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Ancient Art In A Modern Package

Ranjani Saigal

Urban Kutcheri was a unique endeavor by prominent New York based Indian classical artists who have come together to present their traditions in a modern light.  The program which was held at the Cambridge Multicultural Arts center on Sept 22, 2007 was a presentation of Jiva Performing arts.
The group has artist who hail from a verity of artistic genres from dance to music to poetry and photography. The entire event was a well choreographed production that showcased the talent of the artists in a unique manner.

The event opened with a dance by Sonali Skandan. Ganesha Stuthi in Ragam  Nattai and Sankeerna Chapu Talam was a traditional piece choreographed by Sonali’s Guru Shri CV Chandrasekhar.The master of ceremonies for the event was Raina Mehta , a poet who used her original poetry for introductions. This added a touch of class to the event. The backdrop featured a slide show presenting the works of Jigar Mehta.

“The Temple”, a musical composition in Ragam Gambira Nattai and Kanda Chapu Talam by the Mridangam player AR Balaskandan explored the melodic and rhythmic structure of music by developing an exchange between violin and percussion culminating in an energetic finale.  A Mallari from the soundtrack of Srirangaram composed by Shri Lalgudi Jayaraman proved to be an apt prelude to this piece for it was titled “The Temple”.

Sonali followed with a presentation of the traditional Kamboji Varnam , Nadanai Azhathu va Sakhiye and did a sincere job in presenting her Guru’s choreography.  “Music season in Chennai “, was a musical presentation centered on Saint Thayagaraja’s Kriti in Nalinakanti , “Mana Vinalakinca”. Elaborate improvisation on the part of the violinist and the rhythm section made this piece quite a treat.

Sonali presented “Mogudochi Pilachedu” a Padam where the protagonist is a Parakiya Nayika (married to one and in love with another). It is an emotional piece where the Nayika says goodbye to Krishna (her lover) as she has to return to her husband.  Sonali is a student of Bragha Bessel a senior disciple of Kalanidhi Narayanan. This is one of Kalanidhi’s signature pieces. The Kalanidhi stamp was clearly visible in the presentation.

A Lalgudi Tillana in Ragam Revathi brought the musicians and the dancer together. The rhythmic sections were brilliant and the item was a wonderful finale to the evening.

It was a treat to see the presentation by talented young Indian and non-Indian American artists who have worked hard to learn their art forms well.  The music section led by AR Balaskandan was able to package Carnatic music in a fashion that would be appealing to the novice listener while not letting up on the classicism. It takes great creativity and talent to do that and congratulations are due to the team that included violinist Arjun Ramamurthy, Tabla player Jonathan Singer and Kanjira player Zach Knight. The use of rhythm as the center of the presentation was a novel concept that was very appealing. 

The use of slides as a backdrop worked beautifully for the music though it was distracting during the dance.  Perhaps just one slide would have worked well for the dance but having blown up eye expressions in the background was particularly distracting for it was not in tune with the mood of the dance.  But for that small glitch the show was absolutely marvelous!!!

The cliché  “old wine in a new bottle or perhaps "Idli" on fancy plate” would apply to Urban Kutcheri.  The presentation was delightful to say the least. There is a great need for such presentations to draw the attention of non-traditional audiences to  Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam. Kudos to the artists for creating something new and beautiful without compromising the quality of the art. We hope to see more of them in the near future!  

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