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)

The final recital on Day 4; by sishyas of guru Madurai R. Muralidharan

Sunday, 2 March 2014

J. Suryanarayamurthi and his group, Chennai; pictures

Chatting with Germany's Amrit Stein

Amrit Stein is from Germany, dances Kathak but her focus is on yoga. She runs the BKS Iyengar brand  of yoga at her centre in Munich.

This was her first Natyanjali recital and for the exacting German it took some patience to let the musicians from Ahmedabad fall in sync, the sound to be arranged and to get into a rhythm.
Chatting with her and her sitar player, Tetsuo Nihei, a Japanese settled in Germany Amrit said she enjoyed the experience but bore a nasty injury in her sole when a piece of jewelry that had fallen earlier tore into the flesh.

Amrit learnt Kathak in Pune while Tetsuo learnt the sitar in Pune, Mumbai and in Delhi too besides stints in Calcutta. He says he has been with the sitar for three decades now; he learnt the sitar from Shahid Pervez and the surbahar from Imrat Khan.

The duo work together and obviously are on familiar terrain in North India. Amrit says they now have friends in Chennai and hope to see more of the south in the years ahead.

On Sunday, they desperately tried to fix a guide who would show them the Nataraja Temple closely. And they were headed to Thanjavur on Monday.

Choir music. By African students.

We were at Sacred Heart Church this morning for Sunday Mass. The church holds this Mass in English for the small community of African students at Annamalai University. Many Kerala students also attend the service at this church which is located beyond the street market in the town.

The Africans have formed their own choir and even wear a choir costume for the service. Singing songs in English and in French, the service is a vibrant one.

And for us, away from the Natyanjali dances another music to listen to.

Gopika Varma looks ahead . . .

Gopika Varma from Chennai who runs the Dasyam academy for Mohinattam is a regular at the Natyanjali dance circuit. And she and her dancers were here on Day 3 of the Natyanjali in Chidambaram.

She stayed over here for a day to be at the recital of one of her sishyas, Revathi Ilango from Australia.

Catching up with Gopika after a group rehearsal on Saturday, the dancer who now runs three academies in Chennai - in Adyar, in Anna Nagar and a newly opened one on OMR, Sholinganallur.

And its about the newest space that Gopika is excited about - the 4500 sq ft space not only is for Mohiniattam training but also holds classes in art, Western classical music and theatre. And it seems to be filling up because it is one of its kind in that growing part of the city, a IT hub now.

Gopika recalls the time when she began to teach Mohiniattam in the city. "There wasn't anything of this dance form then but now we have hundred plus girls who have learnt the dance," she says.

Photos of the group performance and of Gopika with Malaysia based dancer Sutha Nair seen backstage.

Small notes from our journal . . .

Note 1.
It is the rush-rush season for groups from Chennai who travel with teens. For, exams  are about to begin this week. The State Board exam begins on March 3 and the school level exams days later.
So many groups wanted to finish the circuit on Saturday and get back home.

Note 2.
For artistes, a well guided tour of the Lord Nataraja Temple will be most welcome. Having travelled this far, they should be able to squeeze one, if the gurus plan it in. Most offer their anjali at the sannidhi, perform and depart.

Note 3.
The stage can be a danger zone. Bits of the artificial jewelry that drops off on the makeshift floor has injured many dancers this season. With recitals timed one after the other, there is little time to sweep the floor of jewelry pieces. German dancer Amrit Stein who performed on Saturday suffered a nasty wound and had to self-treat and was seen with a bandaged foot this morning.

The other side of the temple . . .

The Chidambaram temple looks far cleaner than it was some years ago. One assumes that the state management of the place has to do with the cleanliness.

(The state had taken charge by its order which was then  challenged by the Dikshitar community which eventually won its case in the Supreme Court. The court ruled that the state had no grounds to take over on the charge that there was mismanagement by the Dikshitars.)

And yet when you walk around the temple, to parts that are not frequented by devotees and pilgrims and by the people of this town, you find that sculptures are eroding and falling off and the walls are in bad shape.

Clearly, spaces as large and so well crafted of great temples like this one are hardly used and they slowly tend to fall into disuse.

Dancer Shubashini Visweswaran

Dancer Subhashini Visweswaran performed on Day 3 of the Natyanjali in Chidambaram. On the nattuvangam was the famed guru K. Kalyanasundaram from Mumbai.
The senior travelled all the way from his base to be here and zipped back to Mumbai to take part in other local events.
He said he continues to keep a busy schedule.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Points to ponder for Natyanjali organisers

Even as the Natyanjali circuit expands, with more temples spaces and local people hosting dance tests, the stage and the arrangements are receiving feedback and comments from the artistes.

At Thirunallar, the recitals are held in a hall; a hall that seems cramped and unfriendly to acoustics.

At Pandanallur, dancers said that a lot has to be done about the stage; even the backdrop is 'shiny, distractive and poor in taste'. Dancers say they prefer a neutral black/blue backdrop.

Some points for organizers to discuss and work on as the Natyanjali circuit expands.

Chatting with dancer K C Rupesh

What is a Goldman Sachs professional doing on the stage at the Chidambaram temple?
Dancing of course!
K C Rupesh leads a busy life at his job but makes time early in the morning to practice Bharatanatyam, being now under guru Chitra Vinoth.

Hailing from Kerala but a true blue Bangalorean, Rupesh, talking to us after a very impressive recital where he got a very warm round of applause in the eastern prakara of the temple here said that he always makes time for dance.

And he prefers to dance solo. "It lets me concentrate completely on the dance and also to relate to my audience," he says.

This was his first Natyanjali and he has the Sunday to unwind before going back to his hectic work calendar.

Watching Rupesh backstage on a CCTV was Mumbai-based guru Kalyanasundaram. And he said it was nice to see a male dancer on stage.

Chidambaram too has seen only a few male dancers. But today's recital showed that if the dance is good people acknowledge it.

Shots from Sridevi Nrityalaya's recital

Bangalore's K C Rupesh

Photos of Shivapriya School of Dance, Bangalore

The best of hospitality even late at night

Talking of festival management, there are lots of challenges that the hosts here in Chidambaram must brace for.
Last night, as the tables were being wiped clean and the vessels put away in the kitchen Vageesan and his men found a big group of dancers at the door!
Some 20 of them, obviously tired and hungry after their recital!

We guess it must have been either the Bangalore based 9th Count Academy or the Thapasaya School of Rathanamala Saravanan.

The SOS was sounded, batter stored away was pulled out and doses made, served with idli podi and oil and curd idiappam requisitioned from another place, served as well.

Well-fed, the group left hugely happy and grateful to the hosts at the dining hall.

Live and let live . .

Mohiniattam dancers on one side.
Bharatanatyam dancers on the other.
This was not a jugalbandhi. This was a warm up rehearsal by two groups who will perform later in the evening on Day 3.
Gopika Varma assembled her sishyas, some 14 of them who had come from all sides for her session at the wedding hall where food is served morning, noon and night.

On the other, dancers of the Shivapriya School of Bangalore assembled to have their practice. ( seen in the photo).

The legacy and donation of the Chettiar family/trust which owns this place is indeed a boon for the Natyanjali.