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Dust storm in Luz Church Road... Turns out that the Sastri Hall jamakalam received a rare shakedown! #seasoncoming

When status messages like the one above—courtesy photographer Ramanathan Iyer—begin to appear on one’s Facebook news feed, it’s clear that the December season is upon us (jamakalam is Tamil for a thick cloth mat).

Variously known as “the December music season", “the Margazhi festival", or just “The Season", this is the time when Chennai plays host to a multitude of music and dance performances. Started in 1927 to commemorate the founding of the Madras Music Academy, the festival continues to be the high point of social calendars today. Generally, most of the concerts and lectures in the morning slots are free, while the evening shows that feature the more popular performers are ticketed.

In the coming days, music aficionados can look forward to evening concerts by celebrated singers like Nithyasree Mahadevan (5 December) and Ranjani-Gayatri (7 December), at the Sivagami Pettachi Auditorium in Mylapore. T.M. Krishna (10 December) and Sikkil Gurucharan (11 December) will perform from 6.30pm at the Sri Thyaga Brahma Gana Sabha, T Nagar.

The Music Academy’s Dance Festival will feature performances by Leela Samson (6 January), Malavika Sarukkai (7 January) and Urmila Sathyanarayanan (8 January) in the 6pm slot. In the 7.45pm slot, Surupa Sen and Bijayini Satpathy from the Nrityagram dance school will perform Odissi (5 January), Pallavi Krishnan’s troupe will present Mohiniattam (6 January), while Jaikishore Mosalikanti’s troupe will perform Kuchipudi (7 January), followed by Aditi Mangaldas’ Kathak performance (8 January).

In addition to the traditional Carnatic and Bharatanatyam performances, this year’s festival calendar also has an array of contemporary events. Traditional Carnatic musicians perform a 2-hour concert beginning with a song of invocation and moving on to more complex compositions called kritis. During the performance, the singer and the accompanying instrumentalist explore the different notes of a ragam (a structure of melodic notes) on which the kriti is built.

“A conventional Bharatanatyam recital is about 1 hour and 15 minutes long. It starts off with an invocatory piece and moves on to the varnam, which is the centrepiece of the performance. It shows a dancer’s calibre as it brings her abhinaya (expression) and nritta (dance movements) to the fore," explains dancer Prema Reddy.

Contemporary events break free of these formats in terms of the content, style and duration of a performance. Dancer Anita Ratnam, the artistic director and producer of the Padme dance project, slated to be performed on Christmas morning at Spaces, a venue in Besant Nagar, has put together a contemporary performance. “We have an image of a bejewelled, silk-clad Bharatanatyam dancer with jasmine in her hair during Margazhi. These girls look startlingly different with their hair loose, bare make-up, simple clothes, and no ornamentation. They look smart, like a lot of young people we know today. It makes it all the more interesting when we realize that they are classical dancers who have never done this before," says Ratnam. The 30-minute production is elastic enough to be performed both in an auditorium and in informal spaces such as a mall, a coffee shop, or may even be made into a 10-minute flash mob performance, she adds.

Pianist Anil Srinivasan, who will render the music for Padme with his composition Float, celebrates the third edition of the Festival Of Parallels this year. Envisioned as an event to help people understand Carnatic music, Parallels branches off into mythology, literature and visual art with three events this year. Srinivasan will work with mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik at Kalakshetra (23 December), where readings will be interspersed with music. The pianist will also collaborate with veena artiste Jayanthi Kumaresh at the Brahma Gana Sabha to demonstrate how music can complement visual imagery (28 December).

Talks, demonstrations and a sprinkling of jugalbandi performances find a place in the calendar too. Seasoned artistes like mridangam player Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman will take in a contemporary jugalbandi performance at the Sri Krishna Gana Sabha
(22 December).

V. Ramnarayan, editor of Sruti, a magazine that covers the performing arts, believes jugalbandi performances are not part of the mainstream yet. “Jugalbandi can only be good if the artistes practise together and know each other’s music. It’s a nice diversion and a form of entertainment. It hasn’t emerged as a major form yet. Maybe it will happen in the future," he says.

Timings, venues and ticket prices vary. Click here for details.

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