This two-day festival draws its central idea from the inseparable link between storytelling and the performing arts in the traditional Indian context. The festival, jointly organised by the Odissi Vision and Movement Centre (run by Odissi dancer Sharmila Biswas) and the Calcutta Classical Guitar society, will feature diverse performing arts forms ranging from Odissi, puppetry and mime, stylised modern literary theatre and new ways of appreciating dance-drama traditions.

The festival opens with Chaturmukhi, choreographed and designed by Sharmila Biswas. Simple Dreams —a celebration of images, objects and movement — will be presented by leading puppeteer and artiste Dadi Pudumjee and his company Ishara. Yajna, a dance-theatre production from Kuchipudi researcher and dancer Vjyanti Kashi, overlays a contemporary, individual imagination onto an existing form while portraying the lives of Renuka, Sita and Ambe. Finally, Sarpasutra, scripted and directed by Gowri Ramnarayan, weaves together poetry, storytelling, music and dance in an episode from the Mahabharata along with verses from Arun Kolatkar’s Sarpa Satra in English.

Sharmila Biswas, a senior disciple of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra is known for the quality of intense questioning and research in her productions. In Chaturmukhi: The Four Dances, she takes us to an experience of the overlapping cultural contexts in Odisha, from where her form Odissi comes, to remind us of the numerous influences that “classical” dances have negotiated to arrive at a defined form. Each part captures the mood and expression of a different rural art form of Odisha including the specific ethos of Sambaleswari Devi and the free spiritedness of Prahlad Natakam. This production drew upon the contributions of Kathak guru Kumudini Lakhia and filmmaker Rituparno Ghosh.

But Biswas has more at stake. In recent years it has been impossible to ignore the changes in the performing arts circuit in urban India. Apart from a clutch of well known names, the performing arts are being repurposed to fit the needs of the Big Entertainment matrix driven by a desire to consume new and glossy material. “I am convinced that the performing arts must find its audience in those who are invested in its ability to speak to them in artistic and personal terms today,” says Biswas. The sentiment is shared by her partner The Calcutta Classical Guitar Society, which has had a string of well-received Live In series of concerts in the city.

The building of an audience will ensure that diverse arts of a high quality have a wider role to play in the public domain. Retreating into private islands of privilege and patronage will only create distortions in the performing arts space and the choices made by artists. This is a rare example of a dancer stepping out to make changes and open up the arts to a wider and simultaneously more nuanced engagement.

Bottomline: Opening up the arts to a wider and more nuanced engagement.

Story Tellers: Calcutta International Performing Arts Festival 2012

When: November 27 and 28

Where: GD Birla Sabhagrah, Ballygunje, Kolkata