Aparna Sindhoor Dance Theater: New Photos

Ganesh Ramachandran took these photographs of the Aparna Sindhoor Dance Theater during the “Playing for the Planet” concert. I think they’re terrific.

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Playing for the Planet: Vijaya Sundaram

Vijaya Sundaram is a musician of superb abilities. An excellent composer and lyricist, she has a wide repertoire of material from many of the great songwriters. Over the past decade, however, she’s been away from the performance scene, pursuing a career as a teacher in a local public school, and spending a lot of time with our daughter Sharada.

The “Playing for the Planet” concert actually saw her in three separate roles: as vocal accompanist for my set of khyal, as a member of the Agbekor Society, and as the singing and speaking MC of the evening.

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Playing for the Planet: Elizabeth Reian Bennett and Ayakano Cathleen Read

I have always been tremendously moved by the spare elegance of Japanese classical music. The modal environment triggers my affection for some of the popular Hindustani pentatonic ragas, while the rough edges, empty spaces and fantastically varied qualities of attack, sustain and decay force me into a more Cagean listening space.

This aesthetic of open space contrasts greatly with Indian music’s demand for a continuously saturated surface; as a khyal singer I am always engaged in that supersaturation, and I love it…but at times I envy the sparse and evocative economy of Japanese melodic lines — so different, and yet so similar.

Need I point out that Japan (an island nation) is particularly vulnerable to the rising ocean levels which will be triggered by catastrophic climate change?

The music presented on Saturday night by Elizabeth Reian Bennett, Ayakano Cathleen Read and Charles Hughes was a beautiful glimpse into an ancient tradition rarely heard today. I am deeply grateful for their performance.

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Playing for the Planet: Libana’s set

Officially, this was not an appearance by Libana, but rather by “four-sixths of Libana” — two members being unable to attend. According to Sue Robbins, this was the first time in the group’s thirty-year history that this particular combination performed live.

Aside from the obvious fact that these women are superb musicians who put their minds, hearts and souls into their music unstintingly, what can I possibly say?

Well, “thank you” is a good start. Their enthusiasm, their readiness to participate, their profound musicianship…in an evening full of high points, their set was a real delight. I have included their introductory remarks, which do a great job of explaining the material.


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Playing for the Planet: Warren Senders’ set

When I first got the idea for the “Playing for the Planet” concert, I knew instantly that I wanted to sing these three compositions in Raga Gorakh Kalyan. I will update later on with the complete text and meaning; tonight I just want to get this posted before I go to sleep.

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Playing for the Planet: The Agbekor Drum and Dance Society

In 1979, I was running the scheduling at “Cambridge Custom Percussion,” the Cambridgeport neighborhood drum shop. Selling the conga drums made by “Conga Jim” VanDenAkker and the ceramic dumbeqs of Betsy McGurk during the day, the shop changed into a small performance and teaching space. I was twenty-one; the youngest member of the ad hoc collective that supposedly ran the place. I was looking for teachers who were interested in giving classes in various styles of group drumming…and that’s how I met David Locke, recently returned from several years’ study in Ghana. He was already teaching at Tufts, but began a regular class at CCP. That class took off; people loved the repertoire, and David was (and is) an exceptional teacher.

After a while, there was enough of a regular group that it became a repertory ensemble, the Agbekor Drum and Dance Society (eventually, if memory serves me right, incorporating as a 501(c)3 non-profit). I was never personally interested in learning the master drum parts; all I really wanted to do was play the kagan, the small high-pitched drum which fills in the offbeats in Ewe music.

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Playing for the Planet: Beth Bahia Cohen’s set

Beth Bahia Cohen and her accompanists opened the evening with a single twenty-five minute suite which included three separate melodies from different parts of the Middle East. The performance included lots of beautiful violin playing from Beth, a lovely oud solo from Mac Ritchey, and some great percussion from Todd Roach and Gabe Halberg. Rhythmically charged, passionate, lyrical…what a great way to start things off!

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Playing For The Planet: Aparna Sindhoor’s Set

The fifth ensemble to perform (starting at around 9:20 pm) was the Aparna Sindhoor Dance Theater. The room lighting was wretched; even with the videocam on “nightshot” setting there was a lot of detail lost. But nevertheless, the power and genius of Aparna and her ensemble are evident in this video. This is a 25-minute excerpt from their long piece, “The Story and The Song,” about a young woman who could turn herself into a flowering tree and the prince who fell in love with her. The fact that there was a giant painted tree as a backdrop was purely serendipitous.

Here are four photographs (courtesy Hadley Langosey) and video (courtesy the Sony Cam mounted on a tripod, on top of the piano in the back of the room.). The first few seconds of the introduction were lost, but the rest of the performance is intact.

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Watch this video from 350.org…

…they are doing important work!