Of dance dynamics


He drags two microphones closer as if to demonstrate that two people are connected in a confidential conversation. He places objects of daily use such as a vacuum cleaner, a dictionary or a carpet on stage to represent them as dancers to the viewing audiences. He makes a posse of performers discard their gaudy costumes and go pro-minimalistic with their naked exposure while dancing. His argument is that the human form only requires a body and nothing beyond to present a dance. He blurs the man-woman gender demarcation and makes a male represent a female character and vice versa. He buys 300 T-shirts from a shop to employ them as a tool of striptease, taking them off one after another with words embossed across the fabrics, conveying a chain of interlinking ideas. For the meaning projected here is absolutely different and sometimes, even shell shocking. But that’s what new-age, path-breaking dance form is all about — eye-popping and tongue-tying! A way estranged from what you’ve witnessed and understood so far. Meet Jérôme Bel, a reputed dancer-choreographer from France who rather likes to introduce himself as an analyst more than a performing artiste on a public platform.
With contemporary and avant-garde ideas and expressions, Bel has developed and improvised on the innovative idiom of dance with surprising twists and turns. “Dance has its own lingo. One has to seriously study its profound layers to imbibe the finer nuances, deeply buried inside. I’m more of a reflector on dance than a producer. I contemplate the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of dance instead of discussing its creations. My position in the choreographic field is thus mostly ascertained by assessing in what ways, the role and impact of dance is affecting the human mind and the surrounding society. I’d rather prefer to be a talker of dance-dynamics than manoeuvre things as a tough taskmaster within a dance company,” says the 47-yearold Bel.
Currently on his Indian tour and a third visit to the country, Bel will be performing in Delhi, Chennai as well as Bengaluru, with none other than Pichet Klunchun, a Thai traditional dancer. “The key concept will be to engage two dancers on a stage and then let them synergise and communicate through their capering craft. We’ll meet, talk, perform, exchange points, interact and explain things to each other. Well, no conclusions can be drawn without a vein of conflict running in the piece. And this is not going to be any different. The spectators too will play an integral role as a third character. They will hopefully act like an animated viewer and not remain a mute, dormant watcher from a safe distance. They may see and enjoy our symbiotic performance as a tennis match right from across the auditorium gallery,” he shares. Incidentally, Bel has also earlier co-ordinated with Klunchun in 2005 in an impromptu piece titled, Pichet and myself in the capital city of Bangkok at Thailand.
But what brings to him to Kolkata as his first destination. “I couldn’t have possibly give Kolkata a miss. It’s a short and quickie trip I know, but am more than happy with just that.” Bel reveals the real reason behind his detour to arrive in Ray’s city. With a twinkle in his eye, the meek yet multi-faceted dancer amicably states, “Because am a big fan of the great celluloid auteur Satyajit Ray and his masterpiece, The Music Room. He is one of the major critically acclaimed filmmakers back home in France. Even in general world-cinematic references, he would always dominate the discourse.”
To the uninitiated, The Music Room originally titled Jalsaghar is a classic movie from Ray’s repertoire, released in 1958. The film highlights the decadence of erstwhile zamindari traditions and its dwindling affluence. As the yesteryear landlords and noblemen were generous patrons of the courtesans and their dance styles, they would frequently hire nautch girls to entertain themselves and their aristocratic peers. In such a sequence, the Kathak dance was explicitly unveiled frame by fame in the black-n-white era film. And it did catch Bel’s fancy when he happened to watch the film as a teenager at his homeland. Narrating an interesting trivia, Bel recollects, “I was barely 16 at that time. It was in the early 1980s most probably. One late Friday night at a cineclub, The Music Room was showcased and I stayed back to catch the screening. Wow, what an enthralling revelation was that for 10 continuous minutes. It just blew away my mind! I was both fascinated by the graceful beauty of Kathak and its technical precision. It was my first brush with an Indian classical dance genre in its purest style and form. Be it the rhythm, the magic whirls, the flawless footwork, the dignified dress, the tinkling bells, the finger-mudras, I just felt enamoured by the dance.” That momentous moment, he admits had opened the door of India before his eyes and ever since got him glued to every minutest atom revolving around dance and choreography in the ensuing years of his life. However, his tryst with the Indian classical dance was not just restricted to Kathak. He shifted his focus on to Bharatnatyam as well. And that dictated the purpose of his second visit to this nation. “Six years ago, I came down to Chennai to conduct a stint with a troupe of Bharatnatyam dancers in a series of concerts. I must cite the name of India’s leading Bharatanatyam exponent Priyadarsini Govind, especially in the sphere of abhinaya or the art of expression. She is a star back in Paris. I have had the honour of performing with a group of talented Carnatic musicians as well. I love the rich heritage of South Indian music and its subtle intricacies,” he says.
Bel also delivered an engrossing lecture on the subject of Reflections on Dance, and the talk was followed by a film on Veroniqe Doisneau, a globally renowned ballet dancer from the famous Paris Opera Ballet. “I was asked to reel a biopic on Doisneau modelled on a documentary format. The basic idea was to make a theatrical documentary on a well-known dancer and her enchanting performances,” he says. “I’m happy that today’s youngsters are evolving and thinking out of the box,” he says.

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