Classical dancers of Delhi-NCR, cutting across genres, look forward to performing at Chennai’s Margazhi festival.

As if Delhi’s winter weren’t cold, foggy and bleak enough, the cheer seems to desert it further at this time of the year — at least as far as classical dance performances are concerned — as scores artistes and art lovers flock to Chennai, where the unique Margazhi festival is in high gear. Its various appellations — Madras Season, Music Season, December Season — are all slightly inaccurate. However that may be, the city explodes in cultural activities across a range of art forms and related activities including CD releases, exhibitions, theatre, dance, music performances and seminars, in a celebration that lasts into January end and is one of the biggest unorganised yet homogeneous extravaganzas in the world. Legend may be greater than reality, but artistes agree that Chennai audiences are a treat to perform before. Their loyalty to the arts, willingness to queue for tickets to classical concerts, knowledge of the scene and the confident, candid feedback are rare luxuries for artistes resident in the Capital. Is it a wonder that dancers across genres look for opportunities to perform during the ‘season’? Here some dancers based in New Delhi and the National Capital Region share thoughts on the ‘season’.

Pandit Birju Maharaj & Saswati Sen - Kathak

One of Chennai’s most respected cultural organisations, Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, conferred its prestigious Nritya Choodamani award on eminent Kathak dancer Saswati Sen this year. Saswati performed there with her guru, Pandit Birju Maharaj, this Tuesday. Performing in Chennai, says Saswati, is “something very, very special”. It is quite different from performing in any other city or festival, she avers. “Especially at this time of year we get the cream of the audience too.” Being named this year’s Nritya Choodamani made it that much more special, she adds.

With Chennai’s cosmopolitan audiences, Kathak and Hindustani music have always been popular, and Saswati says her preparations always include something special for the season. “I planned to do two things I learnt from gurus here,” says Saswati over the phone from Chennai, “but I was so inspired that there was time only to do one. This was ‘Tamboori meetidava’ of Purandaradasa, which I had learnt from T.V. Gopalakrishnanji.”

Priya Venkataraman – Bharatanatyam

A student of A. Lakshman and Bragha Bessell, Priya performed “Devi” at Chennai’s Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan last week. On January 12, 7.30 p.m., she repeats it at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha. Since 2007, Priya has been a regular at the season. With remunerations barely expenses, Priya notes that having her parents and relatives in Chennai helps her tide over the difficulties. “For me it’s like a second home. So rehearsal space and a place to stay are no problem.” For this season as with other tours of South India, she works with Chennai-based musicians instead of flying in accompanying artistes from Delhi. Complications notwithstanding, she avers, “I think the charm of performing there is unparalleled… You feel so connected. When I come back to Delhi I feel so disconnected.” She mentions the morning sessions at most sabhas where conferences on different themes bring scholars and practitioners together in informal interactions. “It’s so important to see others,” she says. “Not just watching, but interaction.”

Sometimes, she says, feedback from one’s own gurus is not enough. And the senior gurus in Chennai, she agrees, are always ready with feedback for young dancers. Priya points out Delhi audiences often comprise the dancer’s friends and relations, whereas in Chennai, interested spectators keep track and come for shows by artistes they may not know. “In that sense it’s a much bigger audience.”

Even if younger artistes battle competition to fill the hall, still, sometimes “some key people come” and give her feedback, and that she finds very positive. “In Delhi it’s hard to get an honest critique of your work,” says Priya, mentioning the uselessness of a comment like “bahut achha hai” to a dancer wanting to grow and learn! “But it’s always a challenge financially and logistically... in that sense the Chennai season is not like a festival, where they pick you up and drop you and they’ve done the advertising too. In Chennai it’s like a self-produced programme.” And yet the draw is irresistible, she says. She restricts her outings to one or two, to avoid splitting her audience.

Kavita Dwibedi - Odissi

Even though financially, performing at the season is not viable, noted Odissi dancer Kavita Dwibedi is happy to have been invited to perform on December 30 in Chennai. “Just to be there” is an experience she cherishes, and she has been regularly performing in Chennai for several years. The Chennai audience is for Kavita the greatest draw, even if it is for one appearance.

Jyoti Srivastava – Odissi

Jyoti voices, along with other dancers, a sense of bewilderment at the selection criteria. Some artistes get invited to all the prime sabhas year after year but others, despite successful showings in the past, remain on the periphery. She recalls how Guru Durga Charan Ranbir would for years remember how well her performance at Krishna Gana Sabha was received, yet she has never been invited there again.

Aditi Mangaldas – Kathak

The eminent Kathak and Contemporary dancer says regretfully she is not there this time. “Sorry, no luck... “I’m not performing for the Chennai season. But hopefully soon.”

Rama Vaidyanathan - Bharatanatyam

With three performances behind her, Rama Vaidyanathan, who has designed the performance “Divine Cowherd” based on stories of Krishna for the season, will appear on January 1, 2013, at 7.30 p.m. at the Krishna Gana Sabha and on January 3, 6 p.m., at the Music Academy.

Vidha and Abhimanyu Lal – Kathak

The young Kathak duo performs in the 7.45 p.m. slot on January 5 at the Music Academy Dance Festival.

Kanaka Srinivasan – Bharatanatyam

The veteran receives an award from Vazhuvoora School of Dance in January, while her disciple Uttara performs at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.

Madhavi Mudgal – Odissi

Madhavi Mudgal and Alarmel Valli have created a fan following for their combined recitals of Odissi and Bharatanatyam. Titled Samanvaya, the performance took place this past Sunday.

Jayaprabha Menon - Mohiniattam

Jayaprabha performed at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan early in the season.