Choreographer Sudarshan Chakraborty tells us why he keeps reinventing himself
He has transformed the landscape of Indian contemporary dance, while blazing new paths for modern performative art for more than three decades now, and is currently on another notable journey. We’re of course talking about Sudarshan Chakravorty, who is presently on a North American tour, where he has been invited to be part of the North America Bengali Conference, fondly known as the Banga Sammelan, which is being held in Baltimore. We caught up with the celebrated performer a few days before he took flight, and found him in great spirits.
“This year’s event centres around the tale of the immigrant; the emigrant Bengali household, people who have settled on alien soil, but their roots are still very much a part of their identity. Besides conducting community workshops in Baltimore, Maryland, Virgina, we’ll also be performing Sapphirescope, our priced production. It talks about the sheer diversity of our dance forms — we’ve fusion, semi-classical, and a number of other genres which will be performed in sequences. We’ve travelled to some major countries with this, from Kazakhstan to Indonesia; I feel it’d be great for the Bengali audience to witness the changing dimensions of dance in the country. Most of them have left home in the ’80s or ’90s, our forms and our culture have evolved so much since then, it’s representational of our trajectory,” Sudarshan informs us.
The artiste who created his dance academy Sapphire Creations while he was still in high school, has been paving original, brave ways of forging a physical vocabulary for almost 35 years now. Sudarshan has famously made way for organic contemporary dance to be heralded into the mainstream narrative of Indian performative art. Sudarshan has conceptualised and choreographed multiple pieces with a focus on issues which affect us all, be it global warming or LGBTQ rights. In 1996, Sudarshan presented Asia’s first LGBTQIA+ production called Alien Flower, and he believes people were waiting for this newness, both in terms of subject and unscripted form. “Back then the word homosexuality itself was a taboo, so it was such a revolution. The production went everywhere from Uday Shankar Festival to the Melbourne Fringe Festival, but then again, we got quite a lot of flak from people who believed we were trampling Indian aesthetics. I remember there was a huge chaos in Nandan, and some people even got hurt; amazingly they had a problem with the word sexuality,” he revealed.
Sudarshan tells us that it is important for international audiences to witness the entire span of experimental contemporary dance that exists in the country, beyond Bollywood and traditional forms. The dancer reveals that names like kathak dancer Daksha Seth, the late mother-daughter Rabindra Nritya duo Manjusri and Ranjabati ChakiSircar, choreographer Narendra Sharma are persons who have inspired and stirred him since he was very young. “I realised this is all I want to do! My journey started with discovering a new idiom; my newness is about looking at the body in a new length. It’s not about aping the Western modern forms, but it’s about looking deep into the DNA and roots of the Indianness,” Sudarshan tells us.
He also explains it was not easy working with a dance form which completely negated the popular wave of the ’90s. “You know, when we started, we were a complete aberration; we had to hold up the idea that we have so many peers across the world who are doing what we are doing. As part of the 10th anniversary of Sapphire, we created Eastern India’s first international dance festival, called Interface (International Festival of Alternative and Contemporary Expressions). It brought in artistes from Poland, Italy, Switzerland, USA, Australia and it opened up the way people looked at our language of dance, which is so international, and makes us part of a much broader narrative,” Sudarshan signs off.