With so many music, dance and theatre festivals taking place in various cities every other day, what’s so special about NCPA Mumbai’s Dance Season 2020? Well, it’s a community initiative, a collaborative festival.
Swapnokalpa Dasgupta, Head, Programming-Dance, NCPA, giving us a backgrounder of the festival, currently underway in the metropolis says, “Two years ago, we had a 10 day run of the festival. Last year, it was the 50th year of NCPA, so we decided to have a month long dance festival. This is the second edition. What sets us apart is the collaborative nature of the festival. Each day of the festival, presentations, performances are hosted by a participating artist. It’s also spread out in different pockets of the city.”
Bringing people together
What made her come up with this programme is rooted in the nature of the cultural calendar which is always chock-a-block and clashes between performances are a given.
“It so happened that whenever we invited artists, from say Chennai, to perform on a Saturday, we would learn that another performance of a different Bharatanatyam artist has been scheduled on the same day. This would lead to an inevitable clash. There was no community, organisation or any system by which we could know what the other artist is doing. That is why I started sending text messages to all the artists, performers that I knew in Mumbai. I asked them, ‘Do you want to be a part of community, a system, so that we all know who is doing what?’ As a result, we now have a WhatsApp group, where we have members representing different organisations, like I represent NCPA. We all design our festivals, fix our dates for curation so that there are no clashes,” says Dasgupta, who is an Odissi dancer.
After the system was in place, Dasgupta thought that they all should do something to boost the dance scene of Mumbai, by having a community engagement. And, that is how NCPA Mumbai Dance Season became a movement of sorts.
You give some, you take some
Although Dasgupta took the lead in forming the community, she emphatically points out that the dance season has not been curated by one person, but by multiple people.
“The one rule that we have for the festival is that the artist/s cannot present himself/herself or only their students. They have to give platform to others. Thus, we are creating more platforms for each other. If I rent an auditorium, and have my own show, there’s nothing special in it. The opening show and the finale is always curated by guest artists curators. If everybody is giving their slot, or performance opportunity to someone else, we at NCPA also have to give it to somebody else. That is why I do not curate. I have somebody else come and curate and I do the rest of the work,” she adds.
The inaugural show which was held on January 23, was curated by Lata Surendra and Shubhada Varadkar. And, the finale on February 23 will be directed by Uma Dogra, Vaibhav Arekar and Daksha Mashruwala.
“During the pilot project, we had curated one evening where eight classical dance forms were presented. Last year, we had dedicated it to guru-shishya parampara and this year’s focus is on a bouquet. This year, we have duets which will have performances by mid-level artists, who are in mid 30s-mid 40s age group. What happens is that there is excitement and encouragement when young artists are performing, there is similar anticipation when senior, renowned artists are performing. The artists, who are in the mid-level, need to do exciting stuff, presentations to advance to the next level. So this duet segment is for them. I will be collaborating with a Manipuri dancer, for instance. We have pairs of Bharatanatyam-Kathak, Bharatanatyam and Mohiniyattam and so on. In terms of content and music, there is intermingling,” says Dasgupta.
In another segment, Arekar, Dogra and Mashruwala have created a piece for which they are auditioning artists, students of other teachers. “When we had auditioned, everybody was apprehensive whether teachers would send their students, but Mumbai amazes us every time. Sujata Nair is a very senior dancer, but she is also a part of the group. That is the message, we want to give. Enjoy the dance bit and not the political bit of it. Let seniors and juniors come together and let’s just celebrate dance,” she says.
There haven’t been teething troubles, as such, when it came to starting and running the festival. What was cumbersome though, says Dasgupta, was the booking of the auditoriums and spaces.
“The artists work in such a way that they cannot give your confirmation well in advance. But we are working around it. What we have come to believe in is that there might be distractions and clashes, but we should be able to ensure that the programmes are houseful. For that, we are going all out to create new audiences.
The audience cannot come from Thane to NCPA, all the time. So we are going to them. We have 50 outreach sessions in 50 schools across Mumbai and suburbs. Dancers are taking steps to reach out to more people, holding performances in neighbourhoods, localities where classical dances have never been staged before. We are enjoying and working towards building an audience, we have to motivate people to attend. That’s the end all and be all of the festival,” Dasgupta says on a concluding note.