Friday, October 28, 2011

Art Appreciation Course

After my tour of the chettinad and Madurai last week where i was exposed to a certain form of Chettiar art, i took a more formal "Art appreciation" course in the weekend (21,22 and 23). The course was a part of the annual theater festival at Rangashankara .
Last year me and my cousin Pavan Rao wanted to attend a similar course but due to some travel commitments we could not make it. So this year we made sure that we keep ourselves free to take this three day course. As a matter of fact we were one of the first to enroll for the course. 

The course was designed and curated by the well known art critic Sadanand menon. Sadanand menon was earlier with Economic times as their senior journalist and Art editor. After 1995 he has taken up many positions in India and abroad in the fields of art journalism, art critic etc and has served on certain commissions and committees under department of culture, Government of India. 

The three day programme was well attended by students, journalists, senior bureaucrats, senior artists, corporate employees, art lovers and laymen like me. Well known theater personality Padhma shri Arundathi nag was present  on all the three days. It was an opportunity for many people like me to have a critical discussions with Mrs Nag on various topics covering art, art appreciation, art forms, framework of art etc. She was more than happy to spend time with people like me who have no great eye for nuanced art forms and art elements.

The programme was conducted at Aurobindo complex J.P.Nagar. The programme was divided into six sessions spanning over three days. We also watched a play every evening on these days and discussed the play with the directors and actors at the end of the play.  

I will briefly try to highlight the six sessions. I must put a disclaimer here that i have no experience in art or theater. I am just a fan of theater and ever since Rangashankara has come to J.P.Nagar, i been a great fan of it and i have been following certain theater activities. As such my poor writing cannot do any justice to the kind of art forms and theater performances that i witnessed. 

Session 1: Session on frameworks for critical engagments with arts with Sadanand Menon : This session was like an introduction to Art and was kind of a perspective on Art appreciation. Dr Menon took us on a political journey of art development in independent India. He explained the fine conflict of politics and art and what has the former to do with latter. Dr Menon spent some time in introducing national school of drama (NSD), the great dramatist Kanailal and his political theater. Then he introduced us to certain movements in the Art history of india. He particularly spoke about Indian People’s theatre association (IPTA). Later he introduced us to Sri udayshankar and his form of art . The session was concluded by a discussion on various politico-cultural questions. 

Session 2: Session on Dhrupad [Hindustani Classical] with Ramakant Gundecha : Dhrupad is a form of classical music practiced in certain parts of cental and North India. Dhrupad is the oldest form of Hindustani classical music. Dr Ramakanth Gundecha is one of the most popular singers in this form of Hindustani classical vocal. Dr Ramakant went on explianing the fine points of swara, shruthi and raaga associated with this form of singing. Frankly i did not understand anything. But one interesting observation was that harmonium is not used in this form of Hindustani vocal. Unlike Khayaal and other forms of Hindustani music where harmonium is an integral part, in Dhrupad, harmonium is not used and sarangi is used as an accompanying instrument. More about Dr Ramakant Gundecha and Dhrupad is available here.

Session 3: Session with Sunil Kothari on contemporary Indian dance : Padma Shri Dr Sunil Kothari is a Gujarati by birth and a charted accountant by profession. But he took great interest in dance and took to writing about Dance as a full time career. He is today an authority on the subject of contemporary dance and dance forms. He is also a trained Bharathnatyam dancer. To his credit he has 12 books and many papers. 
His talk was mainly on the dance forms practiced by legends like Kumudini Lakhya and Dr Chandralekha. His talk also touched upon the social milieu in which these dance forms originated and flourished. He focused on the issue of contemporary dance and transition from traditional to contemporary dance. The session concluded by a pretty engaging discussion on creating and transcending notionary paradigms like "Traditional" and "contemporary" .

Session 4: Session with Margi Madhu on classical Sanskrit Theater [Koodiyattam] : This was the most captivating session in the whole course. The speaker and demonstrator was Dr Margi Madhu. His session was on a traditional form of Sanskrit theater called "KUDIYATTAM" . A scholar, a practitioner and a teacher of Kudiyattam, Dr madhu did complete justice for the three hours allotted to him. Unlike other speakers, Dr Madhu performed ceratain important features of Kudiyattam accompanied by the the traditional Mizhavu  drum. Kudiyattam is an extremely nuanced form of theater. At more than 2000 years old, the Sanskrit theater form from Kerala is the oldest known form of theater. It has highly stylized and complex theater language replete with elaborate traditional hand gestures and facial expressions. UNESCO has declared Kudiyattam as " Masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity" .

Dr Madhu divided the session very well. After introduction to the form of art, he went on to explain the subdivisions and demonstrated the finer details of it. He rendered a few dialogues just to explain how fine and how nuanced is the form of expression and rendering. 
He demonstrated various objects in the kudiyattam form like dancing peacock, lion, rabbit, train etc. Each of his performance was followed by a standing ovation by the observers who were just perplexed and speechless. He explained the Mudras and very succinctly demonstarted each one with a context. 
His penultimate performance was the "Navaras" or the emotions. By far this was the best performance that i have seen on Navarasas. I just cannot believe how quickly one can change his emotion and do it so well. 
Dr Margi Madhu concluded the session with an amazing 15 minute performance. The 15 minute experience was just a different world experience  beyond words. 
I was so moved by his performance that i have taken his address and phone number and will be traveling to Cochin later in the year to see a full night performance.  

Session 5: Session with Maya Krishna Rao on contemporary theater and comedy : Maya krishna rao is a slightly different theater personality. As she puts it , she gives only "High risk" performances. Known very well for solo performances, she has traveled a wide horizon from extremely serious solo plays involving props to sexual comedy to cabaret. She has carved a great niche for herself in the theater space.Her niche is a "certain uncertainty". Though most of what she spoke was above my head, i found her practice of theater very interesting. 

Session 6: Session with Balan Nambiar on modern art & sculpture : Balan Nambiar is a world renowned steel sculptor and is best known for his steel sculpture for Texas instruments where he sculpted the concept of DSP (digital signal processing) in a steel sculpture. 
He is also a great art historian and one who has documented 148 forms of Theyam (A traditional art performance in kerala). 
He started his career by writing, documenting and photographing theyam. Later moved on to canvas painting, stone sculpture and finally to steel sculpture. A true genius, Dr Nambiar is also sitting member of many commissions on art and culture under ministry of culture, government of India.

The three day session was concluded by a discussion on the proceedings of   the three days and certain questions that it raised. Personally for me, though most of the things were above my head,i atleast got to know that such great scholars  are involved in such rich and nuanced art forms in this great country. Henceforth, i am sure i can look at any piece of visual or performing art with a little greater and broader detail. 

I will not be able to articulate the exact experience of the three days nor will i be able to articulate how that experience is going to help me but i am sure that i will be able to connect the dot someday somewhere. 

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