This city has always been art-centric with Margazhi festival being its global calling card. But concerts are no longer restricted to the month of December, Chennai’s eventful cultural calendar is marked by music and dance performances round the year. The classical arts are going through a vibrant phase with artistes turning explorers and looking for refreshing ways to engage with tradition. Rasikas, besides, heading to the sabhas are also thronging the social media to get up-close with their favourite artistes. And enthusiasts unable to take real lessons from vidwans, are attending the many cyber gurukulas. Chitra Swaminathan goes on a rewind mode to track the tuneful trends of 2013.

Blend it like them

Musicians, young and established are forming ensembles to indulge in group experiments to draw-up unusual rhythm-raga concoctions. Such associations are bringing to the fore promising talents even while showcasing the diverse musical range of instruments that otherwise play restricted roles in cutcheris. Be it innovative mridangist Kaaraikkudi Mani’s Sruthilaya ensemble that has placed Indian percussion instruments at the centre-stage through its triumphant collaborations with world orchestras or the ghatam veteran Vikku Vinayakram’s globally-echoing tala vadya performances that have even resurrected the fading-into-oblivion gethu vadyam. Then there is Tiruvarur Vaidyanathan’s progressive tala works that have taken him beyond the cutcheri circuit. The latest entrants are violinist Embar Kannan with his Crossroads, ghatam Karthick with Heartbeat, Trichur Brothers and their Anubhuti and many more.

The new order

Thematic assumes a new significance in the classical dance world with artistes looking into the ancient texts to come up with rare works or beyond borders for a universal appeal. As the traditional margam gets deconstructed, there’s an exuberant synergy between classical forms and styles. While the likes of Alarmel Valli and Priyadarsini Govind with their nuanced training and long years on the stage have lent a refreshing sensibility to Bharatanatyam’s repertoire by exploring classical literature for a contemporary dialogue, Malavika Sarrukkai’s dance is an aesthetic interpretation of her journeys, influences, observations and philosophy. Then there is Anita Ratnam who has always pushed herself to think beyond the structure and content. These senior artistes along with dynamic veterans such as Padma Subrahmanyam and Chitra Visweswaran seem to have redefined dance for gen-next as ‘let the feet travel where the mind takes it.’ So we have productions such as Jayanti Subamaniam’s ‘Jyotir Gamaya’, inspired by Jonathan Livingston Seagull and young Vaishnavi Sainath’s ‘Shilpam’, a take off on Greek mythology.

Hail the rasika!

Enough and more has been said about Chennai’s discerning listeners, who have shed their ‘conservative’ tag to become open-minded and progressive. Artistes love to premiere their new works in the city and are eager for the audience response here. Cross-over, fusion or experimental, the audience is now ready for all kinds of music. And don’t miss the many youngsters in the crowd. Who said Indian arts have a bleak future?

Tune into technology

Swanky halls and sabhas apart, the new-age musicians have found a large audience on the social networking sites that are emerging as the most powerful means of promoting music. On–line sales, streaming, YouTube, file–sharing, smartphone apps and individual websites are among the many ways that the Internet is delivering music. Facebook and tweeter world have also established a closer artiste-audience connect. And thanks to skype, artistes now have sishyas across the globe class. There are specialised websites that offers online music learning modules.

Tracing the roots

Contemporary may be the catchword but most artistes attempt a non-formulaic presentation without distorting the tenets of the art form. Not surprisingly, vocalist Sanjay Subrahmanyam’s concerts, which are a throwback to the past, draw a full house and are hailed for celebrating the padathantara. So it is when veteran Vyjayanthimala Bali brings alive the authentic Tanjore style in her performances. After all, the city and its people are known for being culturally rooted.