March 26, 2014

My new writing blog

Just a shout-out to say that I have moved all my dance writing to a new blog - Arts Writing. Clicking on the 'Dance Writing' tab on this blog should also take you there. Read, share and enjoy!

January 28, 2014

Organising Bayalu Pradarshana

Bayalu e-flier. Artwork by Jyotsna Rao.
The idea for Bayalu Pradarshana emerged quite suddenly, following a ‘where else can I perform’ conversation with an artist. I live in a city with one regular, easily approachable presenter and eventually we agreed that performance opportunities were, well, scarce. Also, you knew what kind of audience to expect – and almost had it down to whom you could expect at your performance.

Anyway, from an image of dancing in the glow of halogen lights under a tree, a plan of action slowly surfaced. Jyotsna and I both found that we agreed on what we wanted to do under a tree. Our collaboration stemmed from a crazy midnight telephone call, but that is another story. We discussed possible locations, and ended up choosing to be close to the city because we found a potential location and since it would be easy for performers to travel there at short notice. Jyotsna had relatives in Chikkabanavara, and that seemed like a good starting point.

Two weeks before the show, we started looking for artists, only armed with Facebook and the vague idea of staging the performances at Chikkabanavara. Meanwhile, Jyotsna spoke to her relatives, contacted B.E.T school, and travelled there to meet the principal. The school authorities were quite thrilled to be in on this once they understood what we had in mind. Very generously, they offered to support the cost of stage, lights and sound, and other logistics. They also arranged for publicity – putting flex banners up along Hesaraghatta Main Road and sending an auto with a loudspeaker around the area a day before the Pradarshana.

Meanwhile, with our midnight musings becoming quite real, we intensified the effort to find enough artists to present an all-night performance. We planned to pass a hat around and collect money to pay the artists. There was, occasionally, some uncertainty about how this would work, but there were other, more important issues to address, so we buried our doubts.

We initially felt that keeping performances short would help keep the audience engaged, which was a good decision since the performances were not curated. But this may not always hold true. In the future, we’re definitely looking at longer performances too.

Right from our initial discussions, residents had suggested the names of home-grown performers they might like to see on stage. Many of these performers also teach in BET school and other schools in the area, so their students got to see them in a different light. Gradually, many students of the school also hoped that they would be able to perform. When we reached Chikkabanavara, the school coordinator gave us a list of students who wanted to sing, dance or act. We agreed to have some of them, but said no to most – they wanted to perform to film songs. It was hard to say no, and I felt like Cruella de Vil when some of them started crying. But we feel that film music gets a lot of attention anyway, and that there are many other platforms for film-based performances. 

It felt brilliant to see the stage going up. From about 4 pm, we played classical music over the sound system. School teachers and performers started arriving. We had four rooms for artists to change and warm-up in.
There were moments of panic – like when no one had turned up and we were ten minutes away from starting time (and ten minutes later, it was packed to capacity!). Also, when they started putting chairs on stage for the ‘guests of honour’. But we had a very sympathetic school principal on our side, and after a few sentences spoken by way of introduction, we started on time.

The performances included classical, contemporary and folk dance and music performances by performers from Bangalore, Chikkabanavara and Mumbai. Look at photos

A short video clip below...



The audience was its own beast, but being out in the open meant that the constant buzz was fun once we got used to it. The children had a lot of questions about the different dance forms. But any of the usual tripe about how classical dance or the less popular manifestations of ‘contemporary dance’ are not appreciated by rural audiences didn’t hold true. The children were an energetic lot, but they were mesmerised enough to sit down and watch the performances. In fact, the audience was quite discerning and alert, and could tell when dancers were hamming it up.

We loved how the school students brought their entire families along. In its own small way, it helped us see that children who are brought in touch with the arts can do great things. Over a thousand people passed through the Pradarshana this way. Many of them contributed to our hat collection – we had a lot of coins and ten rupee notes, and some big donations from school trustees. Pooled together, this became a modest sum of money which we then split between the artists.

We came away with new ideas for future Pradarshanas. Using the local school as a base and a venue helped us immensely in all ways – logistically, in spreading the word, and in engaging an audience. The next Pradarshana will be curated. We will also need to fundraise, because the hat collection is great, but it may not cover too many costs and won’t let us work too far from a city or with outstation artists. We need to start planning in advance – from idea to realisation took 30 days here and most of the actual work was done in the final 15 days. Also, some groundwork in the vicinity of the performance might help. Going into the school and holding workshops with the students to introduce them to ideas of different kinds of movement patterns and dance vocabularies, without preaching to them, might help them connect to the performances better. If we are to have performances by school students, they could possibly emerge out of these workshops.

This is just a sampling of experiences and ideas we could use the next time we plan a pradarshana. 

Here's to more Pradarshanas!