Can narrative performance be considered dance' And can such song & dance be a medium of social change' The Natya Ballet Festival in Delhi promises to take these questions to the masses through a vibrant mix of performances, talks and films
“It’s a nice surprise. This is the first time we’ve been invited to a dance festival,” says Anurupa Roy, director of well-known puppet theatre group Katkatha’s award-winning play Mahabharata.
Roy is referring to the biennial Natya Ballet Dance Festival, which in its second edition, is exploring the fluidity of art forms and the synthesis between them. Themed ‘Dance in Film & in Theatre’, the festival showcases local and global works of dance and music from the perspectives of cinema and theatre, in an effort to provoke an evolved debate around why must arts be tied down under labels and why they cannot transcend mediums. It also tries to understand how dance becomes a powerful medium of narrative and social activism.
Perhaps it has something to do with the polarity of our times. If the growing walls of separation between people are a reality of our world, so are the narrow corridors that open up here and there to bind our hearts and minds. As physical boundaries of land, race, caste and creed grow us apart, legal and virtual means open up new avenues for merging of language, gender, culture and so on. In such a scenario, it is perfectly valid if concerns regarding straight-jacketed art forms bother some and if integrated art is what they seek to work towards. About time artists, connoisseurs and art lovers start delving into the serious aesthetic dillemmas — like why must art always be ‘social acceptable’? Or what exactly is ‘socially acceptable’ art? And what isn’t socially acceptable, is it still art?
Natya Ballet Festival, organised by Natya Ballet Centre in association with Sangeet Natak Akademi, promises to take up a few of these questions between November 30 and December 2 at the Akademi premises. The three-day event, which promises to bring the best of both local and global art forms along with talks by living legends of Indian dance, presentations and film screenings. “The performances, this year, will emphasise on the female power in dance and theatre,” said Radhika Hoon, chairperson, Delhi-based Natya Ballet Centre.
Hence the opening act is a master class by US-based choreographer Ananya Chatterjea introducing Yorchha — an intensive contemporary Indian dance technique that brings together movement principles from Vinyasa yoga, Odissi and Mayurbhanj Chhau.
Roy’s Mahabharata, the same evening, is a contemporary retelling of the Indian epic employing the Japanese technique of Bunraku, masks and shadow theatre and elements of Chhau and Kalaripayattu to explore the inner dilemma of 14 characters and what choices did they have to avoid the great war.
Renowned contemporary dancer Astad Deboo takes the stage on Day 2 to talk about the dance style he pioneered through an amalgamation of Kathak and Kathakali at a time when innovations in the Indian dance world were not welcome. Acclaimed musicologist Manjari Sinha sits down with Kathak exponent Pandit Birju Maharaj to talk about his dance lineage, how he carried forward the reverred tradition of his forefathers while also trying to experiment with innovations such as cinema and theatre.
“We are very excited to bring bold and assertive works from India and abroad that reinvestigate conventional storytelling in today’s context for a discerning audience and delve in a deeper discourse on how art can push boundaries to mobilise social change. We wanted to go beyond just dance to showcase the various aspects of it inside and outside the proscenium space, and more importantly in the context of theatre and film,” says Hoon.
Which perhaps explains why the second evening is dedicated to Dutch productions. We are waiting at the border by the Netherlands based Vloeistof Dance Company is a thought-provoking and confrontational public space performance that makes one question the idea of boundaries, while the Hague-based Korzo Theatre’s Ayush dissolves these boundaries to bring on stage a magical union of Western dramaturgy and Eastern philosophy. Interestingly, the production has Korzo’s Leo Spreksel directing Bangalore-based Kathak duo Hari and Chethana.
The ‘Dance in Theatre’ segment of the festival has renowned theatre artist, stand-up comedian and social activist Maya Krishna Rao talking about her experience of how dance and theatre collide and flow into each other on the rehearsal floor.
The second session moderated by Dr Anita Cherian and Vinay Kumar delves into the oeuvre of late Veenapani Chawla, a pioneer of experimental theatre in contemporary India, and the current work practice at Adishakti, which she founded. The afternoon concludes with a panel discussion with Bharatnatyam dancers Gowri Ramnarayan and Jyotsna Shourie.
Ramnarayana’s theatre production Aham Sita along with Bharatnatyam exponent Priyadarshani Roy is the highlight of the closing night on December 2.
On Day 3, the ‘Dance Discourses’ series offers glimpses into the illustrious lives of dance icons Leela Samson and Mallika Sarabhai along side opportunities for the audiences to interact with them.
Women professional artistes such as Samson and Sarabhai and their respect they command in society today would not have been possible had it not been for the performers who preceded them on stage — the Tawaifs, Maharis and the Devadasis. Women who were lauded by their male patrons but also pushed to the margins by patriarchy. Women who while nurturing and polishing their art also nurtured a highly sophisticated social and culture ethos (one which is forever lost with them), but were only derided for their deviant sexuality. Given its emphasis women in performing arts, the festival also attempts to acknowledge the contributions of these ‘deviant’ women. The ‘Dance in Film’ segment focuses on Tawaifs, Maharis and the Devadasis and has film screenings and lecture presentations by noted filmmakers and artists such as Saba Dewan, Sharadha Ramanathan, Justin McCarthy and Vikram Iyengar. The programmes culminate in a discussion with moderator Dr Arshiya Sethi to illuminate the varied viewpoints.