It’s a wonderful benediction, says Karthika Nair, talking about the performance of the competition pieces of the 3rd edition of Prakriti Excellence in Contemporary Dance Awards (PECDA) at Rukmini Arangham. “It’s on this celebrated platform at the hoary Kalakshetra that the two dance worlds will seem to enter a dialogue,” points out the Paris-based poet, author and dance curator, who has conceptualised this awards event being co-hosted this year by the Kalakshetra Foundation. “The choreographies would map the movement from the established classical form to the nascent contemporary idiom in India. It’s not about categorising dance as conformist or experimental. Prakriti Foundation realised the need to recognise and mentor new forms of expression with its distinct vocabulary,” she adds in her beautifully modulated voice.
The city that is identified across the globe as a seat of classical tradition, over the years, has widened its stage to accommodate questing artists and unconventional styles. As for the audience, largely grown up in the older, polarised art culture, it is now willingly opening up to this brave hybrid world and its novel interpretations. But if it’s not easy to comprehend the nuances of the classical repertoire, it is equally difficult to define nouveau or contemporary.
“I see my dance as an expression of the self,” says Jyotsna Rao, who is among the shortlisted performers this year. “It’s my way of perceiving whatever is happening around me and the way I would react to it.” According to her, the bi-annual PECDA is a path-breaking show; an opportunity to share her work with like-minded artists and get their feedback. “And staging in Chennai is particularly exciting because people here understand art and value creativity.”
Besides the award of Rs. 5 lakh, the winner gets to mentor with an international dance company and stage the finished piece at The Park’s New festival held across six Indian cities. The jury comprises Indian and international experts. Bangalore-based Deepak Kurki Shivaswamy’s ‘NH7’ (2012 winner) and Surijit Nongemeikpam’s ‘Nerves’ (2014 winner) are examples of giving shape to abstract ideas in a multidisciplinary format. Both were mentored by Akram Khan Dance Company.
Interestingly, many of the contemporary artists have had their initiation into classical styles. Anuradha Venkataraman is one such. A part of the 2016 line-up, though she enjoys doing the margam, she found the content contradictory. “It’s a very personal take. I agree Bharatanatyam is a strong form. But after a point, I was more interested in exploring it; in experiencing new ways of bonding with my art; in breaking free from the norm.” Anuradha terms contemporary as the immediate response of her body to her thought process.
Chennai as the venue for PECDA shouldn’t come as a surprise as the city has been home to progressive artists such as Chandralekha, known as an icon of change. “Till this day, many adventurous youngsters, taken up by her inventive grammar, have assumed unique and independent voices,” says Mumbai-based Avantika Bahl, who will also be performing at the two-day event. “To me, contemporary is an alternative expression; a socio-political comment. What really endears me to the idiom is the individual experience that it allows. I also enjoy the freedom to draw up a mechanics of movement to understand the body and mind. It’s not the art of dissent, it’s a move to redefine,” says Avantika.
The non-ticketed event will be held on August 31 and September 1 at Kalakshetra. The winner will be announced on September 2.