Dance Films Showcase

Saturday, January 15, 2022

USA: 10am EST

India: 8:30pm IST

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We are delighted to partner with the Kri Foundation and DanzLenz to present the first Dance Films showcase in the Rasa Festival. Dr. Arshiya Sethi has curated a special edition of DanzLenz for Rasa Festival. It is built around new and iconic old independent dance films that draw from Indian dance as it finds footprints around the world.

Rasashwat ( Rasa + Sashwat)

The inspiration for this curation “Rasashwat”, done by Kri Foundation as part of its two decades old DanzLenz initiative, at the invitation of the Rasa Festival of Michigan, comes from the name of the festival itself. The Rasa Festival, harks to the idea of ‘Rasa’- the essence of the artistic sentiment, which is perpetual and permanent ( sashwat). India, home to probably one of the most ancient performance treatises found anywhere in the world, the Natya Sahstra, remits the creation of Rasa as the pivotal function of the arts. The ‘rasas’ are considered universal human sentiments. This has been the central curatorial theme in putting together this short showcase of Indian dance films, made both in India and in the USA. We run the showcase of six films, for about 40 minutes and follow it up with a brief conversation with film makers, dancers and other stakeholders of these films.

Aksharakaram” (18:45) coincidently, plays further on the name of the organization that has conceived of it- Akshara. Akshara means the letter of the alphabet, one unit, which when strung together makes meaning. But the unit in its depiction has its own beauty, as one sees in calligraphy or in one single unique dance movement. “Akharakaram” a film made by Dastakar Haat Samiti, a Crafts Foundation, chose to highlight the beauty of calligraphy, found in so many motifs over several crafts mediums, through dance. This interplay of calligraphic stroke and dance kinetics, is captured in one aesthetic frame after another, by the camera. Joining the conversation will be Jaya Jaitly, the founder of Dastakar Haat Samiti, who commissioned the film. 

The next film is “Within” ( 8:00), a multilayered exploration of a poem by Ishika Rajan, though which local Michigan based dancer, Sreyashi Dey, explores the duality in our external and inner worlds, their fractured relationship and the pathway of an inward journey. Past calamities, broken structures and abandoned memories…of rotting carcasses that emanate putrid scents till finding one’s own absence helps abandon the weight of the past… a deep dive, a melting candle…the dual merges with the non-dual, reaching the still center is within. The film draws on India’s tradition of seeing dance as visualization of poetry or the poetic idea (drushya kavya) but with a modern twist. 

Three short films come on next. From a beautiful part of India, Manipur, off tourist tracks but home to amongst the oldest communities in the country, Manipur is a power centre for the arts. We bring two films-by Surjit taken from his larger work- a series of linked video performances and poetic fragments engaged with the theme of “dances of sickness and health” amidst the continuing and current COVID-19 pandemic, titled “Map of Shadows”The two films are “RKCS” (2:33) and “Ima Keithel” (2:24).  Without any possibility of travel, the international collaborative project was created by a team located in different parts of the world (India, US, and Japan).  The films subtly interrogate, raising questions of invisible spectatorship, absent markets, family, referencing the paintings of historical plagues in Manipur as a virtual sharing, even as it converses on the thresholds of health, stability, and presence, and the unseen ways in which displacement is intimately interwoven with disembodiment.

Covid as not all that happened in this period. A milestone of a horrific moment came and went with many parts of the world still in a lockdown. The film “Aasha- Until We Meet Again” (2:47) by USA based Bharatantyam dancer and teacher Ramya Harishankar, is a short but powerful remembrance of 9/11, on its 20th anniversary. It uses the slightest twitches of the eyelids, the hint of a smile, the tilt of the head, the emotion in the pupil- all par for the course for Indian classical dance- to evoke the Rasa in the viewer.

We conclude with a film by dancer, educator and doctoral scholar, a phenomenal force in the dance and the camera movement of present-day India- Sumedha Bhattacharyya. “Touch the Sound” (6:39), questions the sacred-ness of ‘Ghungroo’ or ankle bells in an Indian classical dance tradition Kathak. It questions the idea of ‘untouchability’ in tradition-s through choreographic enquiry, using ceramic as a material and the body as a medium. The forming of a dancing body is seen in relation to making of the sound sculptures. The Indian dancer’s ankle bells are made of several hundred individual units called ghunghroos. The ghungroo’s shape lies in between a square and a circle, questioning the idea of rigidity, fluidity & in-betweenness of tradition. Each shape produces new sound, new musical structure, a new movement.

Activist and Independent scholar, Dr. Arshiya Sethi, twice a recipient of the Fulbright Fellowship, writes and speaks on cultural issues. Formerly dance critic for India’s leading daily Times of India, she presented the National programme of Music and Dance on Doordarshan for over three decades, before becoming Advisor, DD Bharati, India’s 24 hours National Arts channel. She was Advisor to Kathak Kendra and has curated three of Kathak Kendra’s festivals including its Golden Jubilee programmes.

In three decades as consultant, building tangible and intangible cultural equities, her defining work was at India Habitat Centre. She helms the Kri Foundation, promoting ‘Artivism’- Arts and Activism, and writes a featured column about new ideas in dance, for the largest portal of Indian dance- Narthaki.  A strong independent voice of artistic leadership, working with several international Universities, think tanks, forums and scholars, she is in the vanguard of efforts to introduce a new US University hosted academic journal on South Asian Dance and its intersections (SADI). Recent efforts to create legal awareness around Arts and the Law has resulted in the website http://www.Unmute.Help, as a one stop resource center for artistes.

Her academic writings can be found in recent anthologies-“Dance Matters Too” (Routledge, 2018), “Indian Dances: Transnational Routes” (OUP, TBP) and “Dance Under the Shadow of the Nation” (2019) a DSA publication which she also co-edited. She is contracted with Routledge for her doctoral work. Forthcoming wirings are on the Indian diaspora and the first decade of Dance in India.

For 20 years she has been running DanzLenz, India’s dance film festival and has presented at UCLA and at the Chicago International Dance Film Festival, besides hosting film makers, Directors of film festivals and curators of dance film festivals from several countries

Our partner for the dance films showcase: