Their appeal knows no borders. The world is their stage, not just a platform to perform but a space to explore their art and connect with audiences. Chitra Swaminathan speaks to Carnatic musicians and Bharatanatyam artistes about the alternative performance spaces that mark their creative journey.
T. M. KRISHNA: Smaller spaces and softer lighting calm the mind and add to the performance. My concert in a castle in Leut, a village on the Holland-Belgium border, was unforgettable. The sheer beauty in its simplicity stirred my soul. At an ancient monastery in Prades in the South of France, the stone structure with its high ceiling took me back in time. It was an interactive concert between Carnatic and Western classical musicians. There were about 600 people and no mikes. But every single note was audible to the large gathering. Another concert close to my heart is one I performed at a temple on the banks of the Narmada in Madhya Pradesh. There were diyas all around and tranquillity. The cutcheris at the Navaratri Mandapam conducted by the royal family of Travancore are also experiences to cherish. The evening performances next to the sanctum sanctorum are magnificent. But the most intimate space for me is the Himalayas. During a recent trek, I sang for over an hour with the cliffs and peaks for an audience.
SUDHA RAGHUNATHAN: At a concert in a church in Luxembourg there was a sudden power cut and the mikes stopped working. I closed my eyes and continued singing and I could hear my voice clearly in the stillness. A few minutes later I opened my eyes to the wonderful sight of the audience holding candles in their hands — the flames lighting up their faces. And imagine performing a Carnatic cutcheri in Broadway (New York), well-known for musicals. The meticulously organised concert seemed to have representatives from across cultures and communities. That music has no language proved true in every sense.
ALARMEL VALLI: Dance is a prayer and moments of mime and movement in the sacred space in front of the Nataraja of Chidambaram are nothing short of transcendental. It was the early days of the Natyanjali Festival and I got an opportunity to perform right in front of the sanctum sanctorum. Nothing seemed to matter — lights, stage or audience — when I addressed the Lord through the composition “Yenneramum undhan sannadhiyil irrukka vendum ayya”. Dancing at Avignon's annual cultural festival or at Queen Beatrix's palace or the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow have left me with indelible memories. These spaces reflect beautifully the essence of art by fusing past with the present.
ANITA RATNAM: It’s a gift for performing artistes to travel across the world and inhabit many magical alternate performance spaces. For me, an unusual space was the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts in the U.S. It was an open air courtyard with an all-white cocoon-like ambience. On a sunny afternoon, I narrated stories about elephants, peacocks and snakes through Dance Katha. The audience was within touching distance and the energy was palpable. Another special moment was in Chidambaram in front of the Vishnu Govindarajan image. I was returning to dance after 14 years of living in the U.S. and I felt the twin streams of grace from Vishnu and Nataraja flow into me. And how can I forget the quietude, vast roofs and historical walls of the caves of Cappadocia in Turkey during the Solo Arts Festival.
U. SHRINIVAS: Engaging with the art in unusual settings or spaces helps an artiste to discover unique facets of his persona and creativity. So it was when I performed in the lawns of the Lebanon palace on a full moon night or at Acropolis in Greece or the pristine Taj Mahal. These sojourns through cultural and historical zones give a new dimension to my music. I remember the ecstatic glides, the swaras on my mandolin seemed to take on the high rocky terrain in the Acropolis and I even felt them echo through the many ancient structures that dot this unconventional landscape.