The change in scope and landscape of the December festival  
- Lalitha Venkat, Chennai 
December 27, 2006  

The music and dance season in Chennai has now advanced to November and the trend seems here to stay, with many organizations wanting to beat the December rush of events. As a result, we now have a November rush of festivals as well! One such well organized festival was the Bharat Sangeet Utsav from Nov 1 – 9, organized by where 3 programs took place every evening at 3pm, 5pm and 7pm. It was open to the public and they came in large numbers, filling the huge Narada Gana Sabha auditorium to capacity. It was a great opportunity to hear all the top names in Carnatic music and some in Hindustani music - Ashwini Bhide Deshpande, Sanjeev Abhyankar, devotionals and abhangs by Ajit Khadkade, flute by Ronu Majumdar. Strangely, Hindustani music recitals did not get full house. There were a couple of dance recitals too. Shobana's performance was muted and graceful. She was accompanied on vocal by Subashri Ramachandran. The grand finale of the festival was a fusion by flute maestro N Ramani and mridangam maestro Umayalpuram K Sivaraman followed by a musical discourse on Bhadrachalam Ramadas by young Visaka Hari. There is so much talk about her immense popularity, but I saw it and believed it that evening. People spilled onto the aisles and every available space, and many had to be seated on the stage too! 

About 80% of the audience on all days comprised of senior citizens and because of the extended hours of performance, there was a constant crisscross of movement to the rest rooms, or audience coming in or going out, especially the exodus from 8.15pm onwards. On any day, one has to walk down gingerly down the sloping aisles. What was distressing was, how many of the elderly tripped and slipped (but miraculously regained their balance!) when making their way down the aisle ramp – that too in spite of the hall lights being on. Perhaps, the sabha authorities need to address this issue at the earliest. 

Buchae Chum (Fan Dance)
Samgomu (Three-Drum Dance)
Musical Landscape of Poland by a vivacious Polish band took place on Dec 19 at Narada Gana Sabha. It featured K Debski, A Jurksztowicz-Debska, The Strings and folk group Turnioki. The female lead vocalist, who is also an actress, ended the evening with a flourish by singing an almost flawless version of the Hindi number "Dil thadap thadap ke keha raha hai aa bhi jaa...!" The spectacular music and dance program at the Music Academy on Nov 27 by Chongdong Theatre from Seoul, Korea had the audience wanting more! 
Pathy Iyer
Photos: S Anvar 
Then it was the ninth edition of The Other Festival hosted by Arangham Trust and Prakriti Foundation at the charming Museum Theatre on Dec 1. It was a wonderful start to the festival with the opening act 'Fana'a' by Navtej Singh Johar receiving a 3-minute ovation. Sufi music, Carnatic music, Bharatanatyam and yoga blended to mesmerize the audience. Dec 2 saw a solo play 'Of god and country' by Pathy Iyer from Bangalore. It was an interesting piece about Bhagat Singh's slant towards atheism. It is amazing how the audience bursts into bouts of coughing whenever there are silent moments in a play or dance work! Dec 3 saw a double bill by inDANCE from Canada and Post Natyam Collective from USA. Choreographer Hari Krishnan of inDANCE presented his dancers in 3 contemporary dance items - Prashvasa/Exhalations, ...Owning Shadows and Bollywood Hopscotch, a lively mix of Bharatanatyam and Bollywood. Post Natyam represented by Sandra Chatterjee, Shyamala Moorthy and Sangita Shresthova presented 'Meet the Goddess' with a backdrop of video images adding to the charm of the work. The imaginative work of these unassuming but fabulously talented dancers from the diaspora was much appreciated by the wonderful audience that again turned up in good number on this third day of the festival.  
Post Natyam Collective
Photos: S Anvar 
 From Dec 4 on, the cultural scene shifted to Bangalore. As the Arangham representative, I traveled with the inDANCE group to Bangalore by road - the Canadian group (Hari Krishnan, Rex, Emily Cheung, Emily Watts, Hiroshi and Nalin Bisnath) in one vehicle and the Arangham group (CA Joy, Dayalakshmi, Poornima and I) in another. It was a fabulous drive on beautiful roads and we were quite happy – till we reached Hosur. There was a most maddening traffic jam, as we inched along and our highly experienced driver had to have his wits about him to avoid other impatient drivers from bumping into us. Road rage seems to be the latest rage everywhere!   

We were still quite on time for the informal interactive session arranged by our host Madhu Nataraj and Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography, at 7.30pm at their premises. As luck would have it, something happened, that has never happened before in my frequent trips to Bangalore. A SUV bumped into our vehicle from behind and before we knew it, the driver of that vehicle grabbed our car keys from the ignition and refused to part with it, till we paid him compensation for the 'damage'! It all happened in a flash. So, it was Hindi, English and Tamil fighting against Kannada for half an hour while the 4 lane traffic continued to move around us. In between all this drama, we exchanged frantic phone calls (one is indebted to cell phones at such times!) and finally decided that Hari's group should go ahead and start the evening. The ever gracious Madhu, guru Mayaji and the dancers and other guests waited patiently till Hari and his group reached the Natya studio nearly 45 minutes late.  

Photos: Lalitha Venkat 
We finally managed to get rid of this mad driver, get back our car keys and move on, only to have another small car bump into us from behind a couple of minutes later. This driver went crazy, trying to bump into our vehicle from the side, as well as block our way - like in the films! - asking for compensation and most vociferous were the two rowdy women passengers. So we stopped by the roadside, had another bout of arguments and ended up paying them Rs.200 (after some tough bargaining!) just to get rid of them. We rested for 5 minutes, before moving on. (I read later in the papers that this bumping into or pretending to and demanding money/taking off with vehicles when the owner is inspecting the 'damage,' is becoming prevalent in Bangalore. Well, we have had first hand experience of it now!) 

When we reached Natya studio, it was 8.40pm. Hari was speaking and the interactive session was going on smoothly. We were greeted warmly by Madhu and dancer Janardhan, given hot coffee and the rest of the evening was magical with inDANCE performing excerpts of their work and Natya Stem Dance Kampni also showing excerpts of their compositions. In spite of the unforeseen delay from our side, there was only concern from the organizers and guests, and we were so grateful for their warmth and understanding. 

Bollwood Hopscotch
...Owning Shadows
inDANCE, Canada
Photos: Lalitha Venkat 
On the evening of Dec 5, Natya Stem Dance Kampni and Arangham in collaboration with Alliance Francaise (Bangalore) presented inDANCE at the Alliance Francaise. Padma Subrahmanyam was performing for the Bengalooru Habba that evening, so that was tough competition. But nearly 350 dancers, artists, theatre personalities and art lovers turned up in full strength. Eric Rousseau, the dynamic director of Alliance Francaise, introduced the artists. Expert lighting by Sai Venkatesh set the mood for the evening that ended in a creative Q & A, quite different from the one in Chennai. Rex spoke about his inspirations when designing the costumes. We got to learn that Hari Krishnan composes his choreography on other dancers but his own dances are choreographed by other choreographers in order to avoid repetition of ideas and movements. That's some food for thought! It was celebration time post performance with a wonderful dinner hosted by Madhu Nataraj.  

The group returned to Chennai on Dec 6, carrying unforgettable memories of their Bangalore visit. I stayed back to catch some performances of the Bengalooru Habba at the Chowdiah Hall. Bangloreans were still raving about the fabulous performance the earlier day by Padma Subrahmanyam. The evening of Kathak by Nirupama, Rajendra and the Abhinava Dance Company was preceded by a short dance piece on 'Colors of Joy' by Yamini Muthanna for Tanishq. The hall was overflowing with people spilling on to the aisles and sides. The announcer's voice was absolutely lackluster. There was a huge white Airtel banner (the main sponsor) in the center of the stage in front of the black backdrop and a video screen on either side of it projected images of Yamini's performance. The video was to draw attention to the jewellery of Tanishq. 

Nirupama, Rajendra
Abhinava Dance Company
The video screens were removed when Abhinava started their recital, but the huge Airtel banner remained as backdrop. The energetic and vibrant performance combined with the gorgeous costumes, beautiful music and aesthetic lighting were a huge hit with the audience, which burst into rapturous applause frequently. Clad in red and black, Nirupama and Rajendra premiered a charming new piece Mushti, choreographed by guru Kumudhini Lakhia. This is the third time the group is performing at the Habba. What is the secret of their success? "There is enough sadness in this world. We want to spread joy through our performances, so people go home happy. Music is an important part of our creativity. If the music does not move us, how will it move the audience?" says Nirupama.   

It was full house again on Dec 7 for a solo Odissi performance by Bijayini Satpathy, preceded by an item on navagrahas by Yamini Muthanna for Tanishq. This time the video screens on the sides were missing but the white Airtel banner remained. Bijayini presented Mahishasuramardhini, 2 ashtapadis from Geeta Govinda and the final piece from Ramayana where she played 6 characters - Rama, Lakshmana, Mareecha, Ravana, Sita and Jatayu. The audience was so enthralled by her riveting performance that the applause went on and on. If only the banner could be placed where it would be visible to the audience yet not interfere with the performance on stage - otherwise the light colored costumes blend into the whiteness of the banner and also make the light bounce off the dancers' faces. 

The Bengalooru Habba is free for the public. But there was a general feeling among some dancers that there are so many talented artistes from other parts of Karnataka who could be invited to perform at the Habba instead of the same familiar names – a situation not unlike the Chennai festival scene. 

The venue shifted to the Palace Grounds on Dec 8 for a Thaala Vaadhyam headed by A Ananthakrishna Sharma. This was followed by an impromptu taal, sangeet and nritya improvisation by the stalwarts, tabla maestro Pt Kishan Maharaj, Hindustani vocal duo Rajan and Sajan Misra of Benaras gharana and Kathak maestro Pt Birju Maharaj. Though the Kathak guru looked smaller physically and a bit wan, his movements as he presented mostly excerpts on nature and Radha, were as mesmerizing as ever. It was an extraordinary, magical evening to witness the rare coming together of these accomplished artistes – Birju Maharaj humorously referred to it as Ganga, Jamuna, Sarawathi coming together, of old, older and oldest! Many felt the show should have been held at Chowdiah Hall and not in the cold outdoor of the Palace Grounds where the wind howled into the mike, in competition with the exquisite alaap of the Misras!   

It was about 10.20pm when this performance ended and the next was to be a music show by Delhi group Bandish. Almost everybody left. An audience for a Kathak show and one for an indo-pop show are vastly different, and we were left with a feeling that it is unfair to slot artistes like this. Fortunately the organizers featured Bandish the next day along with other music groups. 

Bangalore has expanded so much that people travel long distances to reach the venue, the weather is chill, yet the organizers had food courts, but did not feel the need to organize any toilet facilities for the audience!! Also, almost all announcements are exclusively in Kannada, so it's difficult for those who don't know the language. Speaking before the Birju Maharaj concert, the announcer wondered why the audience did not clap for something she repeated for the second time (again in Kannada).  There was still no reaction from the audience but one voice piped up, "Because we don't understand!' but that anyway got lost in thin air!  

On Dec 10, the Karnataka Tourism and Dept of Kannada and Culture presented an Odissi performance by Ramli Ibrahim and the talented dancers of Sutra Dance Theatre from Malaysia in ‘Vision of Forever' at Rabindra Kalakshetra. The beautiful backdrop, lighting and inspired performance was indeed a vision as the title suggests and left the audience spellbound. Having read about the costume controversy of Ramli's dancers in last September, a couple of dancers could not understand what was so controversial about the costume. That's because in this tour, the top piece almost covers the whole torso and ends in a V at the navel, exposing only a couple of inches on the sides when the dancers raise their arms! Before the performance, there was a half hour presentation by the Tourism secretary on the proposed measures to boost tourism in Karnataka. What needed immediate attention however were the many tacky and damaged seats! Rabindra Kalakshetra is a well designed, compact space, so it is much sought after. However, dancers are quite peeved that there seems to be some discrimination - the hall rental for a dance program is four times more than for a Kannada play!   

The seventh annual Kala Nadam Festival took place on Dec 11 and 12 at the ADA Ranga Mandira. A short video screened in the lobby about Nadam and a few excerpts from their important programs and activities gave information to the guests without taking up time in announcements. The stage was tastefully designed by dancer Sathyanarayana Raju, with sponsor banners arranged along the auditorium side walls. The evening commenced with a recital by the host Nadam. Ganesh Vandana had Kathak by Murali Mohan, Nandini Mehta and Smita Srinivasan, Bharatanatyam by Kirti Ramgopal, and contemporary style by Tushar Bhatt and Surya Rao. 'Dhamar' by Murali and Nandini to 14 beats, was followed by an item on Krishna composed specially for Suvarna Karnataka. "Kshana madhuram," the 23rd ashtapadi of Jayadeva was a specially choreographed item by Bragha Bessell and performed by Murali to the music and vocals of Rajkumar Bharati. The final Tarana was choreography of Maulik Shah and Ishira Parikh. The costumes were designed by Tushar Bhatt, announcements were short and to the point and thankfully in Kannada by Shama Sanjay and in English by Murali Mohan.  

Bragha Bessell
For the solo Bharatanatyam performance by Bragha Bessell, the accompanists were guru Adyar K Lakshman on nattuvangam, Vanathy Raghuraman on vocal, Baba Prasad on mridangam and Devarajan on flute. Bragha started with a Todayamangalam, then Varnam "Manavi chekonara" in ragam Shankarabharanam, followed by a Javali "Neemaatale mayanura," a Krishnakarnamrutam slokam "Ramo naama babhoova" and ended with a Thillana in ragam Mohanam. Bangalore audience also suffers from the 8.15pm syndrome, so it was a pity that not even Bragha's wonderful abhinaya laden performance could hold them back. This raises the point many have been debating about of late – should a presenting dance company perform at their own festival?  

On Dec 12, the dancers of Kathak Kendra from Delhi were the first group to perform. Pt Krishan Mohan Mishra gave a special presentation on the request of chief guest guru Maya Rao. She recollected how when she went in the 1950s to learn Kathak from his father Pt Shambu Maharaj, he received a pink telegram that a son had been born to him. Having seen him grow up as well as grow into a celebrity, she wanted to see him perform that evening. Putri Aila Idris in white and Andrea Verghese in black did a vivacious pure dance item. One would never have guessed that both were rather under the weather! The whole group finished with a tarana. The accompanying artistes were Shakil Ahmed Khan on tabla, Indu Prakash on vocal, Mohammed Zafar Khan on sarangi and M Srinivas on sitar.  

This was followed by a Bharatanatyam recital by Ranjani Ganesan Ramesh. She started with a Devanjali, a tala varnam "Amma Anandadayini" sung by Balamuralikrishna interspersed with Ranjini's voice and included some super fast jathis, "Chinnanchiru kiliye" by Subramania Bharathi and a concluding Dakshinamurthy stotram.  Like the earlier evening, the audience started leaving from 8.15pm onwards. The organizers were understandably perturbed as they had chosen the particular venue for its central location. What is the solution to ensure a decent turnout for a program? Should an evening feature only one performance?  

Nadam was started in 1997 by Kathak dancers K Murali Mohan and Nandini Mehta. Since 2000, they have been conducting the annual Kala Nadam festival to showcase classical talent from India and abroad, "to create awareness and instill our values and appreciation for art in today's youth, to propagate and promote Indian classical tradition and art."  

How do they choose the artistes? "We decide on inviting a celebrity in dance and music and on the same day we provide the same platform for an upcoming artist. That way the promising artist also gets visibility. The artists who strive to carve a niche for themselves apply to us and we screen their videos, resumes, reviews and then present them."  

What are the issues that need to be addressed in the Bangalore dance scene? "We need more critics in Bangalore. The ones that are there are torn apart by all the performers. The event managers make money out of classical dancers. Either the corporates should contact the dancers directly or the event managers should extend good pay packages to the artists. There is ample opportunity for dance in Bangalore. If all the dancers unite to have a union - that may lend them more bargaining power to fight against the pittance sums that they are paid."