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Narthaki Online interviews

Feb 2001
Sudarshan Chakravorty is the founder and artistic director of Sapphire Dance Creations with a vast experience in a multitude of dance forms that include Bharatanatyam, Modern Dance, Jazz, Modern Vietnamese dance and Thangta to Kathakali. Under his artistic direction, Sapphire Creations is a perpetual workshop. It is a whirl of thought and activity where ideas flow in to nurture a creative conflict, which gives birth to a dance form that is modern, unique and expressive of contemporary concerns. Born in 1992, the company has grown from a youthful venture to a dynamic contemporary modern dance ensemble. Engaged in national and international collaborations, their work fuses the spirits of professional entertainment, social consciousness and artistic sensitivity through a unique dance language.
Sapphire Creations Dance Workshop has performed in major national and international festivals, namely the Puri Beach Festival and Uday Shankar Nrityotsav in '96, Konark Dance and Music Festival in '98, Island Tourism Festival in Andamans in '98, Asia Pacific Aids Conference in Kuala Lumpur in '99, Nehru Center in 2000 etc. Sapphire tries to integrate in its dance form, an awareness of tradition, a dimension of experimentation, an urge to entertain and a purpose to provoke consciousness.

Sapphire Creations is a contemporary / modern dance ensemble. What motivated you to start your company in a city that already had some established dance troupes?
Actually, as you all know, the established troupes in Calcutta have their own school of thought. It is nothing but a pot-pourri of other established dance forms and a combination of these do not give birth to a particular school of thought. Even countries like Cuba and Israel have their own modern dance forms. So, the first thing that inspired me to conceive Sapphire is to break barriers, set to stage something revolutionary, or anything that is different. Our dancers are very young and very energetic. We all want to do something unique.

You performed 'Post Mortem' about the state of man in the 21st century at The Other Festival in Chennai. Do you think such festivals are ideal to get your message across to the audience?
Yes, that's what urged me to participate in The Other Festival because the name itself acknowledges the existence of the alternative form of the performing arts without the parameters of the so-called classical dance forms.

You have tackled social issues in some of your work like 'Alien Flower', which deals with homosexuality. How has the Indian audience reacted to this bold venture?
To be frank, when I first started in 1996, I saw people were very apprehensive, the so-called art lovers and connoisseurs. Our performance was invited to the Puri Beach Festival and the Uday Shankar Festival. But I felt many were skeptical about my dance form and my attitude to arts and life as a whole. Dance is a powerful medium, which has not been explored properly as far as I've seen in my small experience. People readily accept beautiful, colorful costumes, lots of jewelry…my friends in Calcutta could earlier, never find reflections of their anxieties and frustrations in the dance they saw. Lots of critics were supposedly more interested in the themes than the form, than the propagation of the modern dance form I was trying to evolve. But I found response outside Calcutta was more encouraging, like when we performed in The Habitat Center in Delhi and the Nehru Center in Mumbai. Over the passing years, all our shows in Calcutta run to full houses. I recently presented Indian Erotica and that was a success too. People always ask why I do sexually oriented themes. I feel that sexuality and sex is a basic aspect of our existence and if we cannot question it, the right, the wrong, the truth…. lots of things will remain in the dark. In this era of Aids, it is relevant. I recently performed in the Asia Pacific Aids Conference in Kuala Lumpur. I feel that in India, everything is hush hush. We all have double standards, so Aids has become rampant here. If the artist community does not bring out these issues which are wrapped under a blanket, who else will?
Do you think audiences nowadays are more open to see something different and contemporary than the same usual classical items?
I find there's a fine divide that a cross section wants to see traditional things, maybe they are skeptical about something that's modern. There's always a section that are scared to see anything that's away from the traditional, maybe something in their psyche, that they want to attach a stigma to any alternative dance form. That could be because of the guru - shishya parampara, to acknowledge an alternative school of thought. But the modern young Indian wants to see something that reflects their own culture, their own understanding of life.
How would you define the distinct dance style of Sapphire Creations?
I do not want to define it because if we want to define, we have to construct parameters, it will have boundaries. We try to imbibe movements, which the body can accept. The keyword is the range of the whole body, a combination of postures that your body can accept. We consciously do not use any classical idioms.

Do your dancers get training in any particular discipline like yoga or martial arts, which you use in your dance movements?
We have our 3-tier process of training - Awareness, Exploration and Improvisation. In Awareness, we try to make the dancer more aware of the body vis a vis the environment. To look within and outside. In Exploration, we try to explore whatever we're aware of, try to enhance our body range. Improvisation is our most creative part, where we use our body awareness and freedom of the body to create movements.

Can you tell us about some of your memorable dance collaborations?
Vishwakant is a singer based in Delhi. We learnt a lot of things about gyrotonics - something to do with yoga and movement, so the body goes in circular movements. Through collaboration with him, we created certain items. Nana Gleason is an American dancer based in Paris who helped us to improvise on our various body techniques. She also helped choreograph a couple of items.

What is the most memorable performance you have given to date?
The premiere of “Alien Flower” in Calcutta in 1996 and thereafter at the Puri Beach Festival the same year. “Unwinding” at the 2nd Asia Pacific Aids Conference in Kuala Lumpur in 1999. It denotes the intricate sexual metaphor in India, how it's adding to the havoc of the Aids epidemic. We performed this at the Nehru Center this year.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your career?
My career has just begun. I feel I'm very blessed, that I'm trying to explore contemporary modern dance in a country like India amidst all the traditional gurus and that I'm running my company for the past nearly 9 years. I do a lot of things. I work for underprivileged children of the sex workers. I teach them dance. I also try to work with the street children. We try mainly to teach them dance to help raise their self-esteem. It's still very experimental. They feel their body is only to be used. I try to make them understand that the body can be beautiful too. I also try to show that you don't have to be trained in a dance form. You should have will power; the body has natural biological movements, which can be used to be transformed into dance. My 4 main dancers have been trained in my workshop. They have never been trained in any classical form. I'm trying to prove many people wrong.

What aspirations do you have for the Sapphire Creations Dance Workshop?
First, I'm trying to create an academy. A kind of hostel accommodation, like a residential academy and try to provide economic security to at least 10 members of my troupe. Right now, we have no government grant. We're trying to build a corpus fund with the help of sponsors. Whether there is help or no help, it's the fire inside you, which makes things work.

Sudarshan Chakravorthy
"Sapphire Creations"
CF80 Salt Lake City
Calcutta 700064
Ph: (033) - 3370665
Fax: (033) - 3375088

( As told to LV )