The times they are a changin?  
by Farah Choudhury, Kolkata 

April 14, 2004   

Some exercises are not meant to keep up with time, rather to move ahead in time and create history. Sapphire Creations Dance Workshop, Kolkata has been content to lay out its own path and itself set new milestones on it. After establishing itself as the only experimental dance company of Eastern India, Sapphire has initiated the only international alternative arts festival in Eastern India. 

The festival called INTERFACE, the INTERnational Festival of Alternative and Contemporary Expressions, with the theme of LINK THE ARTS, creates history biennially in the City of Joy uniting diverse and legendary talents around the world on the same stage. The arts for a period of five odd days come alive to a frenzied process of exchange, learning and interaction between forms, genres, people and cultures. In an instant, sensibilities and sensitivities are united, the world is bonded in art and in the love of it. 

INTERFACE attempts to bring to Kolkata a taste of the tremendous and turbulent experimentation that recreates every urban experience in myriad artistic forms around the world. It encourages a non-mainstream strain of thought, performance and development in every sensitive modern urban individual. It creates a ready platform for the interaction and reinvention of the contemporary arts.  

After its launch in 2002, March 9-13, 2004 saw artistes from India, Hong Kong, China, Poland, France and USA interfacing within themselves and with the art lovers and connoisseurs, press and media of Kolkata with ease and élan. In a plethora of events ranging from the curtain raiser to main performances to seminars to open workshops to the closing night event the festival was a treat to those who long to indulge in the process of art. Supported by Ambuja Cement, Hyatt Regency, Interklubs, RED FM, Time Cabs and Senco Jewellery Centre, the events took place at Kalamandir, Hyatt Regency, Seagull Bookstore and Swabhumi. 

After the curtain raiser at The Conclave where press and media had assembled for a short invocatory performance, a multimedia presentation on INTERFACE and the press conference and tea later, the festival was officially declared open on March 9 with a brief inauguration ceremony and multimedia presentation by the Festival directors, Sudarshan Chakravorty and Paramita Saha. The Subinoy Chakravorty and Bijoya Chakravorty Smriti Purashkar for the years 2003 and 2004 were conferred on Astad Deboo, Shuvaprasanna, Bijoyluxmi Burman and Russi Mody.  

The festival opened with the most phenomenal of all modern dancers of India, Astad Deboo with Astad Deboo Dance Company presenting Dance Expressions. In a series of pieces tracing feelings of obeisance to awakening in the mind and body, in total absence of prop and external embellishment Astad Deboo proved why at his age he could celebrate life through dance performing around the world. Abstraction and definition of movement were united in serenity and a rare perception of life that were resultant of his long struggle to establish a budding art form in the country, succeed in the attempt and come to terms with the stature of a pioneer yet in search of new discoveries in his own self. 
Astad Deboo 
Thresh Dance Company
Silesian Dance Theatre
Preeti Vasudevan with Thresh Dance Company, USA followed Astad on stage on March 9. There was the fear of being overshadowed by such a stalwart, but Preeti and her team of musicians and dancers overcame that stress with grace and composure. Preeti’s dance form was refreshingly devoid of any influence of her long Bharatanatyam training, with a crispy lightness of movement that pervaded her expressions even when she explored death and rememory. With the only accompaniment of the stringed instrument in the form of the violin and the cello, the three pieces of Strings Unattached explored texts, cultures and contexts across time. 

March 10 saw theatre take center stage. Creating a ruffle both onstage and backstage in ‘Thoughts that got ruffled Much’ Silesian Dance Theatre easily explained why they were No.1 in Poland and a name to reckon with in the European contemporary dance scene. There was not really much backstage as the wings were removed, the cyclorama backdrop shifted to create a new lateral space on stage. Dancers explored everyday situations and the effect of the news on it. The news blared out on the television set that occupied and lit up the downstage area. Dancers went up the wall, leapt and jumped and created designs and patterns hitherto unseen on the Indian stage. It was an evening of revelations when this 10-member team who traveled all the way from Poland accepted flowers with almost childishly happy smiles. Kolkata could only humbly applaud. 

Black Coffee
While the audience interface was on with the Polish team, behind the curtain frenzied activity recreated the stage into a Kafkasque set that boasted of heaps and heaps of files. The stage was set for Kalantak Lalfita, Chetana’s offering at INTERFACE 2004. One of Kolkata’s most experimental groups, this production based on a short story by Sibram Chakraborty and play by Bratya Basu on the subject of bureaucratic red tape was 35 minutes of meaningful entertainment. Masks, movements, properties and dialogues all contributed to the visual metaphor that director Suman Mukhopadhyay employed to create references for the literary metaphors of Sibram’s language. Described, as an indefinite leap in abstraction the play was the only completely theatrical presentation of INTERFACE 2004. 

March 11 began with a blue-lit stage and strains of Macedonian gypsy music, soft and soul stirring, an Indo-Canadian offering with a difference from fusion music ensemble Black Coffee. The only musical project in the festival, Black Coffee presenting a variety of sonic vibrations ranging from Qawali to Puertorican, this small team led by tabla prodigy Mayooh Bhowmick created a mood for the audience in which they were prepared to listen to almost everything. With Anit Ghosh from Canada strumming on the jazz-violin crossing beats from a band member who beat on the guitar box and Prabuddha Banerjee on the guitar, to strings from the santoor by Sandip Chatterjee led by Mayookh on the tabla, the audience was encouraged to participate in live clapping sessions and the loud applause at the end befitting the performance. 

Ranan Dance Company 
Four Corners 
After beats, it was time for colours, and colours galore was the performance by Ranan Dance Company led by Vikram Iyengar and Debashree Bhattacharya from Kolkata on March 11. Treating Kathak as a versatile and evergreen dance form, which is open to accept contemporary experimentations and expressions. Trained by Rani Karnaa, both Vikram and Debashree demonstrate amazing conceptions of the use of space and dimension on stage. In face space was most important in their presentation of excerpts of Shunya Se. With innovative usage of the stage bars, entries from the audience, costumes and lighting, Shunya Se created a metamorphosing collage of colours which explained each of the elements in Shunya Se, the quietness of the earth, the ferocity of lashing rain, or the simple expanse of space. 

A collaborative performance, which brought together individuals from India, China and Hong Kong, Srishti Danceworks and Y-Space Dance Company made use of the entire evening on March 12 to present a diverse variety of experimentations. Y-Space led by directors Mandy Yim and Victor Ma aims to explore new languages and possibilities incorporating other creative media and use of alternative performance space. The evening began with Invisible Contact, where the dancers walked across the stage casting shadows on a background video projection shot by David Wong in Hong Kong and Kolkata in the days the company was in Kolkata before the show. The video is a crossover beyond territorial boundaries and as the programme note said ‘There are times we touch without physically contacting’. The evening continued with the presentation of Sahadharmini by Srishti where a satirical look at the duties of a wife was well depicted by the use of life-size rag dolls as props. The evening closed with the Four Corners: the X project which was a piece of connections between the cultures and experiences of the four dancers but to the estimate of this reviewer a little astray from the stream of understanding of the audience. But it is only festivals like INTERFACE that can bring home experiences of the arts from around the world, which can not only entertain but also educate audiences in the city. 

Srishti Danceworks: Sahadharmini 
Sapphire Creations Dance Workshop 
 March 13 was the closing night at Rangmanch, Swabhumi, the mood of the gathering was less serious and one of unwinding after a grueling four days of performances. The evening began with on spot improvisations by the young members of Sapphire Creations Dance Workshop to a variety of world music. The performance if it can be called one was heartening because it showed how very young members of the ensemble had the courage to improvise with music never heard and create intelligent patterns of movement, expressions why even experiment with alternative entries beyond the stage. This was followed by a simple puppetry presentation by Swapna Sen, with styles of hand, shadow and figure puppetry not seen very often in the city.  
Gilles Chuyen 
Y-Space Dance Company 
Next was a performance by Sandra Chatterjee, a UCLA Phd Candidate from USA who demonstrated through a series of pieces entitled ‘Images’ how the Indian dancer is perceived abroad, and how expectations of the audience if defeated often leads to a sense of loneliness even for the dancer. Sandra’s Kuchipudi training was extremely visible in her movements but it was toned down by the use of casual costumes and intermittent breaks in the classical style. 

Dr.Gilles Chuyen from France with ‘Self-Ritual’ was a refreshing change after this. Dressed in a long flowing white skirt and a brief jacket, Gilles traveled in time and space through a growth of movement cycles that traced a development of thought from youth to maturity, guilt to absolution, fretful exploration to acceptance and serenity. The piece ended with searching visual of a man, stripped of all external embellishment, in peace with himself sitting amidst gentle candlelight. 

Ending the evening, ending INTERFACE 2004 and looking ahead to INTERFACE 2006 was the structured improvisation by Y-Space Dance Company. Starting from the empty space behind the audience, weaving through the audience, using the audience and the chairs as props, the duo Victor Ma and Mandy Yim from Hong Kong showed how their severe training in classical ballet styles was absorbed and rejected in the search of a strange improvisatory dance language which was free, open to interpretation and open to experimentation.  

The festival ended with a vote of thanks by the directors. The audience I am sure would be as keen to welcome INTERFACE 2006 as the artistes who would be keen to come down; winds of change in a new orange dawn, may INTERFACE prosper. 

Workshop + seminars 
INTERFACE 2004 has proved to be a melting pot for artistes around the world from various backgrounds and cultures enabling a rare exchange process of experiences, opinions and thoughts which would lead to meaningful intellectual growth for artistes, media and art lovers of the city. 

To make this exchange a success, Seagull Bookstore kindly hosted two seminars in their space. The first seminar on March10 with the question, ‘How relevant are traditional Western dance techniques to the contemporary South Asian modern dancer’ had speakers who were also participants of INTERFACE 2004. Astad Deboo, the legendary modern dancer from India, Preeti Vasudevan, artistic director of Thresh Dance Company from the US, Victor Choi Ma, director of Y-Space Dance Company from Hong Kong, Sudarshan Chakravorty, artistic director of Sapphire Creations Dance Workshop, India and director of INTERFACE 2004, and Gilles Chuyen, famed soloist from France.  

The speakers came up with interestingly various responses to the subject. Astad Deboo, Sangeet Natak Akademi winner for Creative Dance, has a classical dance background but has traveled around the world training in various dance forms. Astad believes that even after training in Western dance techniques he had to come back to his Indian roots to discover a body language of his own. Preeti also agreed that her strong classical Bharatanatyam background actually helped her take on other forms of dance.  

Victor Ma showed video clippings of his works and thereby illustrated how his own dance form had developed and grown. Due to British rule in Hong Kong he underwent severe ballet training and later performed for Hong Kong ballet. The other available forms were traditional Chinese dance. But he could move away from all techniques to discover his own language which is individual and also distinctly representative of South Asian roots.  

Sudarshan raised the important point of the formation of idioms in this age of globalization and how artistes reacted to the same global crisis in often similar forms of movement and how contemporary artistes all over the world affected as they are by common problems rise to the occasion with a language that is personal and universal at the same time. Gilles opined that though basic training in Western techniques was necessary, it was far more important to discover an individual dance language that was meaningful in social, cultural and personal contexts.  

The discussion simmered down to the idea that awareness of the history and methods of western dance techniques was important because it lent a reference of space and time to the contemporary South Asian dancer but it was imperative that individuality in idiom be encouraged and discovered, for that is the spirit of modern dance, evergreen and ever-changing, modern in history and always in contemporary in perspective. 

The second seminar hosted by Seagull on March 12 with the subject ‘Positive communication in art can bind cultures and genres in the present age’ had speakers from all fields of the arts. Vandana Alase Hazra, classical danseuse, scholar and critic, Sandra Chatterjee, UCLA Phd candidate in world culture, participant of INTERFACE 2004, Anindita Sarbadhikari, noted film-maker, Tanmoy Bose, tabla maestro and Mamata Nakra Niyogi, arts manager from Canada all came up with views on the subject.  

Ms Hazra said that communication in this age of fragmentation was very important but it could become positive and meaningful only when diverse cultures could relate to the mode of communication. This ability to relate and belong in this age was important when already art had become too individual to make common meaning, the hazards of individuality in art could only be countered with emphasis on this common relation. Sandra said that positive communication often became difficult when the audience had preconceived ideas about a particular culture and dance form. Indian dance was supposed to be of a certain kind and anything contrary to that could be a point of contention. 

Anindita admitted that communication through the medium of film was easier because it had visual references which could create meaning instantly, her film which made waves in Germany had no subtitles. Ms Niyogi said that positivity in art was a great responsibility for the artist who had to place his artistic persona above his real one. Tanmoy Bose pointed out that the medium of music was deeply related to basic human nature and the value of good music or sound was accepted around the world. The primary message of music was harmony and that was almost always accepted around the globe. 

The LINK THE ARTS movement, of which INTERFACE is a part, is a Sapphire drive to bring together the arts in interesting commissioned and impromptu collaborations by bringing together artists of various disciplines through regular meets and discussions. The aim is to bring issues that bother all or most artistes out in the open, and in brainstorming sessions exchange ideas, develop solutions, form a larger and more meaningful art fraternity, which can provide encouragement and support to budding artists and which can reach out to educate and create new audiences. This motive of INTERFACE was clearly realized in these seminars where reactions betweens arts persons from all over the world were fresh with active understanding and exchange. 

Also part of INTERFACE were two workshops hosted by the Club Prana of Hyatt Regency, Kolkata. Victor Ma and Mandy Yim from Hong Kong and Gilles Chuyen from France conducted these. While Mandy worked on dance technique with innovative accompaniments like the tabla and on methods to take care of the spinal column, Victor effectively worked on free improvisations. Gilles started with warm-up exercises, which led to therapy techniques in which mental visualization of form, shape, colour and texture was connected to dance and movement. The workshop had a wide response and was attended by dancers, models and Club Prana members. 

Farah Choudhury is the Asst Editor, Features, The Asian Age, Kolkata.