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- Ameya King

May 16, 2021

For its 18th dance festival ResiliDance, IDEA (Indian Dance Educators Association) harnessed the possibilities of virtual programming by bringing together over 60 speakers and 20 performing groups from India, US, UK and NZ for 24 hours of programming spanning 4 days, as well as 5 films and 6 hours of conversation.

"IDEA does a biennial festival and this year, I felt this festival had to do more than a place for dance to gather," said Shruthi Mukund, CEO of IDEA. "I felt we had to pay homage to the fact that we've been through the pandemic together. We were isolated and physically distant and technology brought us together."

The festival opened on World Dance Day, April 29. The opening night consisted of five presentations featuring Odissi, Kuchipudi, Manipuri, Bharatanatyam, Kathak, and contemporary dance. With a blend of archival and new performances, solo and group, an experimental dance film and a documentary, the opening night set the stage for what was to come - a whirlwind of performances, masterclasses, and panel discussions highlighting and celebrating the current state of Indian dance globally. Whether drawing from Puranic epics or modern themes, the performances' connecting thread was resilience, survival against the challenges - be it of the past year, or through the annals of history. These themes continued over the next two days of performances, which, in addition to well-known Indian dance forms, included performances from the traditional Kalavanthulu repertoire.

"It was exciting to see how people had used the virtual medium. Sanjib Bhattacharya, Manipuri dancer and director of Movements in Motion, had worked on this documentary on his teacher over the past year," said Mukund. The documentary traced Bhattacharya's artistic lineage as well as current projects, allowing audiences to see and learn about Manipuri. "Tavas by Chitra Arvind of Rhythmotion was the testament of artistic experimentation within the pandemic setup. Being in a lockdown and how she used art and technology. Everything was either filmed in their house or on terraces," Mukund continued. "We had a good group of emerging artists and groups that had been around for years; it was interesting to see the range of artistry."

Master classes explored the dance - primarily classical Indian dance - from both academic and practical perspectives. A powerhouse of academics provided introductions for key underpinning concepts of dance. Dr. Anupama Kylash expounded upon the Abhinaya Darpana and its relevance, focusing on its usage as a foundational manual written based on the state of dance at the time of its writing, and its adaptability to changing times. Dr. Lalitha Srinivasan and Prof. Ranjana Srivastava shared their personal reflections on abhinaya from the perspectives of Bharatanatyam and Kathak respectively. Dr. Yashoda Thakore teased apart the physical, physiological, psychological layers of Natya Shastra, as well as how students of dance can harness the information in the text.

Other Masterclasses showed how to apply such concepts practically. Kiran Subramaniam and Ramya Kapadia evocatively demonstrated the inherent bhava in raga and tala, while Kasi Aysola provided a deep-dive into the aesthetic considerations of solo and group choreography. Madhuvanthi Sundararajan, Ameya and Aparna Sathe expanded upon the frameworks set by earlier sessions by sharing their research on the innovative use of Hindustani ragas in South Indian dance dramas, the role of rhythm in the solo repertoire, and the mridangist's vantage point on dance. Rukmini Vijayakumar walked attendees through an approach for understanding and caring for one's body as a dancer, through methodical focus on strength, flexibility, and stamina. Shruthi Mukund and Heena Patel provided guidance on marketing dance programs and building audiences, drawing from their own experiences. Some of the key takeaways included the importance of having targeted bios based on the audience and the importance of grassroots marketing.

"My biggest takeaway from this festival was that dancers need not be performers but they should be readers, curious about their art form from all angles," said Neha Mujumdar, a Bharatanatyam dancer who attended the festival. "And attending such festivals is like diving into the vast sea of knowledge which will only inspire you to go deeper. A real treat for all the dancers!"

In a lead-up to the festival, a series of film screenings initiated vibrant panel discussions. Dr. Parimal Phadke, Kiran Rajagopalan, Kasi Aysola, and Brinda Guha brought the conversation forward from the time of the film Dance Like A Man (2004), discussing the pressures, privilege, and possibilities for men pursuing dance. Creating spaces for different voices, how to create welcome spaces as dance educators. Meena Basu Nag, Aparna Sindhoor, Raka Maitra, and Kiran Rajagopalan discussed the seminal film Kalpana (1948) and Uday Shankar's pioneering work establishing a distinct structure for Indian contemporary dance and how his impact is still visible today. Likewise, Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje (1955) and continuing interplay between Indian cinema and classical dance were discussed by Madhavi Reddi, Sheila Oak Maggin, Nirathi Rao, and Maneesha Sathe. The complex threads of history that envelope modern classical dance forms like Bharatanatyam were explored against the backdrop of the movie Sringaram (2007) by Padmini Ravi, Vidya Shankaranarayanan, Padmini Sreedhar, Dr. Saskia Kersenboom, Charumathi Chandrasekhar, and Shruthi Mukund.

The dialogue continued throughout the festival, opening with an engaging discussion between Rathna Kumar, Krithika Rajagopalan, and Mythili Prakash about the role of tradition, especially in the face of new audiences. Reflecting on their own dance journeys and upbringing, they reflected on ways existing mythology can be reinterpreted, as well as the challenges of straying from convention and responding to the changing needs of generations. In a special feature, The Unseen Sequence (2013) featuring Malavika Sarukkai was also screened during the festival. Both Sarukkai and Ghoshal joined for a panel discussion, reflecting upon the film-making process, as well as what drives Sarukkai as an artiste and how that was documented by Ghoshal.

Shambhavi Dandekar, N. Srikanth, and Rachna Nivas explored the limitations and opportunities in virtual dance performances and dance education. Dr. Aparna Ramaswamy, Rita Mustaphi, and Sujata Banerjee discussed the relationship between Dharmic values, tradition, and classical dance, reflecting on the way in which we are taught dance plays a role, and reiterating that dance is a way of life. Prasanna Kasthuri, Jyothi Chintalapudi, and Sridevi Jagannath examined Natyadharmi and Lokadharmi performances, as they relate to audience engagement today.

IndianRaga founder Sriram Emani joined Aparna Ramaswamy and Manu Srinivasan in reviewing the ways in which performance platforms and themes have transformed in the face of changing times, while Dr. Pallabi Chakravorty, Dr. Yashoda Thakore, and Aniruddha Knight traced their personal histories and the larger history of dance history, including intergenerational trauma, contextualizing them academically.

Shruthi Mukund

"We could leverage multiple generations," Mukund said, calling out the spectrum of perspectives. "We got dancers, teachers, and speakers from India. We had second generation emerging artistes and students, and we have legacy teachers who have been here for 30 years." The festival closed on a reflective note about the state of Indian dance globally and within the United States. Artists worldwide connected to share their experiences teaching, performing, and choreographing dance in various nations, including not only the United States and the UK, but also Hungary, Belgium, Italy, and New Zealand.

In a celebration of India's 75th anniversary, Stephen Mani, First Secretary of the Embassy of India, joined Viji Prakash and Preethi Vasudevan who spoke about their respective experiences as Indian dance educators in the US, while Mani reflected on the ways in which the Indian Embassy can continue to support and facilitate the promotion of Indian culture. "It was very heartwarming to see the conversation," Mukund said. "In a virtual forum, to create that kind of virtual community and collaboration was awesome."

The festival was conducted entirely by leveraging Zoom, which allowed for interaction between audience members and the presenters. "This festival opened doors to other sorts of support systems, especially when it comes to collaboration - not just choreography and dance - but also engage the dance field and have these conversations," Mukund said.

Promotional partners for the event included IndianRaga, Dharma Into Action (DhiA), and DC South Asian Arts Council (DCSAACI). Some of the panel discussions are publicly available on the IDEA YouTube channel. Members who were not able to attend will also have the opportunity to purchase access to archived records of the festival sessions for a limited time.

Ameya King is a Kuchipudi dancer and freelance writer based in Richmond, VA, who focuses on writing about Indian classical dance.

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