Song of Surrender

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Dance India Asia Pacific off to elegant start

By Akhila Ramnarayan
Singapore
Day 1: August 31

In the final moments of Majid Majidi’s 2001 film Baran, a young wastrel-turned-activist hero watches as the love of his life, an Afghan refugee in Iran, departs for her homeland. Though he is never to see her again, his love for her has been truly transformative. Having viewed undocumented workers with a careless disregard verging on contempt, he has now come to recognize their oppression.  In fact, he has just traded in his precious government identity card so that his beloved might have safe passage out of a country in which she has been forced into grinding, inhumane, back-breaking labour, so that she and her family may subsist.
As she walks away amid falling rain, the camera cuts to a close-up of the girl’s slowly dissolving footprint in the grey-brown slush.  

Something about a solo evening performance by Aditi Mangaldas, one of two featured artistes at the Dance India Asia Pacific inaugural showcase at the Esplanade Studio Theatre in Singapore on August 31, evoked for me this exquisitely ephemeral image in Baran, signalling perhaps hope, perhaps despair, perhaps solace for pain, now here, now gone.  Mangaldas traversed the space between temporality and transcendence, invoking the ghosts of bhakti and sufi poets past, straddling the line between contemporary and classical Kathak in the process.  Veteran Bharatanatyam artiste Leela Samson performed next , inwardness and classical refinement personified in her depictions of Siva as Kalabhairava and Ardhanarisvara, yet revealing a similar negotiation of body and soul, sense and spirit, in her chosen idiom. 

The umbrella event under which both solo performances took place, Dance India, is the brainchild of Milapfest, who, for  seven years running,  have coordinated in the UK an intensive summer learning experience for dancers worldwide, creating for advanced and intermediate students alike the opportunity to learn from eminent gurus. Participants also gain concrete exposure to classical Indian dance genres outside their individual specializations, a point of pride for Milapfest director Alok Nayak.  In 2012, Dance India has come to the Asia Pacific region for the first time in collaboration with Apsaras Arts, Singapore, founded by S Sathyalingam and Neila Sathyalingam in 1977.  The collaboration brings together distinguished Bharatanatyam faculty—Leela Samson and Priyadarsini Govind—fresh from this year’s UK edition of Dance India at Liverpool Hope University last week, and guest artistes Mangaldas, Arushi Mudgal (Odissi) and Shantha Ratii (Kuchipudi).

A brief and elegant welcome ceremony at the Esplanade Studio Theatre preceded the two showcase performances, with opening remarks by Apsaras Arts Creative and Managing Director Aravinth Kumarasamy, a welcome address by Alok Nayak, a short film documenting last week’s Dance India sessions in Liverpool , and a humour-laced speech by guest of honour Ambassador Kesavapany.  A special Bharatanatyam performance by Shankar Kandasamy (Malaysia) to Bharati’s verses on Parasakti  with music by Kumarasamy rounded out the ceremony.  

More is to come: day-long training sessions in Bharatanatyam for students at Singapore’s Goodman Centre for the Arts, as well as lec-dems, panel discussions and talks by Mangaldas, Mudgal, Ratii, veteran dance scholar Sunil Kothari, writing expert Shobha Vadrevu, and Sruti magazine.

This week-long confluence of cultures, genres, and communities in Singapore may be as fleeting, as transitory, as powerfully riddled with questions about the role and relevance of the arts in an increasingly complex world, as my opening image suggests.  In times like these, can art transform hearts and minds, even for a flickering instant in time? Yes, Kathak doyenne Kumudini Lakhia says with disarming, absolute conviction in the closing segment of the film shown at the Dance India Asia Pacific welcome ceremony: you can find in and through dance whatever you seek deep within: God, beauty, the self.
 

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