Apart from the frenetic concert schedule, Margazhi season has come to be recognised also for its conferences and its curators…

In 2009, after a concert (in Chennai), an audience member, and a rasika, met Chennai-based classical pianist, Anil Srinivasan backstage and asked him a question that, in a sense, became an inspiration for an entire festival. “He was curious about the musical domain I came from, and whether it had a structured grammar,” Anil recounts, letting us into the genesis of the Festival of Parallels that he single-handedly curated and which premiered last year in the thick of the Margazhi season in the city. As an attempt to bring musicians together in “conversations and performances and, through them, compare and contrast different forms of classical music”, the Festival this year, features Anil Srinivasan with leading performers like Lalgudi G.J.R. Krishnan and Jayanthi Kumaresh along with emerging artistes like Vedanth Bharadwaj, Navin Iyer, Aditya Srinivasan and Anusha Pradeep.

From Friday, Anita Ratnam will convene ‘Epic Women’, a conference that will — through discussions, academic paper presentations and formal performances — explore and examine women from across history, mythology, art, politics, and from across the world, who have come to occupy an epic stature. It will comprise a hand-picked group that will meet and interact with presenters, participants and performers.

Between December 26 and 31, at the Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, Bharatanatyam dancer and choreographer Priyadarsini Govind will don the convenor’s costume at the Natya Kala Conference. At ‘Samahit — When Parallels Meet’, as the dance conference is titled, as many as 53 artistes from across genres of the performing arts and from the world will present their perspectives on their own art but always looking at it from and through the prism of dance.

Almost like the concept of duality and the possibilities of contradictions within the art world that Samahit (meaning internal conflict) aims to unravel, artistes in the city are busy playing roles other than merely that of a performer. Apart from the opportunity to put on their thinking caps and wear the administrator’s gown at the same time, conferences like these are also emerging as thought platforms with the potential and possibility of delineation and discussion.

It isn’t easy curating a festival though. Last December, two days after ‘Mad and Divine’ — the subject of conversation at Kartik Fine Arts’ Natya Darshan Festival — ended, Anita met with her core team and began ideating and designing ‘Epic Women’. “You see,” Anita says, “curation is extremely time-consuming; that is, of course, if you want it to be excellent. I am still nervous with the clock counting down this week. Does my opening speech have the right tone? Will all the speakers keep to the time? How will the tech team cater to the many demands of the international performers? This year, ‘Epic Women’ has six world premieres and while it is all really exciting, it is also extremely nerve-wracking.”

Creative process

Taking a breather at the end of a long evening on Wednesday, Priyadarsini, who is obviously excited about adding another feather to her cap, says about the conference: “It has been a fascinating, liberating and, no doubt, a hugely challenging experience. Aside from being a hugely creative process and [giving] the opportunity to widen your own scope of activity, the pre-production [leading up to the conference] has helped me understand what to do to make things happen, literally, on a daily basis.”

As artistes, and among those recognised internationally for their art and artistry, it is imperative that what they curate sparkles with quality and consistency in form, content and intent. “What you put together,” Priyadarsini adds, “needs to be not only stimulating but also satisfy and satiate intellectually, emotionally, and at the same time, entertain.” That philosophy is also the premise for the ‘Festival of Parallels’ that has been designed more as a spot for thought, and is looking to grow and include more performers from other classical streams and “engage students of music more”.

It is against that backdrop of meaningful engagement that curators and convenors are identified. Y. Prabhu, Honorary General Secretary of the Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, says, “The idea is to invite not only a very good artiste but also one with an inherent ability to spot and string together performers and presenters from across the country and the world and, in a sense, integrate them into the core and philosophy of the conference.”

From the convenor’s perspective, what adds to the challenge is also the fact that a majority of the artistes multitask. Anita, for instance, is a dancer, producer, choreographer, organiser, collaborator and writer. “Playing the curator’s part is extra special for me because the vision belongs to that one person, right?” says Anita.

“It’s really tough,” Anil says about having to juggle a host of performances and string together a three-part festival that involves logistics’ management, publicity, promotion and, of course, creation and preparation for the performance, “But I’m hoping that next year, I’ll only be a curator and get other western classical musicians to participate.” Either way, the show must go on.

(Akhila Krishnamurthy is an ideator.)