Pulse south asian music and dance
Spring 2015 - #128
£8 | $12 | €9
INSIDE In the Frame Between the Notes Festival Dance in the Community Nehal Bhogaita and Sanghamitra Datta Reviews Jyotsna Srikanth and Shlomo • Amjad Ali Khan with Amaan Ali Khan and Ayaan Ali Khan
sound in print
PECDA & Ignite! Contemporary Dance in India
ArundhationRoy Caste The Nautch Girl BBC Young Dancer kadam
connecting asian dance and music communities
One of the worldâ€™s most exciting Indian dance experiences returns this summer!
Exciting new features in 2015 include a re-vamped course structure focussed even more on skills development, exciting new workshops and performances, all led by a brilliant new generation of Indian dance teachers and performers!
Dance India 2015 Faculty
25 July - 1 August 2015 Liverpool Hope University, Liverpool UK
Dakshina Vaidyanathan Sanjukta Sinha
Register online at www.milapfest.com/dance-india For more information please contact Milapfest on +44 151 291 3949 or email email@example.com
EXCITING NEWS Dance India 2015 tuition fees have been slashed by over 20%, saving you at least ÂŁ100! Conceived and created by
Pulse Spring 2015 — Issue 128 ISSN 1476-6019 Published by Kadam Asian Dance and Music c/o The Hat Factory, 65-67 Bute Street, Luton LU1 2EY +44 (0) 1582 876 038 Editorial Team Commissioning Editor Sanjeevini Dutta
2 Editorial 4 News 5 Listings 6
Something Afoot – Contemporary Dance in India Sanjoy Roy was on the jury at the latest Prakriti Excellence in Contemporary Dance Award. He finds that contemporary dance in India is varied, dynamic and free in thought and expression.
Mapping New Territory – Contemporary Dance Festivals in India Isabel Putinja examines the challenges and opportunities offered by two international festivals: the Ignite! Festival of Contemporary Dance in New Delhi and the Attakkalari India Biennial in Bangalore.
Assistant Editor Gopa Roy Editorial and Marketing Assistant Parbati Jill Chaudhury Design Art Director Pritpal Ajimal Photography Director Simon Richardson
Subscriptions, Advertising & Info firstname.lastname@example.org Contacts email@example.com Disclaimer Pulse is published by Kadam Asian Dance and Music. Kadam are a part of SADA (South Asian Dance Alliance). No part of the magazine may be reproduced in any form without the written permission of the publisher. Copyright of the text is shared with its authors. Copyright of the photographs/images reside with contributing photographers/ artists. All other rights reserved. The views/opinions expressed in Pulse are the authors’ and not necessarily those of the editor or publisher. While reasonable effort has been made to avoid errors, no liability will be accepted for any that may have inadvertently occurred. Annual subscription £32 with free delivery Cheques payable to Kadam, c/o The Hat Factory, 65-67 Bute Street, Luton LU1 2EY. For online subscriptions and payments please visit www.pulseconnects.com Published by
12 In the Frame: Between the Notes Pulse and the Tagore Centre’s three-day festival had something for everyone – captured by Simon Richardson.
Young Pulse BBC Young Dancer 2015: The Category Finals Parbati Chaudhury caught up with two young hopefuls in the South Asian category of this new award: Anaya Vasudha Bolar and Jaina Modasia.
The Currency of Caste – Arundhati Roy in Conversation with Ken Hunt Ken Hunt inquires about the influences that inform Arundhati Roy’s writing and activism and the continuing centrality of caste in India since B.R. Ambedkar wrote about it in 1936.
The Impossible Dream Gopa Roy learns about the joy and freedom of expression dance offers to those without hearing from Nehal Bhogaita, a member of The Nautch Girl cast and Sanghamitra Datta of the Children in Need Institute in Kolkata.
Reviews Music Performance Carnatic Beatbox (Jyotsna Srikanth and Shlomo) Amjad Ali Khan with Amaan Ali Khan and Ayaan Ali Khan
Pulse serves the arts sector by recording, critiquing, profiling and archiving South Asian dance and music in the UK through Pulse magazine and the website: www.pulseconnects.com.
Kadam forms part of the SADA Alliance
The Nautch Girl Sanjeevini Dutta looks at Phizzical’s The Nautch Girl, a re-imagining of Mirza Hadi Ruswa’s classic tale of Umrao Jaan Ada. Choreographer Sonia Sabri and Phizzical’s artistic director Samir Bhamra talk about its creation.
connecting asian dance and music communities
The magazine relies solely on income from subscriptions, advertising and donations. All donations welcome through our website www.pulseconnects.com
Contents Page Photo Credits
FC Made in Bangladesh at Ignite! Festival | Photo: Wonge Bergmann 2 6 9 12 16 18 20
Bayadère: The Ninth Life | Photo: Chris Nash Prasanna Saika | Photo: C. Ganesan Systeme Castafiore | Photo: Karl Biscuit Between the Notes | Photo: Simon Richardson The Nautch Girl | Photo: Simon Richardson BBC Young Dancer | Photo: Simon Richardson Arundhati Roy | Photo: Santosh Sidhu
SPRING 2015 PULSE 1
UPFRONT — LETTER FROM THE EDITOR/NEWS
Letter from the Editor
Dear Readers The Spring issue of Pulse focuses on India ‒ in particular on the emergent contemporary dance scene, a nationwide phenomenon judging from the entries to PECDA (Prakriti Excellence in Contemporary Dance) and the Ignite! Festival. The articles by Sanjoy Roy and Isabel Putinja point to a dynamic sector with a growing number of artists making and performing work outside the classical repertoire, with a diversity of styles as their starting-point. Mandeep Raikhy of the Gati Forum (a dance collective based in India’s capital that has been harnessing the interest of young dance-makers by providing studio spaces, courses and mentoring) defines ‘contemporary’ by virtue of ‘criticality’ ‒ dance that emerges from rigour of thought or process. Such an outlook keeps the door open to a flow of ideas between the classicallytrained and contemporary dancers so that Aditi Mangaldas and Nrityagram are invited to share the platform at contemporary dance festivals. Noteworthy is the support that contemporary dance festivals are receiving from institutions like the government-funded Sangeet Natak Akademi. We feel privileged to feature an interview with Arundhati Roy, a rare soul who stands up for the unnoticed and forgotten peoples, the Adivasis (tribals) and Dalits, at the bottom of India’s caste structure. In her revealing interview with Ken Hunt, Roy speaks of the river and the forest being her best educator, her rest and respite. So when the mining of bauxite in the Niyamgiri hills in Odisha by the Vedanta Group threatens the way of life of the forest community, an impassioned, lone campaigner is lined up against the might of government, corporations and big business. Closer to home, Pulse is delighted to profile two of the five short-listed dancers in the South Asian dance Category Finals of BBC Young Dancer 2015. We are looking forward to the finals of BBCYD on 9 May, two days after the national elections. Lastly we are delighted to interview Nehal Bhogaita, a dancer who appeared in The Nautch Girl and dazzled with her presence. Who would spot that this brilliant dancer is responding just to visual cues and receiving the music purely as vibrations? Much as does our leading percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, in the news for being a recipient of the Polar Prize for Music. There will be a new government in power on May 7 and let’s hope it will be one that will put the common good over sectional interests. Happy voting, Sanjeevini
2 PULSE SPRING 2015
A Temple Dancer’s Troubles: Bayadère ‒ The Ninth Life Photo: Chris Nash
Bayadère – The Ninth Life is Shobana Jeyasingh’s radical reimagining of Marius Petipa’s celebrated 1877 ballet La Bayadère. The ballet is a tale of love, rivalry, jealousy and drama involving the bayadère (‘temple dancer’), the warrior she loves, the High Brahmin who loves her, a Rajah and his daughter. Jeyasingh’s contemporary and personal vision of the piece, commissioned by the Royal Opera House, draws on the original story of the ballet, as well as the first visit of Indian temple dancers to Europe in 1838 as recorded by the contemporary poet and critic Théophile Gautier. The music, performed live by the ROH Orchestra, is by her frequent collaborator Gabriel Prokofiev. Sanjeevini Dutta talked to Shobana Jeyasingh about her project. A very Orientalist story is subverted in your production. Please comment. Ever since I saw a production of La Bayadère many years ago in London I noted what a classic Orientalist text it was. The fact that it featured a devadasi seemed even more of an invitation to scrutiny! While I was researching the history of the ballet and its French choreographer I happened on the historic visit of five dancers from a temple near Pondicherry to Paris in 1838. Joe Bor’s work on this topic was particularly helpful. The Indian dancers’ visit was almost forty years prior to the creation of the ballet. The well-known French writer and critic Théophile Gautier has left us a gripping account of the impression they created. Both these narratives ‒ the ballet and the visit of the Pondicherry dancers ‒ feed into the ‘retelling’ of my own Bayadère story. Why did you choose this moment to look into the early forays of Indian dance in Europe and the UK? The idea had been in my head for many many years but the opportunity presented itself only recently. I also probably needed to have had a personal history of reasonable duration to reflect on this subject.
Over the years, you have created a very strong individual stamp to your work, going beyond the Indian aesthetic sensibility where the use of face is as important as the body and music structures the dance. Would you agree that you have defined your ‘own aesthetic’? When I learned bharatanatyam I was just as fascinated by the nritya or dramatic aspects as I was by nritta where the whole body spoke through space and time. I guess in my own choreography I wanted to tell ‘stories’ where the body moved as a single unit to create meanings that were less linear and less character-led. As for music, there are times in my own choreography when the movement is structured by the music. However, for me, this is just one way of making dance and music relate to each other among many. I am not sure if I am dogmatic enough to define anything as grand as a personal aesthetic! What I have recognised about my choices in the studio over the years is a tendency to favour the body that is in emotional counterpoint to the space around it which in turn favours movements that ‘growl’ rather than ‘sing sweetly’. Has the current climate of austerity created the need for greater resourcefulness by artists? Definitely. As the climate for arts funding is changing rapidly around us, artists have had to pay attention to market forces in a way that we did not need to in the past. A small company’s energies have to be deployed more and more in fund-raising and finding allies and subsidies outside the state funding provision. What is the source of your unending creativity? I very rarely feel unendingly creative ‒ sadly! I am a worrier by nature and every dance work is a problem to solve and the process of completion always seems to throw up another question (compositional or conceptual) that needs to be answered and so it goes on! Touring from 18 March to 13 May 2015 www.shobanajeyasingh.co.uk
Alchemy at the Southbank Centre Dance Timeless The charismatic and thoughtful Aditi Mangaldas explores the idea of time through kathak and contemporary dance with her Dance Company. 15 May | Queen Elizabeth Hall Occasionally We Skype Occasionally We Skype combines kathak dance, the spoken word and theatre with live music and digital projection. With Sonia Sabri Company 16 May | Purcell Room
Theatre Nirbhaya Yaël Farber’s team brilliantly evokes the events of the terrible night in December 2012 when a young woman and her friend boarded a bus – also the subject of a documentary recently and controversially banned in India. The production weaves personal testimonies from members of the cast into the performance. 21–24 May | Purcell Room My Big Fat Cowpat Wedding A delightful comedy drama from Kali Theatre. 23 & 24 May | Level 5 Function Room
Samyoga Literature Nrityagram, the centre for the practice and teaching of odissi dance Among events for literaturebased outside Bangalore in India, has lovers are the two-day Jaipur Literature Festival (16 & 17 May | QEH); an Alchemy Book Club discussion of Monica Ali’s Brick Lane (21 May | Sunley Pavilion | Free); and readings and discussion of poetry from India, Pakistan, Wales and Scotland in City to City (23 May | Front Room at QEH | Free). Nrityagram | Photo: Uma Dhanwatey
earned an international reputation. This will be Nrityagram’s first ever UK performance. In Samyoga, ancient wisdom, sacred rituals and divine transformation are unveiled and interpreted by dancers Surupa Sen and Bijayini Satpathy. 19 May | Purcell Room Kathakali Among the free performances taking place throughout the festival is the ‘story play’ Kathakali, performed by the Kala Chethena Kathakali Theatre Company. There will be an opportunity to have a close-up view of the costumes and to see the application of the elaborate make-up, chutti. 23 May | The Clore Ballroom | Free Yuva A showcase for South Asian youth dance from across the country. Soloists and groups up to the age of 25 will perform kathak, bharatanatyam and more. 25 May | The Clore Ballroom | Free ANKH A new piece for ten dancers choreographed by Southbank Centre Artist in Residence, kathak dancer Gauri Sharma Tripathi. 16 May | The Clore Ballroom | Free
Music The King of Ghosts Sarod player Soumik Datta is joined by the London Philharmonic Orchestra to combine vintage film – Satyajit Ray’s 1969 Goopy Gayen Bagha Bayen ‒ with live contemporary music. 19 May | Queen Elizabeth Hall Indigo Soul The singer Unnati launches her album Indigo Soul with a live performance, accompanied by her band, combining elements of Indian classical, soul and jazz. 15 May | Central Bar at Royal Festival Hall | Free Project 12 A band of young British musicians from diverse musical backgrounds. 15 May | The Clore Ballroom | Free Yorkston/Thorne/Khan A collaborative group comprising singer/songwriter James Yorkston, Indian classical singer, double-bass player Jon Thorne and vocalist Suhail Yusuf Khan who combine improvisation with traditional sounds from Scotland and India. 18 May | Purcell Room
Wild City Presents: Alternative India Featuring new music from India, with Sulk Station, Nicholson and Curtain Blue. 20 May | The Front Room at QEH
freedom. Khiyo, Flux, Quest Ensemble, 47 Soul and Samay are some of the featured bands.
The VEIL This installation piece features live performances exploring what it means to be a Muslim woman in Britain today. 16 May | Installation from 10am – 10pm | Performances: 2pm, 4pm, 6pm | Blue Room at Royal Festival Hall
Almost everyone who is anyone in the UK dance world will gather in London in April for the UK’s first industry-wide dance conference, conceived and developed by Dance UK. Its aim is both to celebrate the achievements and contribution to UK life of the fastgrowing dance sector and to help find solutions to and new models for some of the challenges faced by the dance sector. The panellists on the ‘Future of South Asian Dance’ session will be Ann David, Sonia Sabri, Chitra Sundaram and Mark Baldwin. Other contributors during the conference include Akram Khan (on the ‘Why a Dramaturg?’ panel), Shobana Jeyasingh, Hetain Patel and Farooq Chaudhry.
Arabian Nights Classic tales retold with music and puppetry. 23 & 24 May | Spirit Level at Royal Festival Hall Alchemy Festival Fri 15 May ‒ Mon 25 May 2015 Southbank Centre www.southbankcentre.co.uk
Saturday 9 May 2015: Date for the Diary Of course you could always catch up on BBC iPlayer, but nothing like catching live the BBC Young Dancer Finals to be broadcast from Sadler’s Wells, London on BBC 2 on 9 May 2015. The award is instituted for the first time this year and is unique in recognising four categories: ballet, contemporary, hip-hop and South Asian. The judges are Matthew Bourne, Akram Khan, Wayne McGregor, Tamara Rojo, Kenrick Sandy and Alistair Spalding. Pulse wishes the finalists a performance of verve and energy!
No Stopping at 11:30pm – Music Until Dawn in London Music-lovers in India are used to enjoying concerts that last through the night, but not so in the UK. On Friday 27 March over fifteen bands will be playing nonstop at Rich Mix from 8pm until 8am the following morning. The All Night Freedom Music Festival is curated by composer and sarod player Soumik Datta. To celebrate Bangladesh Independence Day in London’s mixed-diaspora context, Datta has invited bands from Palestine, Egypt, India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to come together and perform for
The Future: New Ideas, New Inspirations 9–12 April 2015 London – various venues www.danceuk.org
Forgot Your Password? In a work that integrates contemporary South Asian dance and digital technology, choreographer Divya Kasturi
Photo: Simon Richardson
investigates the world of online and offline identities. Her starting-point is the everincreasing number of usernames and passwords we are asked to invent for ourselves, creating newer versions of ourselves in the process. She sees this as an act of performance. The live performance alongside installation reflects how a virtual element is inherent in our everyday lives, parallel to the real lived experience. The piece will begin its tour with its première at the Watford Palace Theatre on 14 April. SPRING 2015 PULSE 3
UPFRONT — NEWS
Kerala Charisma The dancers, singers and drummers of the Kala Chethena Kathakali Company will be touring the UK this summer with performances of this dramatic art form. With the tour will be co-founders of the company, kathakali actor Kalamandalam Vijayakumar (a specialist in female characters) and kathakali makeup specialist Kalamandalam Barbara Vijayakumar, the first female practitioner of the elaborate make-up called chutti. Kathakali developed in the temple culture of Kerala, bringing the ancient stories alive. The tour starts in May in Bristol, includes workshops and exhibitions, and culminates with WOMAD in July.
Pulse 123, Winter 2013). Carnatic vocalist and composer Sudha Ragunathan has received the Padma Bhushan, one of India’s highest civilian awards, which she can now add to those she has already received, the Sangita
Photo: James Morgan
Kalanidhi and Kalamamani awards. Followers of Tamil films can also look forward to her contributions as musical director to two films by Vasanth.
Glancing Back Young Artists Celebrate Discovery and Exploration Young artists from the age of 3 years 6 months to 25 celebrated their achievements with Nupur Arts Dance Academy and The Mighty Creative recently at The Curve in Leicester. Seventy young people received a Discover and Explore Award through their
Photo: Jason Champanieri
chosen art forms of dance, drama, singing, drawing or painting. Thirty more had attained ISTD qualifications for dance. Arts Award qualifications support young people to develop as artists and arts leaders. Arts Award is managed by Trinity College in London in association with Arts Council England together with ten regional organisations.
Draupadi – The Fire-Born Princess Sujata Banerjee Dance Company toured with an appealing fusion of dance, storytelling and puppetry, Draupadi – The Fire-Born Princess, earlier this year. The Pulse Dance Audience Club was at the opening show on 7 February at Patidar House, Wembley. Everyone agreed, this was a very enjoyable evening: ‘great for children… wonderful as a family show.’ The evident enthusiasm of the children in the audience added to the pleasure and vitality of the evening. The various elements of storytelling (scripted by Nona Shepphard), dance and puppetry were well integrated, together with both live and recorded music. The opening section, with two long pieces of cloth held and moved by the actors, was perhaps a little weak, although one of us thought of them as ‘ribbons of earth’ (could they have been alluding to Draupadi’s endless
“Her name is a byword for musical excellence and her reputation as a stupendous song interpreter is a given” (Ken Hunt, 4 PULSE SPRING 2015
On Sunday 17 May she will lead a workshop on Odissi Fundamentals. The workshop is open to beginners as well as advanced practitioners. The content will include: chari, bhramari, hasta mudra viniyoga (10 am to 12 pm) and arasa in triputa and roopak tala (12pm to 2pm). Venue: Colet House, W14 9DA.
Gopa Roy for the Pulse Dance Audience Club
Finally, to mark the UK release of Ileana Citaristi’s autobiography, there will be a talk and book signing at the Bhavan Library at 4pm also on Sunday 17 May. Ileana has kindly agreed to share some of the remarkable facts of her dance journey which took her thousands of miles from Bergamo in Italy, her birthplace to Bhubaneshwar, where she found her Guru and made her life. The entry for the talk is free.
Visiting artist Baladevi Chandrasekar Baladevi Chandrasekar is visiting the UK from Princeton, New Jersey to perform Tripura: The Divine Feminine, a new production based on the concept of the energy and vitality residing within all humans as consciousness and knowledge. Presented as a Margam, Bala has conceived the female energy in three forms – child (Bale), an enchanting maiden and Amba, the Mother, full of compassion. As a part of Bala’s European tour the show is being staged at the Bhavan Centre, London on Saturday 20 June 2015 at 6pm. It is also touring Berlin, Latvia and Madrid.
Ileana Citaristi visits the UK
Soaring with Song
performance, as she came to the audience (in pantomime fashion), gradually uncovering her own history with the help of clues from her pockets and the puppets that enacted her story. Hands, lit and moving, became the flames from which Draupadi was born (this time the younger Draupadi, represented by a puppet). Throughout, the puppets (created by Lyndie Wright), both in their own movements and their interactions with the dancers/ actors, were remarkable and vivid, including a particularly engaging dog at the end. Some felt that there was too much explanation, although others thought it was necessary and helpful. It was a shame, though, that the crucial event of the game of dice was told rather than enacted; however, the tale is complicated and selections have to be made. We had experienced an evening of drama, expressed with humour and subtlety, and came away with a sense of the enduring power of the story.
Photo: Simon Richardson
sari?). However, the sudden eruption of Draupadi (Sandra Cole) from a bundle on the middle of the stage was the dramatic start of a very strong central
During her brief visit to the UK, odissi artist Padma Shri Ileana Citaristi, will give a performance, a workshop and lecture. She will be sharing a platform on Friday 15 May 2015, at Seven Arts, Leeds with Canadian born kathak dancer Kiran Phull, in a concert promoted by SAA-uk.
Photo: Simon Richardson
To book please contact Sanjeevini Dutta: firstname.lastname@example.org
LISTINGS — UPFRONT
Music Sitar & Tabla: Gaurav Mazumdar and Kousic Sen Bridgewater Hall, Manchester www.milapfest.com
Dance Guru Samarpanam – Bharatanatyam: Gayathri Rajaji Nehru Centre , London www.nehrucentre.org.uk
MARCH Till Festival 28 Mar London Asian Film Festival Various venues, London www.tonguesonfire.com Till 4 Apr
Theatre Dara: Tanya Ronder/ Shahid Nadeem Lyttleton Theatre, London www.nationaltheatre.org.uk
Till 19 Apr
Exhibition My Rangila Merry-go-round: Chila Kumari Burman Embrace Arts, Leicester www.leicestersocietyofartists.co.uk
Till 5 May
Theatre Behind the Beautiful Forevers National Theatre, London www.nationaltheatre.org.uk
Touring Theatre Shakespeare’s Macbeth: Till 9 May Tara Arts & Black Theatre Live Various www.tara-arts.com Till Exhibition 31 May Indian Ocean Trade & Exchange British Museum, London www.britishmuseum.org Till 27 Jun
Theatre Blood: Tamasha and Belgrade Theatre Company Belgrade Theatre, Coventry www.tamasha.org.uk
Till 12 Jul
Exhibition From Bradford to Benares: the Art of Sir William Rothenstein Cartwright Hall, Bradford www.bradfordmuseums.org
Film Rang Rasiya Nehru Centre , London www.nehrucentre.org.uk
Theatre Salty Waters and Us by Murad Khan - Dir: Filiz Ozcan The Drum, Birmingham www.the-drum.org.uk
Festival All Night Freedom Festival Curator: Soumik Datta Rich Mix, London www.richmix.org.uk
Music Karnatic Mandolin: U. Rajesh Bhavan Centre, London www.bhavan.net Dance Rang Barse (A Rain of Colour) The Drum, Birmingham www.sampad.org.uk Music Sanata: Stillness Launch: Kiran Ahluwalia Nehru Centre , London www.nehrucentre.org.uk
APRIL Dance La Bayadère: The Ninth Life: Shobana Jeyasingh Dance The Point, Eastleigh www.thepointeastleigh.co.uk
Dance/Theatre Forgot Your Password?: Divya Kasturi Watford Palace Theatre, Watford www.watfordpalacetheatre.co.uk Music Indian Rhythm Essentials: Pandit Nayan Ghosh, Murad Ali Purcell Room, London www.southbankcentre.co.uk
Talk Artist Talk- South Indian Violin: Lara Pearson Sage, Gateshead www.gemarts.org
Dance Watford Palace Theatre, Watford www.watfordpalacetheatre.co.uk
Festival Celebrate Vaisakhi Watford Palace Theatre, Watford www.watfordpalacetheatre.co.uk Music A Musical Journey Through Bollywood: Pooja Angra, Karan Rana Gateshead Central Library, Gateshead www.gemarts.org
Festival Vaisakhi Celebrations: GVEMSG and GemArts Gateshead Civic Centre, Gateshead gemarts.org 15Lecture Series 20 May Every Song Has a StoryRasa in North Indian music: Jameela Siddiqi Asia House, London www.bagrifoundation.org 16
Theatre Different is Dangerous: Two’s Company The Drum, Birmingham www.the-drum.org.uk Theatre Twelve: Kali Theatre mac, Birmingham macbirmingham.co.uk Music An Evening of Indian Classical Music: Subha Das Nehru Centre , London www.nehrucentre.org.uk
Music Sarangi & Tabla: Murad Ali & Gurdain Ryatt Sage, Gateshead www.gemarts.org
Dance Bharatanatyam Solo: Santosh Nair Nehru Centre , London www.nehrucentre.org.uk 25
Dance Forgot Your Password?: Divya Kasturi and Watford Palace Key Theatre, Peterborough www.divyakasturi.com 12
Dance Forgot Your Password?: Divya Kasturi and Watford Palace The Place, London www.divyakasturi.com
Festival Alchemy Festival Southbank Centre, London www.southbankcentre.co.uk
Dance Something Then, Something Now: Seeta Patel Capstone Theatre, Liverpool www.milpafest.com
Dance Something Then, Something Now: Seeta Patel The Lowry, Salford Quays www.milpafest.com
Music Riverside Ragas: Shashank Subramanyam & Jyotsna Srikanth Sage, Gateshead www.sagegateshead.com
Music Khoj: Roopa Panesar & Kousic Sen Octagon Theatre, Bolton www.octagonbolton.co.uk Dance 25th Anniversary Show: Nupur Arts Dance Academy The Curve, Leicester www.nupurarts.org.uk
Film Lokmanya- EkYugpursh Nehru Centre , London www.nehrucentre.org.uk
Dance La Bayadère (première): Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Linbury Studio, ROH, London www.roh.org.uk
Music/Film Off the Grid / Khiyo Rich Mix, London www.richmix.org.uk
Dance Maati (Earth): Nahid Siddiqi mac: Birmingham macbirmingham.co.uk
Dance/Music Yuva Ratna Awards Showcase: Nilanjana De & Uma Venkataraman Capstone Theatre, Liverpool www.milapfest.com Theatre The Deranged Marriage: Rifco Arts/Watford Palace Theatre Watford Palace Theatre, Watford www.watfordpalacetheatre.co.uk Dance/Film A Tribute To Sitara Devi (Kathak Queen): Pratap Pawar Nehru Centre , London www.nehrucentre.org.uk Music A Tribute To Ustad Allarakha: Taufiq Qureshi Nehru Centre , London www.nehrucentre.org.uk Music SitarStation: Klaus Falschlunger Nehru Centre , London www.nehrucentre.org.uk
Launch Event South Asia Across Borders SOAS, London www.soas.ac.uk
Music Bangladesh Roots and Shikor Bangladesh All Stars & Lokkhi Terra Kings Place, London www.kingsplace.co.uk
Talk Artist Talk: Debanjan Bhattacharjee, Subrata Manna & Professor Martin Clayton Palace Green Library, Durham www.gemarts.org
Music Sarod recital: Debanjan Bhattacharjee Durham Town Hall, Durham www.gemarts.org
Music Indian Rhythm Essentials: Pandit Nayan Ghosh, Murad Ali Purcell Room, London www.southbankcentre.co.uk
Music Classical Indian Singing Summer School: Mehboob Nadeem SOAS, London www.soas.ac.uk
Music Santoor & tabla: Tarun Bhattacharya & Kousic Sen The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester www.milapfest.com
Music Santoor & tabla: Tarun Bhattacharya & Kousic Sen Purcell Room, London www.milapfest.com
Music Santoor & tabla: Tarun Bhattacharya & Kousic Sen Capstone Theatre, Liverpool www.milapfest.com
Music Indian Tabla classes: Sanju Sahai SOAS, London www.soas.ac.uk
Dance Torobaka: Israel Galvan & Akram Khan Sadler’s Wells, London www.sadlerswells.com
TO SUBMIT A NEWS STORY OR EVENT LISTINGS PLEASE EMAIL/TWEET/ FACEBOOK US WITH ALL THE DETAILS
Tagore: New Voices and Decreasing Infinity Sunday 31 May 2015 / 6pm Rich Mix, London Tagore’s poetry inspires some of UK’s finest classical dancers: Urja Thakore, Arunima Kumar and Katie Ryan, accompanied by live vocals: Jatanil Banerjee, Sohini Alam and Ranjana Ghatak in dance that is fresh, thoughtful and provocative. In an effort to breathe new life into Rabindra dance, Kadam/Pulse with the Tagore Centre supported the initial phase of three dance pieces following an open call out. Performed at the Between the Lines Seminar on 27 November 2014 to an enthusiastic reception, ‘ loved the fresh innovative interpretations’, we present the dances in a theatre setting for the first time. A double bill with Balbir Singh Dance Company’s signature duet for male dancers Decreasing Infinity. Tickets: £10 and £8 concessions www.richmix.org.uk
SPRING 2015 PULSE 5
Something Afoo Mind Diabolique | Photo: C. Ganesan
Contemporary Dance in India
By Sanjoy Roy
Sanjoy Roy was invited back to join the jury of the biannual Prakriti Excellence in Contemporary Dance Awards, held in Chennai in November 2014. This gives him a vantage position from which to comment on the development of Contemporary dance in India. He confirms that this corner of the dance sector is on the move.
6 PULSE SPRING 2015
s something afoot with contemporary dance in India? The founders of the Prakriti Excellence in Contemporary Dance Awards certainly thought so when they launched the biannual PECDA competition in 2012. The idea for the awards came from Paris-based, Kerala-born dance producer Karthika Naïr (profiled in issue 126 of Pulse) who, having witnessed a variety of contemporary dance competitions in Europe – Danse Élargie in Paris, Premio Equilibrio in Rome, The Place Prize in London – felt that something along similar lines might work in India. The founding of Delhi’s Gati Dance Forum in 2007 and its biennial Ignite! festival in 2010, the continuing growth of Bangalore’s Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts (founded in 1992, with its own biennial since 2000), the growing number of Indian contemporary dancers and choreographers working independently of classical institutions, the growing number of international companies visiting India – all this gave a sense that there was, indeed, something afoot. So Karthika got in touch with Ranvir Shah of the Prakriti Foundation – a broad-based arts
“participants commented on how valuable it was to meet each other, to see and to discuss each other’s work, and to put their own work in context.”
“There is a crying need for platforms to present new dance work in India so that it can be seen by promoters, critics and artists, both national and international.”
“the idea of a competition was designed as the hook...” “But more than this, the competition was designed to be a stimulus for growth, on two levels: for individual artists, and for Indian contemporary dance as a whole.”
organisation that showcases and develops work in music, poetry, performance and visual art – to see if he might be interested in producing a contemporary dance initiative. He thought it was an excellent idea, and was keen to help promote an emergent scene. As with Danse Élargie, Premio Equilibrio and The Place Prize, the idea of a competition was designed as the hook (talent contests of all manner and material have become a global as well as an Indian phenomenon), but it was far from the line and the sinker too. Yes, there would be prize money for the winner – 500,000 rupees in the 2014 edition – and publicity for all participants: the competition finals would take the form of a public performance, with press attention. But more than this, the competition was designed to be a stimulus for growth, on two levels: for individual artists, and for Indian contemporary dance as a whole. On the artistic level, the prize money came with conditions, commitments and other rewards. The winner would undertake a mentorship programme with an international company (in both 2012 and 2014, this was Akram Khan Company) and use the
“the dancers ducked shoes swinging on strings like stray bombs, snagged the red ropes that caught them like netted fish, clashed sticks to evoke both the corporal threat and the unsettling rhythms of battle.”
money to develop their work into a complete piece (competition entries are just fifteen minutes long). The finished work would then be toured nationally as part of the Parks New Festival, one of Prakriti’s largest undertakings. Runners-up (the category was introduced in 2014, to help spread the benefits of the awards), would receive mentoring at Attakkalari and a performance slot on their biennal. But perhaps more important than this – though far less tangible – is the idea that PECDA can act as a fillip for the contemporary dance scene in India. Practitioners often work in considerable isolation and with precious little support, and certainly both times I have been at PECDA, several participants commented on how valuable it was to meet each other, to see and to discuss each other’s work, and to put their own work in context. PECDA also has an international jury with varied backgrounds, in 2014 comprising myself (writer/critic) and Emma Gladstone (director of Dance Umbrella) from London; Claire Verlet, programmer at Théâtre de la Ville in Paris; Saskia Kersenboom, an expert in Indian dance history and culture from Amsterdam; and Indian resident Arundhathi Subramaniam, a poet and former head of classical dance at the National Centre of Performing Arts in Mumbai. This brings to bear a variety of perspectives and interests on the entrants’ work, for which feedback is given (though this is an area that several participants have asked to be formalised further). But there are other motivations too, not least the fact that two international dance curators are present; indeed, as a direct result of the competition, both Gladstone and Verlet have already been in discussions about programming with some of the entrants. As Naïr sums up: “There is a crying need for platforms to present new dance work in India so that it can be seen by promoters, critics and artists, both national and international. There is an even greater need for the dance community to be able to interact regularly. PECDA is not just a competition, but also a way of meeting those needs.” And what of the pieces themselves? I can only speak for myself here rather than as a representative of the judging panel, but I’d say that the overall standard in 2014 was higher than for the first edition; certainly the sixteen entrants were much better at keeping to their time limit! The winner was Surjit (‘Bonbon’) Nongmeikapam from Manipur, whose work Nerves, for five male performers, went down as well with the audience as with the jury. Inventively mixing the styles of its performers – encompassing folk, martial arts and contemporary movement – this piece effectively evoked the physical and emotional stress of living in conflict: the dancers ducked shoes swinging on strings like stray bombs, snagged the red ropes that caught them like netted fish, clashed sticks to evoke both the corporal threat and the unsettling rhythms of battle. Kolkata-based Prasanna Saikia gained one of the secondary prizes for Mind Diabolique, an intense, finely-crafted study in anxiety and uncertainty that made particularly effective use of electronic sound and abstract screen projections. The other went to Mumbai-based Mehneer Sudan for 8/Women in Love, an introspective, subtly-inflected evocation of love’s many faces in which a beautifully-realised film backdrop (by Supriya Nayak) served as a frame for a series of choreographic cameos. The jury also gave a special SPRING 2015 PULSE 7
“contemporary dance is by its nature multifarious and manyheaded – unruly perhaps, but one that values freedom of thought and expression.”
8 PULSE SPRING 2015
commendation for performance to Diya Naidu from Bengaluru, for her full-bodied work-in-progress Red Dress Waali Ladki. Of course, there were many notes of quality among the non-prizewinners too. For myself, I’d single out Hema Palani’s C Dance for its striking physicality and bold gender-reversals; Anuradha Venkatapuram’s An I on Me for the gravitas and interiority she brought to an essentially abstract bharatanatyam style; the thought-through solos of Virieno Zakiesato (Desert Wind) and Avantika Bahl (Home), which balanced the sense of a minimal surface with a rich but hidden internal landscape; and I’d also point out Ammith Kumar’s Thithi/ Tatva, not for its jazzy style or its shaky though indubitably energetic choreography, but simply because it had the unusual distinction (in an Indian context) of exploring dynamic group compositions and partnerwork. It’s clear from that selection that the range of styles and approaches was very diverse – which, for a contemporary dance platform, is just as it should be. For while people can and should argue about the competition format (is it appropriate?
Deepak Kurki Shivaswamy: NH7 | Photo: C. Ganesan
Nerves | Photo: C. Ganesan
“while it was certainly strange to witness the idiosyncrasies, transgressions and improprieties that contemporary dance permits acted out upon the Kalakshetra stage, it was also mightily satisfying.”
does it work?), the judging panel (should it be all-Indian? all dance insiders?) and the awards (should there be more categories? more mentoring and feedback?), everyone seemed in implicit agreement with the idea that contemporary dance is by its nature multifarious and many-headed – unruly perhaps, but one that values freedom of thought and expression. Those freedoms have, of late, come under increasing attack in India, which makes the underlying aims of PECDA – along with organisations such as Attakkalari and Gati, and the many smaller groups and individuals who make up the contemporary dance world – something to celebrate, to promote. In this light, the support for PECDA lent by that bastion of classical tradition Kalakshetra (accommodation for the entrants, the auditorium for the competition itself) was gratifying. And while it was certainly strange to witness the idiosyncrasies, transgressions and improprieties that contemporary dance permits acted out upon the Kalakshetra stage, it was also mightily satisfying. It seems that something is, indeed, afoot.
MAPPING NEW TERRITORY
Mapping new territory Contemporary dance festivals in India
Compagnie Philippe Saire - Black Out | Photo: Philippe Weissbrodt
By Isabel putinja
This year, Ignite! succeeded in receiving support from the national government for the first time, with the Sangeet Natak Akademi becoming one of the festival’s sponsors… The festival team also managed to garner enough support just weeks before the festival’s launch to raise 1.5 million rupees through a successful crowd-funding campaign. Ignite!’s selection process is a rigorous one, where a jury made up of practitioners in the visual arts and dance, as well as curators, considers each proposed work individually and makes selections by unanimous agreement only.
hile the number of practitioners working in the idiom of contemporary dance has grown in India in the past decade, so have the platforms for established artists to showcase their work. At the beginning of the year, the two biggest and most important festivals in India showcasing contemporary dance took place within a few weeks of each other at opposite ends of the country: the Ignite! Festival of Contemporary Dance in New Delhi, and the Attakkalari India Biennial in Bangalore. It is at international festivals like these that Indian contemporary dance and its practitioners are receiving increasing recognition, while audiences get the chance to see local and international dance companies. These events also attract contemporary dance enthusiasts, festival curators and directors from around the world.
SPRING 2015 PULSE 9
MAPPING NEW TERRITORY
Ignite! Festival of Contemporary Dance
“Our one guiding principle is to make it inclusive… and challenge the use of terms like ‘contemporary dance’.... It’s important for us to make sure we don’t define its parameters and box people in or out as a result.”
10 PULSE SPRING 2015
Organised by the Gati Dance Forum based in New Delhi, the third edition of this biennial festival was held from 11 to 18 January 2015, following previous editions in November 2010 and November 2012. The Gati Dance Forum is an autonomous arts initiative made up of local dance professionals dedicated to developing contemporary dance in India and addressing its needs. Since its creation in 2007, Gati has built its own dance studio, held regular workshops and master-classes, and created an annual ten-week Summer Dance Residency. Gati also wants to serve as an incubation space for discussion on dance in the region. Consciously avoiding the use of borrowed terms and ideas from other parts of the world, its members feel it’s imperative to define the Indian contemporary performance scene in its own context. Mandeep Raikhy, managing director of Gati, elaborates: “Our one guiding principle is to make it inclusive so that people could come together who could contribute to discussions and challenge the use of terms like ‘contemporary dance’. We have rejected this term and are looking for a new way to describe it but haven’t found an alternative yet. It’s important for us to make sure we don’t define its parameters and box people in or out as a result.” On offer at the 2015 edition of Ignite! were eight days of performances by emerging and established contemporary dancers and choreographers from India as well as a wide range of transnational collaborations, with companies and performers from close to a dozen countries participating. The festival opened with a crowd-pulling headline act attracting 1,500 spectators at Delhi’s Siri Fort for Terence Lewis, a popular Bollywood choreographer and judge in the reality TV series Dance India Dance. Festival highlights included well-known contemporary dancer-choreographer Padmini Chettur’s new work Wall Dancing, a three-hour ‘series of movement propositions’ presented in a multi-room gallery setting with five performers; well-known bharatanatyam exponent Navtej Singh Johar in a duet with Lokesh Bharadwaj in Frenemies, and German choreographer Helena Waldmann’s collaboration with Calcutta-based Vikram Iyengar in Made in Bangladesh which explores the exploitation of the garment industry and parallels it with the ‘sweat-shop conditions’ of the dance industry. Surjit Nongmeikapam, a young Indian contemporary dancer from Manipur, has attracted a lot of attention at national and international levels in the past few years, regularly performing at past editions of Ignite! and the Attakkalari India Biennial and winning the 2014 Prakriti Excellence in Contemporary Dance Award (see article by Sanjoy Roy) for Nerves. Here he performed in two works: a production by Singapore’s Choy Ka Fai called Softmachine featuring a double bill with Indonesian dancer Rialto; and in his own performance work U Define created during Attakkalari’s FACETS residency and presented at their Biennial in 2013. Also included in the festival programming was a series of street performances in the runup to the festival, selected film screenings, a work-in-progress sharing, and master-classes and workshops with UK-based Saju Hari, kathak dancer Aditi Mangaldas, and Swedish choreographer and performer Rani Nair.
“[The conference] was practitionerled…”
A new addition to the festival was a three-day conference, designed to encourage exchange and discussion. “We introduced a conference because during previous editions, dancers just came, performed and left without any conversations or discussion happening,” explains Virkein Dhar, festival director. “It was practitioner-led, and conceived with the practitioner in mind, engaging them through conversations and lecture-demonstrations.”
The Challenge of Funding Finding funding for the contemporary arts is always a challenge in a country where the preservation of the classical is given priority over the development of new forms of creative expression. “In India, there are few opportunities for contemporary dance and new work,” explains Juee Deogaokar, Gati’s general manager. “Many don’t see value in contemporary dance because it’s not easy to understand, so it’s a challenge to generate funds and secure funding from corporate sources.” The Ignite! Festival has received consistent support since its first edition in 2010 from the Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan and the Royal Norwegian Embassy. In fact, the Max Mueller Bhavan has been supporting the development of contemporary dance in India from as far back as 1984 with the first ‘East-West Dance Encounter’ in Mumbai. This year, Ignite! succeeded in receiving support from the national government for the first time, with the Sangeet Natak Akademi becoming one of the festival’s sponsors, a significant development. The festival team also managed to garner enough support just weeks before the festival’s launch to raise 1.5 million rupees through a successful crowd-funding campaign.
The Selection Process Ignite!’s selection process is a rigorous one, where a jury made up of practitioners in the visual arts and dance, as well as curators, considers each proposed work individually and makes selections by unanimous agreement only. In response to an open call, works can be submitted from anywhere in the world. As long as the proposed work is ‘Indian in context or content’ and contributes to the discussion on dance in the subcontinent, the jury will consider it. “We consider each proposal and decide on them unanimously, this is not about the majority,” explains Mandeep. “If some don’t agree, then the others have to convince them. We have tried to define pointers for the jury to determine what kind of work fits. There’s also an element of ‘criticality’ or how to define contemporary. Is it an attitude or lens? Is it critical of itself or its context? Is it feeding into or coming out of a rigour in thought or process? These are the parameters we look at.” Another new aspect of this edition of the festival is that its scope was expanded to include other countries in the subcontinent. “In terms of programming we have expanded the geographical reach from India to other South Asian countries like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh,” says Virkein. “We would like to continue this for the next festival and see if we can bring work from countries like Pakistan, Bhutan and Nepal.”
TAO Dance Theater | Photo:Fan Xi
Cesc Gelabert | Photo: Ros Ribas
Meanwhile in South India, Attakkalari has put Bangalore on the map as a centre for contemporary dance, and its India Biennial has become an important meeting-place for choreographers and dance enthusiasts from around the world. From 6 to 15 February 2015, the 7th edition of the festival showcased ten days of performances by dance companies from India, New Zealand, China, the UK, France, Germany, Korea, The Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland. Highlights of the centre stage performances included the spectacular opening by the Tao Dance Theater from China, Korea’s Bereishit Dance Company who were back after receiving a rave response at the 2013 festival, a new group production called Timeless by Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company, a charming ‘old-world’ retrospective of solos by Cesc Gelabert from Spain, Switzerland’s Compagnie Philippe Saire’s Black Out which combined dance and visual art, and a thought-provoking closing performance by Mandeep Raikhy from New Delhi, A Male Ant Has Straight Antennae, exploring ideas of masculinity.
Mandeep Raikhy | Photo:Soumita Bhattacharya
Scrambled Eggs...Or Sunny Side Up Photo:Terence Lewis Contemporary Dance Company
4 STILL LIFE | Photo: Anja Beutler
Attakkalari India Biennial 2015
SPRING 2015 PULSE 11
IN THE FRAME— BETWEEN THE NOTES
Between t Note ????
Lokkhi Terra 12 PULSE SPRING 2015
three-day festival celebrating the arts of Bengal and beyond took place at the Rich Mix between 27 February and 1 March. This Kadam/Pulse initiative in partnership with the Tagore Centre picked up themes from Between the Lines last November. The inter-generational multi-arts programme offered rich and joyous experiences to artists, audiences and participants. â€œNourishment for the body and mindâ€? was how one participant described her day, attending the origami, painting and poetrywriting workshops, not forgetting the immensely popular Bollywood session. The opening night was also unique in bringing odissi dancer Khavita Kaur and poet Jean Riley onto the same platform as world music bands Newanderthal and Lokkhi Terra.
A Tale of Two Sisters
HOTOGRAPHs BY SIMON RICHARDSON
May Robertson and Parbati Chaudhury
SPRING 2015 PULSE 13
The Nautch Girl
Th There are many cross-currents flowing between India and the UK. In this very issue, which focuses upon the growth of contemporary dance in India, we also highlight the first phase of The Nautch Girl, a UK dance theatre production from Phizzical that takes inspiration from Mirza Hadi Ruswa’s 1899 Urdu novel about a Lucknow courtesan, Umrao Jaan Ada. Sanjeevini Dutta assesses the production.
BY SAnjeevini dutta / photography by simon Richardson
T “The entertaining fortyfive-minute presentation had surprises and some curiosities, balancing precariously between ‘art’ and ‘commercial’.” 14 PULSE SPRING 2015
he 1981 film version of the story, Umrao Jaan, cast an aura of glamour and mystique around the courtesan – so much so that even respectable middle-class India accepts the courtesan and glosses over the less palatable aspects of her life. The producer and scriptwriter Samir Bhamra cites the historical pull of a romantic era (the refined aristocratic Lucknow culture) as the impetus for his explorations. Over an intense two-week rehearsal period, a group of six actor-dancers with tabla artist Rishii Chowdhury and the creative team (director Chirag Lukha, choreographer Sonia Sabri, composer Devesh Sodha and scriptwriter Samir Bhamra) exchanged movement languages, freely taking from Western physical theatre, martial arts, mudra (gesture)/ mujra to kathak and Bollywood dance as the medium for their storytelling. Pulse went to one of the public showings of the R&D period at Embrace Arts in Leicester. The entertaining forty-five-minute presentation had
“The show succeeds in unfolding the narrative purely through movement and mime.”
surprises and some curiosities, balancing precariously between ‘art’ and ‘commercial’. The narrative, set in the kothi or brothel of a madam of great haughtiness and attitude, describes the goings-on of the house: the inevitable selling of girls, the female friendships that thrive, the daily luring of customers and the complex interactions that ensue. The story centres on a young recruit to the brothel who seems to have been kidnapped and sold. She is gradually groomed, being taught the finer arts of dance and movement, mannerisms and etiquette. Her loveliness catches the eye of the Nawab, the ruler of the state, while her friend and pimp is also in love with her, setting up a triangle on which the story revolves. The show succeeds in unfolding the narrative purely through movement and mime. The use of hand gesture is literal, such as rubbing of tummy to indicate hunger and the gesture of putting into mouth to show food, not the symbolic hastas of classical dance. The mime is curiously old-fashioned, but in the hands of a consummate performer like
The Nautch Girl Satveer Pnaiser and Shafa Khan
“…the abstractions of contemporary dance such as use of lift and contactimprovisation bring new elements into South Asian dance theatre.”
Subhash Viman luring a British officer by flattery and obsequiousness can be very funny. At the same time, the abstractions of contemporary dance such as use of lift and contact-improvisation bring new elements into South Asian dance theatre. The engagement and enjoyment of the performers comes from their ownership of the material. As the piece has been made in rehearsal to which all the performers have contributed, they look comfortable and in control of the material. There is much to enjoy: sumptuous costumes that in tableau look like a studio shot still; energetic Bollywood numbers that brim with energy and invention; delicate kathak hands and wrists; humour of a purely physical kind in which the clownishness of the dance tutor contrasts with the elegance of the madam’s teaching. At the level of movement skill and variety, the theatrical setting and lighting, The Nautch Girl works. However, the writer will need to flesh out some of the dilemmas that this era throws out: is a
“…sumptuous costumes... energetic Bollywood numbers… delicate kathak hands and wrists… humour…”
courtesan the carrier of a time-honoured tradition or an exploited member of the female race without a free will? Is there a true exchange of thoughts and ideas between the long-term clients so that we understand the companionship a courtesan provided in an era where wives often had no education? The novel describes Umrao Jaan as being well-read and learned, but are we able to glimpse her inner mind? There is no doubt that Phizzical are reaching a new audience and have a unique product. They have a way into the hearts of young Asians that classical dance companies can only dream of. They combine populism with art and through the glamour of Bollywood can attract audiences to learning lines from Shakespeare (as with their production of Cymbeline) or watching kathak dance. It is not unconnected that Baz Luhrmann (Strictly Ballroom and Moulin Rouge) is Samir Bhamra’s favourite director and a massive influence on his work. Pulse will be looking out for the full production of The Nautch Girl. SPRING 2015 PULSE 15
The Nautch Girl
Are you working in a genre that combines classical and Bollywood? Is this the niche that Phizzical occupies? I am heavily inspired by Indian cinema. Phizzical works with a much wider remit. We produce a range of shows, from classical to contemporary, from Asian to Middle Eastern. The Nautch Girl has its Bollywood moments, but the visceral compositions by Devesh Sodha and live tabla by Rishii Chowdhury take inspiration from Western cinematic scores.
Phizzical’s The Nautch Girl re-imagined Mirza Hadi Ruswa’s classic tale of Umrao Jaan Ada as narrative dance. To find out more about the process, we talked to the choreographer Sonia Sabri and Phizzical’s artistic director, Samir Bhamra.
Why choose a theme that harks back to India’s colonial past? The year 2014 celebrated the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first Indian in Britain and the appointment of the first British envoy to India. We wanted to create a piece that celebrated the relationship between Britain and India and began looking for a perfect story. During a wide research period, I noticed that there are many Western operas and ballets that are set in India. In comparison, the subcontinent has many stories that are performed as Indian dance productions, many of which are mythological stories. I wanted to find a story that was beyond the scriptures; a real romance set within a British and Indian history. That’s when I came across an article about Hadi Ruswa and the three books he has written on Umrao Jaan. I immediately knew that I wanted to present the first fictional Urdu novel about one of the most enigmatic courtesans of our time as a dance production. How would you describe The Nautch Girl: as a musical or dance drama? The Nautch Girl takes elements from the story of Umrao Jaan Ada, but it is essentially a new work. The creative team always asked one question during our storyboard sessions. What are we offering that is new in The Nautch Girl? What makes it different from the book and the four films about Umrao Jaan? We finally decided that The Nautch Girl would take elements from the story of Umrao Jaan Ada, but it would be a fresh new take on it. Our version has a linear narrative and focuses on a courtesan’s relationship with her pimp Gauhar Mirza.
16 PULSE SPRING 2015
The music for the 1981 film Umrao Jaan was classic. Could you say something about the music for The Nautch Girl? Devesh is a young composer who had to learn a lot of new skills to make new music for The Nautch Girl. He has brought in Indian instrumentation and fused it with European classical instruments to create something that works for dance and creates an ambience. There aren’t many young composers who would be willing to take on this challenge and work very hard to please Sonia Sabri, Chirag Lukha and me. Is the production targeted towards young audiences? Did you feel that there was a gap in the market for such work? The Nautch Girl is open to all ages. I believe there is a need for good quality work based on accessible stories from the subcontinent that take you back to a time that does not exist any more. The magical world of Chandramukhi [the courtesan in the novel Devdas] or the tehzeeb (‘refined manner’) of Lucknow are misaals (‘paradigms’) and it is our responsibility to preserve them and share them with a new generation and continue to excite the older audience with an exciting new style of storytelling and presentation. What were the main challenges in bringing this production to fruition? Time and funding. A full dance production needs about eleven weeks in the rehearsal room. We have to find a balance that allows the creative team scope to test the ideas out in a safe environment and receive audience feedback. We hope to use their feedback to return to the rehearsal room and make this production equivalent to a full-length ballet. What was the highlight of the experience for you? I am always amazed by what our British talent brings to the rehearsal room. We have an eclectic cast, ranging from hard-of-hearing dancer Nehal Bhogaita to contemporary and street/urban dancer Subhash Viman, ballet and musical theatre star Prem Rai to kathak’s rising star Satveet Pnaiser and Bollywood and kathak dancer Shafa Khan to multitalented actor and dancer Showmi Das. And the best bit of any Phizzical show is the costuming. I tend to go out of my way to find costumes that fit the story and are so unique that the audience wants to take them home! Where does The Nautch Girl go from here (four nights at Embrace Arts Leicester)? Back to the rehearsal room armed with audience feedback.
Showmi Das | Photo:Simon Richardson
Sonia Sabri How would you describe the movement/styles deployed in The Nautch Girl? The stem of the movement derived from kathak and, in addition, mujra (a form of dance developed by courtesans in the Mughal era) and folk dance. I used two strands of kathak, nritta (rhythmic dance movements) and nritya (narrative dance) and then used creative tasks to progress the movement material which took it to another level, resulting in an organic visual and which animated each dancer’s strengths as a mover. The styles were distinctive and woven together at times to depict or enhance the narrative as needed. The quality this brought was of intricate detail and bold geometry with both panache and rusticity. Do you think movement alone can convey complex narrative and complex concepts (such as colonisation and exploitation)? Yes ‒ narrative movement can do this and choreography within an abstract can do too. The skill is in the movement language and the development of it through creative exploration. What bits of movement did you feel worked best in the production? What would you like to develop further? I liked the juxtaposition of intricate movement contrasted with the abstract. Kathak is such a vast art form, there is so much one can churn from it. I would like to develop the contrasts of movement and particularly the darker ambience of the movement language ornamented with the so-called ‘pretty’. How much was set and how much was generated in rehearsal? How much did the dancers contribute to its creation? The choreography was set and none of it was improvised in the sharing. In terms of process, there were various creative tasks and exploratory premises set up for the dancers to discover their characters within the parameters given by the director and myself. Each aspect of the exploratory phase was guided by myself (or the director) to develop the characters. This was the foremost important part to unveil because The Nautch Girl was a dance theatre/ physical theatre R&D. Each moment on stage would need to have an objective from within the performer in a variety of contexts as well as in relation to one another without losing touch with their role. It was not only about the movement or the choreography but why they moved and what the consequence of the movement was, etc. After the exploratory work and direction from myself, I distilled the kernel movement language of each of the characters and from there I choreographed the sections. It was like shopping for the ingredients before cooking the dish. How was the morale of the group? Did exchanges happen spontaneously between the dancers/actors? We had an excellent team. And everyone bounced off each other so well that it made a timeconstrained R&D a highly enjoyable process. I don’t think I have ever cried with laughter so much during a creation process!!
SPRING 2015 PULSE 17
BBC Young Dancer 2015
BBC Young D
Anaya Vasudha Bolar | Photo: COURTESY THE ARTIST
The Second Round of BBC Young Dancer 2015 has whittled the successful entrants down to just five. With the Category Finals around the corner, the competition is about to step up a notch so Parbati Chaudhury caught up with a couple of the bright hopefuls, Anaya Vasudha Bolar and Jaina Modasia.
18 PULSE SPRING 2015
naya Vasudha Bolar and Jaina Modasia are two of five hopefuls (the other three are Vidya Patel, kathak; Lakshmi Kaliyappan, bharatanatyam; and Sivani Balachandran, bharatanatyam) in the South Asian category of BBC Young Dancer 2015 (BBCYD). In trying to get hold of Anaya and Jaina, I gather that they both have a lot to juggle. Anaya, a 17-yearold bharatanatyam dancer from Birmingham, has just sent off her UCAS application but could not dream of sacrificing her evening riyaaz after school. Meanwhile Jaina, surrounded by ‘very enthusiastic and supportive course mates’, is contending with degree assignments left, right and centre. As we settle into the interview, I sense that Anaya is still quietly buzzing from the BBC’s visit to shoot her VT, which involved some Holi revelry. Having ‘never felt overtly competitive’, Anaya’s interest in BBCYD was not immediate, but the encouragement to participate came from her mother and teacher, Chitraleka Bolar, and Sampad’s Director and BBCYD Second Round Adjudicator, Piali Ray. Aside from the filming perks, the real benefit so far has been to have had her dance analysed by a fresh pair of eyes, specifically Seeta Patel’s, BBCYD’s bharatanatyam mentor. “She told me to add more subtlety to my abhinaya, which is actually something that my Mum has been telling me for a long time, and specified the need for a range of distinct dynamics in my dance.” On asking how the creative process has been developing through each stage, it is lovely to hear that her teacher-student relationship with Chitra-akka is one in which she feels comfortable to offer suggestions, but concepts and choreography are not factors that she tackles independently yet. “I love storytelling,” Anaya almost exclaims, contrasting her relatively composed disposition, so it is unsurprising to discover that her dance hero is Priyadarshini Govind. As we both revere Priya-akka’s incomparable displays of emotion and imagination, I find out that each performance piece (two solos and one duet) can be a maximum of only five minutes in length. Anaya mentions how this restriction is a big challenge and my concern flares over whether the depth of classical dance forms can be showcased under such conditions. After all, a varnam is no flash in the pan. Competitions in general are not Anaya’s ‘usual thing’, so even applying was ‘breaking out of the mould’ but she has zero regrets. She has taken this opportunity as one to foremost ‘improve and develop’ and her optimistic nature certainly lends to this approach. What particularly attracted Jaina, a 20-yearold kathak dancer from Watford, to BBCYD was knowing that the adjudicators and final judges would be specifically knowledgeable about her dance form, which is not the case with other dance competitions on television.
Dancer 2015 Despite being impressed by the organisation of the initial stages, Jaina felt disappointed by the low number of South Asian dancers, particularly kathak, in comparison to ballet, contemporary and hip-hop. I also shared in this frustration when I had learned of the exact number of entrants last year and how some teachers had even discouraged their students from applying. Thankfully, this was not the case with Jaina’s teacher and inspiration, Sujata Banerjee, and Anita Srivastava on behalf of CAT. As well as keeping on top of her studies, she has had to manage something else ‒ a serious case of the butterflies. This seems unexpected from this driven, bubbly personality but her one-to-one mentoring sessions with Second Round Adjudicator Aakash Odedra have been invaluable. “He said that I can tell you’re nervous but I don’t know why. He told me to not put an expectation on myself and to dance as freely on stage as I would in my bedroom.” Another significant influence on Jaina is her first teacher, Pali Chandra, whom she met recently after many years and whose classes she would have to be dragged home from as a child. That desire to engage remains and Jaina “appreciates any encounter to gain or pass on knowledge through classes and workshops or through teaching the little ones.” As our conversations wrap up, I ask them both about the ‘c’ word, career, in relation to dance. Jaina is currently studying Sports and Exercise Science at university while Anaya wants to pursue Physiotherapy, so they both have a holistic interest in how the body functions. For Anaya ‘dance has always been a constant’ and knows that it will be an inseparable part of her life. Jaina seems undecided but has definitely ‘caught the creative bug’ in trying to make Sujata-di’s choreography her own while training remotely. She is now intent on “freeing her kathak body by immersing herself in other styles”. Whoever wins the South Asian Category Finals on Saturday 21 March 2015 in Newport, judged by Seeta Patel, David Nixon, DJ Renegade and Sharon Watson will have a place in the Grand Final and receive a £1,000 cash prize to help support further dance studies. It would not be fair to give away too many details of Anaya and Jaina’s pieces, but I can tell you that we have some bold nritya, unconventional live music and even scientific concepts to look forward to. The evening of performances will be filmed for broadcast on BBC 4. The four finalists from each category plus two wild cards for the best dancers who did not win overall will perform their own pieces and speciallycommissioned choreography at the Grand Final on 9 May 2015 at Sadler’s Wells in front of judges Matthew Bourne, Akram Khan, Wayne McGregor, Tamara Rojo, Kenrick Sandy and Alistair Spalding for the prestigious title of BBC Young Dancer 2015 and a £3,000 cash prize. This will be filmed for broadcast on BBC 2.
Jaina modasia | Photo: Simon Richardson
During the Second Round South Asian performances, the wonderful cheering from the green room could be heard in the audience. This level of camaraderie forged over such a process can only strengthen the ties within our sector and demonstrate how it is really ‘not the winning, but the taking part that counts’. I wish Anaya, Jaina, Vidya, Lakshmi and Sivani my absolute best for the final stages but much more so for beyond.
The performances at the Category Finals (19–22 March) will be recorded for broadcast on BBC 4 to be shown in April and May. The BBC Young Dancer 2015 Final will be held on 9 May at Sadler’s Wells, London. Tickets will be available via the Box Office at Sadler’s Wells. SPRING 2015 PULSE 19
In Conversation— Arundhati Roy
“Weeks before it was advertised, the Southbank event was sold out…”
“Dalits say: ‘Why should we not speak English? The English were less casteist than the Brahmins.’”
“Annihilation of Caste [is] arguably the most radical document India [has] produced in modern times.”
20 PULSE SPRING 2015
Photo: Ken Hunt
rundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things thrust her into the international spotlight in 1997. What followed was a body of work and social activism – in speech and in writing – that many believe has eclipsed her best-selling, award-winning and one and only novel. Since then she has been actively telling other people’s stories in print and prose, telling true-life stories of other kinds and other lives. Many of her recent writings have been on the interaction of politics and culture. They’ve included Broken Republic: Three Essays (‘Mr Chidambaram’s War’, ‘Walking With The Comrades’ and ‘Trickledown Revolution’, 2011), and Capitalism: A Ghost Story (2014). In my view, the most important of all is ‘The Doctor and the Saint’, her eloquent introduction to the 2014 edition of Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste. In November 2014 she was in London to take part in a discussion about that book and the hellishness of caste at the Purcell Room in London with two human rights activists: the English Pakistani writer, journalist and filmmaker Tariq Ali; and the English Punjabi President of the Federation of Ambedkarite and Buddhist Organisations (UK) (and, disclaimer alert, my wife) Santosh Dass. Weeks before it was advertised, the Southbank event was sold out – an indication of what Arundhati attaching her name to a cause can do. Language conditions and colours minds and the way people formulate thought. What was Arundhati’s mother tongue? “I speak English and Hindi and Malayalam. Even though I speak and read and write Malayalam as well as Hindi, English is the language that was promoted and therefore the language in which I am most comfortable… There are so many beautiful languages in India. There are so many languages one is a stranger to within India but they keep promoting this Hindi nationalism. It’s easier for somebody in Delhi to understand somebody in Lahore than it is for someone in Delhi to understand someone in Kerala.” There is a huge promotion of Hindi as India’s non-colonial language, I remark. Is it proving just as globalising as English in some ways? “No!” she exclaims, “because, first of all, it strives to rub out languages like Urdu. But apart from that, you’re looking at a feudal situation. How many places do they speak Hindi? Everywhere else they call it a dialect. It has been the language of feudal lords and so Dalits say, ‘Why should we not speak English? The English were less casteist than the Brahmins.’ That’s why I think eventually you also have to understand that language is not just about the words: it’s what you do with them.” Dalits form the underbelly of the subcontinent’s population and diaspora. They are the ‘Oppressed’, the Untouchables, Gandhi’s Harijans (‘Children of God’). They are generally the ones on the receiving end. For Dalits, rebirth offers no advancement; it’s as if the laws of karma don’t count. Converting to Islam, Buddhism, Christianity or Sikhism seldom quite works to slough past caste-identity skins. As a form of religiously sanctioned and approved mind control, caste is the subcontinent’s most pernicious export, delivered wherever the Indo-Pakistani diaspora goes. Arundhati providing a contextual essay for Annihilation of Caste adds weight and value to arguably the most radical document India ever produced in modern times. To suggest there are many Indias can hardly come as a surprise. We only ever get to know bits of the subcontinent. Nevertheless, Indians and non-Indians
“…hardly mentioned at all are the subcontinent’s... older belief systems of the indigenous Adivasis… the tribal peoples…”
alike bang on about India, beating the drum that hails India as the world’s largest democracy and the cradle of belief systems. Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism are, naturally, the big ones. By comparison, hardly mentioned at all, are the subcontinent’s still older belief systems of the indigenous Adivasis – adi connotes ‘first’ or original inhabitants – and tribal peoples popularly known as Tribals. Those cultures also energise Arundhati’s writings. Explaining her own roots amid this splendid diversity, she says: “My mother comes from a community called the Syrian Christians who are the oldest Christians in India and who believe they were converted when St Thomas came. Most of the other Christians in India are people who were converted at the time of the British and most of them were poorer people. A lot converted to try and escape the caste system. They were Dalits. But they never escaped.
The Currency of Caste Arundhati Roy in conversation with Ken Hunt
B.R. Ambedkar, principal architect of the Indian Constitution, had in 1936 prepared a presidential address for delivery at the annual conference of a Hindu reformist group, the Jat-Pat Todak Mandal in Lahore. The invitation to speak was withdrawn and the conference cancelled because Ambedkar declined to remove passages on caste and the Hindu scriptures. He published Annihilation of Caste himself that year. The text has recently been republished with an introduction by writer and activist Arundhati Roy. Ken Hunt took the opportunity to talk to her when she was in London.
“The greatest influence in my life as a child was the river that I grew up on…”
BY Ken Hunt
“They still are considered to be Dalit Christians.”
They still are considered to be Dalit Christians.” Alternatively known as Saint Thomas Christians or Nasrani – the latter a name for ‘Christian’, supposedly derived from Nazareth – historically they have spoken, as in Arundhati’s mother’s case, Malayalam, Kerala’s primary indigenous language. “The Syrian Christians are a very wealthy community,” she continues, “but very traditional and very suffocating. My mother married ‘outside’ – not just a Hindu but a Bengali. She divorced him and we were completely ostracised by the community. Now both of us independently are embraced by it for various reasons.” “By the church?” I deadpan. “No,” she laughs. “Not by the church.” She re-composes herself. “My father’s not alive but what is odd is that my mother’s not a practising Christian. She runs an incredible school in Kerala where they do a lot of other subjects – like the
“There have been repeated threats against her life…”
kathakali dance form. It’s not at all Christian. She’s not at all Christian. Whereas my father, who was a Hindu, became a Christian. He was an alcoholic who became whatever anybody wanted him to become.” Her influences, therefore? “The greatest influence in my life as a child was the river that I grew up on, the Meenachil. That’s where The God of Small Things is set. There was no great Christian influence. Or Hindu. I spent all my time on the river. I think fish had a lot to do with my upbringing. You’ve read ‘Walking With The Comrades’. You can see that for me to be in the forest, to have been able to be in the forest, to be there not as a tourist, not in some wildlife park but to be really at the heart of what I see as a battle for the future of civilisation, to be under the stars and crossing rivers and all of that, was everything that I wanted there at that time. And I think that’s because that river always is inside you. “I’m not an environmentalist or a person who goes and documents. I’m not that. I’m just somebody who’s comfortable there without necessarily wanting to know the Latin name of everything or what it is. It just feels right. I was very comfortable spending three weeks walking through the forest and living under the stars and carrying whatever I needed to on my back.” Arundhati Roy has chosen an extremely rocky and danger-strewn road to travel. However lion-hearted she appears, like louring clouds, at times a great heaviness descends over parts of this conversation. India is now a place of unscrupulous land grabs and greed-driven updates on Klondike strikes where bauxite, uranium and so on replace precious metals (if that doesn’t sound stupid for a nation in thrall to gold). The publicity from Roy’s garnered column inches both hardens hearts and inspires. At home she is a thorn bush in the side of the Indian government and transglobals and mega-corporations, though the thorns don’t prick mega-corporation consciences. The reaction has been savage. There have been repeated threats against her life, attacks on her property and continued railings about her abuses of India’s freedom of expression. “During the Mumbai attacks [the 26/11 attacks of 2008],” she recalls, “this particular very right-wing TV channel was interviewing a senior policeman and he was holding forth about how the police were saving the nation and all that. Suddenly he said, ‘You just call Arundhati Roy at the studio and then she’ll start to criticise the police.’ This is on the news, right? ‘No, sir, we would never do that.’ Then he comes to the camera and he says, ‘Arundhati Roy, I hope you’re SPRING 2015 PULSE 21
In Conversation— Arundhati Roy
Dream The Impossible
“Caste is the engine that drives everything in India today.”
22 PULSE SPRING 2015
watching this. We think you’re disgusting.’” She takes a breath. “That’s the atmosphere – there’s fascism there today where you have a situation where 2,000 Muslims were lynched and burned alive on the streets of Ahmedabad [in Gujarat], one of the most modern cities in India [in 2002]. Then the killers were captured on camera boasting about how they had killed, caught [former Muslim parliamentarian] Ehsan Jafri and hacked off his arms and then burned him. One guy called Babu Bajrangi boasted [on camera, posted on YouTube] about how many Muslims he had killed and how many more he wants to kill. People were telling me, ‘You have free speech in India. You can say what you like.’ I said, ‘That’s right. You can say that you came and murdered so many people and burned so many alive and it’s acceptable.’ So, free speech has a whole new meaning. It’s terrifying.” A return to her birthplace is required. “I was not very long in Shillong,” she starts. “My parents were divorced when I was one. We came to live in Kerala. I grew up in Kerala. I didn’t ever see my father until I was about 23. I went to Shillong for the ‘first time’ just a couple of years ago.” Meghalaya looks fascinating, I continue, a realm of clouds – Meghalaya literally means ‘abode of clouds’ – with the reputation of being the wettest place in India. “It is!” she agrees. I mention living bridges made out of vines. These are the so-called living bridges of Cherrapunji made out of the roots and vines of a long-lived Ficus species. Generations of the Khasi people have built, tended and extended them. Built higher than a river’s highest monsoon spate water, a few are double-deckers, some reportedly 500 years old. In our few meetings down the years, nothing has turbo-enthused Arundhati like mentioning living bridges. “Strange that you mention that! That, I think, is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. They are so beautiful. I just thought, ‘I could just make a little hut here.’ So beautiful, that culture.” She sounds wistful but snaps back. “Now they’ve found uranium in those hills, so I don’t know what will happen…” Wrapping, I ask whether pantheism – the belief in Nature and its divinity – figured in her life at all. “I think, if I believe in anything, it’s that. It’s a bit like animism. I think that’s what The God of Small Things is about. It’s about how everything has its place there. It connects the dent that a baby spider makes on the surface of the water to the violent histories of the past. And how it’s all part of something. If you read God of Small Things, [caste] is the central thing in it. Caste is the engine that drives everything in India today. However hard they try to pretend it’s modernised or things have changed, everything is about caste, including corporatisation. Look at the caste of the people. The judiciary… There isn’t a single Dalit journalist in mainstream media. Everything is about caste in India today.” Je suis Bhimrao. Je ne pourrais être Arundhati. (I am…I couldn’t be…)
“Disability is not an obstacle, but an opportunity to exemplify that nothing is impossible.” We dance to express ourselves, to communicate, or simply because we delight in movement. Most of us associate dance with music and rhythm, but what of the deaf? “I feel that dance is one of the most natural things for deaf people, because deaf people are visual and more attuned to body movement” (Nina Falaise, ballet dancer and teacher). To find out more, Pulse interviewed Leicester-based dancer Nehal Bhogaita, a member of The Nautch Girl cast, and Sanghamitra Datta, who works with Child In Need Institute (CINI), an India-based humanitarian organisation. INTERVIEWS by Gopa Roy
Dance in the community
dance exam as she felt that I was incapable due to my deafness and strongly believed I would fail, which would make her dance school look bad. However, I took the exam elsewhere and passed. I am still facing rejections today. There are instances where people are in contact and are really keen to involve me in their work, but as soon as they realise I’m deaf they withdraw. It truly is a shame as we should all be treated equally. Having a disability isn’t an obstacle but an opportunity to exemplify that nothing is truly impossible.
Could you say something about your ambassadorial roles? How did you get involved and what do you do? I work as a community support worker at Action Deafness [a Leicester-based charity that offers diverse services throughout the UK] where I support other deaf individuals in gaining more confidence. Throughout my reign as Miss India Worldwide I acted as an ambassador for Action Deafness and spread the message of Deaf Awareness everywhere I visited [including South Africa, Switzerland, South America (Guyana and French Guiana), the USA, Sweden and Dubai]. I also visited numerous deaf and disabled schools worldwide to inspire children to reach their dreams.
Nehal Bhogaita Nehal, 26, has been profoundly deaf from birth. One of her greatest passions is dancing. How did you come to dancing? When I was small I would watch Bollywood films and just wished I could dance the way they did. I attempted to do so many times in front of the mirror. The day my mum saw me she decided to send me to dancing classes. This was around the age of 11. I have been dancing ever since. Though I can’t hear the music, I dance by feeling the vibrations through my feet and count the beats in my mind. How have you pursued your training? I have trained with numerous dance academies to reach the dance level I am at today. I also have qualifications in Indian Classical Dance. What obstacles have you had to overcome and what was the hardest? I have had to overcome numerous obstacles and face many rejections throughout life. Many people still look down on deaf and disabled individuals and feel that we are not as capable as the hearing; however, I have broken many barriers in society to prove that this is not true. An example is when I made history by becoming the first deaf girl to be crowned Miss India Worldwide 2013 in Malaysia. I still remember when my dance teacher refused to allow me to take a classical
Tell me about your involvement in The Nautch Girl. It’s truly an honour to be part of The Nautch Girl as it is something very new to me, nothing like I have done before. The process has taught me a lot and has really helped me enhance my skills and knowledge in the area of dance. I am really excited to perform!
Children In Need Institute CINI – whose motto is ‘Help the mother, help the child’ – has been working across India for forty years. Its expertise and pioneering work in the areas of education, health, protection and nutrition are internationally recognised. Support from Deaf Child Worldwide has enabled CINI to widen its focus to address the particular needs of deaf children and young people. Sanghamitra Datta wrote from CINI’s headquarters in Kolkata. Is dance part of a wider creative arts programme? The holistic development of children is central to CINI and different forms of creativity are provided through various projects. Among these, dancing has always been a favourite among the children to help vent their emotions and pacify their minds. Regular dance classes take place at CINI, and the same applies for the deaf children and young people since we have started working with them. Apart from dance, the deaf children also practise karate. It is also worth mentioning that in our programmes for the children of red-light
areas and for platform children, CINI has introduced Dance Movement Therapy (DMT) to help children overcome their stresses and to bring a behavioural change among them. How do you reach people? Our method is to use available resources and identify local solutions at the level of the family and the community, so we work with local groups such as rural Panchayat institutions and urban local bodies, service providers such as health personnel and teachers, and adult and child community representatives. The deaf children and youths between the ages of 0‒24 years have been identified from different slums of Kolkata. Childfriendly centres in the communities provide regular help with communication and educational and vocational support. What ages are the children who learn to dance? We are reaching out to deaf children and young people between the ages of 9‒24. How are they taught and what style(s) of dance? Could the volunteer teacher please describe a class? The main dance styles that are being taught to these groups are Indian folk-dances or ‘Rabindra Nritya’ or ‘Nazrul Nritya’. Volunteers and staff help this group to learn dance by showing them each step and counting. Since the world of sound is unknown to them they cannot follow the tune or lyric of any music with which they will dance, but by counting numbers according to the steps, our target groups remember their dance steps. It takes almost eight to ten classes (one hour each) for the deaf children to master the dance for a single song. Could the children make some comments on learning to dance? How does it help them? Dance enables them to exhibit their creative talent. They take part in different awareness programmes organised by CINI in its different fields by performing dances. The deaf young people have formed a youth club, ‘Anandadhara’ (‘stream of joy’), where they meet once a week to share their thoughts and future plans. In this club they often share dance steps. Dance helps them to unwind their tensions and negative feelings. Deepa, a deaf girl of 18 years who is practising dance regularly at the centres, shared that the centre has given her the opportunity to mix with others, to learn dance, to perform on stage in front of others and to get applause. She loves to express her feelings through dancing. www.actiondeafness.org.uk www.cini-india.org www.deafchildworldwide.info
SPRING 2015 PULSE 23
REVIEWS — MUSIC PERFORMANCE
Music Performance Carnatic Beatbox 29 January 2015 Jyotsna Srikanth and Shlomo Purcell Room, London Reviewed by Ken Hunt
he concert debut of Carnatic Beatbox began with two firsthalf appetisers for the second set’s main course with the two principal musicians – Jyotsna Srikanth and her violinistics and Shlomo and his beatboxing – laying out their tables before the main course. Foodie images figured with Shlomo rhapsodising about discovering desi cuisine, revealed by such giveaway titles as ‘Dosa Beats’ and ‘Paneer 65’. Jyotsna Srikanth opened with an Indian miniature of a set to marvel at. Accompanying her were two superb UK-based percussionists: R.N. Prakash on mridangam (barrel drum) and konnakol and R.R. Prathap on ghatam (clay pot) and konnakol. (Konnakol and bols are the mnemonic syllable buildingblocks of vocal percussion composition in, respectively, the Carnatic and Hindustani art music systems.) Srikanth’s fortyminute, five-piece introductory set followed the trajectory of a full Carnatic recital. It began with a splash, a full-tilt varnam (in rāgam Mohana) and then continued sparkling with three compositions from the saint-
Photo: Nanatva Studio
composer Tyagaraja. The final piece was a thillana composition – often associated with the bharatanatyam style of classical dance and here an 8-beat exercise in rhythmicality set in rāgam Sindhubhairavi by the violinist Lalgudi G. Jayaraman. It gave space for the percussionists to shine. Slowly out of Shlomo’s massively entertaining crash course in beatbox a tale reminiscing about his childhood took shape – one framed by his Nana Julie and Granpa Josh throwing a party somewhere in North London. Permit a grandfatherly voice to intrude. 24 PULSE SPRING 2015
What beatboxing definitely isn’t is konnakol or bols. What beatboxing is is mouth- and breath-made vocal percussive beats and sundry vocalisations. Voice, mouth, lips, tongue, throat and sometimes torso combine with amplification, electronics and layered tracks. What he revealed was an extraordinary ability to engage with an audience. With lashings of humour, including imitating his 3-year-old self belly-dancing for the aunties and uncles, he got the entire audience (as far as one could tell) on its feet. That’s no mean feat for the Purcell Room. Conceived by the BBC Radio 3 presenter Lopa Kothari and presented by the East London-based South Asian organisation Dhruv Arts, it was pre-announced that Carnatic Beatbox would be mixing Indian art music strands, beatbox and jazz elements. Completing the line-up were Shanti Paul Jayasimha, their main purveyor of jazz tones on trumpet, flugelhorn and slumpet (a slide trumpet, one of the fantastical brass creations from George Schlub of Schlub Brassworks of Singapore), N.S. Manjunath on kit drums and percussion, Viktor Obsust on double-bass (whose Balkan bloodlines surfaced on ‘Sprint’) and Shadrach Solomon on piano and keyboards. The undertaking was going to be ambitious and audacious – audacious in, let’s say, a do-or-die way, given the shock of seeing ‘Carnatic’ and ‘Beatbox’ side by side. The opening ‘Raghuvamsha’ set in rāgam Kadanakutuhalam introduced only part of their musical palette with violin, beatboxing, piano and kit drum and, as the concert handbill in screwy fashion put it, ‘ethnic percussion’. N.S. Manjunath’s ethnic percussion included morsing (Jew’s harp) on ‘Raghuvamsha’, bols on ‘Dark Skies’ and kanjira mini-frame drum on ‘Dosa Beats’. For the record, Jayasimha’s slumpet made its entrance on ‘Dosa Beats’. The mélange of different styles exceeded all expectations. Shlomo wove in all manner of drum parts, beats and breaks – even visually enhanced snatches of scratching and turn-tabling. In quartering such unfamiliar territory, the participants took risks and sometimes made mischief. On the strength of its Purcell Room première, Carnatic Beatbox is an antidote to comfort-zone listening and an
exuberant riposte to pigeonholed music. Given the chance, a project destined for festivals.
Amjad Ali Khan with Amaan Ali Khan and Ayaan Ali Khan 5 February 2015 Howard Assembly Room, Leeds Reviewed by Seetal Kaur Gahir
et’s be honest, it’s not often that a stalwart of Indian classical music will make it beyond London when they do visit our little island. However, when news spread that Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and his sons were coming to Leeds, a dedicated community of musiclovers arrived full of anticipation. What followed was an electrifying evening that displayed the pristine expression and raw power of Indian classical music on one of its finest instruments, the sarod. When Ustad Amjad Ali Khan steps onto the stage, the room is transformed into a royal court. Gracious and composed, the renowned maestro is sixth in line of an illustrious lineage of sarod players, but it seems that possession of a pedigree bloodline, one of India’s highest civilian honours (Padma Vibhushan) and international acclaim cannot sway the focus of this musical master: “Music for me is a way of life. It’s not a profession, but a passion. The love and the pull were in-built. I really didn’t have to work on that bit.” Music may be Khansahib’s one and only love, but in his senior years he seems to take a back seat when it comes to performance. His solo in the first half guided us politely through a neat presentation of various moods, with strong tabla accompaniment by Tanmoy Bose. First came the playful and innocent melodic creation of raga Ganesh Kalyan that Khansahib ‘received’ himself. Then Zila Kafi, iconic, moody and melancholic, and Bahar, touchingly rendered
Photo: Jamie Donne-Davis
through Khansahib’s own voice; and finally, a Tagore poem adapted to the sarod, as peaceful as a lullaby. All were very nice, but not all listeners were satisfied. The
compositions preserved the ragas beautifully but the simplicity and short format failed to really hit the spot. Little did we know that something more was yet to come. Amaan and Ayaan Ali Khan are now the two torchbearers of the ‘Bangash’ lineage but the audience were curious as to how they would follow their father. Khansahib explains: “In the course of Amaan and Ayaan’s training, which is an ongoing process for a classical musician, I never encouraged them to copy my style. As they matured, I was relieved to see that both of them were developing an approach that was distinctive and rather different from what they were taught. This I feel is only natural, for the music that an individual creates is a reflection of his or her mind and soul.” And they delivered without a doubt. A deep and personalised elaboration of the majestic raga Malkauns was created with all the key elements of Hindustani classical instrumental music. Gripping, emotive phrases, technical prowess and creative elaboration were all elements the audience wanted. In both the lengthy 14-beat time cycle of dhammar and lightning-fast teen taal, Tanmoy Bose was sharp and alert to the spontaneous melodies that the sons would execute. Amaan had a flair for precise, fast and virtuosic phrases, while Ayaan enjoyed experimenting with mathematical patterns. Both the sons blew the audience away with their powerful rendition. A classic Kirwani with father and sons together was a perfect way to bring the concert to a close. Although Amjad Ali Khan may prefer to take a back seat, the final item confirmed that he really is the driving force of the performance. In an intense ‘question/answer’ session, each of the sons was grilled as if there was a lesson live on stage. Khansahib led with melodiously complex and strikingly simple phrases that tested both sons and audience alike. The pace was kept up and a final crescendo was brilliantly orchestrated with all instruments in unison. Ustad Amjad Ali Khan’s contribution to music must be celebrated and his poise, eloquence and grace both on the sarod and in person will be remembered. He is tirelessly active on the scene but it seems that he is now proud to place the future of his music into the capable hands of the next generation. The future will certainly hold change but it’s clear that the heritage of the past won’t be forgotten.
Shamaa and Pushpalata Dance Companies present
Parallel Worlds A vibrant and soulful new dance production, exploring the confluence of Bhakti (Hinduism) and Sufism (Islam) through Indian classical dance, creative movement and an eclectic selection of poetry from 12th Century India onwards, accompanied by evocative live music. Choreography: Sushma Mehta and Priya Pawar Shows: Première at Morley College Sat 23 May 2015 / 12 noon Watermans Arts Centre Saturday 6 June 2015 / 8pm. Vishwa Hindu Centre (tba)
Synchronised Alchemy Festival, Southbank Centre 23-24 May The dazzling pool-based Kathak dance, synchronised swimming and live music spectacular, first performed as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, gets back into the water for a series of dates at Alchemy 2015. Last year’s successful Arts Council England funded tour confirmed Synchronised’s ability to attract large and diverse audiences – and inspire healthier lifestyles. So this new partnership between Southbank Centre, BSDC and the Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust is great news for the arts and wellbeing in Lambeth.
The Artist Invites Canvas Studios, Shoreditch October 2015
Images, from top: Decreasing Infinity (photo Chris Nash); Synchronised (photo Maya De Almeida Araujo); Meet me there for tea, oil on canvas, Angela Lyn
Angela Lyn is a dual heritage English/Chinese artist based in Switzerland. Her meticulous, deeply contemplative work has proved to be a natural fit with Balbir Singh’s own approach and, following a meeting brokered by arts development agency CidaCo, an intriguing partnership has developed. The Artist Invites is an exhibition of Angela’s paintings, complemented by Balbir’s choreographic response within the gallery space itself. The resulting conversation between the two artforms promises to challenge and enrich our experience of both.
A highly charged duet dramatically accompanied by Human Beatbox and live Tabla, Decreasing Infinity showcases Balbir Singh’s signature synthesis of Kathak and contemporary dance styles. Drawing the audience ever deeper into Balbir’s exploration of the mutual attraction of opposites, each style lets go of its distinct identity and takes on aspects of the other, whilst both reflect the same concepts through their own particular language.
Decreasing Infinity Rich Mix 31 May
Balbir Singh Dance Company has been busy developing exciting partnerships in London and the next few months will see the culmination of this intensive development period with a series of fascinating and moving performances…
PECDA and Ignite! Festival Sanjoy Roy and Isabel Puntinja report on Contemporary dance in India. Arundhati Roy on Caste The Nautch Girl BB...
Published on Mar 26, 2015
PECDA and Ignite! Festival Sanjoy Roy and Isabel Puntinja report on Contemporary dance in India. Arundhati Roy on Caste The Nautch Girl BB...