Roughly a week from now, 200 dancers will descend on Bangalore. They will come from countries as diverse as Burkina Faso and Mexico, Iran and Switzerland, Indonesia and Norway. What’s bringing them together is the Attakkalari India Biennial 2013, put together by the eponymous school of contemporary dance in Bangalore. Held every two years since 2000, the 10-day festival set to begin on January 25 will be bigger and more in-depth than the previous years’, says Jayachandran Palazhi, artistic director of the Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts, who set up the school in Bangalore in 1992 after spending 14 years in London studying and performing dance. The biennial has come a long way since the first edition, which was a three-day affair focusing on Indian dancers, says Palazhi. “It is also a platform for interaction and dialogue between contemporary dancers in India and other countries, and the biggest festival of its kind in south Asia,” he says
“For the general public, our aim is to give them a chance to watch some of the best dance companies in the world,” says Palazhi. This includes Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, who The Guardian called “Belgium’s bendiest choreographer,” and who has most recently done the choreography for Anna Karenina, the film by Joe Wright (incidentally, Anoushka Shankar’s husband). On his first trip to India, he will be showcasing “Glimpses,” a set of four duets. Audience can also look forward to Compagnie Revolution’s Urban Ballet which, as the name suggests, is a mix of ballet, hip-hop and other expressions, and Chunky Move’s Glow, where the glow of a video tracking system responds in real time to the dancer’s movements. Intriguingly, the headlining act is not a dance but Roysten Abel’s famous Manganiyar Seduction with its elaborate Red Light District-meets-Hawa Mahal setting, and the haunting music of the Manganiyars of Rajasthan. Quizzed about this, Palazhi says some people consider movement or dance to be a materialisation of music. “Music is also an invocatory element in dance. The Manganiyar Seduction is very celebratory so it’s fitting that we open with it,” he says.
For the dancers, the biennial has more to offer. There is Facets, a residency, for which 16 choreographers have been selected from 180 applicants, whose pieces choreographed during their two months here will debut at the biennial. Leandro Kees, a 32-year-old Argentine choreographer based in Germany, and one of the choreographers selected for the residency, says for someone like him, it was a luxury to have two months to research outside his context. “It is incredibly inspiring to be in a completely different culture, and a new place where nobody expects anything from you,” adds Kees, at the end of a day of working on his 10-minute solo performance.
Apart from the residency, there is also a separate stage where young, emerging choreographers can present their work; Time Frames, an initiative where 100 children from four schools have been trained by Australian media artist Margie Medlin; a series of curated talks on dance with artistes and screenings of documentaries on dance.
Considering that contemporary dance is still perceived as something removed from the masses, even incomprehensible at times, what advice would Palazhi have for someone dropping in to watch a performance for the first time? “Don’t try to derive some sort of literal meaning from it — trust your own experience and instinct, don’t go by what others say. It’s a very sensory experience,” he says.
For the founders, a red wooden seat and a pair of ropes in an urban zone is a gift to the people as an appropriation of the public space. It is, to a large extent, an apolitical device which is symbolic of a more democratic common territory.