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Music, movement and magic

A performance by Chi Udaka  

Lithe drummers from Taikoz pound on the native Japanese drums, taiko, as graceful dancers from Anandavalli’s Lingalayam tap their feet in rhythm. Alongside, you hear the meditative notes of Riley Lee’s shakuhachi, strains of John Napier’s cello, the soundscapes of John Cleworth’s electronica and Aruna Parthiban’s mellifluous rendition of classical Indian music. In every way, Chi Udaka (Chi refers to the Earth, and Udaka to water) lives up to its name — it is spirited and serene, all at the same time.

It will be staged on November 19.

Transformative work

Ian Cleworth, show co-creator and composer

Describe the experience of fusing the many different yet sublimely-linked musical traditions?

It has been wonderful to learn about the amazing rhythmic language of South Indian classical dance. Anandavalli introduced me to some of the concepts and rhythm configurations, which I studied and used as thematic material for my compositions in Chi Udaka.

Basically, our high-pitched shimedaiko corresponds to the right hand of the mridangam and our lower taiko to the left.

However, I used this idea as a starting point, as I don’t want to try and imitate the mridangam — that would not be respectful towards either this beautiful South Indian instrument, nor the Japanese taiko.

What feedback has the show received? At one level, it is meditative, at another, throbbing with life...

We’ve had wonderful feedback in Australia, and we are keenly anticipating the reactions of Indian audiences.

The show does indeed have a very meditative, interior feel to it, but, at the same time, is very celebratory and festive. Chi Udaka strives to communicate universal ideas, seeking to transcend all of us as individuals and endeavouring to achieve a work that is beautiful, exciting and captivating to the eye and ear.

Was putting together Chi Udaka transformative?

I have lived with this work for five years. The fruits of the discussion with Anandavalli, Riley and I expanded to include all the artistes on stage. Working with artistes of such calibre has been inspiring and challenging, and the process has transformed me as an artist and person.

You love the seven-beat and say the conversation with Anandavalli fired you in a different way, musically...

Through absorbing some of the South Indian rhythms, sounds and phrases, I was able to create something new on the taiko, but, at the same time, I hope, retaining respect and integrity for both great traditions.

Seamless fusion

Anandavalli, show co-creator and choreographer

Do you remember the moment that led to the creation of this unique jugalbandi?

The pivotal person in this collaborative story is Riley Lee. I first heard him play close to two decades ago and was mesmerised. I was intrigued to discover he actually collaborated and played with taiko players.

How does a musician who caresses you with his music translate those notes to resonate with the powerful rhythmical sounds that emanate from the taiko? It was a perfect partnership that honoured and respected the traditional roots of their music, while allowing individual artistic practice to grow.

A seed must have been planted somewhere in the back of my mind. In 2011, I approached Ian Cleworth with a proposal for Lingalayam and Taikoz to collaborate.

As for Chi Udaka, it is not a continuous ‘jugalbandi’, though there are sections that carry the formula of one.

The work primarily gives voice and an immediacy in integrating two ancient music and dance vocabularies.

At what point did you think that this would work and that many genres would fuse seamlessly?

Initially, Ian, Riley and I spent hours in the studio, finding those common meeting points where the two vocabularies could be juxtaposed.

There were many challenges, but it was also greatly inspirational and a lot of fun.

In 2014, Chi Udaka premièred at the Sydney Festival, cementing our vision that two ancient art forms and related contemporary genres could come together to work seamlessly in creating a unique theatre work.

How challenging was it for you as an artiste/composer to be part of such a thought process?

‘Of the Fields’ is an exceptionally complex score. When Taikoz first played Ian’s score for me at the rehearsal, I got an instant headache, as I could not fathom how I could possibly build a choreographic vocabulary into that score.

I had to start from the basics in stringing together rhythmical patterns that would fit into the musical score, and use that as the base for the choreography.

I remember asking Ian whether he was possessed when he wrote it and Riley commenting that he didn’t know that dancers’ feet could move that fast.

For me, personally, it has been a very gratifying journey collaborating with Ian Cleworth, and in turn, Taikoz.

Notes from the wind

Riley Lee - shakuhachi grand master

You’re said to be the first non-Japanese person to attain the recognition of grand master. What about the shakuhachi moved you, and has continued to, over the years?

The quality of the sound or tone of the shakuhachi speaks to me in an indescribable way. Often, when I play the shakuhachi, I feel my flute and I are merely a conduit for expressing something that transcends both the instrument and the player. Rumi said, ‘Remember the lips where the wind-breath originated, and let your note be clear. Don’t try to end it. Be your note.’ My attempt to do exactly that is what continues to motivate me over the years.

There are the pulsating traditional drums, there’s the intricate rhythm of classical Indian dance, and then, there’s your meditative flute… how do you classify your contribution to Chi Udaka?

I hope I contribute to Chi Udaka by helping create a sacred space, in which all the performers and the audience can enter and enjoy. I try to do this from the very beginning of the performance, by sharing my own inspiration and expiration, my ‘wind-breath’, with everyone around me.

Chi Udaka India Tour is supported by the Australian Government through the Ministry for the Arts Catalyst funding, the Australia-India Council of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Australian Consulate-General, Chennai.

Want to win free passes for this concert? Here is your chance! Answer this simple question:

Q. ‘Chi’ is a Japanese term for which element of nature?

A. Earth

B. Fire

C. Air

SMS your answer in the below format:

THNF<space>Name<space>Age<space>City<space>Email id<space>Option a or b or c to 80828 07690

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Printable version | Oct 31, 2020 1:36:32 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Music-movement-and-magic/article16440953.ece

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