The Attakkalari Biennial is fast becoming a big draw in the global dance calendar.
They crossed the Wagah Border on foot because they could not afford flight tickets, and managed to make it in time to their destination — the Attakkalari India Biennial in Bangalore, the global contemporary dance festival which began on Friday.
But ask Karachi-based Kathak dancers Huma Naaz and Mohsin Ali Khan whether there is any pressure in Pakistan against their performing, and they are quick to deny it. “Why should people stop us? We give pleasure to people, we entertain them with our dance,” says 27-year-old Khan. Naaz and Khan are students of Sheema Kermani who teaches classical dance at Tehrik-e-Niswan, the noted organisation, started in 1979, that uses culture to bring about women’s development.
The experience of a troupe from Iraq, which too will perform at the biennial, has not been so painless. Iraqi Bodies, formed in 2001 by four Iraqi men, have been forced into a nomadic existence, travelling between the Netherlands, Belgium and Sweden, ever since they decided to leave Iraq after one of their members was shot dead in 2003. Evoking the horrors of war through movements taken from Western, Japanese and Iraqi folk dance forms, Iraqi Bodies has performed at festivals the world over — at Birmingham, San Francisco, Göteborg and Beirut, to name a few.
The 10-day biennial will have performances by other contemporary dance troupes who have been making waves the world over. There’s Nicole Seiler from Switzerland who will be performing in water on the stage; Frikar from Norway who will use instruments made of ice; and Spoart, a group of young hip-hop artists from France who use six-feet tall metal boxes as props.
The Attakkalari India Biennial might not be as big as the biennial at Liverpool or the Seville Flamenco Biennial, but it is getting there. This year, there are 125 performers (23 troupes), experts, cultural delegations and aficionados from countries as diverse as Switzerland, Norway, South Africa, Israel, Singapore, Sri Lanka and, of course, Iraq and Pakistan. This year, the theme of the biennial is “traditional physical wisdom, innovation and technology”.
Bangalore’s geopolitical and cultural location makes it a strategic centre to initiate a South-South dialogue on innovation and performance arts with an international perspective, says Attakkalari’s artistic director, Jayachandran Palazhy.
Driven by a passion to spread the reach of contemporary dance among interested youngsters, Jayachandran’s mission is to make Indian expressions of contemporary reality visible nationally and internationally and to increase the accessibility of new, creative forms of movement in India. Jayachandran has trained in Bharatanatyam, Kathakali, Indian folk dance forms, Kalarippayattu, as also ballet, tai-chi, capoeira and African dance. He has also trained at the London School of Contemporary Dance.
With performances spread between four venues — Ranga Shankara, Chowdiah Memorial Hall, Alliance Française and the National Gallery of Modern Art — the biennial will also give young choreographers from South Asia a platform to present and work under experienced mentors. Another highlight is dance collaborations enabled by past editions of the biennial.