Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Tanjore Kittappa Pillai's disciple - Rajamani Mohan - Part 2

Rajamani Mohan was a disciple of Tanjore Kittappa Pillai. She moved to Europe in the 70’s and started teaching dance. Although she was far away from Tanjore, on her annual trip to Bangalore, she also made it a point to also visit Tanjore, to meet her vadyar, and she did so till he passed away in 1999, “to pick up a gem” - as she would say. Rajamani passed away in 2003. She left me all her dance notes and music.

When I first unpacked the boxes, it was just stacks of paper, tapes, and videos. But when I really went through it all, I discovered a treasure trove of dance repertoire. Notations of Tanjore varnams, in her handwriting and Kittappa Pillai's, who would write notations for students, if asked. There were also notes with mudras, interpretations, and context of compositions. Some repertoire of other composers as well, such as Patnam Subrahmanya Iyer.

During her years of as a dance teacher, she more or less stopped teaching the courtesan varnams, except to a few of her disciples. The varnams she kept on teaching in general were, Saminine Korinanura in the choreography of Kittappa Pillai, with jathis throughout the varnam, which she in later teaching changed to the usual five jathis. Manavi in sankarabharanam, for which she in later years used a version of Guru Adyar Lakshman.

She never used varnams of other composers, except for Rupamu Juci, in the format of the music attached in the link. This is the only version of Rupamu I can bear listening to, it rambles from all sides, and is scratchy - but the jathis are excellent, and the two singers go all out in the caranam stanzas.

I have tried and remastered as much as possible to make it clear and balanced - but the beauty of the recording is that it isn't perfect - it's old and scratchy, just as it should be. The recording is from the 1970’s, as far as I know.

Email for the link to get the varnam music - or if we are connected on Facebook, you can download from my timeline. 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Tanjore Quartet Music Vol I

Published by SathirDance on June 8, 2017
About twenty years ago, I produced and released for the first time CDs with music for dance. Two volumes with some of my favourite Tanjore Quartet varnams. These varnams, all masterpieces, were written exclusively for the courtesans attached to the palace of Tanjore in the 19th century. One CD with dānikē, sarasijākshudu and pantamēla; in tōdi, kalyāni and ānandabhairavi, respectively. The other cd had three varnams in the ragam bhairavi: nī saati dora, mohamana and sāmini rammanave - all the varnams with the dance choreography by Tanjore Kittappa Pillai. 

I had actually recorded the varnams for private use but I thought the recordings could help dancers, so I edited the varnams into shorter versions and had CDs made for commercial release. I didn't exactly realise hardly anyone danced these TQ varnams, except for a few. 'Stamping the CDs, inlay card design, and marketing was what had to be worked out. Back then, marketing dance CDs just meant going with the CDs to shops around the Kapaleeswarar temple in Mylapore (Chennai) and ask the shops around there if they would sell them.

My cousin, who was a classical dancer, asked me when she tagged along to drop off the CDs at the shops - ‘Who is going to buy these varnams? And if so, you want the varnams available to everyone?' And you titled the CDs 'Sadir Natyam’? ‘In Madras they dance Bharatanatyam!’ 'Why don't you produce something more commercial?’ I thought about it and a few days later I went back to all the Mylapore shops and got my CDs back, with luckily only small numbers sold. I later went on to produce CDs with music for bharatanatyam. Looking back I'm glad I took the CDs off the shelves. I had more volumes ready but never released them. Now, two decades later, the varnams are in vogue. Young and old want to dance a "rare" varnam - for better or for worse, the varnams of the Tanjore Quartet are back. I considered a few times releasing the songs again but...well, perhaps not.

*Inlay card scanned and edited from the original 
*Misprint: it's supposed to be ‘kalyani rupakam’

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Urban Bharatanatyam Dictionary

Published by SathirDance on May 21, 2017

Urban Bharatanatyam Dictionary

1) “Ghajini Diva” - A diva dancer, of the highest order, unable to store recent memories. She'll ‘forget who you are within 5 minutes of meeting you. Please introduce yourself again, and again, and again...

2) “Glamour Guru” - Always dolled up in the latest silk, gold-thread sari, and has been teaching the only margam she knows for the last 4 decades.

3) “Gurudakshina Guru” - Runs a bharatanatyam arangetram factory.

4) “Maha Guru” - Grumpy old dancer.

5) “VIP guru” - Walks in 'fashionable late, and disturbs a performance for at least 5 minutes, pretending he/she doesn't want to sit in the first row.

6) “Socialite Rasika” - A socialite who poses as a rasika, pretends to like dance, and finds every performance she watches "Amazing!"

7) “Masterclass Dancer” - Clone dancer who only performs items picked-up at diva "masterclasses" 

8) “Prima Donna Diva” - Gives you the ultimate 'diva-glare' if you dare to say hello. 

9) “Downton Abbey Dancer” - A diva dancer who doesn't understand we can't grasp her "Downton Abbey English" without English subtitles

10) “Sanchari” - Furious 'Lord Nataraja does 7 minutes of Shaolin Kung Fu.

11) “Art Critic” - A writer with in-depth knowledge of the English language.

12) “Currygraphy” - A dancer who refers to her hodgepodge dance as choreography.

13) “NRI Dancer” - An Indian dancer who constantly has to explain to Indian dancers that she's Indian.

14) “BayArea Bankrupt” - Parents who went bankrupt after paying for their daughter's arangetram. The daughter has stopped dancing since then.

15) "TaskMaster" - A dance teacher who causes emotional breakdowns, depression, sleep deprivation, extra anxiety, and mild hysteria in his students.

16) "Thinking Dancer" - "Oh my Deerness! I became the universe, and had deep conversations with a Deer, of whom I was convinced he was the Lord. I turned to liquid energy and I flew so fast I became nothing but a vibration! The cool moon became my lover, and we fell in love. A flower garden danced collectively to the beat of electric boogie, that-thit-thom-nam! The sun became the sky and swirled into an exotic painting then back to the most perfect combination of scenery, and back again until it swirled together into infinite! Then I returned to Earth...Mohamana En Midil.."

17) “Diva Stalker” - He/she comes to all performances of a diva just to take selfies. Stalker keeps reminding the diva that he/she saw her perform in New Jersey in 1995. The diva has no recollection of the year 1995, whatsoever.

18) "Natya Conference" - A bunch of PhD bunnies come together to discuss Natyam in "Downton Abbey English"

19) "Voguing" - Bharatanatyam dancer strikes a pose. And another one, and another one...

20) "Aksharam Musician" - Charges fee per aksharam that he/she has to count while singing for a dancer.