The excitement is almost tangible in the lounge of The Hague’s Korzo Theater. It is playtime for the Indian dancers in the Netherlands. The annual India Dans Festival, held in October, is unique of its kind. As a dancer, this is a long week enjoying what you usually do over the weekend. It is also the hub of a nicely mixed audience – young and old, men and women from a diversity of backgrounds who come to see their sister, daughter or granddaughter. Others have come to see their favourite performance art.
The programme comprises dance performances by professionals and amateurs reflecting the diversity of Indian dance – classical, contemporary and everything in-between. There is the Indian Dance Battle, named after the favourite television programme The Ultimate Dance Battle; and films documenting the classic Indian dance styles and workshops, one of which is led by bharatanatyam dancer, choreographer and curator, Dr Anita Ratnam. There is a performance with Monalisa Ghosh and Dutch students trained by her, and a concert by Shubhankar Chatterjee pleases the ears of the audibly-oriented among us, but for me, the highlight of the week is Rising by Aakash Odedra, the young artist’s first performance in the Netherlands. The audience was thrilled to see Odedra take to the stage; a real ambassador for the form who represents the ambition of the dancers in the audience.
The number of dancers practising bharatanatyam, kathak, odissi, kuchipudi or Bollywood in the Netherlands diminished in the early twenty-first century but it is slowly rising again. The Bollywood dance schools have, by far, the largest number of students, closely followed by the bharatanatyam. Most of the students are in their twenties, practising and performing on a regular basis. There are few Dutch choreographers who are known to be exploring the borders of their art, but those who do continue to surprise their audiences with new material which is inspired by narrative, music or the body language of other styles. The Korzo Theater is not only the venue of the India Dans Festival but also the creative base of artist-in-residence Kalpana Raghuraman where she is supported in collaborating with modern dancers as well as performers of Indian dance. For the past two years she has produced performances with dancers of Indian origin. This has contributed a great deal to the development of their skills and sense of self.
Nevertheless, there are reasons for concern. Due to recent political changes, a few theatres that supported and programmed Indian dance must close their doors at the end of this year. This will mean a complete loss of easily accessible stage experience for the amateur dancers. It will also mean less opportunity for the audience to see Indian dance performed at a professional level. If the tide changes again, a lot of effort will be needed to build up their experience and the audience has to expand. However, the small and fragile dance community knows its ups and downs. Stepping out of the parampara into new and sometimes daring territory is not always embraced by everyone. In the Netherlands another element of attention is the artistic level of the dance forms. Dancers of innovative Indian dance are more highly-trained in the United Kingdom than in the Netherlands. More support should be given to dancers and choreographers in order to allow their talent to blossom. The English experience should provide even more motivation.
The annual India Dans Festival means a lot to those practising Indian dance who have long and strong roots in Dutch soil. Over the years this has involved a relatively small group of dedicated dancers who perform and adapt their choreographies, training others and working with musicians, light technicians, dramatists and directors. Moreover, the confident and spirited attitude of the younger generation gives hope for the future. They have seen different dance styles on and offline. They do not hesitate to express their wishes and goals and they are willing to put an effort into getting what they want. What they need is guidance and encouragement in getting there and opportunities to develop their skills in different areas. The festival is not only a presentation of the current state of the scene of Indian dance but also an inspiring fountain of new ideas and possibilities and a feel-good event for those pioneering Indian dance in the Netherlands and for those watching it.