The great award fiesta
The dance performances at the Sangeet Natak Akademi award festival seemed a microcosm of the prevailing conditions on the art scene.
RISING TO THE OCCASION Guru Pasumarthi Seetha Ramiah with Swapnasundari. PHOTO: SANGEET NATAK AKADEMI
The Sangeet Natak Akademi award festival that took place this past week at several venues in the Capital exemplified in a way, the state of affairs in the field of culture and the way awards are doled out by state bodies.
While some of the performances were top grade, making audiences proud that the country has produced such artistes who take their chosen form and India's reputation to great heights, others made one wonder just how it was possible to dole out this highest of honours in the performing arts with such crass carelessness.
No doubt, art is a subjective area and it is difficult to arrive at a consensus, but once it has been decided to give incentives in the form of awards and recognitions, the least the deciding agencies can do is to establish some measurable parameters to go by.
The immeasurable criteria come into the picture only later. However that may be, perhaps we should be happy that some `reforms' if they may be so called are taking place. In this year's list of awardees we don't find the names of SNA's own Executive Committee members!
Controversy notwithstanding, the festival offered some exemplary performances, and when talking about the arts that trace their roots to the Natya Shastra, it is best to maintain a sthayi bhava of optimism and happiness.
Among the most satisfying evenings was the performance by Guru Pasumarthi Seetha Ramiah, who received the award for his contribution to the field of Kuchipudi, with his senior disciple the eminent Swapnasundari.
VETERANS ALL Bharatanatyam exponent Nirmala Ramachandran and (below) Mohiniattam dancer Kalamandalam Sugandhi performing at the Sangeet Natak Akademi festival. PHOTOS: R.V. MOORTHY
With the guru playing Madhavi, Swapnasundari gave an inspired rendition of an extract from Bhama Kalapam, in which Satyabhama persuades Madhavi to go to Krishna with her message of love and longing.
The theatrical element of the form was at its best in the exchanges between the two, with Guru Pasumarthi's subtle reactions to Satyabhama's overtures bringing in humour.
It must have been a challenge for the disciple in Swapnasundari, as well as rewarding to the accomplished artiste in her, to share the stage with a veteran who could exploit the improvisational possibilities of the form in all their subtlety.
Always known for her exceptional singing abilities and breath control, which raise her Kuchipudi (among other forms she practices) a notch above her co-practitioners today, Swapnasundari (and SNA's technical support team) marked another successful first with the cordless mike attached to her person, serving to amplify her melodious voice and making it so abundantly clear what superb breath control she has. The orchestra comprising Shweta (vocal), Renuka Prasad (mridangam), Ravi Kiran (flute) and Chander Rao (violin), with Delhi's own Thanjavur Keshavan providing nattuvangam, added to the charm.
Another fine performance was by veteran Guru Nirmala Ramachandran, who received the award for Bharatanatyam. She decided to present abhinaya in a seated posture, accompanied by flute (A.V. Unnikrishnan) and mridangam (Raghuprasad) as in a vocal recital.
With her soft sparkling eyes and an innocent yet mobile face, the kind that ages gracefully, she delineated compositions by great masters interspersed with succinct explanations in a performance whose dignity fitted the occasion.
Among them was "Indendu vachitivira" featuring the khandita nayika who resorts to sarcasm to chide the hero for having gone to the other woman, asking why how come he has come here, whether he has lost his way and intended to go to the other woman.
"Tiruvattriyur Tyagaraja" was a piece in which shringar was displayed with an abandon born of total devotion but never short of decorum, while "Varugalamo Ayya" was steeped in bhakti.
The recital of Kalamandalam Sugandhi that came next left much to be desired. Considered a good teacher, she could have saved the situation by asking one or more of her students to dance as many of the veterans did.
Even the orchestra started off on an inauspicious note, quite literally, having abandoned the shruti. At least for a performance of this level one would expect the artiste to take the trouble to work with a set of high calibre musicians.
One wondered whether there is anything like respect left among the busy `professionals', both administrators and performers, for the tenets on which Indian arts are based.
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Chennai and Tamil Nadu