The spirit of dance

The pursuit of a passion for dance is fraught with risk to lives and livelihood for Afghan dancers, writes Madhavi Puranam

January 19, 2017 04:34 pm | Updated 04:34 pm IST

Lively performance  Afghan dancers during the ABU festival

Lively performance Afghan dancers during the ABU festival

N ooriya Habibi and Obaid Zazai and a team of Attan dancers from Afghanistan are in Hyderabad for the first International Dance Festival mounted by the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU) with Prasar Bharati, Telangana government and Doordarshan as the organising partners. As they enthusiastically shared about the Afghan culture, you wonder what culture and arts could have survived such destructive times. The horrifying image of the Taliban destroying Bamiyan Buddha statues of central Afghanistan dating back to the 4-5th centuries AD are still vivid; and the havoc wreaked upon a country whose history dates back to fifty thousand years has been a monumental tragedy. Nooriya nods with wisdom beyond her age when she says, “Yes, we risk our lives to pursue our arts and culture.” When asked if she is not afraid, she says defiantly, “For how long can one be afraid? We have to risk something, even if it is our life, to gain something.”

The Afghan dancers of Pashtun origin participate in the ABU festival just to assert that they too have a distinct cultural identity and their spirit is greater than the destruction inflicted, and the sectarian strife cause by some of the countries neighbouring Afghanistan. Of a country of 35 million people, where 70 percent are illiterate, the remaining 30 percent who are literate are predominantly artists and people dealing with cultural activities in one way or the other.Nooriya, a Pashtun girl, who faces severe ostracism for her interest in arts and modelling, is also pursuing her graduation in an environment where women face immense suppression. The army fatigues, which she was sporting albeit with a headscarf, symbolized her indefatigable spirit of breaking free of the shackles. The government official accompanying the Afghan artists, Mohammad Homayoun Feroz, Director of Arts and Literary programs, Radio and Television of Afghanistan (RTA), graciously shared Afghanistan government’s efforts to keep alive the arts and provide encouragement to the artists. He reflected on how an artist with his deep knowledge of the society and its problems strives for peace. Also a filmmaker, Homayoun, shared how arts cater to the higher ideals of mankind. He declared Nooriya as a “Champion” in a society where women hardly get their due. He informed that the matters of arts and culture are monitored at the highest level- President Ashraf Ghani, his advisor, Rahimi, and the Director General of RTA.

Obaid Zazai is not only a model but also a costume designer some of whose exotic creations were displayed at the festival. A costume woven in gold was the highlight apart from the exquisite weaves and embroidery and the ethnic jewellery of Afghanistan.

The young dancers at this inaugural edition of ABU International Television dance festival on January 15,exhibited immense energy and spirit and their friendly and affable nature was endearing. These Pashtun ethnic people danced a form called Attan accompanied by the lively dhol and shehnai. Their swirling movements whose beauty was enhanced by their flowing costumes, pirouettes and the head rotations with their long locks flying in frenzy created magical moments. It is not easy for these young male dancers to pursue their interest despite societal disapproval, dance not being able to offer a living to sustain them, and above all staking their lives for the love of their life.

They stood out in quiet dignity with their own distinct identity at the festival where the other participating countries included Azerbaijan, Cambodia, China, Fiji, Indonesia, India, Maldives, Mongolia, Philippines, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.

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