The times they are a changin?
April 14, 2004
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Choudhury is the Asst Editor, Features, The Asian Age, Kolkata.