Let the imagination run free

A chirpy little invitation from ThinkArts recently landed on the desk. It summoned audiences above the age of six to a dance performance titled Flying Cowby the Dutch dance company, de Stilte. What was arresting about it in the Indian contextwas that the group is a contemporary dance company for children. Not a lot of artistic endeavour, except for some sporadic ones, goes into the creation of works especially meant for children in India, which do not take their intelligence, imagination, ability and sensitivity for granted.

By Dance - Kathakali Jana
  • Published 6.05.17
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A chirpy little invitation from ThinkArts recently landed on the desk. It summoned audiences above the age of six to a dance performance titled Flying Cowby the Dutch dance company, de Stilte. What was arresting about it in the Indian contextwas that the group is a contemporary dance company for children. Not a lot of artistic endeavour, except for some sporadic ones, goes into the creation of works especially meant for children in India, which do not take their intelligence, imagination, ability and sensitivity for granted.

The work in question turned out to be a laugh riot that quite candidly also touched upon some sombre truths of life. Because children, too, experience these from their own perspective and can totally connect with them.

Flying Cow drew upon curiosity, imagination and that elemental quality of wonder, which saliently distinguishes childlike responses from adult ones. Although it told a simple tale, the work beguilingly dwelt upon the universal themes of friendship, solidarity, sense of belonging and loneliness that many children - and adult - stories are about. What stood out about this one, however, was the virtue of clarity that children can always relate to. It was narrated in a language that, quite literally, everyone above the age of six would understand. If it was cute, it was also wacky in equal measure. While being enchanting, the production was at the same time sturdy.

It is playtime and three children - the protagonists - are engrossed in a fun game of make-believe. Through dance, mime, craft and some trickery as well, the playmates explore a fantasy world full of animals and birds and a narrative filled with fascinating happenings. A magical space is created and the amusing developments on stage keep the action rolling. A pig, a calf, a flock of chickens, a wobbly old woman and a flying cow visit them in the course of their game, filling up their leisure with joy. Bouts of giggling, occasional loud laughter and waves of applause from the full-to-the-brim auditorium boretestimony to the participation of the young audience in the uproarious fun on stage.

But the exuberance is not all that there is to the narrative. Serious psychological issues creep into the children's space, as they inevitably do in life. Jealousy makes its way into the plot as one of the playmates falls out with another. Insecurity cuts her up as she is consumed by a fierce sense of loneliness and grapples with the feeling of being left out. She has no one to play with. Undercurrents of cruelty and sullenness tear down the idyllic charm of the enchanted reality of playtime. However, the scrap is short-lived and the children patch up soon enough to be playing together happily again.

For many in the audience that evening, it was a wonderful initiation into the dynamics of dance and the abstraction of art itself. And what an uplifting introduction it was, de Stilte's work being a triumph of smartness and simple charm, an irresistible combination when it comes to wooing the young mind.

The three highly accomplished adult dancers, playing the children, engaged the audience with their movements, leaping, turning, pirouetting, rolling on the floor and executing brilliant duets and trios, using the space on the Gyan Manch stage with effortless control. An interesting variety of props - strings, eggs, a bucket, and what have you - were used with great dexterity to add to the visual appeal. The music - rhythmic, neat and clever, playing a lot with silence - made the production significantly richer.

Simplicity of staging and suspension of disbelief probably make the best kind of children's work. Believing what was going on on-stage was never a problem even though technical wizardry was kept out of it. Energetic and superbly choreographed, Flying Cow depended on fantastic dance compositions, unlocking of emotions through evocative theatrical expression, ingenious costumes, humour, and plenty of goofing around to keep the audience riveted to it. Six and up.

A vote of thanks is due to ThinkArts for having brought this superb act from Netherlands to the city. It would perhaps uncork the imagination of many - adults and children - and bottle away the clichés that often ruin works targeted at the young.