Thanks giving to Indian Classical Artists

17/06/2008

You till the land, you sow the seed, and you even manage to water it, but whether the seed will plant or not, is only God’s wish and unless it turns into a plant, there is no use what you do and how much hard work you do. Till that intervention is conquered by man, I will continue to thank god and would never question whether I deserve the wealth I have. Do I really deserve it(?), is a very controversial question that only very realised souls would answer honestly.We belong to a clan that acts as the best devotee in front of God! If one deserves the wealth one has, because he has put in hard work, then the likes of Kapil Sibal etc are the ones who should celebrate it. It requires some brilliance and a lot of hard work for stealing too. For stealing, I will not give credit to man or country. Someone rightly said, the whole country basks in the reflection of a handful of achievers, who cared less for the entire world around them as they went on to do what they were born for. And these handful of people were refugees of sorts, who came for money, or security. Doesn’t the history talk of this? That the natives were driven, and continue to be shoo’ed? And celebrating the so-called much deserved wealth by killing scores of innocent lives is above me. How does one thank oneself for his own achievements, what does one say, ” hey you know what, I am celebrating my wealth ‘coz I deserve it, and I am doing that by killing you in cold blood. Thanks for dying and letting me eat you”. I am too old-fashioned to understand and appreciate this kind of celebration.

If your idols are some pot smoking, miserable wreck of nerves who scribble all and what they fancy, and you are proud that your ideology is inspired by such, then that’s what you will become eventually. We dance and sing about Savitri, Sita etc.  How many times did we observe their qualities? How many times we tried seriously to practice at least one such quality? And we call ourselves classical artists and go on endlessly lecture about how Indian arts are steeped in spirituality and their understanding and practice only would make a complete artist and all of these are aimed at realising the  paramatma and becoming one in him? Liars! is what I call such people.

For one, Savitri existed so many centuries back, even praised by Sita herself. Have we ever used her to represent the strength, ability, perseverance, patience, capacity, confidence, dedication, devotion, belief, faith, beauty, sense of duty? No! When we talk of Savitri, its only to represent the pitiful state of Indian woman, and help us more with our own need of self-pity.

I am not a moral guardian. Though I don’t know why people use this in a negative way. Are you a moral guardian who feel Keenan Santos is right? Or does it take you to become a  moral guardian to judge that the father who planned to rape is daughter is wrong? You need to be human.  I like having few moral guardians, else who will tell you if you are wrong? who will make you stop and smell coffee, while your ego is blindly leading you downhill? While you are amassing wealth and your morals come down as pack of cards? Yes moral guardians are important, for the sane society exists between the extreme and the staunch, and so does the balance.

As far as I am concerned, no no no, not a hater please, I am just a human, who can see what is right from what is correct.

Thanks

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Who Killed Manavi Cheykona raada?

17/06/2008
Bharatanatyam is a fantastic and a spectacular dance form. I say this with a reason. Imagine one dance form, that was performed facing the Idol in a temple, with curtains on, rarely seen by the audience outside, and if they get lucky to catch a glimpse, its only the back of the dancer they see. From here, to being one of the most popular classical dance forms of the world, performed in every corner, on every big and small stages is quite a journey.
Bharatanatyam as any art form welcomed variations and experiments with open arm. This might be the reason for both its popularity and being most criticised dance form. Either ways, this definitely is the reason why so many ‘styles’ in bharatanatyam came up.

 

 

Some say “there are as many styles of bharatanatyam as there are dancers”. But for classification purposes there are only four : Tanjavoor, Pandanallur, Vazhuvoor and Kalakshetra. Whilst I cannot make out much difference between Tanjavoor and Pandanallur, I can mostly make out Vazhuvoor and can definitely make out Kalaskhetra.

No matter what the style be, the music and the kind of compositions that are used to dance are the same. Coming to talk of compositions, some are written for bharatanatyam and some are adapted. How beautiful is the adaptation is again a hugely debatable topic. There are several popular compositions that were written decades back, but still are very popular and are performed even today by dancers of all styles of bharatanatyam. Sometimes a composition is often and frequently performed by dancers of one particular style and that becomes a kind of flagship dance piece that is usually identified with that particular style of bharatanatyam.

For eg: The varnam : Manavi chekona raada, in raaga Shankarabharanam, Adi tala.

This dance piece is performed so often and frequently by the students of kalakshetra style of bharatantyam that it became a flagship dance piece of kalakshetra style and is identified with it.

Over years I have seen many dancers of all styles perform this dance piece. Much to my disappointment, not a single dancer could stir any emotion in me, let alone the bhava working its magic. I don’t want to be partial to any style here. However, completely ignoring or cutting down on the essential elements that communicate the ‘rasa’, fails to achieve the goal. Yes I agree that every performance cannot be a soul-stirring experience. Much depends on the rasika too. Even the natyashastra/abhinaya darpana say that. But atleast there should be a sincere effort to try make each performance, an experience that it is meant to deliver.

While performing to a composition, a dancer should help the composition, what it set to achieve, thereby realising her own goal of executing it. Particularly in this case, I have been a witness of mere various physical interpretations of the verse, than emotional. Let me explain. It is like how many different ‘sancharis’ one does while the line repeats. There is nothing wrong with that, but yes, there is, when its done mechanically.

I was watching a very popular dancer(not a kalakshetra style dancer) execute this dance piece on a DVD. Why did I use the word execute? Well, that’s what she did, execute and not perform. Her beauty, her perfect body, aramandi and perfect execution of foot work shadows her absolute lack of abhinaya in this varnam.This not just a case with her, but with almost all of the dancers, I saw performing this varnam. Especially in the recent times. I am as much of a traditionalist as anyone when it comes to technical perfection in terms of aramandi etc, but where is the bhava? I ask. Where is the sringara, the tease, the blushing, the absolute openness on how the felling of love is tormenting? Yes the story is told in the sancharis, but without an iota of feeling- at least that is what the rasika feels. It is as beautiful as reading out a melodious song.

Is this a case of a chewing gum that lost its flavor due to over chewing? or is it just that one style is very restrictive or is it the dancer’s incompetence? Whatever the reason, one of the most popular varnam has been mercilessly and collectively killed. I am yet to see one dancer perform this varnam that can keep me glued.

However tempted I am here to provide links and mention names, but I refrain for one reason that classical dancing is not a bread-earner in India. Yet so many people, small, young and old, religiously study it and practice it and pass it on generation to generation. They do it for the love the have for the dance, and not with an ego of being a great dancer themselves. The above was not about them, but was about those 1% of flag bearing professional talented dancers(and those that like to think and display themselves as exceptionally talented dancers) that influence these rest 99%.

Whatever it is, this is not a singular case. Another composition that came to light in similar conditions is “Bho Shambho”. One dancer I met in a dance festival recently claimed that she has choreographed it herself and went on to do the worst duplication of the most viewed video on youtube.

Does a little use of breasts, glances, lips, eyebrows, shoulders hurt so much to communicate the bhava and rasa?

Response from a dear friend and an ardent rasika : I just read the post.. its not the case just with manavi.. so many varnams have been killed.. specially mohamana and kamas which have more of explicit lyrics… Vazhuvoor le its done with more of oomph!


My Experiance At Natyaanjali

17/06/2008

I don’t know how right or wrong it is to share some not so pleasent experiances one has had with something that is popular and big, especially when everyone around seems to be only singing praises. Well, let me start with the pleasentries. Yes it is great to be a part of Natyaanjali. The sheer proximity of the temple, the dancers, so much of talent and creativity infuses a very different kind of vibrance in one. Though I was supposed to go to Chidambaram and Thanjavur, due to reasons, I was, on request, kindly relocated to Thirunallar, Nagapattinam and Kumbakonam. All my tickets were booked and I got to know that I was soon to be a mommy again. I was in a dilemma whether or not to go ahead with my plans. With my health and now this news, I had 4 programs in 3 days, travelling not including. Well, with family and doctor giving me a nod, I decided to go ahead.
My experiance in with the Govt. was good. I only hoped they gave more publicity about the cultural evening, and time to me also. The anchoring for the dance recital could be done in a much much better fashion. But, with Govt. dept., I didn’t expect much. What I got was more than what I thought.
Then I came to Nagapattinam. In a not so bad hotel, but in really hot and sultry weather. The non-ac room didn’t help much. The organizer came and met me. I told him that I was exhausted and that I was pregnant. I conveyed that I might not be able to cover the time they have given me, even with all my preperation. He told me to rest and gave me an option to don the role of a rasika. No way. On shivaratri night, I have to dance. It was the Lord’s calling, I was about to cancel everything. The fact I am here is becoz He wants me to dance. So they were kind enough to get me an AC car to and fro Thirunallar and Nagapattinam. I did dances on Shiva theme, as they had requested. Lovely audiance. I remember, the elderly gentlemen kept glued to their seats thru my performance, especially when I did ” yethanai sonnalum”. Then when I finished and joined my mother in the audiance, they turned back and just smiled at me. There were few who said I was good, but that smile, was more than a compliment. After I finshed in Nagapattinam, they asked me to be on the stage. The organizer announced that “today not only this artist danced, but her baby that she is carrying had its arangetram” and etc in Tamil. He was kind enough to make me the lucky one when he told me that I was the first one to have the shivaratri prasadam, while handing the packet to me. He even arranged the dinner in my room at 12 in the night. Quite an honor it was. Sad that quite a few well known dance teachers and gurus donot prefer or not aware that Natyanjaali happens in these places too. Its nice when you dance for the audiance and influence them, who are not used to the likes of Chidambaram.
Then I travelled to Kumbakonam. It was a nice reception. Atleast here, I got an ac room, to my relief. The lunch was simple yet very very delicious in a satram kind of place. In the evening I got ready before time. I wanted to see other performances. To my delight and dismay, when I reached there, Sonal Mansingh was dancing. She is a reservior of talent. But, now too old. The dancers I met during lunch were all dressed and waiting for their turn. There I met Probal Gupta. I saw his advert in Narthaki.com. I was so happy, dont know why. I met him, introduced myself. Then I sat almost next to him. I just commented about Sonal Mansingh being too old, and then I realized I was heard by a representative from Southern Cultural zone. After I exchanged the contact information, I noticed few dancers eagerly waiting for their turn. Talking to them I realized that one of them was waiting since 6.30pm for her turn to dance. Mine was at 9.20pm. I again went to Probal Gupta to ask his time slot. He told me very curtly that he will talk to me later. I thought he was watching Sonal Mansingh. Later the way he avoided me made me realize that I did some thing to set him off. Was it becoz I am not as big a name as he thinks he is, or is it becoz he can’t handle a disarming smile and a friendly gesture from a co-artiste.
Time was running out. There was another Kathak artiste, student of Birju Maharaj I guess, who had to catch the ssame bus to Chennai as I. He went and requested a couple of artists including Probal if they could cut a couple of minutes down, then he can manage 5-10 minutes of his slot and them be on time to catch the bus. They all said it was fine. But acutally exceede their alloted time. Prema, Probal were before me. Then the Kathak artist. He came to me with the same request and I told him I will do 10 min of my 20 mins alloted time. Both him and the organizer were happy.
When an artist is given time, is it not good to stick to that time. This goes for Sonal Mansigh too. The bigger celebrity you become, is it not good that you set standards and examples. It was as if this was the last stage on which these dancers will ever dance. Prema danced 3min more than her time, Probal danced for more than half hour. Me and the Kathak artist were down to 10 mins each. When him and the organizer thanked me for being understanding, I told them audible enought to other dancers, dancing is not just moving your hands and legs in coordination. Its a spritual experiance that comes from within. It starts from understanding, oneself and others. This is what my guru taught me. If I have to make a mark, then I dont need half hour for it.
I was a part of another festival where this artist was made to stop dancing as he exceeded his alloted time, by stopping the music. In retrospect I dont tthink it was a bad idea. We all are educated enough to understand that 20 minutes never means 21 or 25 minutes. I request the organizers too to please in future, when you give an artist a time, make it amply clear that they have to be in that time – no matter how big a celebrity he/she be.


Laya Lasya coverage in The Times of India: Leading Indian daily

17/06/2008

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More the styles, the merrier’ – says kuchipudi artiste Mrinalini Sadananda

17/06/2008

Mrinalini Sadananda, a seasoned Kuchipudi dancer from the U.S. and one of the senior disciples of Dr. Vempati Chinna Satyam, lives in Washington and runs a dance school there. Her school, Kalamadapam, follows the gurukula style of imparting artistic knowledge to people through kuchipudi, carnatic music, violin and yoga. Mrinalini Sadananda hails from a family of artistes. Her father, Vinjamuri Parthasarathy Iyengar, and mother, Kamala Devi, nurtured each of their seven children into one art form or another. Her uncle is the famous and distinguished composer Vinjamuri Varadaraja Iyengar.20081003mrinalini

Mrinalini was introduced to dance at a very young age. Her gurus include, among others, her own sister Hemalatha, Burra Subramanya Sastry, Chinta Raddha Krishnamurty, Adinarayana Sarma, Mahankali Surya Narayana, Sathyapriya Ramana and Dr. Vempati Chinna Sathyam. In addition, her drama teacher, Mandapati Ramalingeswara Rao, helped her understand the importance of facial expressions for which she is very well known. Mallika Jayanti engages Mrinalini Sadananda in a brief conversation.

What is your opinion on so many ever-emerging styles in kuchipudi?
Answer: The more the merrier.

How do the Americans react to Kuchipudi?
Answer: They are fascinated by our discipline. They consider our art as one of the finest forms of dance.

Of late, there have been discussions on the commercialization of classical dance by the NRIs in the U.S. What have you witnessed in this regard?

Answer: People are people, NRIs or not. I follow gurukaula style. I do not do these big arangetrams. We do nrithya sambhavana. Here the teacher will not receive any money. The student’s dance is the gift to the teacher. In January 2007, I performed nrithya sambhavanain at Music Academy, Chennai. Money given was donated to Dr. Ambika Kameswari’s organization for mentally challenged children.

How important is a formal degree or an arangetram for a Bhartanatyam dancer?
Answer: Arangetram has become a big fashion. I am not for spending so much. If this money is spent to help poor students, that will be fabulous.

The audiences are demanding short, crisp and fast items, if at all they want to watch a classical dance. Due to this, performing even a shabdam has become a rarity. What is your comment on this? How relevant is it to continue learning padams and bhamakalapam (especially) for the present day performer?
Answer: One must learn all the intricate items. However, one need not perform these if the audience is not for it; after all we have an obligation to please them within certain guidelines.

Have you done any experiments with music, costume, colours or margam of kuchipudi? What changes do you want to see in the future of Kuchipudi?
Answer: Certain imagination is welcome. Costumes have to be modest. Yet, they can be modern. If we are doing a ballet, imagination is necessary. I am an advocate of creativity. I do mix both south Indian and north Indian carnatic and Hindustani ragas in my ballets.

Many Bharatanatyam dancers are trained in other dance forms. Is it necessary to learn odissi or kathak or kathakali or kuchipudi simultaneously to gain competitive edge?
Answer: I have learnt kuchipudi and also bharathanatyam. It is nice to know other styles. This will enhance our appreciation of other art forms. We will be more open while choreographing.

Tell us about your productions and the inception of the idea. How difficult or easy is to find suitable artists?
Answer: My first production was Sarvam Vishumayam. Our local S.S V.T asked me to do a ballet. I was knave about the difficulties and said yes. Most of my students at that time were in their teens and not ready for any big challenges. So, I had to get creative to cast all these kids in the ballet. I did not have costumes and required props for this show. The lyrics and the music needed to be set. Humongous tasks were left in front of me. My sister Nalini Ram took the responsibility of writing the play. My brother Subhash Vinjamuri, a violinist and a disciple of Brahmanand Naidu, took up this challenge. The kids’ parents began to paint on canvasses. I had to sit and create the dance part. The impossible gained a shape. The ballet was ready. The standing applause gave me the courage to take this show to S.V.T. temple in Pittsburg. We received the same kind of response. Before I know, I started working on the next show, Andal Kalyanam. We staged this in Bridgewater N.J and in Maryland. The show was very well received. Thereafter, we started producing show after show – Ramayanam, Venkateswara Vaibhavam, Sambhavami yuge Yuge, Sharanam Ayappa. Then, we were given an opportunity to perform at the most prestigious Kennedy Centre. People loved our productions. We staged Bharatha Sambhavam, the birth and the glory of India. Things began to fall in place. We will be performing Andal kalynam this January in Virginia and Maryland during the Pongal time.

Mrinalini Sadananda can be contacted at Cell. 703 – 332 – 9360 or 703 – 879 – 6090 and her website address is: www.kalamadapam.org
Comments
Sangeetha
I think it is Dr. Ambika Kameswar’s “RASA” that is being spoken about here. I would like to share a thought here. While a `grand’ arangetram itself may not be a requirement, a proper exposure to the stage craft is necessary for a dancer, who aims to be a performer. Arangetram today is viewed more in terms of the money spent. It should rather be looked at as a graduation process of a student, wherein she learns not only to train herself to present a 2-21/2 hour recital but also to help her polish all aspects of the art that have been learned under the eyes of a trained guru. The arangetram training with good gurus is like 3-4 hours of rigorous training for 5-6 months, around 5 days a week. This definitely cannot be slighted. The process, if rightly done, does mature the student in terms of her performance skills. This experience in itself is of great value to a dancer.

Lalita Srinivas – lalita.musa@gmail.com
Learning dance – be it through gurukula style or otherwise – has never been inexpensive as Ms. Sadananda states, especially in the U.S. Many teachers say gurukula. What does gurukula mean? From what I see, talent and promotion of the student go hand in hand with what one can bring to the table. Parents needs to join together and set up a forum to see classical art is not misused by teachers, and the sacredness to learning our art is maintained.

Please  note that this  interview has already been published in http://www.carnaticdarbar.com.


Vikram Gaud, the man with a mission

17/06/2008

Please take a good look at the picture beside you. This is the kind of face onevikram-gaud would want to see often given the present cultural scenario in India. Here I am being very specific to the plight of classical dances, in general, and upcoming classical dancers in India/abroad, in particular. Why is the face in the picture so special? This is the picture of man on a mission to uplift the sad face of the classical dancers.

Let me start the story by first giving a name to the man in the picture. Meet Mr. B. Vikram Gaud. In the quiet streets of Seetammadhara in Vishakhapatnam there is one Shirdi Marg that boasts of quite a few land marks – a huge and popular Sai Baba temple to start with, and then the house of a mayor. What actually adds beauty to that street is the Natraj Music and Dance Academy. This music and dance school is the brain child of Vikram.
Basically having a theatrical background, one cannot help gaping at the huge collage on the side wall of his office that is crowded with photographs of his achievements. One also cannot help wondering about his unwavering commitment to other arts too.

When I put that question to him, he just smiles and reasons it with destiny. “God has just ordered me, so I walk this path. I love art, both as a connoisseur/rasika and as an artiste. Yes, I am from theatre. In theatre, one learns to appreciate all forms of art,” says he.

At this point, one remembers the much-talked about cultural even of Vishakhapatnam in the past year, 2008. Vikram was the brain and body behind the Vysaki Nrutyotsav. This enormous all-India classical dance festival was single handedly organized by Vikram. “I have to thank God, the participants, my friends and all those who were involved,” says he. This is very humble of him. That is another quality of a complete gentleman and a true artiste. Personally, I have seen him run from pillar to post to get sponsors. I have also seen him get nervous when the chief guest did not arrive on time. I have also seen him put hefty sum of money out of his own pocket while the sponsors backed off the last minute. Well, I have also seen him handle deftly handle the problems that go with organizing such a mega event. He pulled it off wonderfully, keeping his cool all the time. It is indeed a greater challenge to present such a festival to a highly unmotivated audience. Most of the audience did not understand Kathak but enjoyed it nevertheless. The media gave rave reviews for the festival and each artiste was happy. Ask him how and Vikram smiles again! “I am just honest to art and to people.’’ He explains.

Vikram also organized a dance festival again with the disabled artistes on the World Disability Day. Vikram Goud is convinced that there should be someone to preserve the classical arts. He feels responsible for this task. He feels for the great gurus who are finding it difficult to get a square meal in a day. Once, he sent me to one such great Guru to learn Kuchipudi. That is all it took him to make me his team member.

“I am not against Bollywood dances or any type of dancing. All such dancers and teachers are doing well. I feel all forms of art are difficult. But most of the gurus of classical art are suffering. Most of the ones who are doing well are because of their greediness and not due to their generosity in teaching.” Do I disagree? NO.

What makes Vikram Goud and the like stand out is the fact that they are not only performing artistes but also great rasikas. They do not just sit and complain about lack of opportunities but create them for many.

Vikram loves to give opportunity to the talented than the reputed. He is one of those few people who practice what they preach when they say that ‘it’s not all about money’. Bring in a child who is interested, let alone talented, in dance or music and Vikram and his Natraj Music and Dance Academy will not even talk of fees. The author is a living witness to this commitment. This is one more reason why Natraj Music and Dance Academy is the right place for learning. It has not only some of the finest teachers and books on art to learn from, but one ends up being a very good and complete human being and an artist amongst such committed and passionate people.

This country needs youth like Vikram Goud, especially when there are so many not so motivated audience, unwilling sponsors, greedy artistes and uninterested organizers.

I am happy as a rasika and as an artiste. As long as there are Vikram Gouds, there is hope. One is assured that ‘it is not all about money’.

Vikram can be contacted at vikram_natyam@yahoo.com
Mobile : 0-9848137445

Please note that this article is already published in http://www.carnaticdarbar.com


Rational Thinking

17/06/2008

Still thinking of what would be the appropriate title for these personal musings.

Why doest it take Vatican to recognise our belief in a Nun?

Why a nun, hardly known outside a fixed radius is cheered for her sainthood, while our own Sai babas are eyed with a lot of suspicion?

Why the dead hold more importance and sanctity than the alive?

Why do we have more trust on the doings of the one who is dead and gone and no faith in the ability and words of the one in flesh and blood?