What they said this Season
Compiled by Lalitha Venkat

February 4, 2015

DANCE

The Margam can never lose its appeal. But what worries me are the changes being made to the format by way of new interpolations. It’s not that I am against creative ideas but these ideas need to be backed by complete understanding of the structure of the composition. The final outcome should be an embodiment of aesthetics. The other aspect that has come into vogue is elaborate storytelling in place of subtle sancharis, quite often irrelevant and unnecessary to the lines of the poem, a disturbing trend indeed.
- Prof. C.V. Chandrasekhar
(‘Which way, Margam?’ by VV Ramani, The Hindu, Dec 1, 2014)

It is in the varnams one sees many changes where the rhythmic nritta passages look more like martial arts exercises and marathon events. The dancers are so focussed on showcasing their virtuosity and prowess in tala and wizardry in mathematical calculations that nuances of movements are often lost. Kalakshetra even today maintains the old format and the nritta segments are short, brief passages.
- Prof. Janardhanan
(‘Which way, Margam?’ by VV Ramani, The Hindu, Dec 1, 2014)

Dancers are highly competent technically but what is lacking is the soul, and this makes the performance mechanical; so much so, the individuality of the artist is lost, leaving the viewer unmoved. It is not just the problem with young dancers, but also with some established ones, who are so entrenched in their comfort zone that they have worked out for themselves that what emerges often is a predictable pattern.
- Bhuvana (rasika)
(‘Which way, Margam?’ by VV Ramani, The Hindu, Dec 1, 2014)

We must remember that we cannot do “all the wild things” that we once did as kids or as teens. We mature not only physically, but also in our thinking. My energy levels for the stage have come down. I cannot do a two-hour rigorous jatiswaram or a varnam or a thillana. But I can still hold the attention of the audience with my abhinaya. And yes, I can still choreograph!
- Sudharani Raghupathy
(‘As Sudharani introspects’ by Hema Iyer Ramani, The Hindu Fri review, Dec 5, 2014)

While most of the purists claim that it is they who preserve the pristine purity of the classical dance’s tradition and progress, the modern generation has completely different and dynamic views regarding tradition and progress. They believe that in classical dance there is a tendency for stagnation and repetition, with no scope for fresh ideas. Therefore, a stage has now come where there is a general conflict of interest between tradition-bound purists and tradition-bound innovators. The purists always maintain that in classical dance, it was their ancestors who had created the best and the finest masterpieces. As a result, they feel that there is no scope for any modern enthusiasts to better them. On the other hand, the innovators strongly believe that even in a tradition-bound art, there is scope for variety, unbound richness and unique nuances.
- Narayana Vishwanath
(‘Transcending Boundaries of Tradition,’ City Express, Dec 8, 2014)

There is a problem with the idea of what’s new. I see an obsession with novelty for the sake of it and it is hurting the craft. I believe that every performance, even of an old varnam, can be approached in a new way and reinterpreted…..There is a lot of awareness and exposure to Bharatanatyam but at the same time, the audience has become blasé, especially in Chennai. The increasing number of shows has meant that quality is suffering. The audience looks for visual spectacles alone. I find the old sense of wonder missing in the audience.
- Alarmel Valli
(‘Obsession with novelty hurts craft’ by Arpita Bose, Times City, Dec 13, 2014)

Most do not attend performances because they think it is complicated and technical. It is not so. Take for example, the navarasas. They are just expressions which people use every day. A dancer just presents it in an enhanced form. Each dance piece is just a story that one reads in the mythological books. Everyone can relate to it.
- Padmalaksshme
(‘Dancing the audience way’ by Naveena Vijayan, City Express, Dec 16, 2014)

Sometimes I see so much anger and frustration among the younger generation of artists, because there is not much money in dance. We don’t even have a national network of artists. They are often bogged down with questions of ‘What’s new,’ ‘What’s next’ and ‘How to reach out to a wider audience.’ Their fears bother me.
- Anita Ratnam
(‘Accent on mime and movement’ by Chitra Swaminathan, The Hindu, Dec 22, 2014)

The quest is not restricted to applause. Of course, nobody wants to dance to an empty auditorium. But as you grow older and mature as an artiste, you want to challenge yourself, to stretch your creative limits. And that reflects as experiments. It should happen naturally though, to be able to integrate your training, imagination and experience.
- Aditi Mangaldas
(‘The circle of life’ by Chitra Swaminathan, The Hindu, Dec 24, 2014)

The emptiness and darkness of centre-stage is where our dreams are fulfilled. The life of a soloist is also filled with regrets and insecurities that are equally difficult to express. Jealousies are unfortunate partners on your journey! It is only a deep philosophy that can serve to hold one steady through the turmoil of such a career.
My life as a teacher has been rich. Nothing can take away the fulfillment of teaching with the excitement and love of discovering the dance and making those special bonds of friendship with one’s students. They have each taught me something along the journey. To many other young dancers whom I watch – I would like to say how excited we are by your commitment. As a friend, I can only say you may want to tone down the attitude - and those mobiles!
- Leela Samson
(Acceptance speech on receiving Natya Kala Acharya award at Music Academy, Jan 3, 2015)

You can be a great daughter-in-law but it takes much more to be a good dancer-in-law.
- Veejay Sai
(on Facebook)

In a dance review, generally, the last line mentions the name of the singer who rendered vocal support. If one is lucky, one gets a “sang very well.” Even if it is constructive criticism, we welcome it as long as this aspect of the concert too is given equal importance.
- Randhini
(‘From the left side of the stage’ by Archana Nathan, The Hindu Fri review, Jan 9, 2015)

In a dance recital, it goes without saying that the dancer is the centre of attraction and the others accompany the central artist. Acknowledgements, appreciations and credits do come our way. Occasionally, there are artists who by design or default cease to acknowledge our contributions.
- K Hariprasad
(‘From the left side of the stage’ by Archana Nathan, The Hindu Fri review, Jan 9, 2015)

When Balasaraswati danced and Gnanasundaram sang, the audience was baffled because they did not know whether to listen to the singer or watch the dancer. Such was the calibre of the singer. None of the mainstream vocalists ventured towards dance back in the 1970s and 1980s too. They thought it was not good for them to sing for a dance program. Those days the singers would stay with the dancer for long periods of time. They knew each other so well that the dancer would know when the singer would take up the next line and the singer knew when the dancer lifted a hand to show the next sanchari. They made a perfect team….That singers look at their notes and sing is a problem. In order to sing for dance, insight is necessary and manodharma too is necessary. One cannot sing like one sings for kutcheris. Sangatis must be moulded and crafted for dance especially. They cannot be predictable. Bala used to identify or work on sangatis that were sculpted specially for natya. Not like it is now. Singers look at the paper, the pauses are all wrong and they sing in the same manner everywhere.
- Nandini Ramani
(‘From the left side of the stage’ by Archana Nathan, The Hindu Fri review, Jan 9, 2015)

There is a perception among other vocalists that singing for dance is a lesser genre. Perhaps, this opinion is because there are many restrictions in this art form and the format involves ample amount of repetition. But, what they do not realise is that within those constraints, there is so much scope for improvisation. In fact, it is a challenge to be able to sing the same line in so many different ways.
- Srikanth Gopalakrishnan
(‘From the left side of the stage’ by Archana Nathan, The Hindu Fri review, Jan 9, 2015)

When I came to Chennai in 2002, I didn’t know I will be here for so long. Many shunned me and some made their misgivings about me very obvious. But I have also met some wonderful people who have helped me in my pursuits. I have come a long way and risen above those barbs and embarrassment. I earlier danced for identity, later for name and fame, and now, I am dancing for myself. The later stage has brought me closer to the divine.
- Narthaki Nataraj
(‘Representing the feminine emotions’ by Janani Sampath, City Express, Jan 12, 2015)

I’ve learnt a lot from singing for dance. Instead of cribbing that I have to sing a particular line ten times, I look at it as an opportunity. In a kutcheri, this kind of innovative repetition would not be possible. Singing for dance teaches you that ultimately dance is a visualisation of lyrical poetry. I started improving my singing on the basis of the visualisation. I have friends who speak many languages. I sit with them to understand the importance of the lyrics in each language. This contributes to my performance. Ultimately, my performance at a kutcheri should guarantee the next kutcheri opportunity for me.
- Kuldeep Pai
(‘Onus is on the dancer too’ by Archana Nathan, The Hindu Friday Review, Jan 23, 2015)

The second half of a dance recital generally has more abhinaya centric pieces. A singer cannot expect to showcase his or her abilities there. Ultimately the singer enables the dancer to perform. There are points in the recital when he or she can display vocal skills and there are other points when he or she should just be the enabler. It is also the singer’s responsibility to stay true to tradition while rendering a composition.
- Sai Shankar
(‘Onus is on the dancer too’ by Archana Nathan, The Hindu Friday Review, Jan 23, 2015)

Sometimes, they (dancers) do not even know who the composer of the piece is. They then leave out the composer when they make announcements. Even while selecting items for a program, the lack of musical knowledge on the part of a dancer results in a set of items based often in the same family of ragas. There is no variation. Once, a dancer performed three items in Sankarabharanam only because they were compositions she knew well…….There are way too many dancers and far few singers to cater to them. Vocalists therefore are compelled to take up more concerts and the quality is likely to suffer.
- Srikanth Gopalakrishnan
(‘Onus is on the dancer too’ by Archana Nathan, The Hindu Friday Review, Jan 23, 2015)

While there are so many who enroll in the writing programs, why are we not reading new names and listening to new voices? Why are the same old voices and bylines being repeated by the mainstream media with only one point of view? What happens to those who join in so many writing courses? Where do they go? Knowing that arts writing does not pay as much as covering cinema, sports, entertainment and politics, what makes them even enroll in arts writing courses? A vibrant democracy needs a healthy opposition. The question still hovers in the air between creator and audience. Who will be the mediator? Why has the role of the dance critic been suppressed? WANTED. Writers, interlocutors and more commentary on the arts. 
- Anita Ratnam
(‘Anita says…’ Feb 1, 2015, www.narthaki.com)

Reflecting on the Margazhi Madness that just passed....Such casual treatment of the lyrics by so called leading artists in dance…totally shocking....shows the utter lack of sensitivity of the artists towards the great Vaggeyakkaras... and the inability to read between the lines. For the Tamil word “saandhu” which means a medicinal paste, the dancer is depicting a tilt of the body which is “saaindhu.” Total irrelevance to the song and irreverence to the composer...Seriously dancers...time to wake up.
- Roja Kannan (on Facebook, Feb 1, 2015)

Whenever I’ve pointed out mediocre singers who have no sense of pronouncing sahityam, there has been much uproar! Dancers continue to get the same sweet and substance-less voices to sing because they are popular names. I've given up! One fellow cries and wails for everything and another fellow sings everything in Malayalam! Another lady shouts and screams like a wild cat bit her on stage and one more puts everyone in the hall to sleep! All of them are excellent in bad pronunciation of sahityam! Phew!
- Veejay Sai (on Facebook, Feb 1, 2015)

Request dancers to stop using words like jeevatma, paramatma, internalization, revisit, inner voice, calling, etc...and continue to do crap. High time you go on stage, DANCE PROPERLY and prove yourself! In other words stop talking and start DANCING.
- N. Srikanth (on Facebook, Feb 1, 2015)

The problem with dancers and dance aficionados is we like talking about others never realising our own failings in dance.
- Srinidhi Chidambaram (on Facebook, Feb 1, 2015)


MUSIC

A sense of insecurity is prevalent among artists. Self-confidence and determination clubbed with hard work can take an artist to a peak at an early stage. As a mridangam artist, you have to give your best to make a concert a success. To do that, you have to spend several hours with your instrument. When I was employed at the Accountant General’s office in Chennai, between 1952 and 1961, my routine was to get up at 4 am and practise for three hours. Musiri Subramania Iyer was also working at the AG’s office then. He predicted a bright future for me. That he never gave me an opportunity to play for him is another story….A raga can be showcased in just three to four minutes. Didn’t Chembai and Ariyakkudi do it? It is not necessary for you to go on for 20 minutes or more to establish a raga. Beyond a point, it becomes repetitive.
- TV Gopalakrishnan
(‘Crowning glory’ by V Balasubramanian, The Hindu, Dec 1, 2014)

If someone can capture karagattam throughout the night and bring out its colors in an hour long film, I’m sure it will enrich society….I feel artists should consider revealing themselves. Many times, we put up an act. Take that act out and let’s see what happens.
- TM Krishna
(‘ONE of a kind’ by Srinivasa Ramanujam, The Hindu Metro Plus, Dec 3, 2014)

In order to produce soulful music that will touch the hearts of the rasikas, one has to feel and experience the soul of the music. This cannot be taught. The artist has to personally experience this in order to give the audience an experience of this kind.
- PS Narayanaswamy
(‘To sir with love’ by VV Ramani, The Hindu, Dec 4, 2014)

In general, when an artist gets a call from a journalist during the music season, it is from a ‘temp’ or ‘on assignment’ or ‘intern.’ I am certain they have Wikipedia open, just to make sure they get the name right. Of course they write the most insightful pieces on art! And let us not forget the reviewers. Almost like in a Harry Potter movie, they tumble out of empty cupboards. Many of them have ‘a listening experience of over four decades’ or have learnt music ‘from when they were 12’, or read all the musicological books that were ever written. Or, if you are a clever reviewer, just bring along a knowledgeable rasika to the concert that you are reviewing.
- TM Krishna
(‘Margazhi moments,’ The Hindu, Dec 7, 2014)

There are people, who in the middle of an intense performance, come close to the singer, click pictures or take videos on their mobile phones. Some even tend to upload them on social media and there are times when these videos get misused. They should remember that there is a certain trust between the artist and the audience, which is why artists request audiences not to take pictures or videos during a performance. An artist goes through some amount of stress when he’s performing. Making the venue noisy or indulging in other such practices can affect the concentration of the artist.
- P Unnikrishnan
('An audience's guide to enjoying the magic of margazhi' by Sharanya, Chennai Times, Dec 8, 2014)

Most people are obnoxious these days. When an artist is performing, they are constantly doing something else. For instance, some look at a booklet or meddle with their phones. Some of them take too many breaks, especially when the percussion solo starts. This is very demeaning and distracting to the artist who is performing. This is not a rock show where any kind of behavior is acceptable. The artist deserves respect and the audience must understand that.
- Ramanathan Iyer
('An audience's guide to enjoying the magic of margazhi' by Sharanya, Chennai Times, Dec 8, 2014)

People shouldn’t really be comparing one performance with another. Audiences who have been attending for several years go back to those days of how it was back then. While it is nice to get nostalgic about performances they like, people should be ready to receive the present ones as well.
- Neyveli Santhanagopalan
('An audience's guide to enjoying the magic of margazhi' by Sharanya, Chennai Times, Dec 8, 2014)

Paid concerts seem to be of a new genre – where the musicians pay to perform. It used to be said of rookie dancers that their shows thrive on a self-financing model. That trend has apparently extended itself to music. It is as much the fault of the receivers as the payers. It does not bode well for upholding the standard of quality, if such trends are allowed to flourish. How is it different from paid news that is largely condemned?
- Bala Shankar
(‘Money matters’, The Hindu Music & Dance Season, Dec 9, 2014)

When music permeates the soul, you can break out into song anywhere. But when I prepare for a concert, I prefer to practice alone.
- OS Arun
(‘Practice music anywhere, anytime’ by Deepa H Ramakrishnan, The Hindu, Dec 10, 2014)

A sparse attendance is sometimes a necessity to make things better. Eventually, only what is in demand will win. And, in the larger scheme of things, I do not think this matters. Anything with such volume is bound to have some concerts with low attendance.
- Abhishek Raghuraman
(‘Learning from the best’ by Archana Nathan, The Hindu Fri Review, Dec 12, 2014)

Last year about 90 organizations conducted programs in Chennai and over 2200 events were presented. On a single day last year, Dec 31, 82 programs were conducted simultaneously by various organizations. Today, it is a peculiar situation where an artist is confident about presenting a raga or song in the most exquisite manner but worried about how many rasikas will turn up for his concert. This is true of even senior artists who have put in years of service in the field.
(‘There’s much ado over Margazhi,’ Chennai Times, Dec 15, 2014)

Initially when I started learning music, I wanted to be a performer. But somewhere, I realized that performance wasn’t the main criteria. There are other aspects as well. You need to document music, treasure and value it for the next generation. So, I’ve been contextualising it in the historical perspective and I think that’s more important than getting on to the stage and giving a performance. Music is an art that will stay with me till I die.
- Vikram Sampath
(‘I’ve a deep connection with the city of Chennai’ by B Sudarshan, City Express, Dec 22, 2014)

While we give it our best shot, I strongly feel that the number of core classical music rasikas has reduced over the years…..The media coverage has increased and it has become a topic of discussion. Chennai has almost become synonymous with margazhi. But I have a feeling these changes help in promoting  substandard talent as well, which is a cause of concern.
- Nithyasree Mahadevan
(‘Rasikas have been dwindling’ by B Sudarshan, City Express, Dec 25, 2014)

Veena is our national instrument. It is a treasure. Come for concerts and support the veena. Panditji made the sitar famous. The veena should attain that status and I'll work for that. You know, at the U.S. airports, those staff who earlier used to say, ‘Oh, the sitar,’ now chorus, ‘Oh! The veena lady.’ I consider that a small victory for the instrument.
- Nirmala Rajasekar
(‘Strings that sing’ by Geeta Venkataraman, The Hindu Music & Dance, Dec 29, 2014)

It is important that rasikas elevate their knowledge so they can demand quality music from artistes. Of course, the understanding of the music should not be limited to the main artiste alone. It should be a holistic understanding where the role of every participating artist has to be experienced, savoured and enjoyed. Even the tanpura player has an important role to play and if he twangs the strings instead of caressing them, he can very well put the mood of the main artiste on an off key note!
- Dr. Radha Bhaskar
(‘When silence is not silent,’ Chennai Times, Dec 30, 2014)

Musicians have become very businesslike. Gone are those times when music was for music’s sake. Quality has taken a back seat and I don’t understand why musicians try bringing in fusion everywhere. And the essence of absolute classicism is missing. Why does Carnatic music sound like rock music?
- Jayanthi Gopalan
(‘The art of drawing rasikas to sabhas during Margazhi’ by Subhakeerthana, City Express, Jan 1, 2015)

I do hope December 2014 is the season in Chennai in which artists, young and old, fight back, ask questions, write to local and national newspapers and launch a campaign to fix the cracks, while simultaneously fixing the crackpots who believe that a woman is inferior – when all that matters is prowess, not age or gender. I certainly hope that this is the year that older, established vocalists, both female and male, step up and fight for the sake of their younger female counterparts. I hope that the next time something like this happens, the rest of the performing crew unites in support to protest the injustice (of the discrimination against female performers by show organisers and male musicians). 
- Kalpana Mohan
(‘A note of dismay over inequality at music and dance festivals in Chennai’ by Shoba Narayan, The National, Jan 4, 2015)

Senior male performers would rather accompany a junior and emerging male vocalist than sit beside an established and accomplished female singer. It is appalling. Nobody does anything about it, so the abuse continues. Female artists should speak out, not with anger but with confidence.
- Anita Ratnam
(‘A note of dismay over inequality at music and dance festivals in Chennai’ by Shoba Narayan,
The National, Jan 4, 2015)

I discuss music with my friends, who are of my age group. When we meet, we discuss ways to enrich our concerts. We talk about styles, ragas, compositions, musicians and composers. These conversations help me understand the pulse of the audiences and make me perform well….. Certain things cannot be taught. It ought to be felt from within by a musician. This, of course, comes with age and experience. A good musician has to be a good rasika in the first place.
- Sriranjani Santhanagopalan
(‘I’m nothing without my dad’ by S Subhakeerthana, City Express, Jan 6, 2015)

Carnatic music is getting very secluded. There are more youngsters who are learning it but the audience is almost 45-plus. The season provides a platform for young performers, but youngsters are not coming to listen to the music, especially those in the 16 to 20 age group. This is why I get irritated when people say the audience for a drama is not enough during the season. We stage dramas all round the year and they are all ticketed but we still get a crowd. That never happens for music and dance events during the off season. In fact, even during the season, you get a sizeable audience only for 6 to 7 major singers. But even a kutcheri by a leading singer in the off season will not get a full house – unless it is an ‘all are welcome’ event.
- Y Gee Mahendra
('Holding concerts throughout the day is nonsense,' by Suganth, Chennai Times, Jan 14, 2015)


OTHERS

Who knows, if webcasts become close to the real thing, people may be willing to pay to watch concerts from the warmth of their homes abroad. But can the canteen ever be replaced? Several admit that the South Indian fare is an equal attraction for them.
- V Sriram
(‘Mighty migration,’ The Hindu, Dec 1, 2014)

With the increase in the number of sabhas, rasikas are catching up with the artistes at various places convenient to them. Naturally, you can’t have a full hall. We have to reckon with the problem of logistics and the pressure education exerts on the youth.
- Nalli Kuppuswami Chetty
(‘It is a quest for talent’ by Geetha Venkataraman, The Hindu Music & Dance Season, Dec 9, 2014)

Canteens are a great attraction and have become an integral part of the December fest. Whether the concert halls are full or not, rasikas make a beeline to canteens to savour their favorite dishes or have a steaming cup of filter coffee. One member of a reputed sabha says, “Canteens earlier used to dish out special items when a star artist performed, thinking they would have good sales on that day. This strategy proved wrong. It is only when there is a mediocre performance that the audience feels bored to sit and listen and head towards the canteen resulting in roaring business.” Just as artistes are trying to present new ragas and themes for rasikas of music, canteens innovate and present new, delicious items for the rasikas of food.
- Radha Bhaskar
(‘There’s much ado over Margazhi,’ Chennai Times, Dec 15, 2014)

For too long, sabhas have been on auto mode of yore. A calendar for Dec that they fill up with a mixture that they decide is best. This calendar has run its life long ago. And it does not fare too well with the times. It is already failing and signs of failure are showing this season. The time has come to curate a smart, short and engaging festival. And to present and manage it as a festival in the real sense. To do this, we need a new set of curators who work along with sabha managers to draw up a fest schedule to roll mod day communication – on and off line and to present it really well not just to Mylapore and Mambalam but to the country and to the world. We must move away from this assumption that we are hosting backyard cultural events which will magically attract diehard rasikas.
- Vincent D’Souza
(‘Jottings’, Mylapore Times, Dec 27, 2014)

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