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Pulse south asian music and dance

Winter 2013 - #123

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INSIDE Kala Sangam 20th Anniversary In the Frame Red Dress Project Reviews Korzo Indian Dance Festival • Swati Dance Co • Sadhana Dance • Daredevas • Amina Khayyam DC • Navodit • RUDRA • Shobana Jeyasingh Co • Darbar Festival


Dancing through the decades Dr Stacey Prickett

Sudha Ragunathan Sangita Kalanidhi Arun Ghosh Clarinettist Composer Shankar Behera Guru Mohapatra award

sound in print


connecting asian dance and music communities

Swadesh The soul of India A new dance commission exploring the country within Mythili Prakash | Monisa Nayak | Arushi Mudgal

March 7 2014 / The Capstone Theatre, Liverpool March 8 2014 / Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, London TICKETS ON SALE SOON

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Sat 26 July - Sat 2 August 2014 Liverpool, United Kingdom A unique week-long residential school with intensive training offered in Bharatanatyam, Odissi & Kathak by top performers and teachers of India. An incredible opportunity to completely immerse yourself in the world of Indian dance through a wide-ranging programme filled with high power training, lecture demonstrations, debates, discussions and evening performances. As a unique dance movement, the school supports the learning, development and performance of Indian dance across the globe, with schools now taking place in both the UK and Singapore. New faculty, course structure and evening festival programme to be announced soon!

For more info and to request an application form please email or call +44 151 291 3949. Produced by


Pulse Winter 2013 — Issue 123 ISSN 1476-6019 Published by Kadam Asian Dance and Music c/o The Hat Factory, 65-67 Bute Street, Luton LU1 2EY +44 (0) 1582 876 038 Editorial Team Commissioning Editor Sanjeevini Dutta


123/Contents 14


2 Editorial 3 News 5 Listings 6

Transforming the British Dance Ecology – In a preview from her new book, Embodied Politics, Dr Stacey Prickett shares her analysis of how South Asian dance has grown to become part of the British cultural consciousness since the 1970s.


Sudha Ragunathan – She headlined at this year’s Darbar Festival and will soon be receiving the Sangita Kalanidhi, Carnatic music’s highest award; but this remarkable singer says that she almost drifted into music. Ken Hunt gives us the background.


In Profile – Jayashree Sundaresan Bharatanatyam dancer Jayashree Sundaresan prepares to fulfil an ambition by dancing in Mumbai and Chennai.


In The Frame: The Red Dress Project Simon Richardson captures Manuela Benini in her Red Dress against the backdrop of the River Thames.


Arun Ghosh – Clarinettist-Composer Breaking Ground This energetic and engaging musician talks to Ken Hunt about his musical explorations since he first picked up a recorder at school in Bolton.


Dance in the Community Kala Sangam – Arts for Social Cohesion Twentieth Anniversary Celebrations Kala Sangam’s Director Dr Geetha Upadhyaya tells Annapoorna Kuppuswamy about how this established part of Bradford’s cultural life has developed over two decades.


Guru Shankar Behera Bringing odissi to Europe via Mumbai An exclusive interview by Ileana Citaristi with Guru Shankar Behera, recipient of the Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra award 2013 for lifetime achievement in odissi dance.


Reviews Dance Festival Korzo Indian Dance Festival


Dance Performance Basant Bells (Swati Dance Company) Under My Skin (Sadhana Dance)

Assistant Editor Gopa Roy Assistants Jahnavi Harrison, Katie Ryan Design Art Director Pritpal Ajimal Photography Director Simon Richardson Subscriptions & Advertising


Contacts Disclaimer Pulse is published by Kadam Asian Dance and Music. Kadam are a part of SADA (South Asian Dance Alliance). No part of the magazine may be reproduced in any form without the written permission of the publisher. Copyright of the text is shared with its authors. Copyright of the photographs/images reside with contributing photographers/ artists. All other rights reserved. The views/opinions expressed in Pulse are the authors’ and not necessarily those of the editor or publisher. While reasonable effort has been made to avoid errors, no liability will be accepted for any that may have inadvertently occurred.


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Annual subscription £32 with free delivery Cheques payable to Kadam, c/o The Hat Factory, 65-67 Bute Street, Luton LU1 2EY. For online subscriptions and payments please visit Published by



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Pulse serves the arts sector by recording, critiquing, profiling and archiving South Asian dance and music in the UK through Pulse magazine and the website: The magazine relies solely on income from subscriptions, advertising and donations. All donations welcome through our website Kadam forms part of the SADA Alliance

Contents Page Photo Credits

FC Sufi:Zen / Photo: Simon Richardson 2

6 9 12 14 19 20

Mythili Prakash, Monisa Nayak and Arushi Mudgal | Photo: Milapfest/ Sunny Lamba Sapnay | Photo: Pete Schiazza Sudha Ragunatha | Photo: Amutham Music Manuela Benini | Photo: Simon Richardson Arun Ghosh | Photo: Melissa Lane Porter Guru Shankar Behera | Photo: Simon Richardson Shailesh Bahoran | Photo: Raymond Den Ujil

23 24

Daredevas (Akademi) Yerma (Amina Khayyam Company) Navodit (Kaleel Anwar, Sanjay Shetty and Pranav Yajni) RUDRA (Manasamitra) Strange Blooms/Configurations (Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company) Music Performance Transposed Rhythm and the Saraswati Veena Iconic Sitar to Mesmerising Carnatic Ragas WINTER 2013 PULSE 1


Letter from the Editor

Looking Ahead

We draw the year to a close with a spectacular cover (photo: Simon Richardson) that rings out blue skies and a leap by our dancers, echoing the feature Dancing Through the Decades. Dr Stacey Prickett charts how South Asian dance has found a variety of ways to embed itself into the British mainstream. The move has been helped by state funding and enterprising leaders seizing those opportunities, by large-scale performances in public spaces and by the profile of the star choreographer Akram Khan whose piece for the Olympic Games was watched by a potential billion people. Prickett argues that South Asian dance is now assured a place in the mainstream of the UK’s cultural and artistic landscape. The autumn season has been rich in both music and dance programmes. The Darbar Festival of North and South Indian classical music truly took off this year with several soldout performances. Ken Hunt gives an in-depth profile of the Carnatic vocalist Sudha Ragunathan, featured at Darbar, who is due to receive the most prestigious of awards by the Music Academy in Chennai. Also appearing in this issue is the jazz clarinettist Arun Ghosh, who relishes working across genres and with a variety of art forms such as theatre and dance. Pulse launched a new initiative, the Pulse Dance Audience Club which went to the season’s most exciting programmes: Amina Khayyam DC’s Yerma and the première of Shobana Jeyasingh DC’s Strange Blooms/Configurations. Post-performance discussions revealed a range and diversity of views. Yerma, for instance, did better with the audience than the critic; some members finding the emotional impact incredibly powerful. There was also a lively divide between the classicists who loved Configurations, the re-worked Jeyasingh signature piece which uses bharatanatyam, and those who preferred the frenetic, charged, densely complex and unpredictable Strange Blooms. If we are to embed dance into people’s hearts, it seems to require the same kind of attention and seriousness as the act of reading a book or visiting an exhibition. Furthermore, the act of describing what we have seen and articulating our responses to it helps to ‘fix’ the dance in the mind. Finally we feature Guru Shankar Behera, the recipient of the Kelucharan Mohapatra award for services to bringing odissi to Europe. The grace and dignity of the artist is captured by the lense of Simon Richardson for perpetuity. Pulse looks forward to publishing ventures in 2014, both in print and online, but also to organising face-to-face discussions as a counterbalance to screen time. Look out for more events at which we can meet and engage in those issues that really matter to us. Meanwhile, continue to send us your news, listings and ideas for stories. Have a peaceful and joyful Festive Season. Sanjeevini Dutta


Monisa Nayak, Arushi Mudgal and Mythili Prakash Photo: Milapfest/Sunny Lamba

Dear Readers

Swadesh Swadesh, the most ambitious of Milapfest’s commissions, premières at the Capstone Theatre Liverpool and the Bhavan Centre London in March 2014. Swadesh features three dancers of the new generation, each regarded as a torch-bearer in her respective form. As the title suggests, Swadesh or ‘Homeland’ examines the individual dancer’s and the collective unconscious response to the term ‘India’. Says Dance Development Director Archana Sashtri, “It is extremely important that we are able to weave together the ideas (of India) to tell a story.” Sanjeevini Dutta talks to the three dancers. “It is not hard to create a piece,” says Arushi Mudgal, odissi dancer, “but what is hard to achieve is the soul of the piece.” Each of the three dancers is aware of the significance of the opportunity of receiving an international commission. They have been assigned the responsibility of creating their individual solos, while the ensemble sections that bring odissi (Arushi Mudgal), bharatanatyam (Mythili Prakash) and kathak (Monisa Nayak) together will be a collaborative venture between the three artists. They have already tested the waters with a set of rehearsals in Chennai to lay the foundations of their relationship and working style.

Monisa Nayak remarked on the commonalities between the dancers: “Perhaps because of the beliefs and values of our gurus and parents, we were like joined by one thread.” Arushi and Mythili both agreed that sharing of common aesthetic sensibilities was fundamental to a successful collaboration. However, there are differences in the dancers’ backgrounds with Mythili straddling the space between Chennai and LA, while Monisa and Arushi have grown up in India, so their views on India must necessarily differ. As Monisa muses, Indian classical dance is so steeped in ‘Indianness’ that extracting that essence, standing apart from it, is the challenge. Therefore it is not surprising that when asked what was the most important concept or emotion about India that the dancers wanted to convey, Arushi said to her it was India’s ‘spirituality’ while Mythili wanted to tease out the ‘contradiction’ that is India, specially with regard to its attitudes to ‘religion and spirituality’. Monisa wanted to convey the history and evolution of dance, from temple, to court and the stage, following the history of the nation itself. Mythili is apprehensive and excited in equal measure about tackling the ‘abstract’ nature of her take on India, namely the contradictions inherent in the society. One wonders if she will create a nritta capable of expressing such a thought, or music and dance that deliberately go against each other? Mythili gives a word of caution to audiences to expect “an experimental piece, a first draft and not a finished product”. Arushi sums up the heart of the matter: “A true work of art can only be made with self-belief and honesty… when you are completely honest with your art form is when you succeed in creating a piece that is capable of evoking rasa.” The young dancers can expect a curious UK audience who will be testing their own responses to ‘India’, matching these up to the artists visions. And of course if the rasa is flowing, as the dancers hope, all contradictions will be washed away in experiencing the unity of the dance.


PURUSH: The Wondrous Global Dancing Winters in Male Chennai Chennai’s five-day festival ‘PURUSH: The Global Dancing Male’, created and curated by Dr. Anita Ratnam and cocurated by Hari Krishnan, features performances by established and emerging male dancers. PURUSH also includes discussions and panel presentations with leading international scholars from the fields of dance history, cultural studies and gender studies. Leela Venkataraman, India’s best-known dance critic, will give the opening address. Joining her will be author and mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik. Annapoorna Kuppuswamy gives us a preview: “A quick glance at the programme gives an inkling of what to expect. ‘Patriarchy, sexuality and performance’ in the context of the Indian dancing male evokes strong views. But the panel for this session is neither Indian nor male: not that one needs to be Indian or male to discuss these issues, but an insider’s view will be missing. However, I can imagine the difficulty in finding someone willing to engage with this issue in a public forum, especially as India is still largely a very traditional

society with a long list of subjects taboo in public discussion. The other panel discussions are seemingly less controversial and it will be a delight to hear

Anita Ratnam | Photo: Courtesy of the artist

from masters of the various styles of bharatanatyam. I have seen many of the female gurus on one platform on more than one occasion but it is not very often one sees all the male gurus together, so this will be a rare opportunity. The performances are going to be of a high calibre with some of the best-known artists of the younger generation and the not-so-young performing and we also have an open-air performance of theeru-koothu! It is all very exciting – and throw in

Hari Krishnan | Photo: Courtesy of the artist

the general Mylapore atmosphere with early-morning temple bells, margazhi street bhajans and the street food, it certainly puts a smile on my face.” PURUSH: the Global Dancing Male 18 – 22 December 2013 | Alliance Française & Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mylapore, Chennai The author will be reporting back from the PURUSH: The Global Dancing Male Conference on

If you are a first-timer, it is absolute chaos. It will take you a little while to understand the method in the madness. So what is this whole hullabaloo about the famous ‘Chennai Season’? December in the Gregorian calendar falls right in the second half of the traditional Hindu solar calendar, the month of ‘Margazhi’ (pronounced as Maar/ Ga/RRi); a time frame crammed with historical and mythological stories. It is especially holy – the god Krishna refers to this month as one of his many manifestations. As the sun transits through the zodiac of Sagittarius, it brings in a new energy and warmth for the winter. Across the land, spiritual fervour soars, and in Tamil Nadu, the songs of the Alwar saints are sung to invoke God’s grace. The pursuit of music and dance that was once the preserve of the artists based in temples lost that connection with the founding of a secular democratic India and the dissolution of the princely states that had been their patrons. These art forms migrated from the temples to the proscenium stage. However, to this day the content of dance and music remains the same – an offering to the gods, performed in their service. Therefore when the Madras Music Academy started to programme music events annually in 1928, it was already building on the religious arts performances such as traditional story-telling with songs known as harikathas. Over the decades, this collection of concerts and performances came to be known as the ‘December Season’. Being a holiday period, local, national and the diasporic audiences with a particular ear for Carnatic music flock to Chennai venues. The ‘Mecca of Carnatic music’ erupts into little pockets of performance spaces (over

500 at the last count) hosting a staggering number of 7000 concerts. Performances, academic discussions, seminars, debates, reviews and fan followings are the flavour of this season. One should not forget to mention the excellent South Indian filter coffee and the equally phenomenal food that fuels the audiences between the performances. Veejay Sai (Writer, editor and a culture critic) From the UK, Divya Kasturi will be presenting Darshan and NowHere- please see listings

AURA-Aurangabad A unique classical dance concert series named AURA-Aurangabad has been launched this winter. The aim is to illuminate for tourists and visitors the abundant

Photo: Courtesy of the AURA-Aurangbad

diverse legends and monuments of the Aurangabad region. Directed by Parwati Dutta, the Mahatma Gandhi Mission Sangeet Academy, Aurangabad (MAHAGAMI) and dancers from Mumbai, Pune, Chennai and Delhi will present kathak, odissi, bharatanatyam, mohiniattam and kuchipudi. Until 5 January 2014. Information: +91 9372093189 / +91 240 2482919 AuraAurangabad



Temple Series and Temples Tour In 2014 Pulse readers can look forward to being inspired in their appreciation of the architecture and sculpture of Hindu temples with a series of richly-illustrated articles by Doria Tichit. For those who would like to pursue the quest further, there will be a Temples Tour to India in 2015, with the guidance of Dr Tichit, who is an expert on South Asian sculpture and architecture, and Kadam Dance. The group will have the opportunity not just to visit some wonderful temples and sites, but to experience dance performances such as those by MAHAGAMI.

Competition: ‘Inspired By My Museum’ Sampad South Asian Arts and British Council India have together launched a major new international writing competition called ‘Inspired By My Museum’. Budding writers are invited to record and share their personal reactions or experiences inspired by a visit to a museum. Entries can be in the form of a poem, short story or reportage and entrants can take their inspiration from the museum space, architecture, design, a specific object or objects within the museum, or even the museum/exhibition curator. The competition is open to any writer from anywhere in the world between the ages of 16 and 35. The winning entries will be published in a special commemorative book next year. This competition follows the overwhelming success of ‘Inspired by Tagore’, which celebrated the 150th birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore and triggered more than 1,500 entries from thirty-seven countries across the world. The last date for entries is Monday 10 February 2014. or www.

Hofesh Shechter to direct Brighton Festival 2014 Choreographer, musician, composer and performer Hofesh Shechter is to be 2014 Guest Director of Brighton 4 PULSE WINTER 2013

Festival. Shechter is known for the atmospheric musical compositions that complement the physicality of his dance creations. His Company’s brand-new work Sun – cocommissioned by Brighton Festival – will open the three– week multi–arts festival on Saturday 3 May when it comes ‘home’ at the conclusion of its first world tour. As Guest Director, Shechter follows in the footsteps of visual artist Anish Kapoor (2009), musician Brian Eno (2010), Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi (2011), actress and human rights campaigner Vanessa Redgrave (2012) and poet, author and former Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen (2013) in shaping the Brighton Festival programme. “To be asked to lead this amazing event in 2014 ... well, delighted, is just a boring word.”

Alchemy Festival 2014 The Southbank Centre’s Alchemy Festival has established itself as a major event in the calendar and will be celebrating its first five years in 2014. The first dates have been announced for the 2014 Festival:

Glancing Back Creative Collaborations Akram Khan Company is known for its intercultural, interdisciplinary collaborations; its productions, rooted in kathak and contemporary dance, challenge conventional ideas

Kalakshetra technique comes to Liverpool

Akram Khan | Photo: Jean Louis Fernandez

of traditional dance forms. The Company has begun a two-year partnership with the University of the Arts London. As Resident Practitioner, the Company is leading a programme of events predominantly for students of the university at Central Saint Martins and Wimbledon College of Art, curated by the Company’s artistic director, choreographer and performer Akram Khan: “I am confident that these young creators-in-the-making and our guest artists will nurture one another. The arts allow us to think differently … There is nothing more exciting!”

Face to Face Face to Face, the networking evening organised by Pulse and hosted at the Bhavan Centre on 5 July has produced its first results. Anoushka Shankar | Photo: Harper Smith

Soumik Datta (‘Britain’s most exciting sarod player’, Songlines), together with his collaborator, drummer Bernhard Schimpelsberger, mark the launch of their second album Anti-hero. The event features special guest, Nitin Sawhney. 22 May 2014 | Queen Elizabeth Hall The classical and experimental sitar player Anoushka Shankar will be performing as part of the celebration of the Festival’s fifth birthday. 23 May 2014 | Royal Festival Hall

music and dance, with musicians Niraj Chag and Arun Ghosh and dancers/choreographers Mayuri Boonham and Urja Desai Thakore. One theme to emerge from lively discussion was that South Asian culture should be brought ‘out of the ghetto’: young kathak and street dancer Astha Desai is busy working on her idea of a viral video. Cross-arts connections have also been made: Arun Ghosh played at an event in this autumn’s South Asian Literature Festival, and Pulse is looking forward to working with SALF.

Students in the Dance, Drama and Performance Department at Liverpool Hope University are being introduced to bharatanatyam, with elements of abhinaya and storytelling

Leela Samson | Photo: Courtesy of the artist

– aspects of dance not much covered in their current study. Bharatanatyam dancer, teacher and choreographer Leela Samson has been welcomed as the university’s first Visiting Professor in classical Indian dance. She is working with dance students to develop their vocabulary and understanding of Indian dance. Outside the university, Leela will be working with the ISTD to develop the skills of Indian dance teachers across the UK. She will also be part of the university and Milapfest’s joint venture in creating an International Centre for Indian Arts at Liverpool Hope.

Face to Face panel and participants Photos: Simon Richardson

The pleasures of sharing – Pulse Dance (Audience) Club

South Asian dancers and musicians were invited to an evening of dialogue and discussion to help forge links between the worlds of

Shobana Jeyasingh’s TooMortal and Amina Khayyam’s Yerma were this autumn’s choices for


the first outings of the Dance Club. Dance-goers and those less familiar with dance watched the performances together; afterwards they discussed their reactions with professional dance-watcher Sanjoy Roy. The two very different works – one a short, intense piece contained within the pews of a church, the other a new interpretation of a tragic play by the Spanish playwright Lorca – elicited a wide range of responses. Part of the pleasure of experiencing a performance – like reading a book – is to be able to discuss it, and the December outing to see Shobana Jeyasingh’s new

without extra information. The costumes and textiles, colours





Music Dhol Foundation St George’s, Bristol


Exhibition The Singing Playground Rich Mix, London

71 June

Exhibition Indian Art Through the Ages Cartwright Hall, Bradford


Music Bengal to Bethnal Green: Yousuf Ali Khan & Grand Union Orchestra Rich Mix, London

Theatre Well: Metta Theatre Hat Factory, Luton 8


12 Chitra Sundaram | Photo: Vipul Sangoi

and symbols provide visual and intellectual pleasure. The production made one feel the abiding power and pull of these myths, and the necessity of subverting them.



Instruments India Sanjoy Roy with dance club members

work Strange Blooms, with Configurations, should be as stimulating and rewarding. Pulse looks forward to taking the Dance (Audience) Club into 2014, and is open to approaches from South Asian artists/companies who will be presenting work in London in spring/summer.

Sharing of work in progress: Chitra Sundaram’s Sthreedom– the Good Wife. Notices on an immaculate conception, a crosscultural exploration of chastity myths from Greece and India The piece is rich in thought and texture, exploring the myths of female purity from the viewpoint of the females in question. Fuller programme notes on the myths and their retellings and the meanings of the symbols and colours would have helped the audience; nevertheless the quality of the dance and the presentation, incorporating (often humorous) storytelling, meant it could be enjoyed at another level, even

Music Classical Raag: Jonathan Mayer & Udit Pankhanya Nehru Centre, London

Instruments India is a new free online learning resource providing a guide to the sounds, music and history of Indian music, explored through its instruments. Integrated into Milapfest’s website, Instruments India features high-quality sound recordings, concert clips (audio and video), artist biographies and instrument histories. It has

been designed to engage and encourage new and existing audiences to discover more about Indian classical music. The project is the product of a partnership between Liverpool Hope University and Milapfest. instruments-india

Music Bengal to Bethnal Green: Grand Union Orchestra Rich Mix, London Dance/Music zerOclassikal: Zeroculture, Cockpit, Collage Arts Cockpit, London Dance/Music Kaleidoscope–100 years of Indian Cinema: Nrityakala–The Rhythm Nehru Centre , London Music Indian Gala: Pandit Rajkumar Misra, Sanjay Guha, Balu Raguraman M. Balachandar Bhavan Centre, London Music Mystic Voices: Ashwini Bhide Deshpande & Gundecha Brothers Queen Elizabeth Hall, London Music Mid-day Mantra: Shin Parwana Symphony Hall Cafe Bar: Birmingham

16 / 18

Dance Bharatanatyam recital: Jayashree Sundaresan Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan/ Swatantryaveer Savarkar Auditorium, Mylapore/ Dadar, Chennai

16, 18, Dance 20, 21 Darshan & NowHere: Divya Kasturi & 1 Jan Chennai Cultural Academy; Narada Gana Sabha; Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan; Meenakshi College; Brahma Gana Sabha, Chennai 18

Literature Book Club: Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music Sunley Room, Southbank Centre, London


Dance PURUSH – The Global Dancing Male Alliance Francaise & Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mylapore, Chennai prv771.html



Music Two Rivers: World Sacred Music: Adrian Freeman & Ravi Freeman Strawbale Studio, Epping


Music Carnatic Vocal Concert: T V Sankaranarayanan Bhavan Centre, London


Music Talvin Singh & friends Wiltshire Music Centre, Bradford on Avon


Dance First Light & Choreogata: Seeta Patel, Divya Kasturi, Urja Desai-Thakore Purcell Room, London


Music Seduced by Ragas on the Sitar: Kushal Das & Kumar Bose Queen Elizabeth Hall, London Drama Tamasha Scratch Night: Tamasha Rich Mix, London


Dance Swadesh: Mythili Prakash, Arushi Mudgal, Monisa Nayak Capstone Theatre, Liverpool


Dance Swadesh: Mythili Prakesh, Arushi Mudgal, Monisa Nayak Bhavan Centre, London


Music SAMYO Queen Elizabeth Hall, London


Music Piano and tabla: Anil Srinivasan and Kousic Sen Capstone Theatre, Liverpool


Dance Yerma: Amina Khayyam Dance Company The Riley Theatre, Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Leeds

Dance East End Golpo Rich Mix, London

JANUARY To submit a news story or an event listing, please email

21Exhibition 18 May Sikh Fortress Turban Cartwright Hall, Bradford


Dance Sattriya Dance: Menaka PP Bora Asia House, London


Dance/Music Ratna Award Showcase: Apoorva Jayaraman, Angira Kotal Capstone Theatre, Liverpool


Dance RUDRA: Manasamitra Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield


Lecture Satish Kumar Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre, SOAS, London



Words by Dr Stacey Prickett

When Pulse ran the Critical Writing workshop at the Hat Factory in Luton on 2 August 2013, one of the objectives was to give a background and context, especially to the young writers, on how South Asian dance had evolved in the UK since the mid-Seventies. A happy coincidence was that Dr Stacey Prickett from Roehampton University was putting the finishing touches to her yet-to-be launched book Embodied Politics, which covered some of the same territory.

W  “Some groups are celebrating their third decade of existence”


ith identity politics and issues of representation occupying a significant place in debates about dance, one chapter in my new book is devoted to exploring multiple ways in which South Asian dance has become an integral component of mainstream British culture. Embodied Politics: Dance, Protest and Identities starts in the 1970s and 1980s with shifts in the cultural landscape and engagement with state and cultural institutions. Funding opportunities emerged that were seized upon with a spirit of innovation and determination as support organisations emerged from within the field, offering stability and leadership. Some groups are celebrating their third decade of existence: the National Academy of Indian Dance founded in 1979, now Akademi; the Centre for Indian Classical Dance in Leicester; while Kadam, Sampad South Asian Arts, Milapfest and Kala Sangam all have a history of longevity and creative entrepreneurship. Dance forms such as bharatanatyam and kathak have been institutionalised along the way, not merely through codification of teaching but integrated into dance education and training regimes, shaping perceptions of South Asian dance as carriers of culture and as art forms in their own right. Networking opportunities and support structures have helped diversify the field beyond community foundations. Public performances, free events in urban squares, parks and city streets advanced the processes of expansion, exposing the accidental viewer to new forms of dance while

Transf British D

Dancing through the de

providing professional experience to multiple generations of performers and choreographers. Introducing book material here, I explore some London events which enabled new artistic paths to be forged, celebrating and critiquing narratives of identity and nation. One key marker dates back to 1976. Naseem Khan’s report for the Arts Council, The Arts that Britain Ignores was commissioned prior to the winter of discontent which ushered in a change of government and the election of Margaret Thatcher. Government policies responded to demographic shifts starting in the 1960s with the post-war influx of workers from former colonies from Caribbean islands, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, joined later by East African Indians expelled from Kenya and Uganda. Their families eventually followed, impacting upon education policies as well as bringing questions of race, ethnicity and national identity to the forefront of contemporary consciousness. Grass-roots amateur practices in local community halls, temples and specialist venues such as London’s Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan helped disseminate diasporic dance forms. They survived on private donations and class fees while in London, the left-leaning leader of the Greater London Council Ken Livingstone advocated funding for ethnic minority and gay arts. Arts Council support also began trickling in to South Asian dancers such as Chitra Sundaram who was funded for a national tour as early as 1982. A move into proscenium arch theatres coincided with the broader push to acknowledge the minority ethnic

Awaaz (2006) | Photo: Pete Schiazza

Sapnay (2005) | Photo: Pete Schiazza

forming the Dance Ecology


“A period of phenomenal growth ... increasing professionalisation and codification of classical forms, ranging from the ISTD and the newer offerings of CATS...”

arts in Britain, celebrated by the official launch of the national dance organisation ADiTi in 1989, an event that in retrospect highlighted the trajectory of the field. Khan described how classical and folk dancers gathered near Bradford’s Alhambra Theatre: “At a given signal, the dancers flocked across the street to the pounding insistent thump of the Punjabi dhol. At the theatre, wave upon wave ran in unison to the large glass doors and symbolically beat on them. After the last wave, the Lord Mayor and his wife, grinning from ear to ear, flung open the doors, tossed flower petals under the advancing dancers’ feet and welcomed them in.”1 Almost two decades later in 2007, after a performance of Akademi’s new choreography platform Daredevas, Khan noted how South Asian dancers were able to “take a bow along with the other proper dancers, accepting the warm applause of the South Bank audience as if they were not interlopers and impostors – as if they were really entitled to it!”2 Demographic changes resulted in new, larger communities that differed from the environment Khan wrote about in the 1970s. Practitioners were inspired “to take ‘heritage’ arts beyond the immediate community and make artistic spaces for Indian dance in the mainstream.”3 The limitations of a small pool of professional dancers within the diaspora necessitated action to acquire public funding and attract more diverse audiences. A period of phenomenal growth in the field has occurred alongside increasing professionalisation and codification of classical forms, ranging from the ISTD Classical Indian Dance Faculty (formerly South

“A strategic decision to focus on large-scale events was marked by Coming of Age in 2000”.

Asian Dance) and the newer offerings of CATS, the government-run Centres for Advanced Training that support exceptional kathak and bharatanatyam dance students aged 11 to 18 years old. Akademi is one organisation supporting dialogues and innovation, constantly interrogating aesthetic as well as political issues and themes of tradition, classicism and contemporaneity. A strategic decision to focus on large-scale events was marked by Coming of Age in 2000, a twoday spectacle celebrating Akademi’s twentyfirst birthday, filling the interior and exterior locations of the South Bank Centre which was built for the Festival of Britain in 1951. One hundred performers across three generations performed for 16,000 spectators, claiming space within an iconic contemporary and classical performance venue. Assistant Artistic Director Pushkala Gopal described how the event “celebrated individuality with collective identity”, drawing in contemporary dance, classical ballet, folk dance, kathak and bharatanatyam. For composer Shrikant Sriram, “Coming of Age is poised at a moment where the term actually means something: it is the time where Asians in Britain are actually finding their own voice as British people in a number of fields...” 4 Dance has been taken to the wider public on a number of levels seen in spectacular events sponsored by the Mayor of London, inviting reflection on the grandeur and wealth that built the monuments to royal and military might, the edifices that convey a complex history of empire. Sapnay (‘Dreams’, 2005), commissioned for the WINTER 2013 PULSE 7


“Awaaz/Voice (2006) turned Trafalgar Square into a stage for a... consideration of the experience ... the often invisible female garment worker.”


Mayor’s Trafalgar Square Festival, transformed all aspects of the site into performance platforms. Kathak exponent Gauri Sharma Tripathi and bharatanatyam and classically ballet-trained Mavin Khoo blended dance styles to a remixed sound score of ‘house’ music by DJ Matt Ross. Tripathi spoke of the challenge of creating in response to various textures and levels, of having to be aware of the three-dimensionality of the body with an audience on all sides. Sapnay played the classical vocabularies against and with contemporary and balletic movement, live drumming, with dancing in the fountain (reminiscent of a Bollywood scene) pushing the boundaries of permissible access of the square’s space. Waterscapes (2003) offered a nostalgic vision of the past, set in the courtyard of Somerset House. Inspired by the Heaven on Earth: Art from Islamic Lands exhibition, Pratap Pawar led a team of kathak choreographers (including Sushmita Ghosh, Amina Khayyam, Padma Sharma and Tripathi) in an evocation of Mughal court ceremony. Groups of dancers in rich silk costumes wove through the intermittent jets of water that rose from the ground, watched over by ‘courtiers’ and the contemporary London crowds. In 2010, Shobana Jeyasingh choreographed Counterpoint in the Somerset House fountains, also inspired by the history of power, the formality and linearity in the columns and square courtyard. The process included a mentoring and training programme for fifteen dancers, exemplifying one of the many outreach type activities often associated with South Asian dance projects. In contrast, Chitra Sundaram’s Awaaz/Voice (2006) turned Trafalgar Square into a stage for a socially conscious consideration of the experience of South Asian female migrants, including the often invisible female garment worker. Awaaz could be read at multiple levels, highlighting social disparity as well as hope for the future or luxuriating in the intensity of movement alone. Other examples of integration into the cultural fabric are seen in the celebrations of nation in the build-up to the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The multi-year Cultural Olympiad and the London 2012 Festival gave dance-goers an abundance of choices. The events were drawn from a broad spectrum, encompassing Britain’s multicultural diversity and postcolonial relations, seen in the South Asian dance and music 3D architectural project Mandala in Nottingham and Birmingham. In London, two Arts in Parliament programmes brought the South Asian dance classicism and community groups into the hallowed halls of government. Viewers entered Westminster Hall’s cavernous space through security checks and crash barriers; its high stone walls evoke an aura of power dating back to the eleventh century. The presentation of heritage contributes to perceptions of classical South Asian dance as evocations of elegance, discipline and officially-sanctioned art forms. Combining the linear and clear shapes of bharatanatyam gestural vocabulary with contemporary dance, Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company’s TooMortal was presented under the auspices of the 2012 London Festival, set in historic churches where small audiences stood in front of the altar, looking back to the church entrance. To Cassiel’s remix of a score by James MacMillan, six dancers dressed in red used the high-backed pews as hiding places and launching pads, the symbolic space generating depths of meaning, creating a spiritual resonance

“Another milestone ...was seen in Akram Khan’s choreography of the hymn Abide with Me in the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony”.

that transcended cultural specificity. Another milestone that signifies the centrality of South Asian Dance was seen in Akram Khan’s choreography to Emeli Sandé’s rendition of the hymn Abide With Me in the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony. Asked by director Danny Boyle to create something on the theme of mortality, fifty dancers were joined on stage by Khan and a 9-year-old boy. Performed in front of a huge golden orb of light, a television voiceover linked the dance to the terrorist bombings of July 7, 2005, as images were built up of deep introspection, with torsos curved inward and weighty actions reinforcing a downward pull. Gradually a sense of community unfolded, arm movements and lunges rippled through the group as hope for the future was personified in the youth, a playful interaction with Khan culminating in the young boy being lifted above the crowd at the end. Melas and public festivals of all kinds offer space for the celebration of South Asian dance and music, offering professional performing experience and the chance to work with commissioned scores and high production values. Interacting with performers and choreographers from other styles, the exposure also enhances understanding of western contemporary dance structures. Bollywood and bhangra are also embedded in the popular imagination, ranging from the West End and Broadway musical Bombay Dreams with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber (2002), while the Wah! Wah! Girls, Javed Sanadi, Bollywood choreographer and Tripathi’s run at the Peacock Theatre in 2012 was accompanied by Bollywood dance classes and post-show talks. The closing ceremony of the Olympic Games on 12 August brought the Virsa Punjab bhangra group together with Eric Idle singing ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ from the Monty Python film Life of Brian (1979). This inclusion generated resistance and accusations of multiculturalism ran rampant alongside celebration on blogs and discussion forums. A curry first appeared on a British menu in 1773, while the first Indian restaurant opened in 1809; the most popular national dish is chicken tikka masala (a British invention), so the inclusion of bhangra within the irreverent context of Monty Python conformed to the cheeky and chic image of the nation presented in the rest of the ceremony. 1

Naseem Khan (1997) ‘South Asian Dance in Britain’, in Iyer, Alessandra, ed., South Asian Dance: The British Experience: Choreography and Dance, Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishing, p. 28.


Naseem Khan (2008) ‘Dance Heritage: Stone or Water?’, Pulse, Issue 101, Summer, pp. 7-8.


Naseem Khan, Chitra Sundaram, Ginnie Wollaston and Piali Ray, ‘Moving Margins: South Asian Dance in the UK’, (2001) html, accessed 17 November 2008.


Quoted in Ambika Kucheria (2006) ‘In your site: in your mind’, Pulse, Issue 114, pp. 14-15.

Dr Stacey Prickett is Principal Lecturer in Dance Studies at the University of Roehampton, specialising in dance criticism and the relationship between dance and the wider society. Her recently published book Embodied Politics: Dance, Protest and Identities draws together four analyses of dance explored through concepts of hegemony, politics and cultural representation in the USA and Britain.


The Darbar Festival this autumn gave London audiences the opportunity to hear for themselves the glorious voice of Carnatic vocalist Sudha Ragunathan. On 1 January she is to receive the Sangita Kalanidhi, Carnatic music’s most illustrious award. Ken Hunt fills us in on the background to her emergence and growing reputation and she talks to him about her musical education and unorthodox learning experience

Sudha Ragunathan Words by Ken Hunt Photography James Morgan

T  “her name is a byword for musical excellence”

ime will tell how much 2013 marked a turning-point in Sudha Ragunathan’s career. While the singer is no stranger to European stages, whether for her South Indian classical recitals or her crossover collaborations, hitherto, in Britain, she had remained little known outside of cognoscenti music circles. For those in the know, whether at home or abroad, her name is a byword for musical excellence and her reputation as a stupendous song interpreter is a given. In 2013 the sumptuous vocalist arguably began a new phase of her relationship with both domestic and international audiences. In the summer of 1988 she gave her first US recitals. Four years later she broke new ground with her first US album, Tamil Melodies from Amutha Isai Vani Sudha Ragunathan. In the rush to release it in December 1992, Amutham Music missed off catalogue information. The Nanuet, New Yorkbased label became the de facto wellspring for her breakthrough and career-consolidating recordings outside India. As with Tamil Melodies… with its Indian orchestral settings conducted by H.M.V. Ragu (a name impossible to resist mentioning), Kaleeya

Krishna (1994) had orchestrations, in its case under the baton of Vazhuvoor R. Mānikkavināyakam. In the latter project’s case it presented a thematic suite of Oothukkādu Venkatasubbaiyar-composed devotional songs to Lord Krishna. Composer-themed musical programmes pepper her career path. Amutham’s Pāpanāsam Sivan Kritis (1999), for example, focused on a composer of more recent historicity, Pāpanāsam Sivan (1890-1973) in a more typical ensemble setting of violin, mridangam barrel drum and morsing jaw harp percussion and tanpura drone. To give a flavour of her cross-cultural projects, over the summer of 2000 she was recruited as part of a project, developed from an idea by Helmut Bürgel – the artistic director of the Voices Voix Stimmen Festival in Lörrach in Germany. Dubbed the Global Vocal Meeting, it found her touring alongside the Swiss singer-songwriter Corin Curschellas, the male Malian vocalist Abdoulaye Diabaté, the male singer Rinde Eckert from New York, the Hungarian Roma singer Mitsou, and the Madagascan group Senge. Le rythme de la parole II/The rhythm of speech II (2005) took the principle of multicultural collaborations still deeper with WINTER 2013 PULSE 9


“Before the internet explosion, her rising reputation largely remained buried within the Tamil community” “In September 2013 she returned with a flourish”


contributions from Iranian, Malian and South Indian musicians. Ragunathan first performed in Britain in 1994 at West London’s Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and the following year sang at a Tamil Orphanage Trust and the London Sri Murugan Temple. Before the internet explosion, her rising reputation largely remained buried within the Tamil community and relatively low-key Hindu mandir temple-network engagements. (South Indian art or devotional music recitals have sadly never or, to err on the side of generosity, have rarely been publicised in ways to compare with their more visible Hindustani counterparts.) In September 2013 she returned with a flourish. Indicative of her rise since 1995, she headlined the Darbar Festival’s Saturday night finale – one of a sequence of Sky Arts concerts televised internationally that November. In the post-concert afterglow, the London audience was let into a secret from the stage: in January 2014 she was to receive the 2013 Sangita Kalanidhi. The Madras Music Academy’s award breaks down as sangita, ‘music’; kala, ‘art’; and nidhi, ‘treasure’. Let’s rewind to explain the significance of Sudha Ragunathan receiving that award. A majority would agree it is Carnatic music’s most illustrious honour. Since its inception in 1942 the Academy has conferred the prize on one recipient annually. In gloriously truculent style for certain years – 1946 and 1975 are but two examples – nobody got anything. When it comes to achievements and attainments, the award has boosted and elevated South Indian art music standards. Plus, refreshingly, it is predicated on artistic worth over recorded music sales or boxoffice ‘ringtones’. Born Sudha Venkataraman in Madras (Chennai), Tamil Nadu in April 1958, Sudha Ragunathan is the middle of three children – her sister Chitra Venkatachari preceded her and then came her brother Prasad Venkatraman. At home the family spoke Tamil. “Because all of us studied in convent,” she explains, “English was important, too”. “Convents are the breeding ground for fundamental English,” she says, “and the way we carry ourselves. It’s really good there. They do a very good job of teaching you and putting in the confidence in what you deliver.” She pauses. “Since all three of us studied in convents we were able to nurture that art of learning languages. That’s why I know about six languages – a little bit of each but more of some. Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Hindi, English, I can speak fluently. Then a little bit of French and Malayalam. In the case of the five languages I can speak them to the extent of holding a conversation.” During her Darbar recital she also sang in Sanskrit. Her mother V. Choodamani had studied music and she provided a grounding in South Indian art and devotional music genres. Other teachers followed. Then she received a Government of India scholarship. “When I got the scholarship, my mother suggested I should learn from a woman artiste,” she told Chennai-based newspaper, The Hindu in October 1995, “and that brought me to MLV.” MLV was M.L. Vasanthakumari (1928-1990). Shortening names to initials is a long-standing, anglicising convention. Turning M.S. Subbulakshmi into the less-of-a-mouthful ‘MSS’ – reminiscent of the old abbreviation mss (‘manuscripts’) – in the late 1960s into the 1970s caught a mood. It resonated alongside globally familiar examples

“it was my mother’s dream to be a musician; but fifty to seventy years ago in our community women were not allowed to perform on stage”

“my ‘teaching lessons’ were very, very few because... her style of teaching was like that. You had to do it all by yourself”

from US politics like ‘FDR’ and ‘JFK’. The singer was arguably the first to popularise the convention in a musical context outside the subcontinent. “My mother was one of the main reasons why I put in so many hours of learning and getting into music,” she smiles, “because I think it was her dream to be a musician; but fifty to seventy years ago in our community women were not allowed to perform on stage. When her career was suppressed I think she had a dream that maybe one of her children would rise to taking this up as a career. She targeted me and I think I fell in line with her thoughts! And slowly progressed to the extent that she was very happy when I said, yes, music was going to be my career.” Nevertheless, she might be said to have almost drifted into music as a vocation. Her career path, one might say, was heading towards economics. When had it occurred to her that music was it? “I was 17 and at the end of that year I received a scholarship to learn under M.L. Vasanthakumari. When I made up my mind that my focus might be on music as a career, though I did do economics, this thing happened and I got the scholarship. It kind of strengthened the thought and it made me feel that I was going in the right direction. To get a guru like her, a teacher like her is, I think, something that one longs for and, even when wished for, it doesn’t happen sometimes. It fell into my lap. I couldn’t do anything but just to accept it! “In fact, the Sangita Kalanidhi that I’m getting on January 1, 2014 from the Music Academy, the year I went to MLV in 1977, MLV got the Sangita Kalanidhi.” (At 49 MLV remains its youngest-ever recipient.) “She was extremely busy and tied down with her very hectic schedule. It was not fair of me to demand any time from her. I thought any little strand that she dropped I’d just pick up and I’d watch her and observe her. That was enough for me to take in everything that I wanted. All of this I did at home, looking at books, listening to tapes, all of this.” MLV did not necessarily employ orthodox teaching methods. How had she approached the matter of repertoire, as opposed to teaching her songs? “There were a couple of kritis [a tiered song form of a Hindu hymn kind] that I actually learned from her by sitting down [with her]. In fact my ‘teaching lessons’ were very, very few because her style of teaching was similar to how we sit in a library and read up a lot of things. Her style of teaching was like that. You had to do it all by yourself – looking at her notations, listening to her music on stage, at home from the tapes. You had to store this in your brain and reproduce this when you sang with her. When I did vocal support with her, that’s when it started to get polished. “She claimed that was her style and I should be prepared for it, these challenges. She said, ‘Don’t think of it as a challenge: think of it as a style of teaching or a style of learning. It will help you all through life because any time anybody gives you a kriti or asks you to sing something and gives you the lyrics you’ll be able to do it immediately. This will open the doors.’” It did. For Sudha Ragunathan and us, that is exactly what it did and is still doing. With thanks to Kavichandran Alexander, Sharanya Mahadevan and Winston Panchacharam.

Photos: Courtesy Artist


One of Pulse’s Face to Face participants, bharatanatyam dancer Jayashree Sundaresan, will fufil an ambition by performing in Chennai and Mumbai this month. We took the opportunity to ask her a few questions. How long have you been dancing? I have been dancing off and on for about eighteen years now.

Have you always been a student of Usha Raghavan? I started when I was 5 years old under Guru Gopinath Nair of Mumbai. I have been with Ushaji for the last seven years.

family life and dancing and of course funding. Getting audiences interested in pure classical dance, especially outside the South Asian community, is a challenge.

What would you say to a young person wanting to learn dance? You have to commit to it for a long time before you start getting anything back from it. You have to be extremely passionate about it and believe in what you stand for.

How would you feel if your daughter wanted to be a professional dancer? I would be over the moon but I think she knows the pitfalls and that she has to have another means of income to fund the dancing. It’s an expensive art form.

Jayashree Sundaresan Where does dance fit into your life?

This most enthralling classical form of dance allows me to fulfil my creative abilities. I love performing to an audience. I feel I am transported to another world once the music is playing and I am on stage, something only other performers can relate to. It is something I do purely for myself. What started off as a hobby is taking up more and more of my time now.

What do you feel has been the highlight of your dancing life so far? My arangetram performance in 2010 in front of an audience of 500 is definitely the highlight of my dancing life so far. Getting back into classical dancing after a gap is never easy and I feel I have put everything into it and feel very lucky and privileged to have got this opportunity to get back into a field I feel so passionately about. I also feel dancers are like good wine, they get better with age.

What have you found to be the biggest challenge in pursuing dance? The physical and financial aspects are the most challenging. It has made me look into every aspect of my life; diet, exercise, balancing

What do the Chennai and Mumbai performances mean to you? Why is it important that you dance there?

Growing up as a child, I used to watch the stalwarts of bharatanatyam such as Dr Padma Subramanyam, Chitra Visweswaran, Mrinalini Sarabhai and Mallika Sarabhai, and Alarmel Valli perform in Chennai and Mumbai. I guess the seeds were sown very early on and to be able to go back and perform in front of a discerning audience is always a challenge and a thrill. I am terribly excited.

What is your hope for the future? I’d like to get into more of the creative aspects of the art form – learning the complexities of choreographing pieces, learning to play the nattuvangam and learning more about Indian philosophy and about the dance form itself (mainly the abhinaya aspects), in the form of some professional qualification; and also to begin to teach it to the next generation. 16 December 2013 Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mylapore, Chennai 18 December 2013 Swatantryaveer Savarkar Auditorium, Shivaji Park, Dadar West, Mumbai WINTER 2013 PULSE 11


The Red Dress Project

PHOTOGRAPHY BY simon richardson



he Red Dress Project of Manuela Benini is a lifelong dance and photography project, set in many different countries and continents, that seeks to highlight places and communities which are in imminent threat of demolition and destruction by the forces of globalisation. More of this extraordinary work can be seen in her Facebook album manuelabenini



Arun Ghosh


Clarinettist Composer Breaking Ground It all started with the recorder. That was the beginning of a musical journey for Arun Ghosh that would take him from Western classical, through jazz and urban to Indian folk and classical music. The recent launch of his Album, South Asian Suite, gave Ken Hunt an opportunity to talk to the clarinettist and composer about his musical discoveries – not always made according to the rules.


“Conceived in Calcutta and born in Britain ... Bolton was the town that was pivotal in making him the musician he grew inTO.”


f it’s the end of September 2013, it’s Soho and it’s the PizzaExpress Jazz Club, then it has to be the launch of A South Asian Suite by Arun Ghosh and his band ‘featuring Zoe Rahman’. Anticipation is running high and the downstairs venue is as packed as health-andsafety-wallahs and the elbows of diners permit. Recorded in May and July 2013, A South Asian Suite is only the clarinettist-composer’s third recorded project since his debut, Northern Namaste fed the wider Indo-jazz consciousness in 2008. Conceived in Calcutta and born in Britain, as the Ghosh family joke goes, Arun Ghosh – pronounced ‘Aroon’ with a long u – is of mixed Sindi and Bengali bloodlines. After living in Manchester, the family moved to Bolton. Bolton was the town that was pivotal in making Ghosh the musician he grew into. It was where he got serious about music and took up violin, piano and recorder. An inventive musician-composer, an energetic front man, a musician without an ounce of musical

“My main instrument, the one that worked for me, was the recorder... I was quite obsessed with it.”

snobbery, let him tell his Bolton tale. “My main instrument, the one that worked for me,” he says, “was the recorder. I played it in school and I caught the music bug from that point. I was really quite obsessed with it. I started making up my own tunes and it all went from there. I suppose because of the similarity of blowing, when I started playing the clarinet at 13 it was just right for me. I’d dabbled in other things but I didn’t find my voice until I started playing the clarinet.” Which system? “I play a typical Western Boehm system [instrument], pretty standard in terms of learning here,” different in its keywork and fingering from the Albert System. Between 1998 and 2000 he did a post-graduate course at Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music. There he was immersed in a western classical repertoire that ranged from Beethoven, Brahms and Mozart to Bartók, Copland and Lutoslawski. While studying there, it dawned that “it was all about jazz” for him. That meant not only

“I was very into beats, hip-hop, drum’n’bass, house; that side of my playing was more free. Often it was simpler musically and melodically but more direct... and probably truer to me.”

listening to jazz but also studying it. He studied jazz harmony and jazz standards with Mike Hall, his saxophone mentor, and took to transcribing US jazz saxophonist and composer John Coltrane solos – a musician himself famously touched by India’s music and spirituality. Parallel with these discoveries and encounters, Ghosh dived into what was going on. And that involved “playing raves in back rooms or with DJs. I was very into beats, hip-hop, drum’n’bass, house; that side of my playing was more free. Often it was simpler musically and melodically but more direct.” A skip beat later, he adds, “And probably truer to me.” Volume, projecting and cutting through the din proved formative – and while his music is utterly different now, those lessons remain experiences he can fall back on. “I know I don’t play that clarinet the way other people play the clarinet. That’s not necessarily always something to be fully proud of. It’s a sound and a style that I’ve forged and honed.”

“I know I don’t play that clarinet the way other people play the clarinet. That’s not necessarily always something to be fully proud of.”

Around 2002 he admits something new entered his vocabulary: “I started playing with tabla players through accompanying a kathak and odissi dancer. Initially I developed a solo piece just playing with this guy Kali Dass. It was very much a free, improvised piece. I’d watch him dancing: I’d play something. He’d listen to what I was playing and respond to that. The response was not necessarily a rhythmic thing, more to do with energy. “That piece developed into a piece called Fading Contact which was when I started playing with a tabla player from Calcutta, Debashish Mukherjee. That really opened my eyes. It was modal but quite free rhythmically. It was in this six-section suite that lasted twenty minutes or so. It started off with a solo clarinet section improvised where the dancer would come on and respond to what I was doing. Then we went into quite a slow, eight-beat cycle. Then there was a solo section with drone and tabla. Then an exciting end section with jawab sawal [question-and-answer call and response]. Through WINTER 2013 PULSE 15


“when I started playing with a tabla player from Calcutta, Debashish Mukherjee... that really opened my eyes.”


doing all of that I was suddenly blown away.” It was the first time, he smiles, he had been that “close to the sound of the tabla”. Playing with Mukherjee granted many new insights and led him to explore new dynamics. “I’m really pleased it was Debashish,” he continues, “because he’s really a master and very much understood where I was at. I was always learning on the job about a tāl or a rāg. Or the whole concept of this improvisation and coming back to the sām [literally, ‘together’ or ‘equal’ and in a tāl – rhythm cycle – the beat where the principal melody and rhythm instruments come together]. Doing that really woke me up to wanting to play more often with a tabla player.” In 2004 he got involved with the Bedfordshirebased Kadam’s Synergy 04 project, a collaboration between him and the dancers Kali Chandrasegaram and Hanna Mannila. In 2005 he and Chandrasegaram were reunited for Art of Travel, a piece that used the writer Alain de Botton’s 2002 book of the same name as its launch-pad. When it came to exploring the music of or inspired by the South Asian subcontinent, he finds a parallel with his early forays into jazz. “In the same way that I went deeper into jazz through transcribing and working out harmony, I did the same with Indian music through listening to records. Never through having lessons. I was kind of really conscious not to. Because I wanted to stay true to my clarinet approach, to playing. I didn’t want to go to, say, a classical vocalist and be told to spend ages practising the slides... I felt I didn’t have the time to do that. What I was more interested in doing was listening to stuff and taking from it what I wanted. So, I learned about rules of particular rāgs, by listening to Hariprasad Chaurasia, Ustad Bismillah Khan, Ravi Shankar especially, Ali Akbar Khan and Amjad Ali Khan, and learning about what they were doing with rhythmic cycles, starting to learn about tihais [the threefold repetitions of a phrase that end on a cycle’s first beat, that sām

again] and that kind of stuff.” Northern Namaste delivered the first fruits of him digesting and assimilating these experiences, as far as the wider public was concerned. “When I was doing Northern Namaste it was important to me to stick to the notes of the rāg in a particular tune. ‘Aurora’, for example was in rāg Bhairavi; and ‘Deshkar’ which is obviously Deshkar. I deliberately wrote the tunes in those rāgs. So, when I was soloing I’d stick to the rāg. When I was writing my keyboard voicings, and, in fact, I played piano on that album, I tried to make sure that it stuck to those notes.” He takes a breath. “That was very much my philosophy – that clarity and sticking to the rules. A South Asian Suite is a lot looser than that. Again, that’s because above anything else it’s folk.” The recorded South Asian Suite and the way it is played live are quite different from the so-called ‘Indo-Jazz chamber work’ that had its world première in the Chai Serai Marquee at the Manchester Mega Mela in July 2010. Over time this “six-movement suite” has undergone several refits. The première, for example, included Jyotsna Srikanth on violin, Kiranjit Dharni on sitar and Corey Mwamba on vibraphone – elements subsequently retired. ‘Slowly it started to develop,’ he recalls. “I realised that actually for me to feel the right way about these tunes, for me to be able to improvise in the way I want, for them to have the right swing, ultimately I needed to bring both the tabla and the dholak in wherever possible. That’s when it really started to blossom as a piece of work.” Varying instrumental possibilities were explored and road-tested before the suite metamorphosed into the one recorded and unveiled on 29 September 2013. Its feel and instrumentation is jazz with Indian elements, predominantly percussive, notably tabla played on the album by Aref Durvesh and Nilesh Gulhane. Idris Rahman plays tenor saxophone, clarinet and flute, Zoe Rahman piano, Chris Williams alto saxophone, Liran Donin double-bass and electric bass and Pat Illingworth kit drums. A South Asian Suite has six core pieces titled ‘Gypsies of Rajasthan’, ‘After The Monsoon’, ‘River Song’, ‘Sufi Stomp’, ‘Mountain Song’ and ‘Journey South’. Gradually a set of informal ‘segues’ grew around the main tableaux. (The album artwork ranks the six core pieces typographically: the clue is that the ‘segues’ have a smaller point size.) “It was only in the studio that we had the idea of changing the texture – Chrys [Chijiutomi, his partner] had the bright idea – that you have throughout the album, to have these segues, these connecting pieces that are more intimate, more semi-improvised or totally improvised. “They wind you down from the piece and they lead you into another piece. One particular one, ‘Ode To The Martyrs’ – which was a free improvised piece – is almost now a tune in itself. I’m thinking about when we go on the road what we’re going to do with those segues. I think the only way to stay true to that is to free-improvise them as we have been doing.” A South Asian Suite may just turn out to be Arun Ghosh’s Sketches of South Asia. That is a nod to Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain, another suite of impressions, in its case making no more of a claim to peninsular authenticity than A South Asian Suite does to the subcontinent.


the Temple of Fine Arts alongside practising as a doctor. At a chance meeting with a visiting professor I was offered a position in the UK which sparked my move to Great Britain in 1990. With my husband Shripati Upadhyaya securing a position as consultant clinical psychologist in the UK, the first ideas of Kala Sangam came into being.

Arts for social cohesion – 20th anniversary celebrations Kala Sangam

Why did you and your husband decide to set up Kala Sangam?

When we first arrived in England, it was a very different place. There were people from different parts of the world living right next to each other but never interacting, leading separate lives, with separate cultures, separate activities; everything was segregated. Even within the Indian communities the Gujaratis, the Punjabis, the Tamils and other regional groups were all leading very segregated lives. It was then that my husband thought we needed to do something about this and arts can be used to bring people together. The idea of rivers and how they all have individual identities but do intermingle provided the inspiration for the name Sangam. Triveni Sangam in India where the three holy rivers join was behind the name of the organisation and therefore Kala Sangam or intermingling of arts was born.

What is unique about Kala Sangam?

Dr Geetha Upadhyaya | Photo: S. Dutta


ala Sangam is the only South Asian arts organisation to have its own dedicated building in the north of England. Impressive! In 1886 St Peter’s House in Bradford was a post office. Now it is a Grade II listed building housing Kala Sangam. Constant developments have seen the construction of a performance space, the Ganges Hall, in 2011, and the Arts Centre in 2012; as the director puts it, this has been achieved while swimming against no ordinary tide but a tsunami. This year they have been celebrating twenty years of promoting and putting South Asian arts firmly on the vibrant arts scene in England. A series of events including a free family arts day, Carnatic, bharatanatyam, kathakali, sitar and mohiniattam concerts; film screening, arts exhibition and the highlight KS20 extravaganza, all formed part of the momentous twentieth anniversary celebrations of the organisation. A formal event at the Nehru Centre with presentations by the Kala Sangam resident artists in collaboration with the BBC Philharmonic brought the celebrations to London. Dr Vyjayanthimala Bali, the unrivalled Indian actress, dancer, parliamentarian

and a patron of Kala Sangam was the guest of honour at the celebrations. I later caught up with the director of Kala Sangam, Dr Geetha Upadhyaya, and it was interesting to hear the evolution of the organisation over the years. When asked how it all started and what influenced her journey in the arts world, the rather strong traditional roots came to the fore. Trained under guru Dandayudhapani Pillai as a young child, she did her arangetram at the age of 17. She then underwent specialist abhinaya training under Mylapore Gowri Ammal for three years.

Did you always combine your medical and dance careers?

We are unique in the fact that we expressly work towards bringing people of different walks of life, of different cultural backgrounds together. Most South Asian arts events attract South Asian audiences (in the north) but all Kala Sangam events have a mixed audience that reflects the diversity found in the general population. This I think is a very big achievement. We host a wide-ranging group of activities like dance, music, visual arts, crafts, puppetry, theatre, poetry readings and many more. We also work with different disadvantaged sections of society such as criminal offenders, drug-users, children with special needs and people with long-term illnesses. We also produce our own work with the artists in residence.

What aspect of Kala Sangam’s activities do you most enjoy?

Given my medical background, working with people with illnesses or special needs and helping them integrate into society and make a useful contribution is very dear to my heart. I find it very fulfilling and the other aspect I enjoy is creating new and challenging work. I have done quite a few over the years: Digital Dance – Selfless When and how did you come to the UK? Princess was an interactive piece with media; Poetry in Action was a collaboration I moved from Madras (now Chennai) to between bharatanatyam and poetry and Malaysia in 1984 where I continued to Echoes was in collaboration with the perform and teach senior students of dance at BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. We have Both while training to be a doctor and later while working as a doctor in Chennai I continued to perform and keep up the dancing career. Vadhiyar (my guru) used to ask us to perform at various places and I would diligently agree to each of his requests.



performed at the Tate Modern and even performed for the Queen! My main aim is to retain the character of every art form and yet blend the various art forms to create new and challenging work.

What has been the most challenging aspect of your work? In the current economic climate, as with every other arts organisation, it is the funding which is the most challenging of all. That aside, working with children and young people who have been through a lot either with a criminal past or a drug habit is the most challenging but I am rethinking this after the rather stressful arrangements for the twentieth anniversary celebrations (laughs).


How do you see Kala Sangam developing in the next ten years? Until recently we were a group of three to four people putting in long hours every single day, raising funds for our activities by taking classes from Oxford to Newcastle, from Scunthorpe to Sheffield, but as we grew from strength to strength we have been able to attract larger and larger funds from the Arts Council and recently secured capital funding to gain our own building, in the centre of Bradford. Since then there has been a burst of activity and the team has grown considerably, taking the organisation to the next level. We now have a very busy arts exhibition space, performance space for hire, a cafÊ and events space. By simply having the building our course has evolved and widened considerably. I struggled immensely when I started off, especially finding rehearsal spaces etc., so now with this new building I would like to see artists use this as a base to develop their own companies; we also support independent dancers to run their classes and grow and expand. In the future we will continue to do this and offer our space for nurturing new and young talent. We are also hoping to produce themed events in the future. A number of international collaborations with North American dancers and European dancers are also on the cards in addition to arts-science projects too. The enthusiasm for the future was evident in Dr Upadhyaya’s energetic replies and it can only bode well for the organisation. It appears that Kala Sangam is set to go onwards and upwards, although I believe that they could benefit from focusing their energies on a few key projects as opposed to thinly spreading their energies across various projects.


Guru Shankar Behera

Bringing O toMumbai Europe v


Guru Shankar Behera was in Bhubaneswar recently to receive the Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra award 2013 for lifetime achievement in odissi dance. Dancer, teacher and Padma Shri awardee Ileana Citaristi met up with him for an exclusive interview for Pulse.


hankarji, now in his early sixties, was born in Berhampur in South Odisha, and after undertaking training in odissi at the National Music Association, Cuttack, from 1960 to 1964 and Utkal Sangeet Mahavidyalaya, Bhubaneswar from 1964 to 1970, migrated to Mumbai from 1971 onwards.

gave performances in Italy, Spain, Denmark and Germany.

How did you feel when your Mumbai students left you to join Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra’s classes? They asked my permission to do so and I agreed. I would not have denied them the possibilities to learn something more from a great Guru like Kelu Babu. Although I have learned from all the three major Gurus, he has been my main Guru too and I also used to join his classes when he started taking workshops at NCPA from 1981 onwards. Moreover, some of them still continued to learn from me after joining him.

Guruji, how did you decide to learn odissi at a time when the style was almost unknown and dance was hardly considered as a profitable career for a male student?

You have been determined in spreading odissi in Europe and some of your students over there have opened schools which are still running, but very little of all this is My grandfather, Dukkha Behera, was a folk known in your home place Odisha. dancer and I used to follow him whenever How do you feel about this?

WORDS by iLeana Citaristi PHOTOGRAPHY BY simon Richardson

Odissi via

he would perform with some local troupe. He was responsible for sending me to Cuttack when I was only 9 years old, to learn odissi dance under Mahadev Rout at the National Music Association. After four years I joined the Utkal Sangeet Mahavidyalaya at Bhubaneswar where I completed a six-year course under the guidance of Guru Pankhaj Charan Das, Guru Dev Prasad Das and Dr Minati Misra. During the summer months I used to join the condensed courses at Kala Vikash Kendra conducted by Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. So I can say to have learned from all the main Gurus of odissi.

How did you decide to move to Mumbai and was there any odissi school during those years? I gave a solo performance in Sur Singar Samsad in 1972 in Bombay (now Mumbai) and some of the dancers who saw my performance asked me to teach them odissi dance. There wasn’t any school in Bombay that time. My first students were Menaka Thakker, Jaya Deer, Baby Gouri, Flora Devi and Protima Bedi. In 1974 Flora Devi invited me to Mauritius to teach for three months; that was my first visit abroad. In 1989 Sanjeevini Dutta who had been my student in Bombay invited me to London and organised my first workshop at Akademi. Flora Devi, who joined that workshop, invited me to Montpellier to teach at her Anjali Association. For the next twelve years I spent two to three months a year in each of these centres. I performed and toured both with Sanjeevini Dutta and Flora Devi. I oversaw the choreography of Sanchari Dance Company (partnership of Sanjeevini Dutta and Bisakha Sarker). I also

It is true that I could not do much in my own native place. I was out of Odisha most of the time and travelled abroad a lot. Even in Mumbai I could not open my own school till now. I would like to have the opportunity to give workshops in abhinaya in Odisha, specially on Geeta Govinda, if somebody calls me. I have always been appreciated for the intensity of my abhinaya, some sort of radiance and aliveness that I am able to communicate through my dance. I got this quality from my two main Gurus, Kelucharan Mohapatra and Dr Minati Misra.

What do you think of the present generation of Odissi dancers? Technique has improved but depth of bhava has decreased. The experience of being totally soaked in the bhava portrayed is lacking in today’s performers. Also the softness of odissi, which gives the style its distinctiveness, has today been replaced by harshness and fast footwork.

How do you feel about receiving this award from Odisha, in the name of your Guru? No doubt it is an honour to be recognised by the institution founded by my Guruji and I am grateful to his son for selecting me. But I also feel sad not to have been able to do more in my own land. I hope this award will give me the opportunity to go back to Odisha more often and to be able to interact with the new generation of odissi dancers and to enrich them with my insights and experience. WINTER 2013 PULSE 19

Flora Devi with Shankar Behera


Shankar Behera remembered by his students It was a wonderful time, learning from Shankarji, living with Sanjeevini and her family, not knowing what it was all for. But every day I felt so very lucky. We didn´t have a programme, or a syllabus, and I didn´t know how long it would continue that way. I didn´t know what I was receiving at the time, but maybe I do now. A very generous gift. I think that´s what dance is. 

Sanjeevini Dutta

Lucy Bannon Copenhagen Guruji’s dance is phenomenally fluid, malleable and strikingly expressive. As a teacher he is genial, patiently demonstrating and repeating movements, chuckling at mistakes and giving an explanation here and there when necessary. He drives his students to seek his hard-won praise and fosters a sense of joy in movement and quiet devotion to odissi. What I most admire in Guruji is the sincerity and humility with which he approaches everything.  That for me is his greatest lesson. 

Roberta Arinci

Katie Ryan London I started learning odissi under Guru Shankar Behera in 1996. Then I have studied under Rashmi Rekha Das, sent to me by Ileana Citaristi for intense training. I enjoy odissi immensly in these years, when grace is more important than strength.

Katie Ryan

Lucy Bannon

Roberta Arinci Milan


I first saw Guru Shankar Behera dance forty years ago when the young Shankarji had just come to Bombay. I was entranced by the graceful, fluid movements, the amazing abhinaya and the spiritual essence of the dance itself. I was to be Shankarji’s devoted student for many years, bringing him to Mauritius, France and Switzerland where I was teaching odissi. When we danced together Chandana Charchita from the Gita Govinda how inspiring it was to be dancing Radha to Shankarji’s Krishna! The gods were really with us. It will always be a wonderful and deeply cherished memory. Flora Devi Montpellier I fell in love with odissi watching Shankar Behera and Flora Devi dance at the NCPA in Bombay. Shankar Behera became a guru, friend and member of my family ever since that fateful day in 1973. As a dancer, Guruji is in a class of his own. The length of his line, the height of leap, the bend of the torso are so exaggerated that it is hard to categorise him. The tenderness of his expressions and the humanity of his abhinaya make him an all-round dancer. His heritage lives on in the next generation dancer Katie Ryan who is developing what she has received from Shankarji in her own way. We are deeply grateful to Ratnikant Mohapatra for conferring this recognition on Shankar Behera. Sanjeevini Dutta London


Dance Festival

Dance Performance

Korzo Indian Dance Festival

Basant Bells 7 September 2013 Swati Dance Company Waterside Arts Centre, Manchester Reviewed by Bisakha Sarker

18 October - 2 November 2013 The Hague, Netherlands Reviewed by Meher Khan Muztar

Top: Shailesh Bahoran / Top right: Sharad / Middle: Anuradha Pancham / Right: Madhu Lalbahadoersing | Photos: Dance Festival Courtesy Korzo Theatre


he festival, extended this year to two weeks, featured emerging artists as well as established performers like Aditi Mangaldas, Kapila Venu and the Sutra Dance Theatre; and this time there were also some remarkable singers.

will have recognised steps and poses, mudras and adavus used in several contemporary angles; but in this piece that was all secondary. Kalpana had asked Sooraj to “feel what you dance and not just do the movements. Dance styles are just languages to express yourself.”

Heritage: breakdance infused with vedas

A rare occasion in Sharad

This style of dance is probably the last thing one would expect at the India Dance Festival, but solo dancer and choreographer Shailesh Bahoran’s work fits like a glove. His haunting and tender solo Heritage was a mix of breakdance, poppin ‘n’ lockin and hip-hop, choreographed to the music from the touching movie Bombay. Shailesh’s moves are often compared to the classical Indian dance styles because of the use of poses, gestures and isolations. “That’s not something I have been looking for,” he says, “it’s just something which has been there all the time.” His Hindustani roots, including the vedas, are an omnipresent source for his creations. The Tightrope Walker

When the piece ended, an uncomfortable silence filled the hall before one dared to applaud. The audience had been drawn into the pain of the work. Solo dancer Sooraj Subramaniam (formerly of Sutra Dance Theatre) sat on a table reading from slips of paper – “it is not good enough”, “I am watching”. The Tightrope Walker, choreographed by Kalpana Raghuraman, was about growing up within the restrictions of a shame-oriented culture. Spectators familiar with bharatanatyam, odissi or kathak

Months before the performance by Holland’s first Hindustani community choir the Korzo Theater building was humming with sounds of mantras and upbeat taranas. The choir brought together about thirty men and women who mostly sing as solo artists, with roots in Surinam, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Holland. American composer Kanniks Kannikeswaran guided the group during the first rehearsals along the path to this new experience. He has done it before. In Toronto, Washington and a few other American cities he has established community choirs, winning silver medals with the Cincinnati Indian Community Choir at the seventh World Choir Games. Most of the newly-initiated choir members were familiar with some of the traditional compositions and the ones who weren’t were given a hand by the singers Shalini Bholasing and Madhu Lalbahadoersing when Kanniks was back in the USA. Both singers already have a name in Holland, although they are both still at the conservatorium. The cast of the performance also included dancer Revanta Sarabhai and his formation and kathak dancers Hari and Chethana. Kanniks had brought his daughter Vidita over to support the solo section. Her amazing voice touched people instantly; some of them even started to cry. Not only for the Hindustani community

choir but also for the vocalists Madhu, Shalini and Vidita, an exciting future lies ahead. It is rumoured that the choir is going to attend the tenth World Choir Games in Riga.

Photo: Simon Richardson

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For many years Holland has been concerned with the hybrid development of bharatanatyam. This India Dance Festival it was time for strictly bharatanatyam. The three Dutch bharatanatyam dancers, Anuradha Pancham, Indu Panday and Usha Kanagasabai are well trained in nritta as well as in natya. Anuradha, the strongest dancer of the programme, featured in an entertaining javeli on a woman who does not want to listen to the promises of her beloved any more. Her presentation drew glances of recognition amongs the audience. She brought the character to life and even inexperienced bharatanatyam spectators were able to follow every detail of the story. Indu, strong in nritta, performed a lullaby in which she depicted a mother trying to shush her baby boy to sleep. The timing was perfect, and she kept the attention of the audience from beginning to end, leaving them moved by the tenderness. Usha depicted a rasika who begs a bird to ask Lord Murugan to redeem his promise to return to her. She tries not to be annoyed but subtle indications show that she is still waiting for him to come. The choreography showed beautiful patterns and use of floor space in which solos, duets and group alternated. With her skills in contemporary choreography Kalpana has reset the standards of bharatanatyam in The Netherlands.

Under My Skin 18 October 2013 Sadhana Dance The Place Theatre, London Reviewed by Sanjoy Roy


ho knew surgery could be so… sexy? Not me. But Sadhana Dance’s new trio Under My Skin, based on observations of operations, turns out to be a surprisingly erotic piece. Artistic

Photo: S Dutta

director Subathra Subramaniam, aided and abetted by the aptly-named Roger Kneebone, professor of surgical education at Imperial College, had gone to watch surgeons at work and came away with a sense of the choreography of the operating theatre: the centrality of the body, the precision of action and manipulation, the comings and goings, the anticipations, the improvisations. And the intimacy. Under My Skin begins with WINTER 2013 PULSE 21


a blood-red bloom of light and a poem (by Allen Fisher) about platelets, those microscopic cell fragments that make blood clot. It sounds clinical, but doesn’t feel it. Meltingly voiced by Chris Fogg in honeyed tones that throb with wonder and desire, the verses recount a ‘coagulation cascade’ of platelets coming together in states of increasing arousal until they start seeping sticky glycoprotein, leading to a rush of thrombin release. Phwoar. I don’t mean that in a Carry On Nurse kind of way. Under My Skin is subtle, sensual. The prologue sees the three dancers – Archana Ballal, Gemma Bass-Williams and Carl Patrick – enter one by one along rows of light, like lab technicians striding purposefully down corridors. Gradually their paths overlap as they build up little gestural motifs (think of filling test tubes, tapping syringes, palpating pipettes) to a beguilingly efficient soundtrack of blips and gurgles. So far, so ER. But the drama that unfolds is nothing to do with characters, it’s all about bodily activity, sensation and sensitivity. There’s a section where Ballal simply stands on the spot, bending deep on the exhale and stretching high on the inhale, her whole torso a ballooning monitor for her breath. Bass-Williams and Patrick orbit her in a soft, coiling duet in which they trace the line of a vein down each other’s arms, or cup limbs against hands, slip against each other’s surfaces. We intuitively sense both the body’s exterior – the sweeps and strokes of the duet – and its interior: Ballal’s hypnotic breathing. Another section sees all three standing around a column of light, so that we see just their hands. And their hands dance beautifully. We can tell that the gestures derive from slicing, stitching, probing, swabbing – all the functional armoury of surgery. But watching it as movement, we see delicacy, precision, tenderness, responsiveness, care. It’s both a physical experience and an emotional one. And, of course, a sensual one. When Ballal reaches down into a pool of light, it might look reminiscent of surgery – implements probing beneath the skin – but it feels as soft as fingers parting flesh. The articulation of the hands is paramount in Under My Skin, and it’s no surprise to discover that Subramaniam is bharatanatyam-trained. Nevertheless, this is not 22 PULSE WINTER 2013

bharatanatyam performance. To be sure, one section is almost textbook bharatanatyam, and throughout you can certainly see the influence of the style not just in the hands but in many of the sequences, steps and rhythms. But only one of the dancers (Ballal) is bharatanatyamtrained, and much of the quality of the dancing comes from the imprint of the classical style on a much freer interplay with weight and breath: falls and catches, sweeps, runs, leans. That is apt for this piece: it combines the classical qualities of precision and procedure with a more intimate sense of touch, responsivity and trust. Subramaniam can build whole sections from just a few basic elements, and enliven coherence with variety. Only near the end does the piece sag a little: the rhythmic bharatanatyam sequence is somewhat overextended, and though the music (by Kathy Hinde and Matthew Olden) is as gorgeously textured as ever, its repeated swells of volume and density for each section become more predictable by the end. But those are quibbles: this is an enchanting and very unexpected dance, and you won’t think of surgery in the same way again. Accompanying the performances, incidentally, are a number of demonstrations, workshops and talks about the craft of surgery. The ones I went to (a comparison of tailoring and surgery, and a post-show panel) were fascinating. And I can reveal that Professor Kneebone also has a funnybone.

Daredevas 24 October 2013 Akademi Arts Depot, Finchley Reviewed by Bisakha Sarker

Photo: Courtesy the artist

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Yerma 2 November 2013 Amina Khayyam Dance Company Lilian Baylis Theatre, London Reviewed by Sanjoy Roy

Photo: Vipul Sangoi

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it was their contrasting styles – the differing personalities and expressions of temperament as much as any variations in technical ability – that hooked me from the get-go. In Salaam, they were introduced to us as white-clad equals. Given its title this opening dance was offered as a tribute to the space and an implicit welcome to the audience. But bubbling away just beneath the serene surface I could discern a little electric stream of nerves, expectations and, I suspect, a sense of friendly competition. The men were like horses fresh out of the gate, only instead of engaging in a race they were on show – sleekly combed,

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Navodit 15 November 2013 Kaleel Anwar, Sanjay Shetty and Pranav Yajnik Rich Mix, London Reviewed by Donald Hutera


hat might two lawyers and an accountant have in common besides an interest in white-collar professions? The possibly highly surprising answer is a shared passion for classical Indian dance. What’s more, as was made evident by this showcase organised by the dance agency Akademi, the movement idiom of choice for Kaleel Anwar, Sanjay Shetty and Pranav Yajnik is kathak. The one-off evening at Rich Mix was a kind of launch pad for the three men (all of whom have been training as dancers for approximately a decade) as, to quote the programme, ‘they rise and establish themselves as part of the cultural landscape of the UK.’ The potential shift from what could be deemed amateur dancer to aspiring professional is an interesting strategy. Obviously it’s still early days, but the looming question is does this trio – whether individually or as a package – have what it takes? I’m not a soothsayer. All I can say with any surety is that watching them test the waters of professional dance constituted a good night out. Overseen artistically by their mentor, the Pakistani dancerchoreographer Fasih ur-Rehman, the programme’s longer first half was topped and tailed by dances in which all three guys strutted their stuff. Seeing them together

Photo: Courtesy the artist

brushed and ready to make an impression. It was in the subsequent solos, however, that we could perceive more closely who each one is on stage – how he presents himself and behaves alone when under pressure or, if things are going well, to what degree he can occupy and convey a state of pleasure. The slightly swarthy Anwar is the sturdiest of the men. With its emphasis on footwork and turns, his performance in Hus’n-eHansadhwani (translation: the beauty of the sound of swans) contained a tincture of sensual intensity. Although his mime was a tad perfunctory, Yajnik rose fairly well to the challenge of Naachat Ganesh (choreographed by Aditi Mangaldas). Kohleyed, with a wolfish smile and a trendy haircut, as well as being the most slightly-built of the men, he seems especially adept at kathak’s speedy, stamping spins. The thumri, or devotional poem, Kaahe Rokat Dagar afforded Shetty an opportunity for delicate, low-key emotion. Enveloping his long, thin frame in the soft contours of a velvety blue coat, he was clearly invested in the soundtrack’s tender tones as a means of blurring the fine line between the masculine and the feminine. In Navodit, the piece (choreographed by Geetanjali Lal)


that closed the first half, the men functioned as a perhaps necessarily imperfect unit. This was also the case after the interval in Teen Taal, a pure dance composition featuring the bonus of live music. Dancing side by side was somehow more exposing than when they were doing solos and, in truth, parts of Teen Taal in particular came across as somewhat under-rehearsed. But this is not at all a fully-fledged complaint. My hunch is that none of these fellows has been able to pursue their studies full-time. So yes, there were shortcomings in the dancing of each – a certain awkwardness here, maybe a lack of polish there. But that’s almost beside the point. What Navodit (which means ‘newly-risen’) was about was honouring their dedicated pursuit of craft. What wasn’t completely finished was still quite alive. I was glad to have witnessed their debut, marked with what I’d like to think of as its reminder of the mystique of male beauty, and am interested in seeing how each might develop a career in dance.

RUDRA – Emotive Flight 23 November 2013 Manasamitra and York Minster York Minster, York Reviewed by Seetal Kaur Gahir

Photo: Ravage

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Strange Blooms & Configurations 3 December 2013 Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Queen Elizabeth Hall, London Reviewed by Nicholas Minns


t is no coincidence that Shobana Jeyasingh chose the biology of plants to underpin the twenty-fifth anniversary of her choreographic debut and the birth of her company. The programme at Queen Elizabeth

Hall included her first work, Configurations, as well as the world première of Strange Blooms. If the latter is the flowering of her artistic development, her bold collaboration with Michael Nyman

Photo: Chris Nash

in 1988 that became Configurations illustrates the clarity of the process by which she achieved it. Dylan Thomas used the metaphor of a ‘force that through the green fuse drives the flower,’ and there is a very real sense in both works of Jeyasingh’s rich, fertile imagination driving the creative process towards fulfilment. Her initial use of the traditional bharatanatyam dance form has broadened – she spoke candidly in the question and answer session following the performance about feeling “over-defined at the beginning by race and culture” – but she remains focused on generating meaning in dance without recourse to stories. Her materials are space, time and the bodies of her dancers; her process is one of consummate design. The members of the Benyounes Quartet sit patiently in the shadows before the start of Configurations. They will be playing Nyman’s String Quartet No. 2 which itself is based on a rhythmic score in six sections that Jeyasingh had prepared as a brief for the composer. Such close artistic collaboration is key to the unity of purpose in each work. Lucy Carter’s lighting design projects a series of rectangles on to the floor that change pattern in rhythm with the music and create pathways for the four arching, spiralling dancers whose steps are so precisely choreographed to the music that they are as much human instruments as they are indefatigable interpreters. Two years ago Jeyasingh reworked the choreography. “I wanted to say the same thing but find a simpler way to say it.” It is this economy of means and her painterly use of space that give the music such a rich visual quality that is further enhanced by Ursula Bombshell’s costumes in reds and orange. The dancers never falter as they carry

the lyrical forms, beauty, patterns and colour – even a moment of deadpan humour – through to the work’s conclusion. A similar organic line is at work in Strange Blooms, not only as the basis of its design but in the subject matter itself. It is organised in four sections based on different aspects of plant biology: the first on the way tendrils curl and swirl in their frenzied search for support; the second on the algorithms of branching; the third on cellular instabilities within plants that help them to move; and the fourth about hybridity or cross-breeding. From the very first moment these eight strange blooms unfold before our eyes as if we are looking through a microscope or at a time-lapse film, with Guy Hoare’s patterns of light reminiscent of Rothko in fauve colours suffusing the choreographic development. Graphic projections are not easy to get right in a dance context, but Jan Urbanowski’s laserlike etchings of plant forms play beautifully on the dancers’ bodies while Fabrice Serafino’s costumes subtly harmonise gender and reveal the dance. One can still see the low plié of bharatanatyam but the dance vocabulary belongs more with the urgency of natural forms than with any particular style. If Strange Blooms reveals the hidden life of plants, Gabriel Prokofiev’s score simulates the process in music. By dissecting a recording by Jane Chapman of Louis Couperin’s harpsichord piece, Chaconne la Complaignante, Prokofiev lays bare its mysterious internal processes before putting it all back together again in pristine form. Like the design of Strange Blooms, it is a remarkable journey that reminds us of the richness hidden in the depths of life. As Jeyasingh says, “Choreography is a way of revealing what is already there.”

Music Performance Transposed Rhythm And The Saraswati Veena 19 September 2013 Bernhard Schimpelsberger & Jayanthi Kumaresh Darbar Festival, Purcell Room, London Reviewed by Ken Hunt


ransposed Rhythm And The Saraswati Veena was the inaugural double bill of the

2013 Darbar Festival. This Indian classical music festival, its artistic director Sandeep Virdee explained from the stage, was first held in 2006 in Leicester to commemorate the tabla guru Gurmit Singh Virdee (1937-2005). It transferred to London in 2009. That year Aruna Sairam sang and her performance is seared into my brain. She revealed how music can render the historic and the modern one and the same. Bernhard Schimpelsberger and Sukhad Munde were the festival’s opening act. Schimpelsberger, a fine rhythmist, was credited with ‘cajun and drums’ in the Festival at a Glance mini-guide, although what he played in the opening ‘invocation’ was not a settler of French extraction from Louisiana (Cajun), but a cajón, a box drum upon which the drummer sits. Munde, son of the percussionist Manik Munde, was credited with pakhawaj, the double-headed barrel drum played with the hands that nowadays is closely associated with dhrupad, the jewel of jewels in the crown of Hindustani song

Photo: Darbar

forms. Behind Schimpelsberger, waiting mutely, was a very imposing kit drum, with an impressive drum he later described as a ‘bayan bass drum’ (after the bayan, the left-hand bass tabla drum). What unfolded over the course of the set was proof that concerts can turn out to be turbulent or smooth flights…and bumpy as well as smooth landings may occur. The Austrian-born Schimpelsberger introduced as a surprise guest a regular working partner, the UK-based sarodist Soumik Datta. They set about a series of exchanges with Schimpelsberger using his kit drum arsenal and Hindustani verbal percussion mnemonic compositions, with Datta on the sarod. Unfortunately, it went on for far too long. Meanwhile, Sukhad Munde sat patiently on stage with his pakhawaj, counting tāl, counting matras. When Schimpelsberger at last WINTER 2013 PULSE 23


announced him, Munde showed great professionalism and at 24 is already playing with a clarity and finesse of stroke that does his dhrupad accompanist lineage proud. Nevertheless, surely nobody needs added pressure like this on their major UK debut. For me, the duo’s following solos and sawaljawab (literally ‘question-answer’) call-and-response passages were too little too late to entirely rescue this concert. After listening to Jayanthi Kumaresh’s Mysterious Duality (2010), nobody is likely to forget her. Even on disc she is eye-popping in her shaping of sonorities on the saraswati veena. The instrument is named after Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, arts and science, and Jayanthi Kumaresh combines the music and science aspects brilliantly. She uses technology most innovatively to project Carnatic rāgam on what historically has been a quietlyspoken instrument. Played with picks and nails and close mic’d, the instrument in Kumaresh’s hands is big-voiced and capable of projecting the way U. Srinivas and his solid-body mandolin does. Srinivas’s mandolin, it should be said, is Tiny Moore’s solid body to Jethro Burns’ flatback mandolin. I know of nobody else doing what Jayanthi Kumaresh is doing with the saraswati veena. She is indeed blazing a trail. Kumaresh ran though a repertoire that included compositions by Tyagaraja and Sastri beautifully. Nevertheless, two things diminished the concert’s impact. On call she had two accomplished percussionists, both of whom, incidentally, had accompanied Aruna Sairam in 2009. Patri Satish Kumar was playing mrdangam – the South Indian barrel drum counterpart to pakhawaj – and R.N. Prakash the tuned clay pot ghatam. As happens on a democratic stage, their time duly came to solo and duet in the time-honoured call-and-response manner. This they did but sometimes in percussion sawaljawab exchanges less democracy is more. They should be a feature to be deployed judiciously. That said, after the conclusion of the ragam tanam pallavi she phewed: “We landed safely.” Another factor may have been getting a bit sawaljawabed out by the opening act. A worse aspect was that technology showed the ugly side of its face with excessive decibel levels. Compounding this, the 24 PULSE WINTER 2013

sound was ricocheting round the auditorium. It must be noted, though, that Jayanthi Kumaresh runs a most happy stage. Reviewing has a number of purposes. The critic’s role is to add insights and observations, maybe unasked for. A combination of stagecraft issues and on-stage manners, decibels and acoustics marred this concert. They reminded how such non-musical elements can colour the reception and perception of a performance and music’s enjoyment. Hours later, these ears were still wincing from the volume.

Iconic Sitar to Mesmerising Carnatic Ragas 21 September 2013 Anupama Bhagwat & Sudha Ragunathan Darbar Festival, Purcell Room, London Reviewed by Ken Hunt


his double bill concluded the third day of the eighth Darbar Festival, held between 19 September and 22 September 2013. In varying ways the evening reinforced our sense of why the subcontinent’s music stays inspirational – and that aspect of what Darbar (‘court’ referring to the pre-Partition hierarchies of patronage) is all about: namely, discoveries. Sitarist Anupama Bhagwat opened Saturday’s concert, accompanied on tabla by Peterborough-based Gurdain Rayatt. Bhagwat was born in 1974 in Bhilai in south-eastern Madhya Pradesh (since 2000 Chhattisgarh

Anupam Bhagwat | Photo: James Morgan

state) into what she calls “a musically-inclined family” and she began her initial musical training aged 9. Four years later, she was accepted to study further with her guru Bimalendu Mukherjee (father of sitarist Budhaditya Mukherjee) of the Imdadkhani gharana. Sometimes known as the Etawah gharana, after the place in

modern-day Uttar Pradesh where it subsequently put down roots, this school plus style of playing is particularly associated with sitar and sitar’s more gravel-voiced cousin surbahar. Alumni include Vilayat Khan, Imrat Khan, Shahid Parvez, Shujaat Khan and Imrat Khan’s son, the sarodist Wajahat Khan. The musicians discovered that London’s autumn climate played merry havoc with their strings and skins. Especially during the first piece, the early evening rāg Shri, their instruments took it in turns to slip out of tune. Yet out of adversity grew assurance. As a model of musicianship battling the odds, Bhagwat and Rayatt’s performance was inspirational. During the main course of the recital, Jhinjhoti, Anupama Bhagwat shone as she moved through the mela (‘fair’) during that evening rāg’s movements. She was as fluent at alap as the all-too-frequently undervalued (or marginalised), rhythmically unmetered jor movement. She has an evident gift for tān phraseology – tāns being musical figures kin to Western arpeggio. She ended the recital with two compositions by her guru. Apparently, neither has a title (though historically there remains a long-standing custom of bandish-style compositions remaining innermost ‘ours’). Anupama Bhagwat is, head and shoulders, the choicest nextgeneration sitarist to cross my path in years; and watch out for Gurdain Rayatt. Though it is often anglicised as the softened ‘Carnatic’, the source of Karnatic – as in Karnatic music – is said to be karna, meaning ‘ear’. Aside from being one of Karnatic music’s most unmissable voices, Sudha Ragunathan is one of the most must-hear voices in the whole sweet universe. In the first half of the 1990s Winston Panchacharam’s Amultham label put out some of the most revelatory albums of Karnatic vocal music in the west to appear since M.S. Subbulakshmi’s breakthrough LPs, including Sudha Ragunathan’s Tamil Melodies from Amutha Isai Vani (1993) and Kaleeya Krishna (1994). Those Amultham albums remain on my background playlist. In the meanwhile, Sudha Ragunathan has grown inordinately more accomplished as a song interpreter. For most of Darbar’s UK-based audience she was probably one of those hearbefore-you-die vocalists. Religiosity is not for me, but

listening to Sudha Ragunathan it is possible to suspend all faith beliefs and just luxuriate in the sheer musicality of what she sings, knowing that deeper possibilities are skittering through better-informed listeners’ minds or soaring over many listeners’ heads. She makes me curious about Hinduism, even though the nuances of, say, the Kannada, Sanskrit,Tamil and Telugu lyrics that she sang eluded. The kriti (Hindu hymn) ‘Nagumomu’ in the South Indian rāgam Abheri – with its entreaties to Rama on the occasion of missing His smile – may well contain enough faith paradoxes to last another lifetime. And so on. From the opening varnam set in Khamas, in this case a species of étude called dharu varnam mixing and matching both Indian solfeggio and lyrics, she put her instrumental accompanists on their mettle. These were not runof-the-mill accompanists. They were the percussionists Patri Satish Kumar on mridangam and R.N. Prakash on ghatam and Jyotsna Srikanth on violin. Srikanth observed afterwards that she had no inkling of what was coming next. Everything was played, as she put it, ‘on the spot’. A huge sense of spontaneity permeated the Darbar recital. Some material such as saintcomposer Tyagaraja’s ‘Shobillu Sapthaswara’ in the South Indian rāgam Jaganmohini is a hallmarked repertoire item in Karnatic recitals. Its lyrics include as a central tenet of faith: “O Mind! Praise the divine forms of the seven musical notes, which glow in the navel, heart, neck, tongue and nose of the human body…” Elsewhere the musicians were just flying. Their ragam tanam pallavi centrepiece was masterful with Srikanth’s violin solo a minor masterpiece of the enduring kind. The concert built and built, helped perhaps in part by the instruments seeming not to be dogged to any major extent by the tuning problems that had beset Anupama Bhagwat’s recital. (Room acoustics adjust.) Sudha Ragunathan sang her heart out. Jyotsna Srikanth played some of her most edge-of-the-seat violin – accompaniment and solo – in years. The percussionists just flew. Both acts in the Iconic Sitar to Mesmerising Carnatic Ragas programme soared. This was the finest Indian classical music concert of 2013 thus far and one cannot imagine a finer.

Season’s Greetings from


A warm ‘thank you’ to all our wonderful readers and supporters. With your help Pulse has kept the vibrant South Asian arts sector in the public eye. In 2013 Pulse proudly featured the following artists and companies in the UK and from around the world: SAMYO | Akram Khan Company | Sonia Sabri Company | Ash Mukherjee | Shobana Jeyasingh Dance | GemArts | Elena Catalano | Saarang – Arts and Culture | Devika Rao | Kalapremi | Shahbaz Hussain | Vijay Rajput from NiSaPa | Prema Nandakumar | Rajika Puri | Chitra Sundaram | Kapila Venu | Porkpie Dance Theatre | Nikita Thakrar | Centre For Advanced Training | Milapfest | Niraj Chag | Yadavan | Savar Sabri | MIDIval Punditz | Mayuri Boonham and ATMA Dance | Kalpana Raghuraman | Khavita Kaur | Divya Kasturi | Ashima Suri | Nikki Bakolis | Ellen Jordan | Glyn Perrin | Annapoorna Kuppuswamy | Chamundeeswari Kuppuswamy | Seema Chopra | Astha Desai | Anita Ratnam |Mavin Khoo | Gauri Sharma Tripathi | Daksha Sheth Company | Alarmel Valli | Susheela Raman | Martin Simpson | Arieb Azhar | Trilok Gurtu | Darbar Festival | Srishti – Nina Rajarani Dance Creations | Sujata Mohapatra | Leela Samson | Amina Khayyam Dance Company | Kala Chethana Kathakali Company | Anusha Subramaniam | Shane Shambhu and Altered Skin | Aakash Odedra | Soumik Datta | Subha Subramaniam and Sadhana Dance | Apoorva Jayaraman | Bisakha Sarker and Chaturangan Dance Company | Sandhya Sridhar | Manickam Yogeswaran | Jyotsna Srikanth | Sanjay Shetty | Pranav Yajnik | Kaleel Anwar Please continue in helping us to support and draw attention to the excellent work emerging from the South Asian arts practitioners. To aid us in setting up a dynamic South Asian arts online magazine, please donate - whatever amount from £3-£33 You can pay in any of the following three ways: >> By cheque made payable to ‘Kadam’ and posted to The Hat Factory, 65-67 Bute Street, Luton LU1 2EY >> By bank transfer to account ‘Kadam’, sort code: 401002, account number: 51700316 >> Or at via PayPal Please visit the website to stay informed about the latest news and events in the South Asian arts scene.

Pulse is pleased to announce the publication of Embodied Politics: Dance, Protest and Identities by Stacey Prickett

Available at priced £20

The term ‘embodiment’, central to the book, refers to expressing ideas and beliefs through the body and making the abstract concrete. Stacey Prickett gives a fascinating account over four chapters, each dedicated to a particular time frame and location, marked by an intense focus on bringing about social change through the medium of dance: Edith Segal in New York of 1920’s and 1930’s leads workers‘ ensembles in recreational dance whilst in Britain choreographer Margaret Barr and composer Alan Bush are fired with leftwing ideals in their practice. At the turn of the 21 st century, in the San Francisco Bay area, innovative dancers turn the personal into the political whilst in the UK South Asian dancers start a powerful grass-roots advocacy that results in an ‘outsider’ form becoming part of Britain’s mainstream culture.

Stacey Prickett is a Principal Lecturer in Dance Studies at the University of Roehampton, London. Drawing on her American and British dance training and education experience, she has published numerous journal articles and chapters in the books Dance and Politics and Dance in the City.


Kadam/Pulse call out dance artists for their Unlocking Creativity Shorts platform to be held at the Let’s Dance International Dance Festival, Leicester on Saturday 10 May 2014


The showcase is for new work created in or influenced by any South Asian dance genre. We are looking for fresh, thoughtful work that will leave audiences amazed, moved, provoked. The evening will feature up to four dance acts of between 10-20 minutes. Please apply to with a 35-word description, title, length of piece and a DVD or YouTube link. Closing date for applications:

5 February 2014 Artists who featured in 2013 — — — — —

Kalpana Raghuraman Khavita Kaur Nikki Bakolis and Ellen Jordan Ashima Suri Divya Kasturi


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Profile for Sanjeevini Dutta

Pulse 123 december 2013  

Dr Stacey Prickett traces the development of South Asian dance in the UK since mid-Seventies; profile of Carnatic vocalist Sudha Raghuraman...

Pulse 123 december 2013  

Dr Stacey Prickett traces the development of South Asian dance in the UK since mid-Seventies; profile of Carnatic vocalist Sudha Raghuraman...