Interface 2008: Beyond connections  
- Bidisha Chatterjee, Kolkata 
Photos: Ranjit Sinha 

November 9, 2008 
"A window is a window...but there is the looking in and the looking out" 
- Margaret Atwood 

Indeed, the basic premise is connection. And art has been, down centuries, in all its crude and developed forms, the best window to communicate this need to connect to man's inner soul, impulses and creative drives. At the same time also reach out, express, explore beyond boundaries of territory, race and gender. Both within and without, the journey is one of creativity, surprises, innovation and change. 

It is change that art brings that can make revolutions; break barriers, open up silences, and ignite hope. It renews, rejuvenates and refreshes the way in which minds think, people dream and hearts wish. 

In its fourth year, INTERFACE, the INTERnational Festival of Alternative and Contemporary Expressions, the only international arts festival of Eastern India in Kolkata continued to do just that, reinstill confidence in the connoisseur Kolkatan that a new era in the growth of the contemporary arts in the City of Joy has already long begun. 

Organised by the renowned experimental dance ensemble Sapphire Creations Dance Workshop ( and CII Young Indians (, INTERFACE 2008, held between 10th and 14th of September, boasted of artistes of excellence from Singapore, Korea, Switzerland, Italy, Thailand and India; collaborators of quality – Goethe Institut (Max Mueller Bhavan), Padatik Dance Centre, Rabindra Bharati University, sponsors of profile like Infinity, Accord Advertising, Red FM and others; and a range of venues over Kolkata like Conclave, Kalamandir, Star Theatre, Spring Club and others. Not least, the plethora of events that were packed into the five-day cultural extravaganza. 

The INTERnational Festival of Alternative and Contemporary Expressions, INTERFACE creates a common yet non-mainstream platform that encourages and lauds the radical, the experimental and the avant garde. Started in 2002 as part of the LINK THE ARTS movement to commemorate the Tenth Anniversary celebrations of Sapphire Creations, INTERFACE  has featured artistes from Malaysia, Ukraine, India, France, USA, Hong Kong, China, Poland, Japan and Canada in the last three editions. This biennial festival places Kolkata on the global map for art events and covers the disciplines of dance, music, installations, painting, fashion, theatre and cinema. 

The official Press Launch for the event was organized courtesy Harsh Neotia of Ambuja Realty, art connoisseur and long-time patron of Sapphire, at The Conclave. The address to the media and artistes present was made by Arvind Mishra ( Chairman – Young Indians), Sudarshan Chakravorty (Artistic Director – INTERFACE 2008) and Paramita Saha (Co-Director – INTERFACE 2008), where over refreshments and a short invocatory performance on the theme of the festival by Sapphire, the focus of the festival to create a global connection between contemporary artistes was explained along with the motive of contribution to the YI Akshara Learning Resource Centres across the country through the proceeds raised by the festival. 

On September 10, Kalamandir was abuzz with scores of art enthusiasts, artistes, media and volunteers all assembled for the inauguration of INTERFACE 2008. After the lamp was lit, the Subinoy Chakravorty and Bijoya Chakravorty Smriti Purashkar for the years 2007 and 2008 that recognized achievers of excellence were conferred on Swagatalakshmi Dasgupta from the world of music, Navtej Johar from the stream of dance, Tanmoy Bose from the field of music and famed author and musician Amit Chaudhuri.  

Fanaa - Ranjha Revisited
Following this came the first offering, 'Fanaa – Ranjha Revisited' by Navtej Singh Johar and Abhyas Dance Ensemble of New Delhi. Johar's skill as a choreographer uniquely and freely traversing ground between the traditional and the avant garde was quite evident in this mesmerizing presentation which seamlessly fused archetypical narratives from North and South India. The delicate fusion and juxtaposition of characters, feelings, gender, narratives and vocabulary acquired new dimensions with the live Sufi music that created ecstasy for the audience. Be it scenes from the legend 'Heer Ranjha' or 'Kutrala Kuravanji,' a genre of dance-drama from Tamil Nadu in which a gypsy foretells the heroine Vasantvalli, speaking on her destined union with Lord Siva, Johar and Anil on stage created an omnipresent cultural, spiritual and existential space that connected at once both to the sensuous and spiritual core of life. 

The evening continued in to the opening night dinner hosted at Tangerine 2 where all the artistes of the festival mingled and bonded. 

The Navtej Johar magic continued into the next day with the 'Yoga and Spirituality' workshop session at the Max Mueller Bhavan with Johar amazed to see a mass of more than 55 enthusiasts waiting for him. This group comprised of some of the city’s renowned and seniors dancers, university students, young dancers and of course media. In a session that combined awareness and understanding of the psyche of an artiste to the yoga and breathing techniques that would stabilize the core of the body, Navtej also answered specific questions of the group that related to health, strength and flexibility of the body. It was inspiring to see many renowned dancers like Chetna Jalan and Sruti Bandhopadhyay leaving the stage to the young dancers and trying out the yoga moves on the aisle. 

In the evening of September 11, the scene shifted to the historic and palatial Star Theatre in North Kolkata, where quite a surprise was sprung on the group of arts enthusiasts thronging the gates for the evening performance. In a lobby that was creatively done up with drapes, ghungroos, handicraft items, banners and plants, the expectant audience were greeted by a group of talented Sapphire members who indulged in a site-specific exploration. Some dancers pirouetted and moved on the lobby floors while others improvised in duos on the staircases.  

Inside the auditorium, the audience was taken aback by another unique experience. Raka Maitra who has been exploring traditional dance in a contemporary perspective for many years now in a diaspora space based out of Singapore, presented a unique collaboration. Graphic artiste Chan Man Loon famous for his work for Hollywood created a graphic space on stage, a lit rectangle within which Raka enacted a new dance language questioning notions and essences of a traditional dance form like Odissi. The form is distilled and refined, infused with the control of Chhau. Typicalities are broken to reveal new pathways of experimentation. The piece was aptly termed Boundaries. Boundaries that inspire dreams, dreams sustain us, give us hope. While the collaboration was special in its creativity, Raka being ably supported by Man Loon's innovative graphics and Philip Tan's experimental strains, a proscenium theatre is not probably the best space for this kind of site-specific work.  

From a show titled "Quantransitions: Quantum Mechanics of a Psychophysical Journey," one hardly knew what to expect. What appeared was a surprise not in terms of what Ronnie Shambhik Ghose and Mitul Sengupta Ghose could present, but the refreshing power of performance that was striking and enlightening. Ronnie and Mitul's work is based on the deft weave that the stylistics of Kathak and the dynamism of contemporary dance can bring to a dance idiom. The relativity of phenomena in this universe was the inspiration for the piece where psychophysical transitions evaluate the quantum and quantity of every living being. Having said that, the theme was definitely not the best part of the performance being basically communicated by inane graphics on the screen. What happened on the floor with Ronnie's very pictorial and perfect moves being combated by Mitul's very ecstatic and expressive Kathak ably supported by choric appearances, was very appealing in terms of a very energetic rendition of pure dance. One was left wishing for more direct and unabashed purity of dance unhindered by thematic shadows. 

Improvisation by Sapphire Creations and Compagnie Morespace
The artistes were then invited to a dinner hosted by the Spring Club where Philip Tan from Singapore, members of Sapphire and Compagnie Morespace put up an impromptu improvisatory presentation that thoroughly left the Spring Club members wanting for more. 

In a sparsely populated theatre on Sep 12, Prakriti Bhaskar's Katha Srishti opened with a long introduction on screen like film titles. The work announced as a reinterpretation of the Bible through traditional Bharatanatyam proved to be a mere retelling of the story of Adam and Eve, their creation and early bliss in the Garden of Eden. Followed by Satan's intervention, the eating of the apple and God’s children being banished from Eden. The costumes befitting the story were creative but the casting and the overall presentation left a lot to be desired. 

Katha Shristhi
The next part of the evening was transporting to say the least. It is touching to see how India, our own and very familiar motherland, comes alive as a concept, as a myth, as an experience and as a palpable reality in the experiences of artistes from abroad who can identify India with much more than its image of the land of the Taj Mahal and snake charmers. Compagnie Morespace from Switzerland presented the story of Ambrose Laudani, who was nine months old when his mother deposited him in an orphanage in Kerala. Five years later, he was adopted by an Italian family. Ambrose returned to the orphanage of his early childhood in 2007 and relived this together with the choreographer Michel Casanovas and other members of Morespace. He improvised with Indian dancers, filmed video sequences and was inspired by the sites, sounds and colors of daily life around him. 
Compagnie Morespace
This experience is at the root of "Eastward," with two performers Ambrose Laudani and Michel Casanovas with a rare contemporary idiom drawing beautifully from the techniques of contact improvisation. The intermittent strains of live music by Marc Rossier and the video glimpses shot by Marianne Eggenberger added to this search for identity by a rootless individual and his search for identity "Eastward" bringing about the collision of two distinct cultures, India and Europe, with rhythms and borders that call each other into question.  

Earlier in the day, a paper presentation session at the Rabindra Bharati University campus threw up quite a number of interesting theories and concepts about contemporary dance as a language, as an innovation in traditional choreography, or how Indian bodies respond to Western technique and how the dance in the diaspora is changing towards a more globally viable contemporary medium of communication. Present were dance critic Utpal K Banerjee, dance critic Leela Venkatraman both from New Delhi especially present to attend INTERFACE 2008, Ronnie and Mitul, Prof Sruti Bandhopadhyay, Raka Maitra, Chan Man Loon and several other scholars, artistes and students from RBU. 

It seems that contemporary dance as an avenue of creativity and experimentation has caught on among the art enthusiasts in the City of Joy. One of the symptoms of that was the enormous turn out at the Spring Club for the contemporary movement workshop by Michel Casanovas. While young dancers thronged the venue it was heartening to see several young corporates who had come to participate in the open workshop. It was an exhilarating session with Michel taking the group through explorations of the body, movement patterns and improvisatory guidelines, the group hurried back to catch the evening performance at Star. 

There are no ends to surprises at INTERFACE and this time the Star lobby was literally buzzing with sound. Philip Tan presented "Feel It," a live sound installation where everyday objects and clever lighting created an intriguing soundscape that inspired many dancers from Sapphire and otherwise present to break into improvisation. The result was a performance before the real one. Philip Tan from Singapore is a critically-acclaimed musician/composer/performer/educator/music-consultant who pushes the boundaries of 'live music' to new heights with his powerful on-stage antics that fuses theatre, drama, dance, performance-art and even sculpture. Philip received the Life! Theatre's Best Sound Award for his contribution to theatre music composition. He is awarded the Young Artist Award 2007 by the National Arts Council. 

'Swapnasandhani' literally means in search of dreams and many in the packed audience that day will remember this performance of Swapnasandhani in reality as a dream performance. We all know the story of Tagore's Daakghar (The Post Office), yet this theatrical representation seemed more like a reinterpretation of the story of the young boy suffering from a terminal disease and how he touches the life of so many around him while waiting for the letter from the King; the play was an experience of Kaushik Sen's theatrical vision. The innovative sets, the passage of events and above all the excruciating innocence of the character of Amal being played by a child actor were the treat of the evening. No eyes in the theatre were dry when Swapnasandhani took their curtain call. There was pin drop silence as the audience was just dumbfounded at the honesty of the performance. 

After this spellbinding performance the audience was in for another rocking treat by Indian alternative Rock band the Five Little Indians. Five Little Indians - better known by its acronym FLI - was formed in January 2007 with former members of some well-known Calcutta-based bands. The band merges strong grunge/prog roots with melodic rock, blending a heavier sound with singer-songwriter sensibilities. The band's use of Hindustani classical vocals as another voice - and not as a 'fusion' ploy - results in a unique soundscape that can only be defined as its own. The audience could not but agree. Though the decibels were deafening, even the power cut at the end was not a dampener as the spirited audience joined Neel and Sayak in singing the final number. 

The closing day of the festival began with an interesting seminar at the Padatik Little Theatre where musician Mayookh Bhowmick, photographer Ranjit Sinha, dancers Chetna Jalan and Vikram Iyengar convened by Samarjit Guha from the British Council to discuss 'Abstraction in Contemporary Art.'  

Seop Dance Company
The evening at Star opened with a dynamically theatrical performance by Seop Dance Company all the way from Korea. Seop established in 1992 has been able to achieve a delicate balance of original Korean folk dance forms and contemporary expression and experimentation in idiom. Their neat motion, acute lines and deep sentiment that explored death and its rituals in a striking use of movement and properties in 'Man's Requiem for the Lonely' and 'Red is Red' made a deep and lasting mark on the audience.  
Sapphire Creations
Sapphire's 'Rituranga - A Symphony of Seasons' was the closing offering of the festival. Rituranga is a pure dance presentation, a celebration of the seasons. The same seasons, grishma (summer), varsha (monsoon), sharat (post monsoon), hemanta (autumn), sheeta (winter) and vasanta (spring) are explored through an experimental idiom and a colourful geometry of designs against space and time. The breath, fragrance and feel of each season connect to the inner soul through visual and body metaphors. Set to Dr. Partha Ghose's symphonic raptures, it is as if Tagore is set free in a realm of non-linguistic, cross-cultural movement and expression. The colourful and innovative costumes by Marg and the discipline of the ensemble made the piece a worthy end to the festival, truly embodying its theme of contemporaneity. 

INTERFACE 2008 ended with a vote of thanks by the directors to all who had contributed to make the festival a resounding success. Best wishes to INTERFACE to shine as a bright orange beacon in the East beckoning the world of arts to join hands to link the arts, to link people, to break barriers, and unite in hope. 

Winds of change in a new orange dawn, may INTERFACE prosper!