Madras Music Academy said that Aruna Sairam would be the recipient of the prestigious Sangeetha Kalanidhi, a title she will officially receive in January 2019.

Admirers of the late legendary musician D K Pattammal have launched her 90th-anniversary celebrations this year with several events across India and abroad, which will continue into 2019. Carnatic musician Sudha Ragunathan and bharatanatyam dancer Rama Vaidyanathan collaborated in a commemorative programme. Another tribute coming up is titled Her Music, Her Life, curated by renowned playwright, and music and dance critic Gowri Ramnarayan.

Collaborations and experiments continued to excite and inspire the audiences. There were many high-calibre performances — some were interesting, while some were below par. Pianist and music-educator Anil Srinivasan had impressive collaborations with Carnatic musicians like Sid Sriram and Sikkil Gurucharan. Also, Srinivasan performed a series of ‘concerts in the dark’ for the benefit of the visually challenged, wherein he played his piano while blindfolded. Carnatic musicians Ranjani and Gayatri collaborated with Hindustani classical musician Kaushiki Chakaroborty in a well-integrated jugalbandi.

Husband-wife musician duo sitarist Shubendra Rao and cellist Saskia Rao-de-Haas not only continued to regale audiences with their artistry, but also continued their work in music education with their slogan ‘Right to Learn Music’. Jayanthi Kumaresh presented yet another exciting jugalbandi with flautist Ronu Majumdar.

To all those who lament that audiences and patronage for the classical arts are dwindling, the events happening abroad should serve as an eye-opener. Our classical arts are appreciated all over the world and drawing not only NRIs, but non-Indians in those countries, too.

Dhruv Arts presented another exciting edition of the London International Arts Festival curated by violinist-composer Jyotsna Srikanth, which showcased a wide range of musical genres and artistes. The USA-based IAAC organised many well-appreciated events around Indian classical music and dance. Dancers from Majuli, Assam, called The Dancing Monks, performed sattriya in New York and were joined by artistes from the Philadelphia-based Sattriya Dance Company. The 13th annual Darbar Festival in London, curated by Akram Khan, witnessed well-attended odissi and kathak performances.

Back in India, bharatanatyam dancing duo Shanta and V P Dhananjayan celebrated 50 years of their dance school Bharata Kalanjali. Anita Ratnam’s Arangham held another revival staging of ritual dance theatre Kaisika Natakam (a 10th-century performance art) at Tirukurungudi, Tamil Nadu. The very articulate Anita also performed in and organised other music and dance events. The Natya Kala Conference in Chennai saw several luminaries of the classical dance field participate in insightful discussions among other events.

Vilasini Natyam, the dance-form which saw a revival in recent years, was featured at several platforms around the country. The Shakespearean classic King Lear was interpreted through the dance theatre production Kathakali - King Lear. It had premiered in London decades ago and was taken across India this year winning much appreciation. Kathak and contemporary dancer Madhu Nataraj collaborated with S G Vasudev and other artistes to create KalpaVriksha, which premiered at NGMA, Bengaluru.

Play, a highly innovative collaboration between kuchipudi dancer Shanthala Shivalingappa and the Flemish artiste Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui continued to evoke enormous admiration this year as it did in its shows in earlier years. Kuchipudi-duo Raja and Radha Reddy’s dance school Natya Tarangini Performing Arts Centre held the 22nd edition of their Parampara festival of dance and music. Somewhat of a landmark event, a colloquium on mohiniyattam was conducted in New Delhi titled Kaisika Vritti: Manifestations in Mohiniyattam, which brought together veteran exponents, young students, academicians, and scholars.

In the 25th year of their performing career, the Malladi Brothers had a long series of critically acclaimed concerts. Sanjay Subrahmanyam’s concerts drew packed audiences and rave reviews.

Pantula Rama, who continued to impress connoisseurs and critics with her music, came out with an open letter requesting a correction in the rendition of one of Carnatic music’s most famous compositions, Thyagaraja’s Pancharathna Krithi Saadhinchene. She said the correct way would be to sing all the swarasahityas suffixed by Sādhinchene, the pallavi, and not Samayaaniki.

The music world lost many great talents. Annapurna Devi, the stalwart subahar or bass sitar player, passed away in October. A brilliant artiste, she was the daughter/disciple of Allauddin Khan; wife of sitar icon Ravi Shankar, and music-guru of Hariprasad Chaurasia, Nikhil Banerjee, etc. Among others who left us were sarod player Buddhadev Dasgupta, harmonium player Tulsidas Borkar, and violinist Balabhaskar Chandran.

As the year closes, the Madras Music Season begins...

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#DHRecaps | The year ends on a range of notes

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