Dubbed ‘South Asia’s largest contemporary dance festival’, the 2013 edition of the Attakkalari India Biennial was the sixth to be held since its modest beginning in 2000. Gradually morphing into a larger-scale festival in the past three editions, it has gained not only recognition among contemporary dance enthusiasts in Asia, but has also developed and matured with time. One of Festival Director Jayachandran Palazhy’s aims with the conception of the Biennial was to make a significant contribution to the development of the contemporary dance scene in South Asia, while providing a platform for emerging talent in the region.
With an international focus, the 2013 Biennial featured 220 artists from twenty-one countries and included some big names in the contemporary dance world, among them the celebrated Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and the highly-acclaimed dance company Chunky Move from Australia. Festival Manager Trupti Prasad and Festival Coordinator Shiva Pathak aimed for a broad geographical representation, along with a balanced presentation of a variety of creations: from large-scale to site-specific works, as well as some more light-hearted and even off-the-wall productions. The programming committee seems to have made some right choices, with several sold-out shows and high audience numbers to show compared to previous editions.
Fortunately the multiple-venue approach and overlap of performance times taken in previous editions had been dropped for a format which showcased one high-profile ‘Centre Stage’ performance each evening at prestigious venues like Chowdiah Memorial Hall and Ranga Shankara, while morning and afternoon slots were reserved for presentations by emerging choreographers.
Among the highlights was the sold-out inaugural presentation of Roysten Abel’s visual spectacle the Manganiyar Seduction. This outdoor audio-visual performance which has toured festivals around the globe provided a stunning visual and musical experience which received a rousing reception from the audience.
Glow by Chunky Move, described as an ‘illuminating choreographic essay’ by its creator, Australian choreographer Gideon Obarzanek, was an exceptional and well-received production which used interactive video tracking which responded to dancer Sara Black’s movements in real time, creating beautiful patterns of light and shadows which emerged and merged with the dancer.
The only other ‘Centre Stage’ production by an Indian choreographer was Beautiful Thing 2 by Padmini Chettur, India’s best-known contemporary dancer and a ‘regular’ at the Biennial. As a follow up to Beautiful Thing 1, this latest work was marked with her trademark meditative stillness, deconstructing movement and redefining space, emphasised with lighting and music.
One of the most anticipated and best-received performances was Glimpses by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. Presenting his work for the first time in India, he offered a suite of four duets extracted from several recent productions which all had a common theme examining dialogues between men and women and male and female energies.
Other noteworthy mentions were Odyssey Complex by German choreographer/performer Felix Mathias Ott: a mix of performance, film and spectacle; and Lanx / Obtus by Swiss choreographer Cindy Van Acker, two outstanding works which offered a delicate and sophisticated play of movement, space and light.
The Biennial closed with a finale by three Korean dance companies: Bereishit Dance Company, EDX2 Dance Company and Choe Contemporary Dance Company, the first of which got the most appreciative and enthusiastic response.
A permanent feature of the Biennial is the FACETS choreography residency which offers young choreographers a chance to develop and showcase their original work. A select group of sixteen choreographers from around the world had the opportunity to work for a period of six weeks with an international team of fifteen mentors from a variety of disciplines, including choreography, music, lighting design, theatre and media arts. This culminated in the presentation of their original works as ‘world premieres’. While some of these showed potential, many regrettably lacked clarity and did not have much to show of their intense six-week period of mentorship.
Running parallel was PLATFORM 13 which aimed to showcase the work of thirteen emerging choreographers from Asia (five from India, while others were from Iran, Singapore, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Japan). Each presented a ‘process presentation’ of their work-in-progress with the opportunity to receive audience feedback.
With these opportunities for young choreographers running parallel to the main festival, a significant pool of young dancers and their mentors is created, who along with the international delegates of producers and curators who travel to Bangalore especially for the festival, become an instant and ideal audience of dance enthusiasts.
Artists from Australia and Korea have become regular fixtures at the Biennial, thanks to the strong partnerships which have been built up and nurtured with these regions over time. This is perhaps to the detriment of other countries which have less clout and financial resources for the promotion of their performing arts and therefore fewer opportunities to be represented in international festivals. A better geographical representation will perhaps continue to present a challenge, but the festival team has clearly succeeded in building up a dynamic South Asian contemporary dance scene with a festival which attracts considerable attention.