Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Education through entertainment

Together we can do so much.When am ensemble of artists from different genres and geography - Victoria, the Northern Territory, Tamil Nadu, Assam and Meghalaya came together for the Australia India Festival 2019, they did not limit their purpose to a series of performances. They used their expertise to collaborate with Aanmajothi (Cultural wing of Saraswathi Vidyalaya) and present Churning Waters, a research based performance project as a lecture demonstration for students of Government High School in Kottur, Chennai (to start with) to expose them to a little bit of everything – history, geography, science, music and dance, the interactive way.

The project was supported by the Australian High Commission in India, the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria, and Indian partners Adishakti and DakshinaChitra. The team comprised Gina Maree Bundle, a multidisciplinary artist and a Yuin/Monero cultural leader (Melbourne), Green Kumar, a Kattaikkuttu artist (Kanchipuram), Loganathan percussion artist (Kanchipuram), Nadine Lee, artist and author of the resource Caring for Country, Caring for Each Other (2016) (Darwin), Priyadarsini Govind, Bharatanatyam dancer (Chennai), Dr. Priya Srinivasan, artistic director (Melbourne), Sonal Jain, co-founder of Desire Machine Collective (Assam/Meghalaya), and Sylvia Nulpinditj, artist who works for the Aboriginal Resource Development Service as a radio presenter (Arnhem Land/ Darwin), Thilagavathi,  co-founder, Sri Krishna Kattaikkuttu Company (Kanchipuram/Chennai) and Uthra Vijay, Artistic Director of Keerthana School of Music, (Melbourne).

Churning Waters conceptualised as a unique intercultural and interdisciplinary collaboration between Indigenous Australian, Indian Australian and Indian artists from rural and urban backgrounds brought out stories, songs and movements of water as imagined in the past, present and future in a lucid and fun way to the children. Children were drawn at the very first scene of Thilagavathi’s humorous interaction of meeting natives who belonged to the same land - Australia but looked completely different physically. A group dance number was performed to establish the connection between the island continent and India not as a recent phenomenon of post 1973 migration but thousands of years. Next followed the enactment of the matsya avatara of Vishnu through Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam gestures. But what stole the show was the students singing Vande meenakshi, a Nottuswara composition of Muthuswami Dikshitar taught to them in less than 10 minutes by Uthra Vijay and the artists dancing to it. The presentation concluded wwith a fabulous demonstration of the Pancatantra story -- Crow and the fox by Priyadarshini Govind that encapsulated the kids completely. 
Not just the students, but chief guest E. Govindasamy, Education Officer, Education Department – Greater Chennai Corporation and guest of honour, R. M. Narayanan, President – Rotary Club of Madras East clapped hands to join the students as they cheered. 
Children were engaged the entire 90 minute presentation through dialogue and interaction. This enabled them to voice out and participate. What came across was firstly, many children learn and showcase a keen aptitude towards music and dance. Perhaps an encouragement can work wonders. Secondly, the impact of live interactive theatre, music and dance is deep and significant to reach out to the next generation. 

International relations does not mean economic and political concerns alone, art can serve as a strong unifying factor. Such was the goal, much fulfilled.    
Jagyaseni Chatterjee

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