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Total Immersion - Indiasphere Festival in Graz

Review by Yogendra
(December 2010)

Indiasphere Festival 2010 in Graz, Austria, offered a total experience of India on November 6th.On occasion of the Diwali festival over 300 spectators visited the Volkshaus and witnessed a high-class, ambitious, exciting, thrilling six-hour stage show, which was absolutely unique in its unconventional composition.

The evening opened with a classical North Indian raga concert of sarod player Partho Sarothy, assisted by his student Alokesh Chandra on sitar and accompanied on tabla by Ashis Paul Connoisseurs of the raga tradition may have been disappointed by the extremely compressed interpretation of Simendra-Madhyam. It strung together alap, jor, jhala, slow and fast gat, sawal-jawab and final jhala within just 20 minutes and with hardly any depth. It was followed by an even shorter raga-mala in Pilu. But the audience, extremely enthusiasticfrom the very beginning, was obviously pleased with the technical virtuosity and feverish excitement of the performance and responded with thunderous applause.

After a short dance performance by local hero Smirti Mudra Kohli and her group, Indigo Masala Masala presented their own acoustic Asian world fusion. The refined compositions of the trio with sitar, tabla, Russian buttoned accordion, vocals and percussion provided a new atmospheric climax with catchy grooves, varied arrangements and impressive solos (especially by youngster Arun Leander) and met the nerve of the motley crowd. Final highlight before the break was the classical Indian Kathak dance performance by Ioanna Srinivasan, accompanied by the musicians of Indigo Masala. She thrilled with a dense presentation, brilliant technique, expression and temperament.

After the intermission, the hall was filled with eager tension for the premiere of a project called Grand Vizier's Chest, composed by Denovaire and Stefan Fink. They presented a kind of suite of oriental jazz, film score and adventure music with 14-piece orchestra. With string quartet, flute, clarinet, trumpet, three percussionists, guitar, bass, esraj, vocals and harmonium, conducted by Wolfgang Hattinger, Grand Vizier's Chest created a fantastic trip to an exotic Oriental dreamland - sophisticated, big, magical cinema for the ears. The premiere in Graz was the first step towards a full-length programme of music, dance and video projection - Grand Vizier's Chest is a work in progress.

After all these exquisite artistic delights, the evening culminated into a big enthusiastic party. Smriti Kohli, Mahesh Manda, Nitin Shrivastava, Five Continents and Djai BhanGraz heated up the crowd with powerful Bollydance, Bhangra, Indo-Pop and Bollybeats and inivited everybody to dance and sing along. A colorful people from all over the world celebrated Diwali harmoniously and full of joy. Indiasphere 2010 officially ended at midnight and the visitors disbanded in the foyer with glowing faces and lots of warm hugs.

The big Diwali festival was held for the third time in this form, and the organiser, the Indo-Austrian Society for Culture and Arts, Graz, e.V. with its chairman Pawan Kohli, deserves great praise for its innovative work. In other places there is usually little contact between Indian high culture and Bollywood shows, between migrant groups and long-established residents, but Graz has succeeded in bringing people together under one roof, creating mutual stimulation and a broad public resonance. The integration of political personalities has been exemplary, too - it included the Indian Ambassador and Austrian politicians from state parliament and the city council of Graz as honorary guests. But the visionary mission of the Indo-Austrian Society for Culture and Arts reaches beyond Diwali parties and the city limits of Graz: Indiasphere 2010 included introductory workshops for pupils and for students of musicology as well as a cooperation concert in Austrian capital Vienna. This creates synergies and broad effects, which should bear fruit in the long run. Let's hope that the Indo-Austrian Society for Culture and Arts will get still wider support for its great voluntary work in the future.