DanSeDialogueS 2014 : Our Solitudes

We had reached early in anticipation of this unique dance show in which the danseuse would be moving in mid- air, balanced with weights suspended from above. Having heard so much about this show, I sneaked in to get a preview (there are some advantages of being a teacher at the Alliance Francaise de Bangalore and being a good friend of the current cultural co-coordinator). What I saw, not just reassured me that it was a good decision to attend this show in the middle of the week, fighting peak hour traffic to get there on time, it made me scamper out in excitement to tell my friends that this was a show we weren’t going to forget any time soon!

“Nos Solitudes” the third and last show of the Bangalore edition of DanSe DialogueS 2014.

Harnessed by leather bracelets, Julie gradually rose up from the floor, using her arms to manipulate the weights and pull herself up, defying gravity, to move suspended in mid-air to Alexandre Meyer’s music. Reticent at first, she moved from a fetal position, gradually unfurling herself to wake up to the sights and sounds of the world. She had barely started swinging in mid-air, exploring the world around her, that she stopped. Her expression blank, suspended in mid-air in a complete silence, in a universe encumbered by weights, she forced the audience to face the void in their life. And then she started moving again, like a carefree child who had overcome that difficult phase in life, moving higher and higher till she was one with the weights above her.

Master of the weights or a puppet in their hands? The weights and the Julie seemed to move in harmony as her movements gained momentum and she swung across the stage like poetry in motion.

We couldn’t help but marvel at the ease with which she seemed to be pulling the ropes attached to the weights and walked out awe-struck at the ingenuity of the mind that conceptualized such a show and the power in the arms that made the weights yield to her command and allowed her to fly.

Previous events at the Alliance Francaise de Bangalore:
1. Bonjour India : Puce Muse, Indiamore and Urban Ballet
2. Ciné-concert: “The General” by Buster Keaton with live music by Radiomentale
3. Dance DISCourse – helping Indian Classical Dance Forms Perpetuate.

The Birth of a Book: The Honey Hunter

A serendipitous collaboration is how Anita Roy of Zubaan Publications described “The Honey Hunters,” written by Karthika Nair and illustrated by Joëlle Jolivet. Developed initially for DESH, a dance show, The Honey Hunters was born out of a discussion about the age-old diasporic problem of the loss of a language. “None of my friends speak Bengali, nobody in my class speaks Bengali and so it can’t be a real language.”

The first thing that struck me about the book was not its title, but the cover with the tiger and his bright fluorescent pink tongue. I have to admit that I attended the meeting with the author, not so much to learn about the book, but more for its vivid illustrations. I have never before seen a book with such bright, intense and rich illustrations.

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Fortunately for me, the event was organised primarily for design students, so the focus was on the process of illustration, the choice of colours and motifs. It was truly fascinating to see how much research and work goes into the illustration of a book. Since Joëlle is French and has no contact with the culture in the Indian sub-continent, she spent months studying and doing research on traditional motifs, architecture and colours of Bangladesh, where the story is based. The end result is the most amazing set of illustrations depicting the richness of the topography, the flora and fauna, the people and the myths of the region.

Karthika Nair and Anita Roy hold up the book and the first drafts of the illustrations during the presentation.
Karthika Nair and Anita Roy hold up the book and the first drafts of the illustrations during the presentation.
Comparing the book and the illustrations that Joëlle  created.
Comparing the book and the illustrations that Joëlle created.

My favourite is the double page featuring the six seasons: Seet (winter), Bashonto (spring), Grishma (summer), Borsa (monsoon), Sarat (autumn) and Hemanto (another autumn).

The story itself is beautiful narrative about a boy who loves honey and ventures into the forbidden Sunderbans to get it, rekindling an ancient conflict between Bonbibi, the Guardian Deity of the Sundarban and Dakkhin Rai, the demonic tiger. I moved from page to page, devouring the images and narrative hungrily, captivated by the story spun by Karthika. An open ended narrative in the beginning, Karthika created the denouement specially for the book. Though the ending is rather sudden and abrupt, I don’t think there could be a better lesson for children, for whom the book has been published in any case.

I would really love to get my hands on the French version and see how Dominique Vitalyos has translated this magical tale. But for now, I shall content myself with this equally captivating trailer released by Hélium Editions.

Fingersmith [BBC Adaptation] : a review

Fingersmith : A talented thief. Originally fingersmith meant anyone talented at using his/her fingers in any matter whatsoever. It evolved to mean someone talented at stealing. – Urban Dictionary

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One of the two protagonists of this 2005 two-part BBC mini-series, based on Sarah Waters’ Man Booker Prize nominated novel of the same name, is a fingersmith.

Set in Victorian England, the film alternates between the dark and twisting alleys of Dickensian London and the gloomy Gothic mansions of English countryside – a perfect setting for the coming together of two young women brought up in just as contrasting circumstances.

Sue Trinder, brought up amongst pickpockets finds herself a part of an elaborate plan to defraud a young heiress, Maud Lilly, of her inheritance.  Maud, orphaned very young was brought up by her uncle. A “scholar” Mr Lilly conducted nightly readings of pornographic literature in his library in which nobody but Maud could enter.

Sue comes to Briar, where Maud lives with her uncle to work as her maid, with the objective of befriending her and convincing her to accept the attentions of Richard Rivers, who plans to marry her and have her committed to an asylum so he can take her fortune. The conspiracy goes as planned, despite the love and affection that develop between the two young woman. But in a macabre twist, we find Sue committed to the asylum as Mrs. Rivers while Maud takes off to London with Mr. Rivers. Suffocated by her life in the dark mansion, Maud had actually struck a deal with Rivers to escape from her uncle.

The second part opens in Lant Street, London where we learn that the mastermind behind the plot was Mrs. Sucksby (Sue’s foster mother) and not really Rivers. The plot is revealed through a series of twists and turns, none of which can be foreseen. I was on edge through out the film, wondering what would happen next. Incredibly sensational, especially in its treatment of a lesbian relationship, the storyline is true in its representation of Victorian England drawing inspiration from Wilkie Collin’s “The Woman in White” and Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s “Lady Audley’s Secret.”

The novel v/s film debate often has me voting for the novel, but when it comes to a BBC adaptation it’s very difficult to choose. Having seen all the BBC adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels, I knew this would be an excellent film, but nothing prepared me for the sinister brilliance of the plot, brought out so wonderfully by the actors.

I am so glad my student lent me her copy of the film. (Have I not spoken of the perks of being a teacher?) It would have been a shame to miss the film.

An Afternoon at Nrityagram

It had been on my list since I moved to Bangalore, when en route, my best friend commandeered me to go there on the very first weekend I was free. I was free on the first weekend in Bangalore and on several weekends since then, but it took me over two years to finally visit Nrityagram.

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Set up by Protima Bedi in 1990 as a dance gurukul to promote classical Indian dance forms, Odissi, Mohiniattam Kathak, Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi, Kathakali and Manipuri, Nrityagram is spread over a 10 acre plot.  Protima Bedi has described it as “a community of dancers in a forsaken place amidst nature. A place where nothing exists, except dance. A place where you breathe, eat, sleep, dream, talk, imagine – dance. A place where all the five senses can be refined to perfection. A place where dancers drop negative qualities such as jealousy, small-mindedness, greed and malice to embrace their colleagues as sisters and support each other in their journey towards becoming dancers of merit.” 

Our initial plan to leave after an early breakfast was thwarted by Saturday morning laziness and by the time we set out, we had the full force of weekend traffic to accompany us and confuse us on the way out of Bangalore. We ended up missing an important flyover and taking a flyover we weren’t supposed to take, but a little over an hour later, we found ourselves on the Hesaraghatta Road following directions down the winding roads to Nrityagram.

Nrityagram2Enchanted even before we entered, I couldn’t believe I had waited so long to visit it. We entered in hushed awe at the lush green gardens and the serenity that seemed to envelop us as we walked towards the main office. I could hear the sounds of a dance class as my friend bought the entry tickets and I got my camera ready, hopping from foot to foot impatiently as the receptionist gave us a brief welcome talk, eager to start exploring the dance village.

The first dance class we witnessed was nothing short of a professional performance and we walked out mesmerized by the beauty and elegance of the danseuse.  Weaving our way towards the other dance class, around the guest houses and private residences, we soaked in the vernacular style of the mud and stone cottages designed by Gerard Da Cunha.

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We spent nearly two hours walking around the campus, refining our senses, watching the dance classes and admiring the abundance of trees and flowers, ending our visit at the temple which has been constructed using the raw mud of Nrityagram.

Since there are no restaurants close to Nrityagram, we walked across the parking courtyard to Taj Kuteeram resort, which offers a decent lunch buffet. Though a little crowded for my liking, the feeling content that had seeped into my bones after walking around Nrityagram allowed me to ignore the cacophony of the other guests and focus on the highlights of the meal and the rustic ambiance created to complement Nritygram.

A perfect afternoon that I would be happy to repeat again. 🙂

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Ciné-concert: “The General” by Buster Keaton with live music by Radiomentale

My saga with rich cultural experiences continues, with the latest being the Ciné-concert organized by the Alliances françaises in India for the 2013 edition of Fête de la musique.

What is a ciné-concert ? The concept harks back to the era of silent films when the screenings were accompanied by live music to set the back-drop for the story. The tradition was revived in France in 1976 by “Un drame musical instantané.” My first experience of this concept was in Pune at the NFAI, with the screening of Gant Guilio Antamarro’s Pinocchio with a live score by Antonio Zambrini trio.

Poster designed by Ess Designs
(http://www.behance.net/Ess-Designs)

Organised by the Alliance Française de Bangalore as the opening event of the Fête de la musique extravaganza, the screening of the 1926 classic, The General by Buster Keaton was accompanied by live mixing by the electronic music, sound artists and DJ duo, Radiomentale.

The screening took place in the atrium of the business hotel, The Paul in Domlur Bangalore – a very interesting setting given the cozy ambiance of the hotel – on a rainy evening that probably kept some people away. A pity since the ciné-concert experience, enhanced by glasses of wine and hors d’oeuvres being served through the evening, was excellent.

TheGeneral

An adventurous adventure-epic and comedy, The General narrates the story of a train engineer, who wants to join the Confederate Army but is rejected because of his value in his current position. What unfolds is a comic series of accidental heroic events, when he pursues the train “The General” to rescue his fiancée, which ends in him warning the Southern Frontier of the advancing Northern army and being rewarded for his bravery as a lieutenant in the army. The background score provided by Jean-Yves Leloup of Radiomentale completed the audio-visual experience, making it an evening to remember for a long time.

I leave you with two excerpts from previous shows by Radiomentale, to give you an idea of how the live music enhances the experience of watching a silent film :

(The scene in which the bridge collapses is acknowledged today as the most expensive stunt of the silent era.)

Other links of interest :
Music of the Silent Film – official article on AF Magazine, the online magazine of the Alliances françaises in India.
Fusing Sounds – an interview with Jean-Yves Leloup in the Hindu, Bangalore.

Bonjour India : Visualising Music with Puce Muse

From the moment I heard about Puce Muse and their multimedia concert, I knew that this was not an event to be missed. Visuals projected on the façade of a historical edifice accompanied by music – the description alone was enough to make me block the evening a month in advance. The first time I had seen something of the sort was in 2003 in Bordeaux, where they had projected a series of scenes on the Grand Théâtre. I still remember the delight I had felt when I saw the images moving across the facade.

During the performance.
During the performance.

Bangalore 360 by Puce Muse, the fifth event in the Bonjour India series in Bangalore was held at St.Francis Xavier’s Cathedral on St.Johns road. First constructed in 1851, the church was expanded to its current size and scale and inaugurated in 1940 as the cathedral of the Bangalore diocese. The 74 year old edifice boasts of beautiful stain glass windows which were recreated by Puce Muse using light technology – an experience that was amplified by the music on the Meta Instrument, a specially created instrument with an interface like a computer mouse that consists of 54 gestural sensors, and a joystick allowing the musicians to manipulate the music better.

The beauty of the concert however, was not so much the music, as the play of images on the historical facade, something Puce Muse is repeating across the country in Chandigarh, Hyderabad, Pondicherry and Pune. Sure enough, we walked out with the graphics spinning in our head, after barely 45 mesmerizing minutes of being under the Puce Muse magic.

I leave you with two brief video clips of the performance in Bangalore…

The official Puce Muse Video

A morceau recorded by me on my phone (I couldn’t resist!)

Read my other Bonjour India posts :
  1. Urban Ballet
  2. Indiamore

Bonjour India : Indiamore

Chassol_PassesThe second event of Bonjour India 2013 in Bangalore, Indiamore is a unique show uniting films, sound and images to produce music of astounding elegance and beauty by acclaimed pianiste, composer, and musical director, Christophe Chassol.

The film starts with the most beautiful lines I’ve ever come across to describe Indian music :

“He told me that he was seeing Indian music as two horizontal lines. The first one, usually played by a tempura, symbolized the bass.  It was a flow, a tone, a trunk. A root that defined the anchor point of harmony. The second line represented the melody and its sinuous paths. It would arise from the first one, cross over and under it, and, as if magnetized, would always go back on it.”

Sure enough the first morceau in the film is of a woman playing the tempura. Shot in Calcutta and Varanasi in July 2012 by Christophe Chassol , the film is a mélange of sequences with musicians (both amateurs and professionals) and Odissi dancers. What the audience gets is an interesting mix scenes of music by the river Ganga – performances by professional musicians as well as spontaneous outbursts of song and music by the common man, visuals of the traffic on streets of Calcutta and a documentary-esque sequence of a Odissi dance class.

I initially thought the concept was a little confusing and cacophonous, not sure where it was going. But I was soon tapping my feet and clapping enthusiastically, spellbound by how Chassol had appropriated Indian classical music and made it his own, blending it with his sounds of pop and rock music, rendering it something that even a classical-music-philistine like me could enjoy. Here’s an excerpt I recorded during the performance in Bangalore :

Some might accuse Chassol of focusing on the clichés of India – the people bathing by the river Ganges, the common man with pan-stained teeth, the taxis and confusion of Indian streets. He has, but he has also added a touch of beauty to what is otherwise perceived as the mundane and dirty side of our country. The morceau which begins with the honking on the streets of Calcutta and transforms into a feet tapping piece of music is an example of the brilliance of the show. Indiamore showcases the beauty and versatility of Indian music not just for the international audience, it is also a certain education for the Indians who dismiss our music heritage as something from the redundant past.

I am sure I will experience much more brilliance in Bonjour India 2013, but this particular performance is going to linger in my favourites for a long long time.