Tradition - now a trend
October 10, 2004
artists to make a crossover to becoming organizers, to channelise one’s
creative energy into organizing and taking on what many would consider
a thankless job, is not every performer’s cup of tea. But Bharatanatyam
dancers Usha Vasant Kumar and Unnikrishnan have done just that. In
their annual Marga festival, they showcase something different from the
usual, and introduce talents who have not been exposed to Chennai audiences.
Through this, they aim to help the many artistes who need a platform, to
get recognition. With these words, Bharatanatyam dancer Lakshmi Viswanathan
inaugurated the festival.
Guru V P Dhananjayan, an ardent supporter of Marga, reiterated what he had said at last year’s festival – that though there are a lot of organizations in Chennai, most of them lack professionalism. Madras (we still refer to Chennai as Madras. Old habits die hard!) has always been open to new experiences in the performing arts, but have the urban audiences somehow gotten used to getting their entertainment free of charge? A Rs.50 or Rs.100 ticket is but a tiny amount to pay to encourage emerging artists of caliber. Dananjayan lauded Marga in taking the bold step to make admission strictly by tickets. Both the gurus voiced their hope for a change in the Chennai mindset - that in the years to come, audiences would throng to ticketed shows featuring the classical arts.
Individually commencing as solo performers, Usha Vasanthkumar and Unni Krishnan stepped into the field of duet presentations in traditional as well as contemporary topics, teaching and finally organizing festivals under the Marga banner. The program started 45 minutes behind schedule, but the ever-patient Chennai audience spent time catching up on the latest happenings, since this festival is perhaps the forerunner to the forthcoming famous Chennai season of dance and music.
Marga presented an interesting mix of traditional classical Bharatanatyam
by Bangalore based Sathyanarayana Raju and Anjana Anand, contemporary dance
by Bangalore based P Jayachandran and his Attakalari group, and street
theatre of Tamilnadu by Purisai Duraisami Kannappa Thambiran Parambarai
Theru-k-koothu Mandram on the concluding evening. ‘The oldest and the latest
of beautiful art forms need to be protected and encouraged, so they can
flourish,’ says Usha.
was followed by Anjana performing to Shankara sri giri, a composition
of Swati Tirunal, in Hamsanandi ragam, adi talam. The lyrics extol the
dynamic beauty of Shiva as the cosmic dancer. The Varnam by Satya was a
composition of Veenai Sesha Iyer. Shiva is glorified in all his dancing
exuberance as Nataraja in Thillai, ending with a procession of devotees.
Satya exhibited his skill in emoting when depicting the navarasas in this
item. Anjana was the Devi preparing herself for her wedding in Devi
jagat janani, composed by Vasudevacharya. Set in Purvikalyani ragam,
misra chapu talam, the dancer paid obeisance to the Mahishasuramardini
aspect of Devi, as the destroyer of evil. The duo presented Keertanam,
set to music by Madhup Mudgal to verses from the Kumarasambhavam. From
wearing his usual garb of animal skin, Shiva is transformed into a bridegroom.
The piece concluded with the procession leaving the bride’s home. The next
2 items were on Krishna - Krishna interacting with the gopis in Neeraja
sama neela Krishna followed by a bhajan Shaam tori in Shivaranjani
ragam. A piece on Hanuman as the ideal devotee through narration of various
episodes from the Ramayana and Thillana composed by T V Gopalakrishnan
concluded the evening’s recital.
The 2nd day
featured contemporary dance group Attakalari, under the direction of Jayachandran,
who did not perform himself. The dancers have trained in Bharatanatyam,
yoga, Indian folk forms, martial art Kalari, and modern dance. The items
presented were choreographed by Jayachandran as well as by senior members
of the group. The evening took off with an excerpt from a full-length production
Transavatar (presented in March 2003 at Music Academy), choreographed by
Jayachandran. It was a multi-media presentation with integrated sound by
Joseph Hyde and digital design by Christian Ziegler. Digital images were
projected on a see-through gauze placed in front of the stage and the dancers’
graceful movements behind it were highlighted by the imaginative lighting
design of Helen Cain. Nitin Sawhney has composed the music for the 2nd
piece Psalm. Sakhi was choreographed and performed by two female dancers.
The piece explored the intricacies of relationship. No Way Out was choreographed
and performed by N Abhilash and K S Deepak. The movements depicted ‘the
conflict between what is and what could be: the struggle between the world
of reality and that of individual dreams.’
is a popular art form in Tamilnadu and the audience for it is mainly in
the villages where plays are staged for the better part of the night. A
mixture of music, spoken words and dance, the episodes are mainly taken
from the Mahabaratha and sometimes from the Ramayana. Condensing the Draupadi
Vastrabaranam episode from the Mahabaratha to 3 hours, members of the Purisai
Duraisamy Kannappa Thambiran Paramparai Theru-k-koothu Mandram under the
direction of Purisai K Sambandan, gave an energetic and entertaining presentation
– to a sparse audience. The simple folk I met after the show bore little
resemblance to the vibrant characters on stage. They were totally transformed
into the jealous and arrogant Duryodana, scheming Sakuni, the vain and
vengeful Dushasana, and the compulsive gambler Dharma. Arjuna and Bhima
had only marginal roles. The female roles of Draupadi and Kanthari - mother
of Kauravas - were played by men.
Sambandan belongs to the 6th generation of koothu artistes. Though he generally portrays the lead characters, he did not perform actively in the play because of health problems. He feels that in cities like Chennai, people are not very aware of the traditional arts. So through festivals such as this, the present generation in cities can be exposed to traditional forms, and thus help the form survive.
“Art is a solution, which gives promise in a world of dishonesty, influence and crime. It involves the heart and so it is true and sincere,” says Unni. Into its third year now, the Marga Festival is still in its infancy. The attendance at this year’s festival has been better than last year’s. Perhaps, the Chennai audience, which has been much touted as discerning, will live up to its reputation and make it at least a near full house next year!
The Marga Festival took place at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Chennai, on Sept 30, Oct 1 & 2, 2004.
Lalitha Venkat is the editor of narthaki.com