Expressions: The season

Excerpts from Compilations by Lalitha Venkat in Narthaki:-

Comments by Dancers

Margazhi for dancers is, indeed, a mad stampede. Are we happy about this? Absolutely. Yet, as I dream about the flavor and fragrance of the forthcoming festival, a small part of me aches. The tragedy is audiences today are only more familiar with the ‘mass scale Bharatanatyam’ and are unable to recognize a first rate performance. Even some of these performers are forced to realign their style to the ‘popular level’ by imitating the tricks and mannerisms of the ‘stars’ for that is how one can draw crowds. Large doses of these have resulted in our acceptance of mediocrity.
(Swarnamalya in ‘The mad stampede,’ The New Indian Express, artfest@margazhi, Dec 3, 2007)

December is very special. To me it’s not the end of the year, but the beginning. The December audiences of Chennai are very special. They are unpretentious, but challenge you to give your best. They follow you from theatre to theatre. You will not find such an audience, anywhere else.
Bharatanatyam is not all geometry, leaps and stretches. Beyond that there is poetry. I always want to see the music and hear the dance.
(Alarmel Valli in ‘Poetry in motion,’ by Sushila Ravindranath, The New Sunday Express, Dec 9, 2007)

This season is an acid test for every artist. It is a challenge for us to grow as artistes. This place is the heart of Bharatanatyam. When we perform here, the response comes from people’s hearts and minds. I find the best audience here and I feel renewed and re-energized each time I perform here.
(Alarmel Valli in ‘Of raga and bhava’ in Margazhi Fest, ET Madras Plus, Dec 22, 2007)

Margazhi utsavam today needs to reduce its pace and volume. Too many awards, performances and sabhas…I am afraid the festival is not growing in the right direction.
(C V Chandrasekhar in ‘There was so much to imbibe,’ The Hindu Music Season, Dec 14, 2007)

I am happy but it would have been more befitting if awards had come my way during late eighties or early nineties when I was active during the music season in Chennai.
(Kamala on receiving Natya Padmam award, in ‘Dance is my very life,’ Mylapore Talk, Dec16 – 22, 2007)

Youth in the dance scenario are taking our breath away. They are bold, ride roughshod, are rude and often do not listen to words of caution. Much of what they do may be hackneyed stuff in new packaging. It is often far too complex and clever for my liking. They are copycats and do not shy from hiding it. They are not subtle. They will steal an idea and even a theme, as it comes out of the fire from a senior dancer.
Nevertheless, for the moment they are speaking true. And there are some among them who do some original thinking as well.
Can anyone say that young artists do not live for their art or are any less committed than their mentors? Were we as talented or driven as they are? How can you put such enthusiasm down?
(Leela Samson in ‘Spirit of daring,’ The Hindu magazine, Dec 16, 2007)

December then was not as chaotic. Today everything is on an ascending mode…sabhas, rasikas, artistes and performances. Leaving you wondering, where to go and what to see. Yet, my fascination for this unique celebration of the arts will never fade.
(Vyjayanthimala Bali in ‘Season has special significance in my life,’ The Hindu Music Season, Dec 19, 2007)

Most youngsters in the field are getting carried away by the term choreography because of its popular association with glamorous ramp shows and film numbers. They are in a hurry to do their own thing. One needs to master and practise the technique for a few years to understand spaces and energies before creating something. Guidance and support of seniors can help you realise and visualise many vital aspects. Choreography demands a lot of time. Some of my works have taken me almost a year.
It is not easy to come out of the pure classical mould and attempt something with a contemporary appeal. I have faced immense criticism and opposition. But I strongly believe that one shouldn’t give up one’s artistic urges influenced by a few opinions. Of course, you cannot forget the audience. Continue the creative journey; they will surely join you sometime.
(Anita Ratnam in ‘Aesthetic vehicle of self-expression’ by Chitra Swaminathan, The Hindu Music Season, Dec 19, 2007)

With thinning audience, dancers of great repute are finding themselves performing to dwindling numbers – which can be a very discouraging thing. The yearly Natya Kala Conference, which is usually an exercise in new dimensions exploring and re-looking at traditional art forms, too has been suffering lack of quorum. The kind of learning and interaction that could happen in these lecture demonstrations and short performances, is not something that can happen in regular forums.
(Chitra Mahesh in ‘Sitar played as rain drummed its own tune,’ Deccan Chronicle, Dec 24, 2007)

Bharatanatyam for me is a language of the present tense. I dance in the ‘now.’ Often I create a new vocabulary to convey what I intend to through my dance. I discover my own technique, which happens naturally. It’s been a long journey of more than 30 years. And the journey has become more internal.
My performances are not recitals. They are not about imitating hastas or adavus. I see them as experiences. It’s living the moments of re-creation; initiating a thought process. You go up on the stage and change the energy of space.
(Malavika Sarukkai in ‘Exploring a woman’s psyche’ by Chitra Swaminathan, The Hindu Friday review, Dec 28, 2007)

Our biggest problem is, we have too many dancers and not enough slots. I was thinking of suggesting to sabhas to ask the senior people to cut down their program by a half-hour and let talented dancers perform before them in that slot, which is enough to show your talent.
I think the audience’s minds have opened up. They are willing to appreciate new things if well done. Also to appreciate traditional things, if well done.
(Anita Ratnam in ‘Many graces, many faces’ by Anjana Rajan, The Hindu Friday Review, Dec 28, 2007)
General Comments
The crowded schedule leads to a general fatigue and as the season winds down, the fatigue is perceptible in everyone – irritable celebrities, cranky audio technicians, harried sabha secretaries and even the janitor at the bottom of the pecking order!
(Ramanathan Iyer, editor Carnatica.com, in ‘Yours musically’ – The New Indian Express, artfest@margazhi, Dec 1, 2007)

The stars may be paid a pittance by the local sabhas; the fledglings may spend to perform; many concerts are free; the audience floats in and out; chatterers gossip in the front row, readers peruse yesterday’s reviews during today’s recital, plastic bags rustle, mikes crackle in mid-performance, tani avartanams signal exoduses, even gandharva gaanam cannot keep the listeners in their seats after 8.15 pm. But the Carnatic musician and music lover will not miss the Madras mela for the world. Wherever they may be, earning dollars or euros, acclaim and applause, the musicians rush back for the season…
The Chennai festival lacks centralised authority, and continues to run on private initiative, even personal whimsy. But this ad hoc hodgepodge character is its charm.
(‘Get drenched in the rain of ragas’ by Gowri Ramnarayan – The Hindu Music Season, Dec 1, 2007)

On Dec 9, 2007, Fortune Refined Sunflower Oil launched the Fortune Carnatic Express – a fleet of 8 vans to provide rasikas free transport between sabhas. It is a noon to night service on weekdays and morning to night service on weekends. The service works in the T Nagar, Mylapore, Alwarpet and Nungambakkam areas where most of the main sabhas are located.
It is normal to find vocalists getting into wild gestures when performing. Some musicians just cannot sing without stretching out their arms. Some get lost and the facial expressions are a feast for the cartoonist. But it is a little odd when a rasika takes to such mannerisms. This person almost hit his neighbour in the next seat with his swaying arms. He didn’t seem to hear the protests from rows behind as his vigorously nodding head obstructed the view.
(‘Listening with gestures’ in ‘Music matters’ – The Hindu Music Season, Dec 19, 2007)

The December season is a somewhat self effacing creature. It is accessible only to the determined seekers. Indeed, but for a few apologetic billboards, a casual visitor would be hard pressed to infer from the streets of Mylapore and T Nagar, the happening of any more significant an event than a high school fete. A large majority of the state’s (Tamilnadu) 40 million domestic and 1.5 million international visitors, many of whom arrive during the ‘peak tourist month’ of December, pass through Chennai, blissfully unaware of this cultural phenomenon.
(Vijay Sarathy in ‘The Seasoned Tourist’ – The New Indian Express, artfest@margazhi, Dec 22, 2007)

A few take complimentary tickets or purchase tickets in bulk for near dear ones to ensure a large audience. When complimentary tickets are restricted, some even resort to boycotting the sabha for the season.
(Former committee member of a Mylapore sabha, in ‘Music faces the music’ – Mylapore Talk, Dec

The change mainly has been with regard to cost. Gone are the days when a dance recital required only ten lights. Today, we need 80 lights. A mike used to be provided for the vocalist alone. Today, the whole orchestra requires it. Every artiste now brings his/her own equipment and listeners need high power speakers.
There are more performers today. More avenues are available with lec-dems and the like. But people do not have the patience to sit through concerts for a long number of hours. They need shorter programs with variety.
(R Krishnaswamy, Secretary of Narada Gana Sabha, in ‘Cater to music, dance and drama,’ in Margazhi Fest, ET Madras Plus, Dec 22, 2007)

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