India's Attakkalari: artistic innovation and cultural enterprise

November 2007 -

"The situation in India is awkward for contemporary theatre and dance. The public shows a great demand for contemporary work, but there are not many performance possibilities. There are economic as well as historical reasons for this. Money is insufficient as yet for investing in cultural infrastructure. Things are getting better, but doing so slowly. Historically, dance has been a prominent art form for centuries. Bharata natyam and the kathak are only the best known of many traditions. During the British occupation, circumstances in India were difficult for traditional dance. Now it is experiencing a period of enormous blossoming and, in part thanks to the success of Bollywood, it has become an export product. As a result, there is much less attention for contemporary dance theatre from India."

Scene from Purusharta, photo (c) Attakkalari

Jayachandran Palazhy is the artistic leader of the Indian Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts in Bangalore. Attakkalari was founded in 1992 and is a contemporary dance company that combines modern dance with yoga, ballet and an Indian type of martial arts, kalaripayattu. Their most recent theatrical production Purusharta is touring the world and is a true gesamtkunstwerk. Nine dancers move in continuously changing patterns that are projected on the dance floor and against a backdrop. Three laptop operators at the edge of the dance floor create the imagery and sound designed by Kounihiko Matsuo from Japan. The scenery and soundscape are overwhelming, determining to a significant extent the atmosphere of the performance. Dancers bend forward, form a line, accelerate and cease movement as the images and sound continually change.

Palazhy: "I have always been fascinated by film and developed my choreographic work from that fascination, using digital techniques to conceptualise my ideas." Attakkalari is beating a new path in the innovation of Indian dance. The company is active on many fronts. Palazhy: "What we do is uncommon in India. There are scarcely any schooling possibilities, so we set up our own training institute with help from various partners. Last year we started issuing official certificates, the Diploma for Movement Art and Multimedia. The training focuses on the balance between movement traditions and aesthetics oriented towards contemporary dance, combined with new developments in lighting and digital media. But students also learn art history, pedagogy, philosophy, anatomy, and even art management. We work together with musicians, technicians and designers from all over the world."

The company from Bangalore is not only innovative in its artistic performances, but also displays an enterprising mind. Palazhy: "We rent out technical equipment and have extensive contact with the business sector. We also perform for personnel meetings for large companies, including Oracle, AOL and Unilever. We try to generate other additional income by giving customised workshops for a variety of companies. This approach has proved to be extremely refreshing, helping managers to overcome obstacles and formulate thoughts differently. The atmosphere at the workshops is often exuberant. Movement art is an excellent way to relax and it stimulates thinking out of the box."

Attakkalari is supported by, among others, Hivos, Middlesex University, the British Council and the Alliance Française.

Jayachandran Palazhy

Jayachandran Palazhy is the artistic leader of the Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts in Bangalore and is in the forefront of the contemporary South Asian dance scene. His work often involves digital and interactive
He also directs Attakkalari Bangalore Biennial, an international festival of dance and digital arts and FACETS, an international choreography laboratory).

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