Utsav, held at the Kennedy Centre, Washington, was a celebration of India’s music and dance tradition.

When The Music Academy Madras, an institution of a standing of eight decades, organised a three-day festival featuring some brilliant dancers and musicians from India in September it indeed created a buzz. More so, when the venue was the prestigious Kennedy Centre in Washington.

In collaboration with arts aficionado Dr. Sreedhar Potarazu’s Sivam Inc., a Washington-based organisation, The Music Academy presented recitals by such artists as Lalgudi G.J.R. Krishnan and Lalgudi Vijaylakshmi (violin duet), Ranjani and Gayatri (Carnatic vocal), Aditi Mangaldas (Kathak), Surupa Sen and Bijayini Satpaty (Odissi) and Mythili Prakash (Bharatanatyam). The panel discussions were moderated by T.M. Krishna and Priyadarsini Govind.

The timing was perfect as only two years ago, the Kennedy Centre had, in a month-long ‘Maximum India’ festival, showcased mind-boggling performing and visual arts. It provided a befitting background for the Indian Diaspora and Americans to look forward to savouring Indian arts.

Chicago-based celebrated Bharatanatyam exponent Hema Rajagopalan during a panel discussion on dance observed: “Classical dance and music have come a long way in the past 40 years. The second generation of America-born Indians has shown great pride in the strides made by classical arts. To be part of the Music Academy initiative in the U.S., one reiterates the faith in our cultural heritage.” A galaxy of international experts on music spoke of the phenomenon of growth and interest in Carnatic music.

Though a lot was packed in the three-day festival, the response from the discerning audience was overwhelming. Awareness about classical music and its popularity was palpable in the air. The performances were of a high standard. Often I felt I was in Chennai during the Season, relishing the music. And those from Washington and other cities, who make it a point to visit Chennai during the Season shared that feeling with the performing artists.

Imaginative choreography

On the opening night, Kathak dancer Aditi Mangaldas in her solo titled ‘Immersed’ based on the theme of Krishna, displayed her virtuosity and imaginative rendering. For the Brijbhasha song ‘Jit Dekhu Ut Shyam ’, Aditi used intraforms of Kathak such as tod, tukda and parans imaginatively, and at that moment, she transcended the technique and became ‘immersed’ with tintinnabulation of one ankle bell, with the Lord. The musicians and light designer gave her excellent support.

Surupa Sen and Bijayini Satpathy have earned rave reviews for their Odissi recitals. They have been also regularly performing in the U.S. and have a following there. They have expanded their Odissi vocabulary incorporating physical traditions such as Yoga, Kalaripayattu, chari and Karanas of the Natyasastra which they studied under Padma Subrahmanyam. The resultant kinetic language of Odissi was riveting. Right from Annamacharya’s ‘Mukunda Madhava’ till their signature duet ‘Vibhakta’, based on Sankaracharya’s Ardhanareeswara stotra, they engaged the audience with their seamless presentation. Alternating the roles of Siva and Parvati, looking intensely into each other’s eyes, inter locking their arms, when they disappeared in the wings, they had cast a spell on the audience. Lighting by Lynne Fernandez and musical support had customary finesse.

On the final day, Mythili Prakash proved that she is ready to take on the mantle from her seniors. That day, she offered her own choreography of ‘Surya’ and ‘Devi’, replete with imaginative iconic images, highlighting the architectonic form of Bharatanatyam and its amazing geometry; it was visual poetry.

When she performed to Pandit Ravishankar’s ‘Tarana', followed by ‘Chand suraj na the, asman jab na tha,’ an unconventional benediction to the traditional Bharatanatyam (Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s music, Mohammad Iqbal’s lyrics, sung in mesmerizing manner by Mahesh Swamy), she brought the house down and got a standing ovation. The support from musicians including her brother vocalist Aditya Prakash was exemplary.

The festival was attended and supported by dignitaries such as the Ambassador of India Nirupama Rao, Indira Nooyi, CEO, Pepsi Cola, industrialist Ajay Rayan, and Miss America Nina Davuluri. Kudos to The Music Academy for its initiative to bring the artists to the U.S