The five-day Prayana Dance Festival held in Kolkata was an initiative by Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan, Kolkata and Attakalari Centre for Movement Arts of Bangalore. It was inaugurated by film maker Aparna Sen at the Max Mueller Bhavan in the presence of director of Goethe-Institut, Kolkata, Dr. Martin Waelde and Jayachandran Palazhy, director/choreographer/dancer of Attakalari. The festival of contemporary dance pieces started with two stunning films on German choreographers. One by Wim Wenders, on the legendary Pina Bausch, and the other on ‘Dialogue 2013’, by acclaimed choreographer Sasha Waltz in collaboration with Padmini Chettur.
“Open all doors and windows... for new forms of dance,” were the opening words of Martin Waelde and during the two spectacular performances at Kalamandir, the audience witnessed the arduously challenging productions, ‘AadhaaraChakra-a Dancelogue’ and ‘MeiDhwani,’ (echoes of the body). Both works strive to find a connect with our memories and imagination, while immersed in the chaos of contemporary urban India. Multimedia - in hybrid forms, digital arts, films, blended with projected images and coloured light and soundscape vivified both the productions to weave a fascinating imagery of dance and forms.
‘AadhaaraChakra-a Dancelogue’ juxtaposed classical Indian music, hawkers’ cries, sounds of wind blowing, horns honking and popular cinematic strains filtered through electronic processes to create a provocative sonic textures by composers Sam Auinger and Martin Lutz.
Celluloid images, on-screen projection of Bharatanatyam recital - shot by Rupert Schwarzbauer - morph versatile architectural spaces designed by Dominic Dube. All these highlighted strong athletic movements, or sometimes delicate ones by the troupe. The dancers had a compelling presence and amazing tenacity.
Pipon provided surprising elements with his light design, which interacted with Ken Furudate’s digital design. Conceived and directed by Jayachandran Palazhy and the dancers of the repertory, the piece was set in an imagined land and oscillated between the past and the present, inviting the audience to partake in a ritualised experience.
The narrative was complex and often fragmented, memories and experiences fuelling the choreography, transforming spaces ranging from crowded village markets, urban streets and alleys. The imagery of the van loaded with male and female vendors was interesting. But for better effect, the performance could have been shorter.
By linking the Tamil and Sanskrit words, ‘Mei’ (body) and ‘Dhwani’ (echo or suggestion), ‘MeiDhwani’ subtly alluded to ‘echoes of the body’ in imagined landscapes.
The curtain opened to Jayachandran Palazhy in the spotlight. Clad in white at one corner of the stage, oscillating his right arm like a pendulum, then by using two hands crossing one another, the body twisted 360 degrees to the original and then he rose slowly and did a number of complicated body poses.
Significantly, ‘MeiDhwani’ traversed universal predicaments creating an individual sensorial narrative that oscillated between suspended realms of the body and soul.
Five female dancers, clad in flowing gowns, entered with shining metallic pitchers. The performance gained momentum and proceeded towards a breathtaking experience when dancers entered with brass lamps.
In ‘MeiDhwani,’ fire acted as a metaphor for male energy and a destructive power within, while water alluded to the ever-flowing life stream representing female energy. There were some beautiful balancing acts with metallic water vessels, walk by male and female dancers clad in white with symphony music and strong focussed golden side lights on a dark background.
The choreography used a lot of diagonals especially when moving in different poses in an effortless manner, with the pots. The metallic pots in the production suggested a contained yet unfathomable feminine infinity contrasted against the phallic cylindrical oil lamps.
Born from in-depth research into Indian traditions, ‘MeiDhwani’ resonated with a collective memory. The vocabulary drew from the clarity of Bharatanatyam and abstracted animal motifs of Kalaripayattu, conjuring latent semiotic traces of inherited physical traditions.
Israeli composers and sound artists Patrick Sebag and Yotam Agam teamed up with their Indian counterparts for the sonic texture. The credit for the elegant costumes that enhanced the movement quality of the dancers go to Himangshu and Sonali of Hidden Harmony.
The riveting dance language along with the use of iconography, sound, colour and light created a sensuous, passionate work. Capturing fragility and turmoil through movement, MeiDhwani created magic!
Morning sessions included an intensive interactive session of contemporary dance – ‘Dancelogue’ with practitioners and critics organised by the British Council, Kolkata.
Jayachandran Palazhy gave an overview of contemporary dance, its evolution and said that it was not a form but an approach. To him, dance is learnt through empathy as it is visual poetry and one must choose a movement to create a sensorial experience. Authenticity in this direction is also important.
The final morning presented, ‘Archiving the Intangible,’ as a part of Attakalari’s research series, Nagarika, which was conceived as an integrated information system on Indian Traditions embedded in Bharatanatyam and Kalaraipayettu martial arts.
The first such initiative in India, in the field of traditional body knowledge, the effort involved access to concepts of body and movement principles.
The session presented by Palazhy, enriched the participants with audio-visual presentations, practical experience of Attakalari’s training technique, breathing and stretching exercises, also giving them an idea of alignment, breath, focus, sense of gravity and multiple spaces that operated in Attakalari’s movement vocabulary.
The festival concluded with a young choreographers’ presentation of five emerging artists from Kolkata and Attakalari. Throughout the festival, the Nagarika installation ran in the Max Mueller Bhavan allowing visitors to navigate through the complete structured information in it. The festival no doubt was a worthy and complete experience.