Feast for Thought

Not pontificating. Only trying to bat on the side of the environment. And ethics. And simple living. And slowing down. (And trying to learn and practise before preaching or teaching...)

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Flaminco? Flamingo? Flamenco!... Flamenkarnatic

Flaminco? Flamingo? Flamenco!
"Spanish Flaminco Kalaripayattu Fusion" and "Spanish Flaminco Carnatic Fusion", reads the grand Kerala Sangeet Natak Akademi announcement about an event that was scheduled to take place at the Co-bank Auditorium in Thiruvananthapuram, during the recently concluded IFFK 2013.

Having heard of the Spanish Flamencoand with suitable expectations, we seated ourselves; among other 'expectant' audience. On stage was just the traditional lamp. 

Item Number 1: The singer has a mike, but he stands close to the dancer and, cheek-to-cheek, he chants a few mantras. There are no props on stage, but the 5-ft traditional brass lamp that both artistes light together. The dancer’s costume is a simple 2 piece garment, and her style is a mix of Bharathanatyam and Kathakali. 

Item Number 2: The dancer has changed into a flowing gown; a Spanish guitarist and drummer join them on stage. The singer croons Tulasi-daLa mula in a format nowhere near the classic rendition of that popular Tygaraja kriti. The dancer’s routine includes several mudras, footsteps, and yoga postures. The anupallavi is followed by a Spanish song, and the kriti resumes. The dancer has now adjusted her gown length, and performs more steps with a new prop: a cape-like shawl.

Item Number 3: The next piece is a Hindi bhajan. The slim dancer is now attired in an off-white skirt and half-blouse, and she performs more steps that reveal well-rehearsed combinations of classic hand gestures and dance steps.

About the performance:
The Voice of the Body is a performance by the Spanish dancer Mónica de la Fuente and Ravi Prasad, a musician and artistic director from Kerala, in which an invisible thread intertwines two bodies on stage that vibrate in unison. Breath becomes sound, voice and song, movement, gesture and mudra. The show explores the seed that evokes each emotion, weaving voice into body in search of the connections between voice and body. The invention of new vocal codes shapes new contemporary languages, sounds that illustrate each tension or action created by the movement of different forms of expression. Movement flows among classical codes of the performing arts of India and the spontaneous creation of others.
In this space for exploring the various languages of both sound and movement, connections and unexpected encounters take place which allow the richness of each expression to be savoured and reveal the paths of cultural encounters. Flamenkarnatic stems from the encounter and exchange between artists from India (Ravi Prasad) and Spain (Mónica de la Fuente as dancer, José Salinas as singer and Carlos Blanco on the guitar) who, rather than create a ‘collage’ of virtuosity, seek to delve into the deepest roots and find these expressions which are the ‘mothers of the dance and music of all ages’, as García Lorca stated. This concert is an intercultural journey undertaken by the gypsy tradition of Flamenco in Spain into its Indian roots along a path that returns to the south of India in an emotional encounter between Flamenco music, voices, Carnatic and Hindustani compositions and Flamenco dancing techniques.
(Apparently, the show premiered in 2012 in India. See “Twain in tune”. There is no post-performance review though. Why?)

So now you know. That we witnessed neither flamingos in flight nor the Spanish Flamenco. But why did the KSNA, not pay attention to this by-no-means-small detail in their announcements? 

For the other fusion - between a Spanish art form and an Indian martial art form, see "First theater performance of "Atma Malabar" at IFFK 2013

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Friday, January 10, 2014

Some 'Bemusings' on Cameras and Photography

Unobtrusiveness ought to be the first lesson in photography etiquette for amateurs and professionals alike, before they pick up their instrument, lest it becomes a weapon that has the potential to disturb others in unexpected, unpleasant ways. I am proud to have photographer-friends who respect this etiquette.

The concert was about to begin. A piano-cello ensemble. The announcer introduced the artistes, and requested the audience to turn off the mobiles or “keep them silent”. As he walked off-stage, a popular ring-tone went off, so back he came, and reiterated his request. This time he included an extra-cautionary note: “Please note that there are no extra amplifiers, so audience cooperation is truly needed to keep the acoustic experience pleasant.”

Photo courtesy - goethe-zentrum.org
The concert commenced. The cello player faced the audience, but with head always bowed down, eyes running over the music notes, even as his hand ran over the strings. The piano artiste sat facing stage left, and presented a demure side view to the gallery. The end of each brief piece was topped up by a bow or two from the artistes.

If you have ever had the pleasure of attending an Indian classical music concert, you will be able to recall the lively expressions on the main musician’s face, his eye contact and occasional hand gestures (well-timed with the beats) to his accompanying artistes, and the overall life throughout the 2+ hour session. A still picture accompanied by a knowledgeable write-up of the concert can even compensate for a full video recording of the concert. (I have noticed that print media photographers leave the venue after clicking a few shots).

So for the life of me I could not understand what the camera wielders were trying to capture. They were obviously not the video-recording kind, they were too restlessly active in the execution of their task.
Now remember there were no amplifiers? Towards the rear of the hall these photographers were having a field day – literally, so much so that the clicks of the innumerable huge DSLR’s were by themselves producing beats, albeit discordant ones. Sitting among the audience, I was getting more ‘music’ than i bargained for - the frantic clicks of several shutter-release buttons! I wondered too what they were trying to capture. One artiste’s bowed head, another’s side silhouette, and the 'wooden countenances' of the instruments?

It turns out that not all camera wielders are professionals. Most are merely proud / flashy possessors of those long-nosed contraptions that are capable of prying uncomfortably close and deep. The extendable lens is like a relentless proboscis that tries to penetrate into another’s peace and privacy, thankfully without physical contact. An education officer with the world Wildlife Fund reveals that such fancy-camera wielders were making nuisances of themselves in forested areas intruding on wildlife territory without so much as a by your leave. Imagine the scene – a bemused elephant is staring at a trunk-like protrusion with a biped attached to the other end...

Another event, same venue. (called "The Voice of the Body" - Eka-dvayam) The show was a fusion of ‘Spanish Flaminco’ [sic], carnatic music and Indian classical dance forms, presented during the International Film Festival of Kerala. This time the irritant was flash photography. The stage was intentionally dark, but one amateur had to capture that darkness, after all! I think it is understood that you don’t use flash when taking pictures at shows that involve extra light effects.
(A word about international fusion experiments in music and dance. Who can carry out such experiments? Experts in their own field, who can understand, appreciate and respect other's music, not someone who exploits one form assuming that the viewer is an ignoramus. Having said that, I feel that critical reviews of fusion experiments are extremely rare! In this show, there was a Spanish guitarist, a Spanish drummer - who drummed on a box he was seated on, and the Eka-dvayam couple. The dancer changed and adjusted costumes - that could have been designed with more subtlety - right on stage, the singer's music was an unimpressive mix of chants and classical kriti/bhajan lyrics).

Unobtrusiveness ought to be the first lesson in photography etiquette for amateurs and professionals alike, before they pick up their instrument, lest it becomes a weapon that has the potential to disturb others in unexpected, unpleasant ways. 

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Saturday, January 04, 2014

Downsides of Tourism, Progress and Development-2 - Holy and unholy truths

Are our temples too benevolent and too sacred to be maintained physically clean?

Why do pilgrims travel far and wide, in an effort to cleanse their souls while caring a hoot for the surroundings they visit? Be it Sabarimala, or Rameswaram, or any other holy abode of the Lord, pilgrims leave too many tell-tale (tell-truth actually) signs of their visit: used food packages, used clothes, used water bottles, and the worst habit of all: human expectorated spittle all over the place.

Rama theertham (most holy, but nearly dead)
There are well over 50 theerthams in the holy town of Rameswaram. 22 of them are located within the main temple and several more are scattered  over a few km distance in multiple directions.

Most of the ones frequented by tourists show plenty of signs of poor maintenance and care, by both authorities and tourists. At the Rama Theertham, no fish survives in the pond, you can see a few live ones struggling in a bucketful of water for the purpose of being fed by the pilgrims.

Lakshmana Theertham (maintained)
So what I mean to say is that there is no dearth of wells and water. Sea water, holy pond water, well water. All offering different tastes, and some possessing curing and purifying properties.

Jada Theertham (clean and clear)
One view of beach at Dhanushkodi

Villondi Theertham, on a pier jutting out to the sea

Rameswaram island has been invaded and taken over by packaged drinking water and immense amounts of plastic. So if you believe in 'Lokah Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu' seek solace within yourself!

a vessel merchant's ware is only packaged water

collections of used water bottles

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