Sunday, March 16, 2014

Kalanidhi International Dance Festival Day 3: Reflections on the Livecast Evening Performances

Last night, I tried out a new experience. I watched the live webcast of the Kalanidhi Festival's evening performances, featuring Nova Dance (Toronto) and Sadhya Dance Company (India).  The Kalanidhi Festival is exploring a wonderful direction this year- that of livestreaming some of its performances so that viewers can watch them remotely. I decided to give this option a try last night.

I write about this in the context of two recent experiences that have shaped the way I perceived the livestreamed performances. Firstly, two weeks ago, I attended the Dance Film workshop offered by Kaeja d' Dance. The workshop drew my attention to camera angles and framing of the body, especially the dancing body.  Allen Kaeja pointed out during the workshop that the camera cannot replicate the experiences of the human eye. His words came back to me as I watched these two unique dance pieces on my laptop. Secondly, as recently as two days ago (Thursday evening) I watched the opening night of the festival in the same space, the Fleck Dance Theatre at Harbourfront live, so I have a sense of scale and size of the actual performance space, and a fairly recent visual memory of watching dancing in the space. These personal reflections on the third evening's performances are thus not a reflection of my experience of the live performance but of the performance as filtered through the lens of the camera, and accessed by me remotely via my laptop. To be fair though, I did turn my lights out, to simulate the experience of the theatre to a certain extent!  

The live webcast captured not only the performances themselves, but also the entire event, including the introductions, audiences during the intermission, and the interactive question-answer session after the performance, and I felt that watching the livecast gave a sense of what it may have been like to be present in the theatre throughout the evening.

The first piece was Akshongay, a duet danced by Nova Bhattacharya and Louis Laberge-Côté. The piece began with the two dancers sitting facing each other, wrapped by a long piece of red fabric. Throughout the piece, I was mesmerized with the relationship established between the two dancers and this fabric. To me, it almost felt like the red fabric was its own character, and played quite a significant role in the piece. At times I saw motifs inspired by images from Hindu mythology. I also enjoyed the lighting design in this piece, and how the dancers and the lighting interacted with each other.

Bhattacharya performed a part of this piece in a black dress, and another part in a sari. She had a charming, inviting smile on her face through much of the piece. She flicked and adjusted the ends of her sari playfully. I could feel the sensuality of the piece building as she and Laberge-Côté clutched each others' arms. Here, the camera took me right into the intimacy of the moment. I'm sure those moments in the theatre were sublime, but I was captured by the beauty of what I saw through the camera's eye (via the webcast!). I think the camera worked beautifully in collaboration with these artists for that moment.

Perhaps the most touching part of the choreography for me was a section in which they seem to depict a couple in harmony. Bhattacharya fixes Laberge-Côté's tie, and he, in turn, bends down and adjusts the lines of her sari's pleats near the bottom. This reminded me of something that I've seen my own parents help each other with- and it made me think of my parents' almost thirty years of marriage and more years of togetherness. I think this is a moment that South Asian spectators of my generation who may have grown up watching a sari-wearing mother can relate to. This interdependence was highlighted throughout the piece - in both its title, Akshongay, which means "together" in Bengali, and in the contact-based nature of most of the piece. However, for me, the "Akshongay"ness was crystallized in that moment of the two dancers grooming each other/adjusting each other's tie/sari.

The second piece of the evening was The Mystical Forest, by Sadhya Dance Company from India. This performance marked the world premiere of the piece. What I remember of this visually arresting work: manipulated fabric, ropes and the extremely athletic dancers!  The piece began with a group of dancers entering through the aisles of the theatre, moving through the audience, sometimes making eye-contact with specific audience members. Here again, the camera showed me not only the dancers but also the reactions of the audience to these dancers. The dancers eventually climbed onto the stage, where they proceeded to perform the rest of the piece.

 I enjoyed a section they performed with ropes- it reminded me of games I played in school in my first school in India. Another visually spectacular moment in the piece was a section in which long pieces of cloth trailed behind each dancer as they entered the stage from the wings. These dancers carried masks as they entered, giving the section an almost ceremonial feel.  The dancers moved with incredible agility throughout the physically challenging parts of the piece, and there were a number of very athletic and acrobatic moments (such as the killing of an animal (portrayed by a female dancer) by a hunter (portrayed by one of the male dancers) which were beautifully timed.

My  heartfelt appreciation to Kalanidhi Fine Arts of Canada, for firstly, their wonderful programming  bringing both traditional and new creative directions in Indian dance to Canadian audiences over the past two decades, and secondly, for exploring new media in furthering the reach of these performances. 

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