Reflections Travel

Classical Western music falls on deaf ears

Last weekend I went to a performance of the Bolshoi Ballet of Uzbekistan here in Chennai at the Music Academy. I know. A Russian ballet? Here in South India? I wondered what kind of audience it would attract and if it was possible for the Music Academy crowd to appreciate Western classical art with the same enthusiasm as it did Carnatic music.

To my surprise, the hall was packed, a full house. I was impressed. And the ballet itself was so beautiful. The men would lift the girls up as if they were weightless clouds, and, for as angular and structured I think Bharatanatyam is, ballet seemed equally precise. It was amazing, a real treat to watch. The ballet wasn’t my source of disappointment as I walked out of the auditorium. It was the audience’s lack of manners.

As expected, I saw at least 20-25 patrons traipse in late (in just the lower level of seats), disturbing the experience for everyone else. Cell phones rang obnoxiously over the orchestra’s music, and people would actually receive the call and continue to talk on the phone. I was appalled and disgusted that the ballet troupe was being treated as such. “Poor dancers,” I thought, “they do not know that this is how it is in India.”

However, I didn’t complain about the rudeness to anyone because I didn’t want to unnecessarily whine. Sometimes I feel perhaps I fault Indian society too much, and I should just let it slide instead.

But the next day I found after reading the New Indian Express, that I wasn’t the only one who felt perhaps the ballet was wasted on an Indian audience. In a story covering the post-performance celebrations of the production, U. Teyjonmayam wrote that members of the Navoi orchestra (which played for the Bolshoi ballet), performed a few pieces as entertainment at some of the after-parties. Their music fell on deaf ears apparantly.

“…our people are decades away from learning to appreciate Western classical music. As they played piece by piece, it was disheartening to see not even a single Indian soul listening to the music….Though there was mild applause after the completion of every piece, what’s the point in appreciating when you can’t listen to their performance? It needs to be noted that it was only our Chennaiites who were making the hall echo with their conversation, while the other performers of the ballet group were maintaining their silence. ”

My thoughts exactly.

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