V.K. SANTOSH KUMAR
Despite the Covid-19 restrictions, Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay has put together a vibrant and captivating programme to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Kalaa Utsavam, which will kick off today.
The annual Indian Festival of Arts, which will end on Nov 28, is seen as an avenue for communities to celebrate together and is held around the Deepavali season.
It also has the social objective of encouraging Singaporeans to watch arts performances and giving an opportunity to Singaporean and Indian artistes to realise their dream projects and work together to create productions that are unique.
After presenting big names to attract audiences in the initial years, Kalaa Utsavam has progressed to include more experimental works that push artistic boundaries and rare and dying folk art forms.
This is exemplified by 2021's programme, principally sponsored by the High Commission of India and supported by The Silent Foundation, which is diverse and entertaining.
The highlights include Raffee 50 - A Musical Jubilee, a concert which celebrates veteran Singaporean artiste Mohamed Raffee's 50th year of music-making; Marma Medai - Theerppu (The Judgement) by playwright and director Grace Kalaiselvi which references characters from the long-running 1960s Tamil radio play series by M.K. Narayanan; and Bharathaa Arts' Kaanalvariyum Kaarigei Nilaiyum - Madhavi's Story, a new bharatanatyam presentation by the Kesavan sisters.
This year, Kalaa Utsavam will not feature any international artiste live because of the travel restrictions.
But it has brought together renowned Bollywood lyricist Javed Akhtar and acclaimed singer Shankar Mahadevan for the first time in a digital commission.
Dil Abhi Bhara Nahi - Legacy Of Sahir Ludhianvi (90 minutes) will be screened tomorrow at 4pm and 8pm at the Esplanade Theatre.
"Today, we are glad to see that Kalaa Utsavam is a platform that many artistes aspire to perform at and a highlight in the cultural calendar for our audiences," said producer Rajeswari Ramachandran.
"It also remains a festival that is unique in the region, as it is the only one that allows audiences to experience such a diverse range of art forms on the same platform - from classical to contemporary and across the different genres from music to theatre and dance, with programmes for all ages."
The Raffee 50 - A Musical Jubilee concert (today 8pm at the Esplanade Theatre) will see Raffee, his brothers Mohamed Bashir (pianist/keyboardist) and Mohamed Noor (drummer/percussionist) and bassist Daniel Sitranen who go by the name Vasantham Boys, performing their original compositions.
"It will be a very international sounding concert that will have influences of R&B, jazz fusion, rock and roll, funk, Latin, African, progressive rock and electronic dance music," Raffee told tabla!.
"The arrangements have a blend of South Indian and North Indian music compositions and lyrics. There will be 15 Tamil and two Hindi songs."
The concert will also feature tunes from Raffee's upcoming album The New Horizon.
Marma Medai - Theerppu, which is an Esplanade production and will be staged at the Esplanade Theatre Studio on Nov 26, 27 and 28, is a presentation of five radio plays, which are each 30 minutes long, in a 90-minute story.
"The play has been designed to convey each story differently using lots of movements, light, sound and abstract visuals," said Ms Kalaiselvi. "Multiple things happen at the same time to keep everyone occupied and on the edge of their seats."
Kaanalvariyum (Nov 19 to 21 at the Esplanade Theatre Studio) gives audiences an opportunity to travel back in time and explore the journey of Madhavi from Silapathikaram, the Tamil semi-legendary epic.
The dance drama brings together various folk dances such as Mayilaatam, Kavadi Attam, Poikal Kudithrai, Karakattam and Oyilattam that date to the Sangam age (600 BCE - 300 CE).
"The story of Madhavi, while crucial in the body of Tamil literary works, is less explored," said Ms Jeyanthi Kesavan, artistic director, Bharathaa Arts.
"Our show will give an insight into Madhavi's growth and emotions through her conversations with her daughter Manimegalai.
"It has not just classical pieces but also folk dances set to poetic tunes by Jyothishmathi Sheejith."
Athma Ghanam - Music For The Soul by the Singapore Indian Orchestra and Choir (Nov 28 at the Esplanade Concert Hall), is another Esplanade co-production that is special.
The 1hr 45min concert, which marks SIOC's 36th year, has a myriad of rhythm, melodies and harmonies that aims to rejuvenate with the healing energy of music.
"Music can awaken the soul. It is one of the oldest forms of spiritual medicine known to humanity and touches our very core, regardless of culture or creed," said Ms Lalitha Vaidyanathan, SIOC's founder and conductor.
"It will have compositions from all over the world, ranging from Indian classical ragas to contemporary music, presented alongside captivating visual elements."
The other major Kalaa Utasavam events include metal band Rudra's gig (Nov 27 at the Esplanade Theatre) where the band will play a repertoire of songs from eight albums spanning 29 years and Bhumi Pranam - A Musical Celebration Of Mother Earth by the Temple of Fine Arts (Nov 20 and 21 at the Esplanade Concert Hall).
For the entire programme list and ticket details, visit www.esplanade.com/kalaautsavam