At Cusp's interdisciplinary festival, performances and discussions about art that engage audiences, go beyond convention

In keeping with the idea of doing away with the glitz and glamour of a large-scale music fest, Cusp will be held in intimate settings housing smaller audiences in the terrace, patio and garden of Luz House at Mylapore in Chennai.

Aishwarya Sahasrabudhe February 04, 2020 20:34:54 IST
At Cusp's interdisciplinary festival, performances and discussions about art that engage audiences, go beyond convention
  • In keeping with the idea of doing away with the glitz and glamour of a large-scale music fest, Cusp will be held in intimate settings housing smaller audiences in the terrace, patio and garden of Luz House at Mylapore in Chennai.

  • A session put together by co-curator Ranjani Ramachandran on Hindustani Music: Practice, Performance, Pedagogy is among the highlights of the festival.

  • Cusp is also set to host a Carnatic concert on the first day which will have Ashwath Narayanan on vocals, B Ananthakrishnan on the violin and co-curator Praveen Sparsh on the mridangam.

Cusp, an immersive three-day interdisciplinary arts festival curated by First Edition arts and a group of musician-curators, is set to begin on 31 January, 2020 bringing together a vibrant community of artists engaged in the Hindustani and Carnatic art forms.

Five years ago, when former art journalist Devina Dut founded First Edition Arts, her focus was not only on promoting performing artists, but also the relationship between the artist and the audience. She explains, "Every art form requires a degree of interaction between artist/performer and listener/viewer so that the latter is able to be a part of the creative processes that have shaped the work being presented. Then there is a socio-cultural and historical context that helps clarify so much about a particular art form, because it helps us understand how art forms have changed at different times and what the influencing factors are."

Dutt opines that "a series of well-produced concerts with a minimalist aesthetic and opportunities for conversations between musicians and their audience" can go a long way in making the art form better understood.

Cusp operates at this intersection of performance and dialogue, a diversion from the glitzy, "over-corporatised big impresario-led classical music festivals". It will be held at the Luz House in Mylapore, Chennai. Audiences and artists can gather in intimate spaces such as the terrace, patio and gardens of this venue to enjoy the music.

Abhishek Borkar, the co-curator of Cusp and a sarod artist from Pune, says of such settings, "The journey that a musician embarks on in a concert, the vulnerability that the artist shows in front of his/her audience, the translation of one's innermost feelings through an instrumental or vocal medium can only be truly appreciated in small, closed quarters, kutcheris, baithaks. It allows the listener to take a deep dive with the artist into the making of a concert, the before, during and after."

At Cusps interdisciplinary festival performances and discussions about art that engage audiences go beyond convention

Mridangam artist Praveen Sparsh and sarod exponent Abhishek Borkar are among the curators of Cusp, by First Edition Arts.

The artist, who began his training at the age of four under his father, sarod maestro Pt Shekhar Borkar says, "For me, the main focus of Cusp lies in the fact that at times it'll feel like a festival, other times a conference, sometimes it'll feel like an informal gathering of friends, other times it'll act as an appreciation course of sorts for uninitiated audiences. By uninitiated audiences I mean to include the likes of myself, because this is not just a music festival, it's an art festival, comprised of various aspects such as photography, visual arts, drama, theatre, dance."

Curated by three Hindustani and two Carnatic artists, Cusp will also feature film screenings and art exhibitions. These include an exhibit showcasing a rare collection of T Balasaraswati's photographs and a set of films created by movie critic, CS Venkiteswaran on the performing arts of South India.

Day 1 will start with a workshop on Aesthetics, Sound and Music conducted by Sundar Sarrukai. Dutt mentions that one of the sessions to look forward to on this day is the talk by Ganesh Devy on Literature, Music and Protest, followed by readings and conversations with Tamil writer Imayam and AR Venkatachalapathy, who will finally lead an interactive discussion on An Artist’s Response to the Idea of India Today.

The first day will also have a Carnatic concert with Ashwath Narayanan on vocals, B Ananthakrishnan on the violin and co-curator Praveen Sparsh on the mridangam.

A session put together by co-curator Ranjani Ramachandran on Hindustani Music: Practice, Performance, Pedagogy is among the highlights of Day 2. This well-known khayal performer says that there are multiple questions that need to be addressed while discussing Hindustani music's teaching-learning models such as "looking at pedagogy and performance in an integrated manner; exploring different methodologies of teaching and learning music; appreciating the diverse ways in which music forms can be presented even within genres and acknowledging stylistic diversity."

At Cusps interdisciplinary festival performances and discussions about art that engage audiences go beyond convention

Among the co-curators of Cusp are Hindustani vocalists Ranjani Ramachandran (left) and Priya Purushothaman (right) along with Carnatic artist, Brindha Manickavasakan (center).

Initiating a dialogue on yet another important issue on Day 2 — of gender and expression — is one of Cusp's curators Priya Purushothaman, with Hindustani vocalist and transgender activist Rumi Harish. Purushothaman's focus on trying to deepen engagement with theoretical frameworks in Indian classical art and to have honest conversations about socio-cultural aspects of musical traditions is reflected in her attempt to bring to the fore the tougher questions faced by Hindustani art forms in the modern world.

"I don't think there has been nearly enough honest discussion around issues in the Hindustani classical arts," she says, "Because of the deep hierarchical structures that are embedded in the social system of the music, there are not many spaces to speak without fear of repercussions. This could also be due to the nature of education in the classical system. Events like Cusp therefore become even more vital in creating safe spaces to discuss issues with an interdisciplinary approach. "

Co-curator and Chennai-based Carnatic vocalist Brindha Manickavasakan says, "My major focus has been on a Carnatic and Villupaatu music ensemble. We celebrate the two traditional art forms through the story of Nandanar, a devotee of Lord Shiva, as told by the composer Sri Gopalakrishna Bharathi."

Villupaatu, an ancient form of storytelling, involves the narration of a tale interspersed with music.

"Carnatic music and the music of Villupaatu meet at some points while also having their own uniqueness, which we explore during the performance. Bharati's grand opera Nandanar Charittiram is filled with compositions in the Carnatic and folk repertoire. In a sense, the compositions connect with the art forms that are in collaboration."

Through the course of the three-day event, audiences can look forward to discussions as well as recitals. Some of the must-attend gatherings according to Manickavasakan are: the sublime music of the Veena Dhanammal bani by Rama Ravi and Nandita Ravi, the amazing energy in Ashwath Narayanan’s concert, the intriguing musical combination of violin-nadasvaram-tavil-mridangam in the Carnatic Quartet, the conversation between Hindustani and Carnatic music in the sarod and veena performance, impromptu performances at the open mic session, the meditative melodious music by Shruti Sagar and team and of course her session – a unique coming together of two beautiful art forms, Villupaatu and Carnatic music.

Cusp, organised by First Edition Arts will go on from 31 January to 1 February at Luz House, Chennai.

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