December is eagerly awaited for a variety of reasons. For us, at Bharatha Natyalaya—our dance school—it has always been a month of hectic activity, packed days and nights starting from the early hours of the morning and running till midnight, with a host of activities in connection with the world famous December Arts Festival, with the same enthusiasm and energy year after year. Apart from the innumerable performances lined up, what with students performing all over the city at various sabhas and cultural organisations, it was also that time of the year when the dance class registered a spurt in the number of visitors from all over the world. They landed with the eagerness and anxiety of a new bride to gain their slice of experience of the famed season. Every year the week after Christmas is earmarked for attending the sessions of the Natya Kala Conference at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha. This year was no exception. After the popular and widely acclaimed conference of 2016 convened by Srinidhi Chidambaram, titled Sthiti Gati, this year’s conference on Sringaram was a much awaited one. And it proved to be even more so, with interesting and engaging topics and an impressive line-up of speakers. The 37th Natya Kala Conference was well organised from 26 to 30 December 2017.
After watching the 12th Dance Festival of the Music Academy, which drew sizeable audiences for both morning and evening performances, I was nagged by questions of where we are going in Bharatanatyam—and other dance traditions too. While dance as an art form is becoming more and more glamourised, you wonder, “Where have the silences, the quietude and subtleties gone?” In what is generally regarded as a formal ceremony with a protocol, the inauguration threw up the first surprise in the very casually groomed chief guest Mark W. Morris (a name to reckon with in the West as Artistic Director and Dancer of Mark Morris Dance Group, New York), his work-a-day clothes, striking what the Hindi-phile would call ras-bhang, amidst all the gorgeously Conjeevaram clad ladies and formally dressed men. The organisers probably missed informing him to remove his footwear while taking the stage with Nataraja’s statue presiding over the performance area with a lighted lamp. His speech was all about loving Carnatic music, and as friend and admirer of Nritya Kalanidhi awardee Lakshmi Vishwanathan, he confined himself to praising her art. The other great dancer Barshnikov (who was present) came and went; both guests hardly had any interaction with other dancers and art lovers attending the festival. They seemed to be confined to the hotel most of the time.
It must have been in the early 1970s that I witnessed Bala’s performance for the first time at the Music Academy. Awed by all that I had heard about her, I was eagerly looking forward to seeing the legend in person. I had read several times the book on Bharatanatyam she had co-authored with Dr.V. Raghavan. Expecting the hall to be packed, I was surprised and dismayed when I saw the smattering crowd, hardly a couple of hundred, with most occupying the few rows in front. I edged forward as close I could get to the stage. Bala made an almost casual entry from the wings and the concert started. She was wearing a saree costume with checks in multicolours and gold thread. She looked dignified and majestic with minimum ornaments, small bunch of flowers on her hair and hardly any make-up. She sang a few lines at the hanging mike and the songs were continued by her musicians. Hers was a pleasant and sweet voice. There was not much of abhinaya in the first half. The varnam started and I was truly amazed to watch her execute the teermanams, which were marked by grace, even though they did not have the vigour and sharpness of a younger artist.
The Sruti Foundation and Karnatic Music Forum jointly organised Lec Dem Mela 2017 at the Arkay Convention Centre on 9 and 10 December to mark the 250th birth anniversary year of Tyagaraja. The series was supported by The Ministry of Culture, Government of India. Visually challenged young musicians of the Freedom Trust—Akshaya, Shreelekka, Manoj and Nagaraj (all students of Dr. S. Sunder)— gave a flying start to the proceedings with a Tyagaraja kriti rendered as an invocation. Chief guest Akhila Srinivasan, Managing Director of Shriram Life Insurance Company and Director at Shriram Capital, presented scholarships administered by the Sruti Foundation to deserving young artists. The Manna Srinivasan Endowment Scholarships for an instrumentalist and a Bharatanatyam dancer were presented to vainika Ramana Balachandhran and P. Sundaresan respectively. The Meenakshi Ramakrishnan Endowment Scholarship for a young vocalist was given to Sahana Samraj. (with inputs from S. Sivaramakrishnan)
4 Readers write
6 News & Notes
14 Birthday calendar
16 Season 2017-18 (continued)
v Concert reviews v Lecdems v Natya Kala Conference
v The Music Academy dance festival
40 Bala century
v Exquisite and sublime v Her intangible magic
44 State of the art v A survey of Kathak (part 2)
v Seetarama Sarma v Shanta Serbjeet Singh
58 Window to the world
v Two iconic wedding marches
66 From the Editor
Front Cover: The music and dance season
(Backdrop courtesy: Aalaap)