Third Interface Festival in the City of Joy  
- Bidisha Chatterjee, Kolkata  

July 29, 2006 

"Winds of change 
Blowing straight into the face of time 
Like a storm-wind that will ring the freedom bell..." 
- Scorpions 

What is it in change that always makes revolutions, breaks barriers, opens up silences, and ignites hope? Change streams forth a deluge of happening that purports to renew, rejuvenate and refresh the way in which minds think, people dream and hearts wish. 

In its third year, INTERFACE, the INTERnational Festival of Alternative and Contemporary Expressions, continued to do just that, reinstill confidence in the connoisseur Kolkatan that a new era in the growth of the contemporary arts in the City of Joy has already begun. 

Organised by the renowned experimental dance ensemble Sapphire Creations Dance Workshop, INTERFACE 2006, held between 18th and 22nd of April, boasted of artistes of excellence from France, Canada, USA, Japan and India; collaborators of quality -Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre and CII- Young Indians, Kala Bharati (Montreal), sponsors of profile like Ambuja Cement, ITC Sunfeast, Karvy Group, Bengal Shrachi, Hiland, the French Association, Senco, SREI and others; and a range of venues over Kolkata. Not least of the plethora of events that were packed into the five-day cultural extravaganza. 
After the official press launch at the Palladian Lounge hosted by CII where press and media had assembled for a short invocatory performance, press conference and tea, the festival was sparked off on the 18th of April by festival directors, Sudarshan Chakravorty and Paramita Saha in a unique inauguration ceremony.  

The Subinoy Chakravorty and Bijoya Chakravorty Smriti Purashkar for the years 2005 and 2006 that recognizes achievers of excellence were conferred on Harshvardhan Neotia from the corporate field, Usha Ganguly from the world of theatre, Suresh Dutta from the stream of puppetry and Mamata Niyogi Nakra from the dance field. 
Following this came the first offering of the only international contemporary arts festival of Eastern India, "The Seven Graces" by Anita Ratnam from Chennai, India. In a 60-min eclectic interpretation of the manifestations of the Tibetan Goddess Tara, Anita Ratnam  revelled in a mature explorative text replete with layers of meanings that threw new light on notions of Indian feminism and the age-old traditions of Goddess worship. In a non-conformist red flaming outfit Anita transgressed her traditional background and entered a space that was her very own, individual and modern. But while the music lent new dimension to the evening, the lighting could have been better.

Anita Ratnam
The inaugural reception dinner event on the opening night hosted by Madhu Neotia at Swabhumi, the Heritage Park proved to be a melting pot for the artistes around the globe who had assembled for INTERFACE 2006 in ardent interaction with the who’s who of Kolkata, while performances by Sapphire, Ananya Dance Theatre from USA and Pierre Renaud from Canada enthralled the audience. 

Pierre and Rae
Seminar at Max Mueller Bhavan

The afternoon of 19th April saw a rare assemblage in the Max Mueller Bhavan auditorium. Some of the finest choreographers from India and abroad like Mamata Niyogi Nakra from Montreal, Shakti and Vasantamala from Japan, Anita Ratnam, Ananda Shankar Jayant, Alokananda Roy from India, along with media person Utpal Banerjee and Kolkata’s choicest dancers and an entourage of dance students as audience turned the first day event of Interface into a memorable occasion. 

The evening was resplendent at festival partner Eastern Zonal Cutural Centre's venue, Bharatiyam, with Ananya Dance Theatre from USA followed by Kolkata's only participant in the festival, Dolly Basu and theatre group Chupkatha.  

Ananya Dance Theatre proved feminism was ruling the day in Interface. In 'Bandh,' a brooding, powerful presentation by this company of women artistes, four performers of diverse ages and cultures, we found a celebration of womanhood, the "power of women dreaming" as Ananya terms it. In an art form popularly coming to be known as dance theatre, rich, bold coloured costumes, innovative costumes and makeup, and the use of bamboos in a play of light and shade was well-executed. While the movements seemed largely derivative of Odissi there was a hint of boredom in the music. 

Chupkatha's play "Dui Taranga" was amazingly refreshing after the melancholy first half of the evening. In a crisp, witty repartesque style Nirmal Verma and Nabanita Debsen's tales found able expression in Dolly Basu's clear and stylish histrionics. Chandranath Chatterjee was equally capable as the stranger in the first piece while the second brought us to the eternal search of the author's search for a muse. 

After this, the Interface guests were taken out on a date by long-time Sapphire patron Jiban Sen of Senco Jewellery Centre. In a fancy dinner organized at a posh city hotel, upcoming band Sree Om played an array of fusion tracks which made the guests get up and join in an impromptu improvisation which was magical and celebrated the true global spirit of Interface where artistes round the world could interact with each other like long-lost friends. 

Straight from the airport on the next day, the 20th, Canadian duo, musician Martin Trudel and flamenco dancer Rae Bowhay made instant contact with the odd group of excited young dancers at Max Mueller Bhavan who were waiting for their first brush with this stylish and rhythmic Spanish dance form. In a unique workshop enlivened with ready music from Martin and practiced expert Flamenco moves from Rae, there was a high level of energy flowing from all present. 
Time was short for art-freaks who had to chase Interface from venue to venue over the city to make it just in time for the seminar for HIV/AIDS and Arts hosted by the American Center for Interface 2006. Pawan Dhall from NGO Saathii, folk arts curator Nandita Pal Choudhuri, activist and singer Pranoy Dutta, dancer and professor Ananya Chatterjee from USA and Sudarshan Chakravorty, Artistic Director of Sapphire, were some of the experts who participated in this event which brought together artistic expressions which voiced concerns, cures, preventive measures, and therapy for an HIV-prone country which needed to wake up to the need of awareness about HIV/AIDS. Sapphire members then staged an excerpt from Sapphire's celebrated ballet on HIV positive individuals titled "Positive Lives." 

A surprise was sprung on the group of arts enthusiasts thronging for the evening performance at Bharatiyam on the same day. The expectant audience waiting for the auditorium gates to open was greeted by a group of talented Sapphire members who indulged in a site-specific exploration in the Bharatiyam lobby. Dancers slid down banisters and leaped from stairways while others pirouetted and moved on the lobby floors. The mesmerized audience was hardly aware of the next experience that awaited them inside the hall.  

Shakti and Vasantamala Dance Company from Japan was already the cynosure of Kolkata media for the eclectic legends that it brought with it. Uday Shankar's first Japanese student Yae Yamato or Vasantamala had brought Indian dance to Japan. Daughter Shakti born to an Indian father and a Japanese mother made the best of her parentage and straddled both cultures by majoring in Indian philosophy and studying modern dance with the likes of Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey.  

Shakti's presentation "The Pillow Book" is in many words still indescribable for the trance-like quality that it created and the sheer magnificence of the performance. In a stylish powerhouse rendering of Sei Shonagon's world of courtesans and the overwhelming beauty and grace of nubile womanhood, supported ably by impeccable music and light design, and through the mediums of dance and live painting, Shakti delivered the point realistically and aesthetically, that passion is to be enjoyed for it is the creative fount of human existence. We hope that Kolkata artistes shall remember Shakti’s sheer energetic outburst of movement every time they go on stage. 

While Shakti and her team answered an awe-struck audience in the Q & A session, the curtain was waiting to rise on another odyssey of creativity. A few moments later, Mezcal Jazz Unit from France with Kolkata's very own tabla maestro Bikram Ghosh was ready to create history.  

Mezcal and Bikram Ghosh

Musically non-conformist, jazzy in the true sense, Mezcal believes in freedom in integration and fusion. The band boasts of a unique Mediterranean sound that introspects into Oriental, bursts into rock, and holds a Latin attitude in its free-flowing style. The widely traveled band complemented Bikram's stylish tabla in an appealing tapestry of sound that clearly won the hearts of the Kolkatans as they kept asking for more and more even as evening became night. 

After a quiet dinner sponsored by SREI Infrastructure at Tangerine, the artistes were ready for another marathon day of events on the 21st. 

It was interesting to note the wide variety of subjects that the festival touched in all its bustling activity. "Dance and the Child" was the topic of discussion at Oxford Bookstore on 21st afternoon and was widely attended by schools, which were already part of Sapphire's School Section Movement. Canada representatives of Dance and the Child International (DaCI), Dr Mamata Niyogi Nakra and her husband Bans Nakra were present along with dancer Priti Patel who has had wide experience in dealing with special children and theatre person Renu Roy who has organized several children's events.  

Excerpts from Mamata Niyogi Nakra's child friendly module Shishu Sadhana were first displayed after which the discussion ensued bringing up the instrumental role that dance and the arts in general could play in the rounded and wholesome development of a child's mental and physical faculties and how especially relevant it was in the present world of stress and competition. The afternoon concluded with a child-friendly presentation by Sapphire's School Section members. 

The evening audience at Bharatiyam was pleasantly surprised again to find young musical band Sree Om accompanying Sapphire members live as they improvised on the open space at Bharatiyam. 

On stage, "Images of Change" by veteran and much-decorated Odissi performer Ileana Citaristi regaled audiences with two thought-provoking pieces. The first set to the famous poem "Still I Rise" by Maya Angelou explored the conditions of slavery while the second was inspired by the ancient Chinese system of yin and yang. The rather unimaginative first composition was greatly overshadowed by the splendid second where Ileana and Nitin displayed symmetrical and asymmetrical choreographic patterns with ease. Now apart, now intertwined, back to back and crossed to front, the concept of characteristics of polarities in this world was beautifully explored. 

Another international performance and with it another unique interdisciplinary presentation was up next by the team from Canada comprising of musician Martin Trudel, Flamenco dancer Rae Bowhay and renowned puppeteer and storyteller Pierre Renaud. While Shakti brought together a rare fusion of painting and dance, here was dance and puppetry set to live music. 

Romance de Luna Luna, set to Federico Garcia Lorca's mysterious poem, brought together legends of the moon coming down herself to take away dead children along with somber moves by Rae dressed as the moon in a unique mask created by Pierre.  The presentation was intriguing if not faultless and a fine inter-arts presentation. 
As customary for Interface 2006, a well-planned dinner event organized by Citibank lay ahead at another classic city hotel. Performances were by Ileana Citaristi who presented the famous "Echo and Narcissus" and "Once Upon a Time" by Sapphire which is a fairytale woven around global dance forms like Indian martial arts, Thai apsara dance, jazz and ballet. A colourful and glamorous evening reminding us that art cannot reach the masses without resources, Interface is the perfect instance of a marriage between the artistic and corporate worlds which can come together to create a new system of meaningful partnerships.  
The next morning brought a sigh of relief to the ever-on-the-run team of Sapphire volunteers who ran the show behind the scenes, but it was a time for tears as many of the artistes who were part of the festival and had spent many fond moments with the team were on their way to the airport.
Ileana Citaristi 

Nevertheless on the last lap an enthusiastic group of connoisseurs assembled for the open seminar at Max Mueller Bhavan where Ileana Citaristi, Utpal Banerjee and educationist and dancer Urmimala Munshi came together to share their outlook on contemporary art expressions with the audience. What followed after this is again a slice of history, when 'Saradindu' happened. 'Saradindu,' Pierre Renaud's unique creation, the Shiva look-alike life size puppet with a smaller counterpart who moved his limbs aided by four Bharatanatyam dancers of the city who displayed that constructed right and moved perfectly, this puppet could recreate complicated Bharatanatyam repertoire on stage.  

Sapphire Creations Dance Workshop
Nataraja Project
After a creatively fulfilling morning, it was time for the final event of the festival, the CII- Young Indians event at Science City Auditorium. While Mezcal Jazz Unit, Sapphire and the Canadian duo took stage once more to enthrall Kolkatans for the last time, hearts bled as we all realized that the five-day frenzied cultivation of the contemporary arts was over. 

INTERFACE 2006 ended with a vote of thanks by the directors to all who had contributed to make the festival a resounding success. Let us all wish Interface to shine as a bright beacon in the East beckoning the world of arts to join hands to link the arts, to link people, to break barriers, and unite in hope. 

Bidisha Chatterjee is a feature journalist of Sangbad Pratidin, one of the leading newspapers of West Bengal and contributes regularly in feature and art pages of its supplements.