The Hindu November Fest 2016 Music

Chi Udaka: A spectacle in sensuality


‘Chi Udaka’, presented as part of The Hindu November Fest was a cultural confluence

Picture this. The gentle, yet forceful wave charging towards the sand, lingering for a moment before flowing back into the sea. The earth-water harmony is special and beautiful. A dialogue between the taiko drummers and Bharatanatyam dancers was just as enchanting. Chi (earth in Japanese), Udaka (water in Sanskrit) is a seamless synthesis of rhythm and movement. A co-production of Sydney-based Taikoz and Lingalayam, Chi Udaka also featured breathtaking shakuhachi flute by Riley Lee and John Napier’s cello, which switched effortlessly in accompanying taiko beats to Aruna Parthiban’s Carnatic vocals. Performing at Ravindra Bharati, Hyderabad, as part of The Hindu November Fest 2016, Chi Udaka gave the houseful audience an experience that will not fade soon. The 80-minute show beautifully traversed a journey from dawn to dusk and beyond to culminate in a harmonious midnight finale. A cello heralding the early morning sun rays, the drummers building up a crescendo made a picture perfect scenario for the spectacle that was to follow. The performers brought and placed diyas strategically, creating a beautiful ambience.

Arriving on stage with her nattuvangam cymbals, Anandavalli initiated a dialogue with the drummers with her beats. The taiko drummers pounded their drums in response. They were joined by the dancers and what followed was a sheer brilliance of drumming, dance and a delightful play of light and shade. The taiko drummers’ hands moved with such lightning speed that the movement became a blur. Uncompromising in their grammar and idiom, the dancers displayed the expanse of their form, while the taiko drummers stopped time with their energetic strokes. The performers made the Chi-Udaka communion lovelier than ever.

Collaboration of cultures

Chi Udaka: A spectacle in sensuality

The ebullient team of Chi Udaka take time off to converse with ‘The Hindu’ on their collaboration and journey together.

Chi Udaka: A spectacle in sensuality

I had to collaborate’-Anandavalli

Anandavalli, the founder-director of the 20-year-old Lingalayam Dance Academy in Sydney, has trained three generations of dancers at her institution. A Sri Lankan by birth, she cut her teeth in dance in Europe and migrated to Australia in the 80s. But dance has always been a constant. Her disciplinarian mother got Anandavalli train under three different gurus so that she could absorb different schools of art. At the age of 9, she trained under Kuchipudi guru Vempati Chinna Satyam.

After an amazing dancing career in Europe, moving to Australia wasn’t a particularly exciting experience for Anandavalli. “It felt I landed myself in a barren and deserted land with no clue of what my dancing career would be like. Slowly the Indian community got to know that I’m a dancer and I was bullied into teaching their children, I started slowly with a few students in my garage. But once I decided to teach, I established Lingalayam with a vision to produce professional dancers. I teach my students the way I was taught – with total commitment towards art and its continuation,” says the renowned dancer, guru and choreographer.

After numerous choreographies of episodes derived from mythology and epics, Anandavalli felt she was ready for collaboration to enhance her art. She says when she first heard Riley Lee play shakuhachi and Ian Cleworth with his taiko drums she was blown away by the purity and magic of their instruments and the idea to collaborate with them took shape. When I first took the proposal to Mr. Sean Kelly (Australian Consul-General, south), there was magic, but now, it has gone beyond that, and it is sheer beauty and entertainment, she says.

‘I hope to be reborn in India’-Riley Lee

Chi Udaka: A spectacle in sensuality

Riley Lee is the Shakuhachi Grand Master who can create loudest impact with his sublime silence through his instrument. He might demur that he “just plays the flute”, but when Riley starts playing this rather different version of the Indian flute, he looks like he’s mediating but set to create a storm any moment. He laughs it off by saying, “The reason I enjoy this so much may have to do with the fact that my instrument produces music that’s a lot similar to traditional Indian music. This collaboration has been easy for me. I didn’t have to deal with these massive instruments. I just show up and play my instrument.”

Riley’s India connect seems to be deep rooted; he first heard Indian music at the age of 15. “I liked what I heard but at 15 I felt it was too late to learn. I have to hope that if I’m reborn into an Indian family, then I can hear the music even before I’m born and can start studying then.”

He’s besides himself with excitement about Chi Udaka, he says. “Music touches humans in a way that transcends our everyday experience. I hate to use the word spiritual... it’s something else, my music tradition does that and Indian music tradition does that. This collaboration is a dream for me because I know in this lifetime I can never become an Indian musician, but I can share my music in an atmosphere and environment that has a bit of Indian music in my small way.”

Chi Udaka: A spectacle in sensuality

It was a trust game’-Lee Mciver

Despite thinking he had a “beautiful job on hand”, when asked to produce Chi Udaka, Lee Mciver was not unaware of the challenges he had to face. “To make people understand what we are doing was of course a big challenge. So it had to be a trust game.”

Explaining the rather extensive use of lighting for the production, Lee Mciver says, “The production has small tender moments in between and they weren’t being properly framed in theatrical sense. So I had to use the lighting and design to fill in and yet take it up to same quality. We never want the design and light to upstage music and dance though.”

Synthesis of cultures-Ian Cleworth

Chi Udaka: A spectacle in sensuality

Ian Cleworth travelled to Japan when he was 19 and the experience of living and studying taiko had an enormous influence on him. “I couldn’t transplant Japanese music into Australia..that would be kind of false, it was part of their culture and didn’t relate to ours.

Then I met Riley who said we could actually take the instruments and the influence and all of the knowledge and expertise we’ve learnt from the Japanese masters and make something new out of that which reflects who we are as contemporary Australian musicians, so that’s kind of had us start Taikoz.”

Taikoz’ workshops have become popular among school children and the general community in Australia. Ian who is an artistic director of Taikoz says, “Our students aged from 6 to 60 come from varied cultural backgrounds. We make them aware of the root culture, which is Japan. Taiko enthusiasts should know where these instruments come from.”

Taking pride in the fact that women drummers are part of Taikoz, Ian says, “Taiko by its nature is a very physical form of making rhythm and playing drums. Some of the traditional styles in Japan are men only but it’s changing now. Lot of women are playing taiko now... it’s important to have that balance between male and female energy. Women play just as powerful as men.”

For Chi Udaka, the music had its genesis in south Indian classical music. Says Ian, “Anandavalli introduced me to Indian music that accompanies dance. I notated that in my western musical notation, checked out phrases that work well for taiko drums and came up with an 80-page score.”

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Printable version | Dec 16, 2019 7:28:58 PM |

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