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.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Two sisters. Both doctors. And a jugalbandhi

Two sisters, both doctors were bathed in sweat and joy after they performed here late this evening.
They call themselves the Neelamana Sisters.
Dr Draupadi Praveen is a GP while her sister Dr Padmini Krishnan is a diabetologist, both based in Kerala.
The former is a Bharatanatyam dancer while the other is a Kuchipudi dancer and the duo have presented jugalbandhi recitals for some years now.
"We love to dance together but if we are invited for solos we accept it too," said the elder, Draupadi.
They were really overwhelmed to have danced inside the Lord Nataraja Temple though they had two other recitals on this circuit.

They hope they will be invited to perform at the Big Temple in Thanjavur.

Volunteering at 70!

Volunteering is what drives the dance festivals. Be it in Thanjavur, Kumbakonam or Chidambaram.
This afternoon, after a meal at the common dining hall in Chidambaram we got to meet veteran Vivekanandan who made his fortune managing the textiles retail store in this town. It is 70 years old.
In the last 10 years though this senior has let his MBA-educated son run the business and during the Natyanjali mans the hospitality desk.
He manages the stores, keeps an eye on the service and ensures stragglers do not slip in and have a big meal here!
He says he makes his own contribution to the expenses here - feeding over 300 people daily for 5 days.
And he taps his well wishers too. This week, he coaxed a granites dealer to foot the bill of drinking water supplies.

The fest needs people like Viveknanadan to keep the back room well managed.

Shama from Bangalore . . .

When dancer Shama Krishna performed Kuchipudi this evening it was a welcome change; the schedule is packed with Bharatanatyam dance!
But today will be different; and the Neelamana Sisters from Kerala promise a Bharatanatyam-Kuchipudi jugalbandhi.
This is Shama's first at the Chidambaram Natyanjali and though she is adept in Bharatanatyam, she chose the Andhra style this evening.
Shama says she teaches both styles at her dance school Shraddha located in Malleswaram North.
And she chose not to do the Natyanjali circuit this time because she has back to back shows in Bangalore.

One themed on five rivers and another curated by Vyjayanthi Kashi for Womens Day.

P. S. : Good to see lots of Bangalore-based dancers featured at the Natyanjali.

Meenakshi Chittarajan on stage

Meenakshi Chittaranjan on stage; with her sishyas; she also presented a solo piece

The kutties also get a slot

23 little dancers on stage in two pieces. It helps to host the local academies too.
Chinnamanur Chitra runs her Chitra Dance Academy here and is excited to present her wards.
We learn that there are a dozen academies in this temple town and the Natyanjali trustees had to follow a rotation policy in scheduling local talent.
Chitra's kutties have a house full audience on Day 2 as the clock approaches 8.

And they put their best step to map sure they make an impression. It is in some ways also a test of the guru's skills and makes a pitch too.

Chatting with Harikrishna Kalyanasundaram

You get to meet up with lots of artistes backstage at the fest.
Harikrishna Kalyanasundaram from Mumbai is here to present dancer Krishna Pranita.
And we get talking about the Mumbai season of music and dance - if there is on or something close to it.
Harikrishna says that Sri Ramanavami season is one such when temples in the Matunga/Chembur area and in the suburbs are hubs for concerts.
In November, there are a string of arts festivals.
Shanmukhananda also has its high profile season.

Could there be a season go three weeks when there or four arts bodies curate their own tests which also consist of talks/lec-dems and docu-films besides concerts to present the Mumbai Season?

Deepa from Brussels/Geneva!

So where is dancer Deepa Rajan from?
The Natyanjali brochure said Chennai.
She traces her roots to Kumbakonam, was in Bangalore and later in the USA and now shuttles between Brussels and Geneva.
She is a world person in that sense.
Deepa performed on Day 2 ( " I dance for the pleasure") with guru Minal Prabhu from Bangalore on the nattuvangam.
Work keeps her busy, says Deepa but when time permits she goes down to her basement to practice.
And in recent years, she has been curating the dance tours of a few Indian dancers.

"This can be a hit and miss affair but I am learning,"she says as we chat backstage after her recital, with her family folks hovering around her.

Day 2 opens . .

Day Two opens at 5.35. After the long, long Day One of Sivaratri.
Good to keep to time come what may.
And as is the tradition here, the opening recital is set for a local dance school - Sri Shivani Natyalaya.
The teens enjoy their 12minutes on stage even as their parents and well-wishers watch them and applaud.
It is a nice, sunny evening. We caught a spell of Ooty-like breeze this afternoon and hope the night is pleasant.

New dawn for a marathon series of dance

When the final dance recital of the Natyanjali Festival here on Day One ended the first rays of the sun could be seen in the east.
Only a regular supply of piping hotntea shared backstage kept the organizers and the emcees going till that fag end when many in the audience had curled up to sleep in the open and some nodded to the sound of the dancing feet and the naadha of the percussion.

Had it not been for the huge delay caused by one artiste, the day's schedule might have been over by  4 a.m. Delhi-based Navtej Singh Johar cried off following an illness but the schedule went for a toss.

Subsequently, dancer Nartaki Nataraj found that her vocalist was still far away from Chidambaram while rest of her accompanists were here. It need much persuasion to get these musicians to go on stage and play some fillers.

Padma keeps her date and time . . .

Padma Subrahmanyam kept her date at the festival.
And time too.

Save for a few years, Padma has been here all through the 33 years of the Natyanjali. She first performs on stage and then offers a prayer in dance at the sannidhi.

She preferred to perform two short pieces, letting niece Mahathi Kannan precede her. That done, the troupe led by veena artiste Kannan headed to the sannidhi.

Kannan said that while he had to send off the rest to Chennai since the kids have exams starting next week while he would go back to Nagapattinam to oversee the dance fest there.

Padma and her family have been instrumental in nurturing the dance festivals at Nagapattinam and now also co=ordinate the one at Thirunallar.

The long tani. On the other side . . .

Mridangam vidwan Thiruvarur Bhaktavatsalam presented a one hour tank. That was the main buzz that floated in from the south side of the temple tonight.

He was accompanying Sikkil Gurucharan at a concert which is part of the series for Sivaratri and managed by a group of Dikshitars here.

The evening series had begun with J B Keerthana and was to end with Jayalakshmi Sekar on the veena.

The ragtag stage does little for aesthetics but as the last flames of the sun lit the skies past 6 p.m. this natural backdrop, seen from afar was a sight.

The Sivaratri blitz!

The Day One attendance here was not full house and plus. The devoted headed to the temple past the late hour while many preferred to come back to watch the recitals.

The big cause of the depleted audience must be the steady fall of dew even in late February. Though the day temperature is rising - 29degrees is a guess - the chill sets in after 8 p.m. and the dew soon after.

Also, the Sivaratri programs put out on DD and private TV channels keeps people indoor. The Isha Foundation big time festival that Vijay TV telecast was promoted hugely in nooks and corners with banners and notices.

Remembering a veteran . . .

It was time to remember a veteran Natyanjali member - V S Ramalinga Pillai. He passed away at 95 about two months ago and was in the founding team of the Natyanjali when it took root here.
His son Natarajan V S is part of the current team.

The senior was remembered at the short, formal inauguration of the festival at about 7.45 p.m.

 Justice Ramasubramaniam, judge at Madras High Court  was the special guest, along with his wife. And dancers Padma Subrahmanyam and Geetha Chandran, member of Sangeet Natak Akademi and senior dancer who performed later in the night were honored.

The trustees keep the formal stuff short and swift. And have stuck to that style for ages.

Bad lines, slow postings . .

Reporting from the interior of a state can be frustrating - the Net lines can let you down any minute.
BSNL isn't reliable to provide you decent service.

And so we tear our hair, raise our brows, take many deep breaths and push a photo or a report or a tweet.

Day One of the Natyanjali was testing; so pardon us for the delayed postings here. We managed to keep the FaceBook page alive.

Hopefully, the lines get better after midnight and in the days ahead.

Natyanjali : day 1

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Stage is set at Chidambaram

In the partly-lit wedding hall located on the busy East Car Street in the temple town of Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu 20 young dancers sweat it out at a rehearsal on Thursday, February 27.
In the far end, in the kitchen local cook Vageeswaran is tasting the sambhar and rasam which will be served for lunch close to noon.
After that long workout, the young ones from Nritya Kala Niketan, Mumbai who are on their first tour of this area and will feature at the Natyanjali Dance Fest later on Sivaratri night, will enjoy the meal in the wedding hall's dining room.

Here in Chidambaram, the dance and the hospitality is what makes the festival a warm and special one. And, the opportunity to dance in front of Lord Nataraja in this great temple is a rare one.

We arrive here at about 11.30. A nice drive down the East Coat Road with small stops to refresh.
There is little in the town's centre to indicate that a major dance festival is about to begin in the famed temple.
The townsfolk are aware. But not the tourists; we spot lots of them, foreigners.

- Photo is of the Mumbai dancers at rehearsal.