Old MADras and Classical Chennai
by Lalitha Venkat, Chennai
e-mail: lalvenkat@yahoo.com


January 31, 2004
Chennai's famous classical music and dance season is over. Dance productions and recitals - both new and old, fine and bad - were packed into this two-month (Dec-Jan) span of cultural fiesta. The performances were conducted at different venues and promoted by many sabhas. Dancers from all over the world arrived here in Chennai; some to dance, some to watch and some to write. As usual, the lopsided structure provided many fixtures for a few dancers, and almost none for many. The audience turned up in great numbers for some performances, while a few fine performances were to an almost empty hall.

As with every season, most organizations gave away awards to artistes of their choice who merited the recognition. We asked some of them how they felt about the awards.

The Kalaimamani award was instituted in the early sixties, and is conferred on performing artistes, of high merit, talent and caliber by the Government of Tamil Nadu.

The awards were presented at a glittering function held at Chennai on November 25, 2003. Ananda Shankar Jayant (Hyderabad) is the first dancer from Andhra Pradesh to receive this prestigious award. Says Ananda, ‘It is a real honour, to be awarded the Kalaimamani. It is an award that I will treasure, all the more so, as I am the first dancer from Andhra Pradesh to receive this award. Further receiving it along with my Guru Krishnaveni Laxman and senior dancer C V Chandrashekar (all of us are from Kalakshetra) in the year when Rukmini Devi Arundale's centenary is being celebrated, is a blessing. This will spur me on to higher levels of excellence'.

KSR Aniruddha, the younger son of Bharatanatyam guru Sudharani Raghupathy, is making a mark for himself as a percussionist and composer. At 26 years of age, he is the youngest recipient of the award. "When artistes are evanescent as a bubble, it feels like being foisted with a festoon of flowers to receive an award, more so when an honour is bestowed early in life, and this feeling knows no limits when the award comes from the very sovereign, that is the government. Happiness is an inadequate word to explain the state of mind"
For his contribution to dance music, dancer/guru/composer CV Chandrasekhar was conferred the Nadha Brahmam by Narada Gana Sabha, one of Chennai's foremost organizations that promotes dance and music. He says, “Awards are welcome especially when it is from a prestigious organisation like Narada Gana Sabha. I would cherish this occasion and the award, which is generally awarded to musicians. I 'd like to accept it as an honour to the dance fraternity.”

At the Abhinaya Sudha seminar, while expressing her anxiety that senior musicians like Adyar Balu was yet to receive recognition from the Govt, dance guru K J Sarasa lauded the Narada Gana Sabha for giving importance to dance music by choosing to honor CV.Chandrasekar.

Speaking for the younger generation of dancers, G Narendra feels, “Basically, it has boiled down to one thing…whoever has the money, the status and knows the right people, are still in the race. Talented youngsters who deserve a chance to perform don't get one because the oldies don't seem to stop. In any field, whether it is politics, cricket, media, cinema or sport, the people on top dictate the game - like offspring of the famous get the opportunity because of their lineage. In dance also, they have started this new wave of family programs where the seniors dance with their wives, sons, daughters, daughters-in-law and so on. Sponsors, sabhas and organizations cater to established names by supporting these family programs even if the offspring of the esteemed gurus are very mediocre in talent - and there is so much talent available in the field. As for awards, so many students receive awards early in life while their teachers still go unrecognized. It really is such a sorry state. Everybody has to understand the truth of the matter and come together to bring about a solution to remedy the present dismal situation of the arts.”

What do artistes feel about the December season - performing, not performing, about the whole season itself?

Ananda Shankar Jayant, Hyderabad
Performing in the December season is always special; it is where we all gather to validate one's art and the journey we have undertaken. Bringing Navarasa to the discerning Chennai rasika is exciting. Performing Gitopadesa at the Music Academy where nearly all the viewers know and understand the verses of the Gita is wonderful
Siri Rama, Singapore
Very thrilled. It is so difficult to get an opportunity to perform in Chennai. Most of the time, I am in the audience, so I felt very happy. So were the Chinese dancers and our troupe from Mumbai. In Singapore, we hear more about Chennai than Mumbai!
Narthaki Natraj, Chennai
I feel very fortunate in receiving the prime slots for the season in all the city's prestigious sabhas. They have given me a lot of respect and encouragement. The audiences have also been supportive by responding with appreciative phone calls and emails.
G Narendra, Chennai (after his duet with Mahalaxmi on Jan 5, 2004)
I have to mention that maami (Mrs. Y G Parthasarathy) is the only sabha person who is a staunch supporter of the arts, with the audacity to give performance opportunity to someone who has not been seen in the sabha circuits for many years. Also, she approaches artists for a performance without them having to ask her, something that does not happen in Chennai city at all. I am happy there is someone in this city doing this service to the arts by encouraging artistes. For all the young artistes who do not get a chance, I think maami is the only chance.”
Suma Sudhindra, Bangalore (after her show on Jan 4, 2004)
We do perform all over the country but to perform in Chennai, the Mecca of the arts, is something special.
Lata Pada, Canada
Bringing Revealed by Fire to Chennai, which is the last stop on our tour, is very exciting, even though Chennai is considered the stronghold of Bharatanatyam and there are lot of people who do not really appreciate too much deviation from the classical repertoire. For a work like this, I think it's a city that appreciates new directions that Indian dance has taken.
Chitra Sundaram, London
It was very special to dance Moham in the morning, sans lighting and video technology, in front of a select, invited gathering at the Arangham Dance-Space. The physical and emotional rapport with the audience was palpable... strange as it may seem, the closeness of the audience allows one to rev up the intensity with presence and not with projection... which the proscenium stage demands even as it divides the participants in a theatre into performer and viewers.
Chitra Visweswaran, Chennai
The idea of putting together Natya Darshan I and II was to bring some sources of inspiration to the young dancers of Chennai. It was not an easy task for Sudharani Raghupathy and myself to mount Natya Darshan II. Both performances and lecture demonstrations of these invited groups were brilliant. This fest-seminar was aimed at the young professional dancers of Chennai who are involved in both classical and contemporary work. Hence one could not help wishing that they had turned up in larger numbers and benefited from this experience.
Ileana Citaristi, Bhubaneswar
Performers from outside Chennai have to face situations like near empty halls because we do not know the local press nor do we have that many contacts in the city who would come to see us perform. I am happy that the few people I had invited came to watch my performance. I feel the organizers need to do more publicity, like featuring photographs in the media, to attract crowds. In order to create awareness of dance forms other than Bharatanatyam in the south, organizations like Sangeet Natak Akademi could hold their annual Odissi festivals in cities like Chennai and Bangalore, instead of only in Bhubaneswar where anyway there is an overdose of Odissi. This would expose the people to the artistes and their work.
V P Dhananjayan, Chennai
Celebrations are good. Chennai vaasees have an opportunity to dress up and an occasion to meet old friends and shake hands with musicians and dancers. We as artists see a lot of new faces. Whether there is big crowd or not, those who sit through the performances are genuine connoisseurs and they do not mince words in expressing their honest opinions about the Kutcheri standards.

Of course Sabhas are mushrooming. But there is no fresh approach to change the scenario to attract our staple audience, the same 100 year old pattern of presentations of music and dance (sorry, at least dance scenario is much better compared to the Carnatic music) no excitement of any kind.
A drab pattern, mostly mediocre Kutcheris. Very poor parking facilities dissuade many to stir out of their house, unless one of their favorites is singing or dancing. Definitely the floating crowd in Chennai fills the halls. It is indeed a good season for people to visit Chennai... weatherwise.

On the whole there is nothing exciting happening for a festival season like Mad Mad Madras season.
C V Chandrasekhar, Chennai
Chennai festival is eagerly looked forward to by all the dancers and musicians, both for performances and also to watch and listen to other performers. But the festival seems to be extending every year at both ends, extending almost to 2 months, which further reduces the number of audience at all the venues. The season should be reserved only for the best, age being no bar.
Kapil Sharma, Bharatanatyam student from Delhi
No, I don't feel it's overdone. I've been coming here for the past 6 to 7 years since I passed out from Kalakshetra. And every year, I have learnt so much. There's so much dancing in Madras, unlike in Delhi. I feel it gets better and better every year. There's always something new to see every year.
Astad Deboo, Mumbai
It's invigorating, it's stimulating, it's exciting and frustrating too because of so many things simultaneously happening. You have to pick and choose and sometimes you want to go to 2 programs at the same time, and you can't. I wish the people would sort of regulate it.
Samyukta Varadarajan, Chennai
As a dance teacher, I want to see many artistes perform. Krishna Gana Sabha has a wonderful line-up of programs, but their tickets are very highly priced. For a 50Rs ticket, one has to sit right at the back in only 2 allotted rows, even if half the hall is empty. In Bharat Kalachar, for the same ticket price, we not only get a good view, it is affordable to see as many shows as we want during the season and the ambience is also good.
Aditi Jaitley, Bharatanatyam student from Delhi
It's a wonderful experience, especially for someone like me who comes from Delhi. There's so much of beautiful dance and music happening here that I feel enriched by the experience.
Anita Ratnam, Chennai
After appearing for 12 consecutive years at the Madras/Chennai dance season, it was a month of silence and spectatorship for me. By watching many dance performances, I was able to reflect on the role of the season in furthering the dialogue of classical dance as well as my own position in this annual prestigious dance showcase. I did not miss performing at all. A surprising discovery for me.