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When questions on music and dance came thick and fast

R. K. Radhakrishnan
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Alarmel Valli, Krishna and Unnikrishnan reach out to Jaffna students

Cultural rekindling:Bharatanatyam exponent Alarmel Valli explaining a point as Carnatic vocalist T. M. Krishna listens intently, in Jaffna over the weekend.— Photo: R. K. Radhakrishnan
Cultural rekindling:Bharatanatyam exponent Alarmel Valli explaining a point as Carnatic vocalist T. M. Krishna listens intently, in Jaffna over the weekend.— Photo: R. K. Radhakrishnan

“At what point of your dance training can you develop a style of your own?” a student asked Bharatanatyam exponent Alarmel Valli at an interaction here over the weekend.

The elaborate answer’s crux was that timing depended on the person, ability, confidence, and creative impulse. “You will know when you are ready,” the dancer said.

These and many more questions were thrown at Alarmel Valli, and Carnatic vocalists T.M. Krishna and Unnikrishnan by students and residents of Jaffna, at the interaction spread across two stages, three sessions, and two days. The questions revealed a desire to rise above, and were searching in their nature. It did not seem like the questions came from a people caught in the traumatic end results of a self-defeating war, waged by a section of its own people against the state. “The questions made us think deep. It was not like in some places where people want a forum to air their views,” said Alarmel Valli, who spent the night before in front of her tablet PC trying to string together sentences in written Tamil that the audience will understand better.

“Krishna told me just a day before the interaction that I will have to speak in Tamil. Imagine my tension,” she said, laughing. “Tamil here is slightly different and I am not very good at speaking,” she said. But once on stage, her persona took over; there was as much ‘speaking’ with her hands, facial expressions and body, that most people I spoke to in the crowded Veerasingham Hall, said they understood every word.

With Unnikrishnan, the experience was different. No nerves over language for the soft-spoken singer. He was undoubtedly the star that everyone wanted to take a picture with or get an autograph signed. So much so that he ended up being mobbed as he was exiting the workshop. All the three artists also staged public performances.

Unnikrishnan too said the questions came thick and fast, and the answers had to be elaborate, to satisfy each person. One student asked him the nuances of voice culture; another had a question on problems in training on higher octaves. The singer told them that to improve voice, one needed to train with an expert. His talk drew largely on his own journey through music, and was peppered with anecdotes relating the big names of the past.

Alarmel Valli, Unnikrishnan and Krishna were in Jaffna as part of a three-day Cultural Festival, “Divine Ecstasy” ( Theiveega Suga Anubhavam ), organised on the auspicious days coinciding with the annual Nallur temple festival.

The innovative theme was a brainchild of Krishna and Indian High Commissioner Ashok K. Kantha. It focuses on practical training by placing the students of music and dance in direct contact with performing artists in an environment conducive for learning. This involves a combination of traditional cultural performances and series of workshops and presentations conducted by eminent artists, during which the students will get an opportunity to interact closely with them to understand the nuances involved in dance and music.

Given the lack of such exposure during the last three decades for the students in Northern Province, the festival is aimed at providing cultural rekindling and much-needed inspiration for charting a better future. It is part of various steps being taken by India to upgrade the Ramanathan Academy of Fine Arts of Jaffna University with the ultimate aim of reviving cultural ties with Northern Province on a long-term basis. Krishna had agreed to make the festival an annual affair, said the High Commissioner. Krishna nodded in agreement.

“If I can contribute to revive the great traditions here, I will consider it my good fortune.”


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