Saturday, 8 March 2014

A Kuchipudi dancer's anguish . . .

Kuchipudi teacher and dancer B. Swarnalatha was slightly distraught after her group's performance at the Big Temple in Thanjavur on the final day of the festival.

An organizer had made a sharp comment on the recorded music midway through the recital and the dancer was displeased.

It took some time for Swarnalatha to make her peace. Her group, Kuchipudi Natyanilayam from Eluru in West Godavari in Andhra Pradesh had been invited and promised 45 minutes and to use recorded music.

"We had huge challenges here,"explained the young dancer very earnestly. Kuchipudi gurus do not encourage recorded music. They have a point; that will kill the careers of musicians and stunt the growth of the up and coming accompanists.
Also, a bhagavatam runs for many hours and trying to clip a production was just not possible if one stuck to tradition and the art.

Swarnalatha had with her a bunch of teens; they did what best they could but she insisted that her wards would perform for the best part of 2 hours if they were allowed to. "They have been learning dance for 2 years now," she assured us.

What irked her was the hosts' sensitivities to the dance form and what they should have expected from a group like hers.

Since the Natyanjali is more a tribute space than a performing fest, hosts may want to invite solo Kuchipudi performances since these will tie in well.

One must understand a dancer's anguish.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Local tie-ups, good promos

Community support helps promote a fest like the Natyanjali in Thanjavur. Every year, the hosts look for local partners. For hospitality and boarding. It helps to save on costs.

This year while a newly opened Hotel Balaji Inn accommodated the artistes, the famed Sri Krishna Bhavan provided delicious snacks.

New bus stands create a life of their own; the one in outer Thanjavur is crowded with hotels. Prices start at Rs.1000 for an a/c room. Abhi Inn and Balaji Inn are very good and could be on your list if you are visiting this town.

At the temple, on the sidelines we met up with photographers and IT professionals who shoot pictures, post them online and web stream the recitals via YouTube. And all of them are volunteers.

The hosts also take pains to design smart brochures and posters and have the posters at all leading hotels, stores and touristy destinations. Their liaison with lead hotels enables them to arrange foreign tourists to sit through a few recitals at the temple.

Nice effort.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Notes in Thanjavur . . .

The Sri Brihadeeswarar temple gets a steady stream of visitors. A few tourists and many, many travelers from all places. They spend little time, heading straight to the shrine and are out in minutes.

The sprawling campus here allows those with time on their hands to take in the temple slowly as the sun sets on the other side and the crescent shows up!

The entry floor space has been fully cemented and the parking lot opposite the campus saves much noise and pollution.

With time on our hands we chose to read closely the legends that ASI has set in metal sheets. Useful for the discerning visitor. But the focus lights are either vandalised or have conked out so these legends cannot be read after dusk.

The base of the giant Nandi is the best natural stage for dance and the hosts of the festival have done well not to 'decorate' it; the lights are just right to highlight the sculpture and the dancers.

Spread across 7 days, the Brihanatyanjali has chosen to schedule concerts from 6.15 pm to 9.30 pm.
Visitors spend some time to watch the dance but there are few Thanjavur residents in the audience. In some ways, this venue is some way away from neighborhoods and is circled by institutions and commercial centers.

You don't find the kind of local support that Chidambaram provides to the Natyanjali. And thats the difference between Thanjavur and Chidambaram.

New destination; Thanjavur

We hit the road to Thanjavur at noontime, stopping at the famed food shack called Puthur Jayaram which serves the best seafood for a meal and bearing the brunt of a road that had more patches than tar!
Also, the unending advertisement boards at every turn in the road takes away what is left of this countryside.
Like many towns in this state, Thanjavur continues to grow in its new areas. The new bus stand is chic-a-bloc with hotels of all levels.
We checked into Balaji Inn, just a year old and smart rooms and accessories to offer.
The community hall was abuzz with a dance group rehearsing at 3 p.m. In another room on the second floor, a smaller group warmed up.
And the room boys glanced curiously. . . 

The Brihanatyanjali hosts have kept a tight schedule; recitals start at 6.30pm and end by 10 p.m. Makes sense since the Big Temple is away from the town centre and local people quit by 8.30.

Needed; Utility Listing!

Kuchipudi dancer Vimmi from Dubai was at her wit's end on Monday. Her musicians were delayed as the train they took took time to reach Chidambaram. And, she did not have a make-up person who understood her needs.
Finally, she had to make do with the assistant of a local beautician who does weddings!
Perhaps, the Natyanjali hosts need a Utility Contatcts Directory  and attach it to the programme schedule.
There seems a need for leads on dance make up artists, medical centers, travel services, travel guides and the like.

This listing could come in handy for the few hundreds who travel to the Natyanjali destinations.

Koodiyettam holds audience attention, though for 45mins

We wrapped up in Chidambaram this morning after five days at the Natyanjali. Another successfully staged festival.
The schedules may not have offered a great mix of dances but one cannot crib ; after all this is a anjali of dancers of all makes and experience.

We were impressed with the audience response to the 45-minute long Koodiyettam performance by veteran Margi Madhu Chakyar on Monday night.
Though the artiste chose a more expressive part of the 'Valiattam' excerpt and the initial gestures and sounds made kids and some people laugh, they slowly began to relate to the act, the music and the art form.
Dr Indu G., who is his sishya and is an artiste in her own right told us backstage that audiences for Koodiyettam in Kerala has fallen. "People do not wish to devote 5 to 6 hours to our recital in this age of fast living but its is our passion that keeps us going," she  said.

Back at Moozhikkulam near Always in Kerala where Madhu Chakyar has his institute, students present a recital once every feel and it is open to the public.
Koodiyettam festivals are held twice a year here ( if you wish to check one out buzz Indhu at -

Indu also said that even the koothambalam at temples are falling into disuse as the temples/state hardly support Koodiyettam recitals.

Their Natyanjali recital was their first at such an event. And it did hold the attention of rasikas.

Gossip, allegations and smoke in Chidambaram

There has been some fiery buzz, or perhaps gossip that has been doing the Chidambaram town rounds and some colorful media reporting on the Natyanjali.

That the organizers misuse names and that they make money in the name of the festival.

So on the final evening of the Festival, the Natyanjali Trust secretary Sambandam had to clear the air on stage. That the Trust is independent and does not borrow or lean on the temple or use the name 'Nataraja'. That in the past and now men of eminence lead the festival and that ir runs on donations and wellwishers.

The temple and the community around it generate loads of local news, some hugely biased or fed by extreme elements.

On one side the focus is on the Podu Dikshitars and their attitude. On another is a small pro-Thamizh group that insists on use of the language in all religious events and is keen to have a bigger say.

One Natyanjali evening, on stage when a Dikshitar is invited to address the audience, a young priest went off at a tangent taking potshots at the pro-Thamizh elements and raising issues based on local media reports. A few people in the crowd raised their voices and this unpleasant turn, quite uncalled for was smoothened out.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Natyanjali lore; from B M Sundaram

The festival's off hours allows for informal meetings and conversations. And the place to do this is the wedding hall where we all dine, morning, noon and night.

Musicologist B. M. Sundaram who is the repository of infinite information on the classical arts has been with the Natyanjali for 32 years. And he has lots of Natyanjali lore to share.

33 years ago, Dr Kapila Vatsyanan and a small group held a dance event inside the temple here, in the 1000-pillar mantap zone. Helping then was the then local area Collector C K Gariyali.

The next year, local art connoisseurs got together, formed a committee and carried out the revival idea that Dr Kapila had kindled here.

Recalls BMS as the musicologist is known in close circles, " I worked for All India Radio in Pondicherry then and was in Chidambaram to report Dr Kapila's event. The next year, the organizers asked me to announce the subsequent year's recitals and I have been with the Natyanjali ever since!".

Sundaram says that he does not plan tours or accept assignments at Natyanjali time. "I will not skip this festival at any cost," he says.

A day ago, he had a SOS call from his Pondicherry home - his grandson fell ill and had to be hospitalized. BMS hired a taxi, rushed to the hospital and got back on time for the evening's recitals.

Photo here shows B M Sundaram ( in peacock blue kurta) with Dr Ravi of Alagappa Univ. Ravi also supports the Natyanjali emcee team)