Contemporary dance expert Sudarshan Chakravorty on the innovations in the modern movement genre
The dance expert has been melding traditional dance moves with new energy and directions for the past three decades through his endeavour Sapphire Creations
If there’s anyone in Bengal who has turned the spotlight firmly on the contemporary dance movement and relentlessly worked towards evolving its language, it has to be Sudarshan Chakravorty. The veteran dancer has been striving to meld traditional dance moves with new energy and directions for the past three decades through his endeavour Sapphire Creations. “My focus has always been to build convergences between people, ideas and cultures and create transnational work that’s globally relevant,” says Sudarshan. We caught up with the busy choreographer in between his UK tours to get a lowdown on what’s in store for the coming year.
What has been your learning process over the years?
Being inspired by dancers like Manjushri Chaki-Sircar, Ranjabati Sircar, Pt Narendra Sharma, Astad Deboo and Chandralekha during my formative years, I wanted to explore a new trend in Indian contemporary dance beyond what was seen and offered in the 90s in eastern India.
My admiration for Uday Shankar’s revolutionary expression of the fluidity of the body and deep awareness of Rabindranath Tagore’s literature, music and theatre also opened up a new thought of movement idiom.
I intrinsically felt the need to create an organic abstract movement lexicon shorn of influences. This triggered me to evolve a physical expression of organic idiom based on a three-tier process of awareness-exploration-
How has the modern dance scene evolved in recent years?
Right from the times of Uday Shankar in the 1920s, contemporary dance remained behind the shadows of classical dance as it was never considered representative of the ‘Indianness’. Since then contemporary dance has come a long way evolving through the works of Aditi Mangaldas, Mallika Sarabhai, Chandralekha, Daksha Seth, Astad Deboo or Attakalari. We also have dance practitioners like Terence Lewis and Ashley Lobo who are directly using western forms like jazz and ballet for both training and dance idiom. All these transgressions make the movement so vibrant and diverse.
What innovations have you introduced in your dance workshops?
I kept the conversations with the outside world open with constant global collaborations that challenge the dancers with new forms, techniques and presentations.
We started Choreographers’ Residency (INCRES) in 2006 and INTERFACE in 2002 which keep the dancers aware of global scenarios.
It was also important to add the Indian connection to my work without becoming directly derivative of the traditional forms. We have a curriculum called Kinetics of Stillness where I look at the ‘Hasta Mudras’ for traditional form and the skeletal quality as a take-off point to discuss dynamism in the stillness of hand gestures or postures of the body in a traditional form, particularly Bharathnatyam which helped dancers to get a new perspective. Even in my latest production of Rasasutra – a blend of Bharata’s Natyashastra and contemporary dance set to electronic music -- I tried to connect the traditional and contemporary moves.
Tell us your plans with INTERFACE?
INTERFACE was a significant platform for modern dance practitioners in Kolkata since anything outside the genre of the established forms of modern dance like Tagore dance or Uday Shankar gharana was considered sinful. The festival had its share of resistance from various corners but also saw some of the icons of contemporary dance performing, thereby creating a network of global dancers. As a biennial, INTERFACE will return in 2024 and go to cities like Chandigarh, Bhubaneswar, Indore, Bhopal and Ahmedabad.
How interested are the millennials in fusion dance forms?
The awareness has grown for fusion dance and the demand for dancers, and choreographers has increased thanks to private events, weddings, television shows and cinema but no one knows the criteria for practising the art.
To learn contemporary dance one needs proper guidance from a trained and experienced teacher. Millennials are less interested in investing in long-term learning in physical space which is turning them into half-baked wannabes. This is a new challenge for all of us who have invested physically, artistically and emotionally in this form.
What keeps you motivated?
I feel my motivation comes from intense passion and restlessness to continue my journey as a dancer, mentor, choreographer and the myriad roles I play to keep me and my repertory going! It inspires me further to see a holistic transformation of my dancers.
Your upcoming projects?
I will publish my autobiography The Alien Flower and consolidate the archiving process in Sapphire. I am creating a new work on migration called Kitareba and there will be more collaborations with both Malaysia and Poland. There’s an Indo-Malaysian production No Plan B apart from some new outreach programmes in the US and the UK. If time permits I will direct a one-of-a-kind dance film too.