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Promoting talent Mallika Sarabhai
Promoting talent Mallika Sarabhai

Dancer Mallika Sarabhai speaks about InterArt 2009, and how the festival has helped bring together artistes from across the world

InterArt 2009 is the 34th edition of the Vikram Sarabhai International Arts Festival in Ahmedabad, and Mallika Sarabhai, the director of Darpana Academy that organises the festival, says: “But, every time, it is different from the previous years.”

It was her parents — famed scientist Vikram Sarabhai, and bharatanatyam exponent Mrinalini Sarabhai — who set up the Academy, an arts and cultural institution. Held every year from December 28 to 30, the festival is celebrated in memory of her father — a great lover of the arts — who passed away on December 30, 1971.

Mallika Sarabhai tells Manas Dasgupta about the festival's journey.

How did Vikram Sarabhai International Arts Festival begin?

The festival ‘InterArt' was born a few years after my father's death in 1971. He was a great lover of arts and a connoisseur, and it was felt that the best way to remember him would be by organising a yearly multi-arts festival in his hometown Ahmedabad. For the first 20 years, the festival was staged at Tagore Hall. In 1994, it was shifted to the present venue ‘Natrani', our own stage on the Academy complex, right on the banks of the Sabarmati.

Why is it called ‘international' arts festival, when it is never taken out of Ahmedabad?

Because, it offers international fare. For instance, for the last few years, Darpana has produced works with artistes from Peru, Egypt, Israel, Australia, Colombia, Spain, France, the U.K. and the U.S. This year's collaboration is with Josh Hogan from Australia. The play on the first day, ‘Ahmedabad ki aurat bhali — Ramkali', is an adaptation of famed German playwright and director Bertolt Brecht's famous work ‘Good Woman of Setzuan'. It was also taken to Mumbai and Delhi. Years ago, another play ‘Kanan', based on the same play, was staged in Ahmedabad. I had wanted it to travel to every part of Gujarat and the country, but funding is a huge problem. Getting sponsors in Gujarat for serious and experimental works is pretty impossible.

How is this year's festival different from the previous years?

It is the only festival in India that showcases all forms of art — dance, music, mixed media, new media, puppetry, theatre, and all the crossovers possible. This year we have a French photographer as a resident artiste. She's been shooting during the rehearsals and the behind-the-scenes of the performances, and will exhibit her work at the festival. ‘Naada, the Happening', on the concluding day of the festival, is an ambitious project. We explore the performance using all the five senses, with ‘Naada and Naadabrahma', the primordial sound from which came ‘Aum'. The audience too is taken on a journey of the senses — sight, smell and feel... We hope it becomes an experience, rather than a mere viewing. The second day's performance ‘Dakshina', is by the U.S.-based Daniel Phoenix Singh's Dance Company. An Indian dancer trained in Western contemporary dance and bharatanatyam, Daniel does modern choreography and works by other choreographers, using both idioms.

How do the people of Ahmedabad, or, for that matter, Gujarat, benefit from the festival? How much does Darpana Academy gain from it?

Till Darpana came into being nearly 60 years ago, there was no classical dance in Gujarat. It not only does cutting edge work for the thinking audience, but also helped generate thinking audience. The festival is the highlight of all of a year's performances, and is eagerly awaited. Darpana gains by collaborating with artistes from across the country and world. Over the last 16 years of its existence, Natrani has given over 1,200 presentations from 40 countries and across our country. It is an ever-enriching experience for us, I'm sure it's the same for the audience too.

What are the traditional art forms the Academy promotes through the festival?

The festival is not a place to promote traditional forms; it is for innovative and cutting-edge works. We bring artistes together, give them the space, the performers, the set designers, carpenters, studios, video facilities — whatever they require. And, a beautiful setting for the final performance. I know of no other institution in India — funded or non-funded — that does all this, and has all this to give for free. Most institutions run like offices or are moribund Government organisations, pushing paper, making lots of money, and creating little. We are non-funded, and scrounge around for every penny. But, it is an art institution run by artistes, and not controlled by the Government or forced to follow the diktats of a board, having little sympathy or knowledge for the way artistes work. We are all artistes who take decisions, artistes who have built the spaces.

What are your future plans?

I would love to have someone fund the festival, and be able to take it to every part of the country, especially ‘B' cities, where very little of interesting things travel to. Seeing interesting things help open one's mind. I am sure our work will inspire many budding and talented artistes to do more, and differently at that. But, for that we need a lot of funds. Till then, we'll keep creating new vistas in the world of art and performances.

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