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Rhythm beyond barriers

tradition meets contemporary at Prayana Dance Festival

MeiDhwani
AadhaaraChakra
Martin Waelde, Aparna Sen & Jayachandran Palazhy

Dialoge 2013 by Sasha Waltz

Pictures by Anindya Shankar Ray, Sanjoy Ghosh and B. Halder

The Prayana Dance Festival was presented by Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan, Calcutta, and Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts, Bangalore, in association with t2, from October 21 to 25.

Opening sequence

“Open all doors and windows... for new forms of dance...” were the opening words of Martin Waelde, the director of Max Mueller Bhavan.

“We all know Calcutta has the best audience in India and I hope they absorb the facets of contemporary dance in their true spirit,” he added.

Filmmaker Aparna Sen, who inaugurated the festival, welcomed the idea though she was not so sure whether the city could still be called the country’s cultural capital. “…one hopes that some of it is still there. Perhaps festivals like these will inspire dancers here to take this contemporary movement forward”.

A film by Wim Wenders about contemporary choreographer Pina Bausch was screened on Day 1.

Dialoge 2013 Kolkata

The camera brilliantly caught the intense concentration on the faces of the dancers, their perspiring brows and bodies and every twitching muscle. This was something even those sitting around the courtyard and verandah had missed. And this is what only the camera lens saw. The musicians of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra could also be seen in frenetic action close-up.

The performance was held simultaneously in the courtyard in front of the thakurdalan and the rooms, and it was not possible to be physically present everywhere at the same time. Only the camera was ubiquitous.

The palace is said to be 250 years old, and the rooms had not been in use for ages. The dancers raised the spirit of the past as even the old and dusty furniture became an inseparable element of the choreography. At the end of it, the dancers emerged with dusty costumes, bodies and faces.

The editing and sound recording were brilliant. Liske did the editing together with Gabriele Degener. The sound mix was done after the editing by Titus Maderlechner. Each section was stitched together seamlessly, and the action flowed in one continuous surge of energy. It was hard to miss the snatches of recorded music and even the noise of the dancers’ shoes scraping on the hard floor. The palace was ever present, and so was the bedlam of Calcutta, but only like the murmur of a faraway sea.

AadhaaraChakra

Classical Indian melodies and contemporary beats interspersed with radio static, the sound of wind blowing, cries of hawkers and cars honking — the performance by Attakkalari Repertory Company transported the audience through time and space from urban streets to remote villages.

AadhaaraChakra — a Dancelogue, the playful and highly-charged presentation, juxtaposed urban, contemporary and classical Indian styles, triggering a trail of memories where each member of the audience could respond in a unique way. The use of an on-screen projection of a traditional Bharatanatyam recital provided a contrast to more modern, muscular and athletic moves of the troupe on stage.

The agility of the dancers and the precision in their coordination spoke for their honesty and dedication. The many layers and dimensions of the performance were enhanced by the constant flow of intimate energy among the dancers.

Dance dialogue

A rich history and the need to innovate formed the crux of conversation at an interactive session on contemporary dance hosted by British Council.

Jayachandran Palazhy, the artistic director of Attakkalari centre, gave an overview of how Independence brought with it a revival of traditional Indian dance forms after a period of suppression by the British. Dancers like Uday Shankar, Chandralekha, Ram Gopal and Daksha Seth went on to reinvent traditional forms to give a contemporary dimension to their creations.

“Contemporary dance is not a form but an approach,” explained Palazhy, talking about the need to deconstruct the traditional form and come up with something that reflects the interior landscape of an artiste and resonates with that of the audience. “This is difficult if you do not innovate. If you write a short story about life in 2013 in Shakespearean English you will probably find the vocabulary limiting. That is where the need for finding a contemporary language lies.”

When dancer Gitanjali Jolly rued audience rejection, Palazhy likened it to spectator reaction in cricket. “If you don’t know what a sixer or a leg before wicket is you won’t follow cricket.... You need a basic idea about the dynamics of viewing to appreciate dance.”

MeiDhwani

MeiDhwani, an amalgamation of the Tamil mei (body) and Sanskrit dhwani (echo or suggestion), explored relationships, emotions and tensions that exist between and within human bodies.

Even without a clear narrative, MeiDhwani engaged the audience with its sculpted elements and dramatic soundscapes, engendering myriad interpretations and intensely personal experiences. The simple, yet dramatic, lighting of the minimalist piece allowed the audience to witness the movement of every joint and contraction of every muscle and to appreciate the vitality and finesse of the Attakkalari repertory.

Minimalist does not mean monotony: dramatic shifts in music inspired seductive variations in rhythm, allowing for a nuanced emotional progression and demonstration of superb technical skill.

A dynamic interplay emerged between the masculine and the feminine — fire as a metaphor for destructive male energy and water as an allegory for the eternal feminine life stream. The two elements intermingled in a variety of ways, the metallic pots sharply contrasting with phallic-shaped oil lamps.

Combining the precision of Bharatanatyam and the fluid movements of Kalaripayattu, the performance seemed to be the culmination of the maturing of a sophisticated Indian movement language by the Attakkalari dance repertory.

Nagarika

Fresh faces and inquisitive eyes abounded at Nagarika, an educational initiative of the Attakkalari centre, as Palazhy introduced participants to the syncretic style of his repertory in a part-lecture-part-practical dance format.

At the heart of the group’s philosophy of dance, he explained, is the idea of reaching into the past and rediscovering traditional Indian body languages to reimagine and fuse them with elements of dance styles from far-flung corners of the world.

Nagarika used modern technology to make the intricate languages of the Kalakshetra style of Bharatanatyam and the northern style of Kalaripayattu accessible.

Dancers from the repertory guided participants through eight animal movements that form the basis of Kalaripayattu to explain how the philosophy of mastering the body as the basis of personal strength can be applied in the kicks and leaps of contemporary dance.

Palazhy emphasised that the vast diversity of body language and traditions of movement form the basis of contemporary dance, a product of globalisation that thrives on breaking barriers.

Soumitra Das, Sibendu Das and Sara Sudetic