A piercing bird-shriek and a volley of thunderous thuds welcomes me as I enter a studio at Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts in Bengaluru. Dancers, in slightly chaotic clusters, squat on their toes, jerk their necks back-and-forth and stare at each other like confused hens. They, then, bifurcate into two rows. The dancers are the 13th batch of students of Attakkalari’s Diploma in Movement Arts and Mixed Media rehearsing for their graduation day to be held today and tomorrow at Chowdiah Memorial Hall. They are practising a choreography titled Flocks of Fledglings; hence, the bird-like noises and movements.
“Guys, do it beautifully like you did before,” yells choreographer Teresa Rottemberg as the students rest a while before restarting their rehearsal.
Teresa is one of the three acclaimed contemporary masters in town for choreographing the graduation day event. Stefano Fardelli and Ion Garnika are the other two. Apart from the contemporary dance pieces, students will also perform Bharatanatyam and Kalaripayattu.
Teresa has a black, curly mop of hair, wears thick, square-framed glasses and a warm smile (when she isn’t shouting during rehearsals).
“This is my first visit to India,” she tells me. In three weeks since her arrival, she has made a trip to Mysuru, attended a Kathak performance and studied birds. The last of which she did for coming up with Flock of Fledglings.
“I am a birdwatcher,” she says. “I am fascinated with the way they move. Each one of them has a unique way of moving around on different occasions.”
Teresa’s first piece for graduation day (with music by Tanja Muller) is about “how many kinds of young birds, in great diversity, live harmoniously with respect, love, understanding and space for every bird.”
The second one, called Shortly Before, is blatantly political. “It will talk about how people are using power to oppress other people,” she says. When I ask her about the inspiration for this piece, she replies, “Well, I was born in Argentina, which was under dictatorship once. But I am not talking about a particular place here. It’s something that happens across the world.”
As the Flocks of Fledglings rehearsal resumes, a lanky dancer, clad in black sweatpants and a half-sleeved round-neck tee, makes three squat-jumps from one of the two rows to come to the centre of the studio and straightens himself swiftly. Teresa tells him, “You’re doing it too fast. Be slow. It’s your time, enjoy it.”
Rituals and religions
Stefano Fardelli, whose international collaborations include the Berlin Opera, BBC, The Place and the Royal Finland Opera among others, is mildly miffed that he can’t show me his choreography as the students are busy at another practice session. He apologises like a magician unable to perform tricks to a packed audience would.
It’s nevertheless fascinating to hear Stefano talk about his piece, Holyland, which is about his experience from a trip to Indonesia a year ago. “The country has four major religions: Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism and they play an important role in the geography of the place. Sometimes, when you just walk a few miles, it gives you the illusion of entering a new city. There are different realities in one place.”
During his stay there, Stefano had the chance to visit the local tribes, witness their dances and rituals, and meet the famous cross-gender dancers. That interaction spurred him to choreograph Holyland.
“Through this presentation, we enter a dimension that does not belong to our view of reality and that opens new horizons to human understanding,” he says.
To familiarise students with Indonesia and the culture of its tribal people, Stefano showed them photos and video clips from his journey. “I always ask my students to recreate an atmosphere. In this case, I ask them to visualise the temples and the smell of the forests,” he says.
The piece, which will be performed by 60 students, will be the longest during the graduation day event. “I have been coming here for the last three years and every year, my choreography has been the longest,” he says.
Ion Garnika thought he was familiar with India before he made his first trip here, about a month ago. Growing up in Spain, he was interested in art exhibitions, dance and cinema, even though most boys his age were crazy about football. He was introduced to an Indian ashram, where he learnt Vipassana meditation, hatha yoga, kundalini yoga and other spiritual practices. “This is where I found my calling: dance,” he says.
India, hence, was always special for Ion. Despite reading and hearing about the country, when he landed here, he was awestruck by, what he calls “an orderly chaos”.
“In Europe, everything is so set. People move about in a very orderly fashion. Here, I see, chaos is a part of life. I am not saying that one thing is better than the other; it’s just that it’s so different,” he says.
Ion’s choreography, Movimiento Triptico, is a three-part sequence that deals with dynamics of the people constituting a city and gradually moves to self-exploration.
“It will start with many dancers on stage. When it ends, there will be only one,” he says.