Saturday, 14 August 2021

Interview - Curating / organizing a dance festival - physical and digital: Part 1 - Shveta Arora

 In my series of interviews on the building blocks of a classical dance performance, I begin before the dancer is on stage, emoting through her expressions and giving a presentation of her sadhna in her technique; even before the choreographer has prepared or steps or the musician has set the music. The process begins when a person sitting in the comfort of his/ her living room is thinking of curating a series, an event to mark an occasion or a festival. He or she then develops a concept and goes about assessing dancers accordingly, books a venue or platform, perhaps chooses the literary compositions and the music, and last but not least, arranges for sponsors and funds for the event. It is an arduous task, planning everything from scratch. And usually, the curators of classical arts events do it less for remuneration and more for their love of the arts. They are satisfied if their hard work pays off and the artists get a platform and the right kind of audience.

And then suddenly, there is a pandemic, the first in a hundred years, and humanity goes into a near-total lockdown. All events are cancelled overnight, auditoriums closed, and the arts swallowed up by the gloom of disease and anxiety. But this passion for the arts is a wriggly little caterpillar. The moment it wriggles out of its cocoon, it starts to spread its wings, and there goes the monarch butterfly in glorious flight. And you see the dancer again, maybe not in her full makeup, maybe not in her elaborate aharyam, but with her beautiful eyes displaying all the expressions, her feet tapping and her technique captured in the eye of a camera instead of in front of an audience. And she is everywhere: on your laptop, on your mobile, on your TV, dancing on platforms like Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. And the curator is still sitting in the comfort of their home, this time, not by choice, but still doing whatever it takes to carry on curating.

I spoke to four curators with slightly different trajectories: Dr. Usha RK, whose curated events I have watched many times on stage and a repeat of one on Shaale again during the pandemic; Dr. Anita Ratnam, whose multiple Boxed series (the latest one responding to the new lockdowns), Andal's Garden, Devi Diaries and others, have been among the highlights of the online dance presentations during the pandemic; Geeta Chandran, whose curation of the annual Natya Vriksha World Dance Day festival I have always admired; and Vidha Lal, who forayed into curation only during the pandemic with her successful Sankalp series of weekly Kathak performances.

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