Dancer Preeti Vasudevan’s Red Curtain Project shares Indian stories with the world

Classical dancer and choreographer Preeti Vasudevan’s storytelling project uses gestures and expressions to narrate stories for all age groups

Like everyone around the globe today, New York-based Indian classical dancer and award-winning choreographer Preeti Vasudevan is spending all her time indoors, maintaining social distancing, in her apartment with her husband and their nine-year-old daughter. She says that this period is both wonderful and challenging. Wonderful because she gets to be with family all the time, but a challenge because with all leading arts institutions closed, she and her team suddenly realised that all their shows and events planned for the first half of the year were a no-go! “This meant a life-or-death situation professionally for us. Instead of panicking, we sought to look into some social impact projects we had originally set aside for later this year. We pushed aside live projects and instead shifted our focus to online learning, which is why The Red Curtain Project was launched,” says Preeti, founder and artistic director of Thresh Performing Arts Collaborative, New York.

The Red Curtain Project is dedicated to sharing stories, ancient and modern, from India. Many storytellers, across cultures, use the curtain as a device, as a magical threshold, as the boundary between the real world and the world of imagination created by the performer, says Preeti. “I couldn’t go into a dance studio to film and had to do the filming at home. So we pulled our curtain — which is red — and used that as our ‘theatre’ background. It then dawned on us that all storytelling cultures use curtains as the liminal space and so it gave birth to the name of the project — connecting storytellers from everywhere.”

The Red Curtain Project is for all ages; its first series launched last week, however, is very child friendly, based on Jataka Tales. It is fun and told from the point of view of children between the ages of five and 12. “However, future stories will have more adult themes and we will mention parental discretion for these. We plan the stories as a series, with each story released weekly. Each series has three stories as a theme, with interactive elements in it, as well as a challenge to encourage people to film their own stories and share it with us, as we plan to create a library from around the globe during this time,” she says.

Bharatanatyam dancer that she is, Preeti performs the stories using abhinaya, which means expression in Sanskrit, and mudras (hand symbols) in order to create the mood of the story.

According to Preeti, the key areas of this project focus on including a diverse group of collaborators to show the artistic process and how artists come together to create any story. “We have behind-the-scenes videos where you can watch how our music composer Mal Stein (from New York) and illustrator Bhumenjoy Konsam (from Manipur) work. Our learning partner, Learn Interactive, is helping us in our venture,” she says.

Vivid expressions

The Red Curtain Project, which launched its first series during the first week of April, will release one new story every week (on Wednesdays) on its website, www.threshdance.org. The initial plan is to do this for 12 weeks till the end of June, but they have plans to continue further and expand, based on the feedback from viewers across cultures. The Clever Antelope and The Hare in the Moon have been released, and coming up next week is The Tiger and the Hunter. The narrative, based on the Jataka Tales, has sections where every story is further explained with details of hand symbols and expressions used, and its meaning and relevance.

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Printable version | Jul 14, 2020 4:57:23 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/building-cultural-bridges/article31330270.ece

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