Tribute to Rafi by Biju Nair, Aishwarya Kasinathan, Kavya Maiya, Sanjay Singh, Pradeep Patkar at Chowdiah Memorial Hall
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Questionings – Rukmini Chatterjee and Vreid at Chowdiah Memorial Hall, Bangalore
“I see a world where the streets are full of blood
Where cows eat meat
Where prostitutes are Goddesses
Where mothers fornicate with their sons
Yes I see this world.”
– Indian Dancer
“I see the same world.”
– Black metal musician
Clearly, this was an unconventional start to what I thought would be just another fusion concert. Rukmini Chatterjee, however, does not believe in fusion. She presents a meeting of art, where each retains its original form. Her choreography contrasts cultures and artistic vocabulary around a central theme to create the final experience of universal beauty. Her production on these lines in the past include: Bharatanatyam, Kathak, European ballet, North/South Indian classical music and European classical music, Bharatanatyam, Carnatic music, Western Classical music and Kalaripayattu and Kathak, Bharatanatyam and Flamenco.
Her latest work, titled Questionings – Reflections on the Kaliyug, brings together Kathak, Bharatanatyam, Indian Classical Percussion and Nordic Black Metal, the metal being supplied by Norwegian band Vreid (wrath). The lyrical content for their albums works with concepts on War, and this provides a common vision to deliver the higher message about mankind and his greed – draining nature’s resources to spell doom for our existence. The execution was beyond what I could imagine.
The space onstage could comfortably accommodate the Kathak dancers, a Pearl drum kit and the percussionists on tabla and mridangam – who were all lined next to each other on a riser to the left. The center rear space was filled by a big circular ‘eye’ meant for the stunning visuals courtesy H.C. Gilge. The stage space had the four members of the band positioned equidistantly and from the perspective of the dancers, represented an alternate energy to be interacted with throughout the show.
The performance started on a mildly disturbing but powerful sequence, with the performers solemnly taking their positions to a Shloka chant. The first movement presented a form of Creation, kicking straight into a heavy growl and riff section and then moving on to a Kathak sequence featuring siblings Anuj and Smriti Mishra. The second section, describing Preservation, had the two dancers bringing two white spheres and placing them on the floor, which had a face of a girl projected onto each while they narrated an account of our self-destructive path, begging for realization.
Rukmini’s graceful Bharatanatyam postures angled against the driving, heavy riffs brought a sense of irony and balance of extreme black costumes against white cotton, her movements and gestures speaking of great pain, anger and suffering. For the final movement of Destruction, everyone seemed to be whirling to a primal rhythm. Between the metal form and the classical, the movement turned about itself, much like the spirals that washed the stage and the performers from a black/white contrast to a complete stage fade, leaving behind only silhouettes and faded traces of the swirling musical chaos.
The experience was overwhelming, from the cycles of innumerable Kathak Chakkars, to the precision of metal technicality, to the range of emotions a dancer can express. This was more than bridging two opposing cultures together; it was the energy beyond its manifestation that brought the art forms closer to each other, to work in such harmony. Perhaps it’s the convergence of so many emotions and senses by arts of diverse nature that makes a performance like this ill-apt to be described in meager words.
Witnessing the Splendor of Masters
When a leading newspaper advertised the ‘Splendor of Masters’ show, the first thing that drew attention was the eclectic mix of musicians roped in to perform under the aegis of the performing arts company, Banyan Tree. With my nose wrinkled due to the lack of a bassist in an ensemble that contained flutes, saxophone, tabla, drums and a harp, I warily approached the venue looking for a parking space for the car, and as I quickly found out, parking at the Chowdiah Memorial Hall was a pain in the clutch box.
The warning bell proved to be a useful system to usher in the crowd. The lights dimmed and then brightened up again, whetting the musical appetites that I’m sure the close-packed audience had. Quite the anticlimax, but I was glad the show started on time, and when the curtains drew to reveal a 6-foot high glistening harp that drew oohs and aahs, I was willing to bet the collective thought at that point in time was: we’re in for a treat.
Gwyneth Wentink played three classical pieces in all, and took pains to harp about the harp in an amusing (and not so condescending) way. To say that the performance was soul-stirring would be an understatement; her performance showcased not only her skill, but her understanding of the Indian audience’s ability to appreciate the technicalities of Western classical music.
Right after this, Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia (flute), his protégé, and Subhankar Bannerjee (tabla) concluded the first half of the show on a slightly soporific note, not to say that what they played was bad in any way, but a lilt and a skip here and there would have ensured that three of my neighboring audience members did not drift away into sweet slumber. (Or was it intentional?)
A ten-minute breather after this first section saw samosa-lovers proceeding to the kiosk outside while strict crew members ensured that no one sneaked eatables into the auditorium. Kudos to the crew and ushers: who manned the isles during the show, urging people to turn off their cell phones, the eternal curse of gigs, or helping restless babies’ parents and restless parents’ babies to exit the auditorium, for obvious reasons.
George Brooks walked onto stage ‘blowing his own trumpet,’ nodding his head and dancing to his own tune on a tenor sax and dished out a groovy piece with Gino Banks displaying his skill on the drum kit. I thought the bass drum seemed too boomy initially, but as we settled into the ‘groove’, the feeling went away: either due to acclimatization, or because it sounded so bloody good, thanks to Mr. Banks finesse on the drum kit.
The grand finale with all the musicians present was delightful, and what helped was the excellent sound at this venue on this day. The western instrument players displayed their feel for the nuances of Indian classical music, and Panditji was phenomenal in the way he led the troupe. He humored the crowd after an encore, and played a piece each in the Hamsadhvani and Pahadi ragas.
Banyan Tree intends to bring together Indian and International artistes in this manner, and if they pull off a gig such as this, rest assured, I’ll be there.