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By Kathakali Jana
  • Published 9.10.10

The Interactive Festival of Alternative and Contemporary Expressions (Interface) 2010, held recently in Calcutta and Delhi, had an interesting knock-on effect. The festival, organized by Sapphire Creations Dance Workshop, raised vital questions about the elasticity of the word, ‘contemporary’, as choreographers and performers from different parts of the world sought to define it in their own ways.

What emerged was a debate on whether contemporary dance is about presenting old material in a new format or if it entails a more complete and complex overhaul — a deconstruction — of existing stuff to bring forth an altogether new vocabulary. Or do the diverse implications of the word, ‘contemporary’, dwell in the indeterminate area between the two?

While Ananda Shankar Jayant drew her material from Bharata’s Natyashastra in Navarasa: Expressions of Life and stuck to her Bharatanatyam vocabulary, she chose to elaborate the rasas through everyday human experiences rather than through those of mythological heroes and demons.

For Idan Cohen of Israel too, the inspiration was a classic. He paid tribute to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, but only after making it his own narrative. If Tchaikovsky’s composition was about beauty, frailty and faithful love, Cohen turned all these constructs on their heads. The result was an edgy, powerful, dramatic work that shocked and provoked. The dancers executed their carefully choreographed moves on a stage strewn with tomatoes, a vegetable that is closest in appearance to a clown’s nose and is often thrown at ineffective performers. Cohen’s interpretation of Swan Lake made it a story of human failings and weaknesses, and of botched relationships. In other words, it was the exact opposite of everything the original stood for.

Jacek Luminski’s Silesian Dance Theatre borrowed a part of its vocabulary from Poland’s traditional folk forms, transferring them to a modern myth that pits the virtual world against the real. In the production, La La Land, his choreography came alive in the bits that had Polish folk references while the rest of the work remained somewhat obscure.

With the stunningly choreographed piece Maya, Veena Basavarajaiah delved into the notions of time, visions and experience. Her departure from Bharatanatyam into a free-movement idiom was sensational. Her work was as dramatic as that of the Swedish choreographer, Michel Casanovas, whose Wind Dance explored the energy within the body in reaction to music, time and space. With techniques uniformly high in quality, the productions impressed with their close attention to geometry, space, tone and momentum.