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Kala Ghoda - Why horse around with performers?
- Veena Basavarajaiah, Bangalore

February 14, 2011

Lack of technical and organizational support disappoints performers at the festival.

Kala Ghoda needs no introduction to any Indian artist. A prestigious festival that takes place in Mumbai, draws artists and art lovers from across the country. It is said to be every artist's dream by those who have previously performed at the occasion. With great expectations of being part of such a festival, I prepared myself with intense rehearsals, music, properties and light design. It was a matter of pride, a privilege or was it?

The dance performances that is normally held in the centre of Horniman Gardens in Mumbai, was held this year in a small park that was incredibly unclean and surround by traffic noise. The stage was erected just in time while the green rooms were being constructed till the performance began and there were absolutely no washroom facilities close to the stage. Performers could not have a light rehearsal as the performance was scheduled to start at 5pm and the lights arrived only post lunch. Despite specifying in advance, the light design for a contemporary dance piece, it was disappointing to see parcans and scanners being used like christmas lights.

The 7th of February 2011 was an evening filled with performances where dance was merely reduced to entertainment. From Kuchipudi to Kathak , Bharatanatyam to Belly dance, Cinematic to Jazz , classical to contemporary, everything was jam packed within a schedule of six hours. A group of young girls came on stage and rehearsed a dance piece to a Bollywood number calling it contemporary dance. Every form including cinematic dance has its place and audience. What was the purpose of jumbling Indian classical dance with Belly dance and Jazz, that could simply leave the audience in a haze? Was the emphasis more on the quantity of performances aimed to fill a 6 hour slot?

My experience at the Kala Ghoda festival was extremely disappointing. I had accepted to perform at the festival after being offered a pay that did not even cover my travel expense. With no accommodation or hospitality, I was lost in a strange city. Though the curator of the evening was trying to be hospitable, there was not much she could do, due to weak organizational support. It seemed torturous to force myself to perform in a space that seemed more like a merry-go-around in a fair and I took a decision to not perform at all.

Would a swimmer swim in an empty pool even if it were the Olympic games? Would a pianist play a piano with broken keys? Why is it that dancers compromise with what they require for a performance? A wooden floor to prevent serious injuries, good lights to enhance the choreography or convey a concept, decent levels of cleanliness and a platform where the art is given its due respect. In many countries it is mandatory to equip the performance space with first- aid kits, fire extinguishers and emergency exits.

Every performer has the right to demand for technical support and ideal performing conditions. The organizers have the responsibility to keep their word. It is important to know that it is impossible to force someone to perform in disagreeing circumstances and the choice of performance always remains with the performing artist. The festival that was well funded (the backdrop of the stage looked more like a billboard with advertisements splashed without an inch to spare) failed miserably to meet the standards of performance and left one wondering what is the purpose of festivals such as these.

Veena Basavarajaiah is a contemporary dancer based in Bangalore.

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