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Animated Edition - Spring 2002
Medicine for the soul
Distanced from their daily portfolio careers Facets 2002 International Choreographic Laboratory in Bangalore, India, provided a group of 'global artists' with an oasis in which they were able to cross physical boundaries, explore their multiple cultural identities, experiment, collaborate, develop work without the pressure of producing a polished product and in doing so redefine their pathways. Fleur Derbyshire reflects on the processes they engaged in and the deep friendships that were forged
Touch down at Bangalore airport 03.55am. I am jetlagged, but India awakens the senses, I smell it, bear it and see it... India is all enveloping.

The richness of terracotta earth paints a backdrop, vibrant colours blur the vision, a kaleidoscope of sari clad women... glimpses of golden adornment shimmer in the sunlight, silver foil and tasselled ribbons twist around horns of slow moving cattle. The heady fragrance of freshly strung jasmine garlands cascade from plaited hair and infuses with the aroma of spices, city furore, diesel and heat.

Noise and air pollution threatens to engulf. Rickshaws zigzag dangerously - dodge in and out and roundabout - there seems to be no right of way. Cattle drawn carts compete for a space along with taxis, buses (seams bursting with arms, legs, a cow's head), men clutch women clutch babies clutch men, speed on motorbikes... yellow washed cows look on oblivious. Horns sound 'coming', 'going', 'stop', '350 rupees, no meter', and the frenzied traffic goes on and on.

But within the chaos is an oasis, Facets 2002 International Choreographic Laboratory took place in Bangalore from 11 to 3 1 January, and it was for this event that I had made the journey to India (1). Facets was orchestrated by Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts under the direction of Jay Palazhy in partnership with ResCen (2), Greenwich Dance Agency and Springdance, Utrecht, and in pioneering spirit brought together a dance community from across India and Europe. Twenty five European participant choreographers met with their corresponding Indian counterparts to embrace both European and Indian dance cultures. The focus of the Laboratory was to experiment with inter-disciplinary approaches to dancemaking aided by a resource team that featured established international names from the fields of dance, music, technology and design.

Getting to know my peers from Europe, the underlying reasons of why many had made the 'pilgrimage' to Facets was openly acknowledged. Also of course, it was the promise of a slice of India, a cultural exchange of movement languages and ideas and the opportunity to develop work without the pressure of producing a polished product. In addition it was a time for personal reflection. Having completed an MA in choreography at Middlesex University in 2001 Facets was a logical progression in my choreographic development, particularly appealing was the opportunity to research and develop an idea within a supportive environment. The geographical location of Facets distanced us from our daily complex lives in order to re-define our pathways. We left behind the zigzag traces of our portfolio careers (never more visually obvious than when on the streets of Bangalore), to train our bodies, enliven our creative minds, experiment with ideas and collaborative approaches to choreography. Facets was an opportunity to be seen foremost as a choreographer, 'medicine for the soul' in reaffirming our ability, and learning to trust our instincts and share our ideas openly with the group.

In contrast, but not in conflict, the Indian contingent had attended Facets primarily to gain skills in Western contemporary dance technique. Tripula Kashyap explained: 'Having mainly choreographed solo work, I wanted to see dance as a community act. Contemporary technique classes are not available in India, therefore the contemporary dance discipline is self taught and directed. Facets was an opportunity to be exposed to the richness of trajectories of contemporary dance.' (3)

The fact that many of the participating choreographers from India were self-taught in contemporary dance gave their work a distinct freshness. Influences from Indian dance forms and martial arts were assimilated into their contemporary dance language, and this, combined with high energy and lack of inhibition produced flashes of brilliance.

'My body has been screaming for a long time for technique classes, (4) Tripura confided in me, and she was not alone... daily class with Yael Flexer and Andre Gingras exposed us to individual languages of contemporary dance. In theory daily contemporary class was available to me in the UK, but in reality I just do not get 'time out' to make the journey to London (the only place where I can get a professional class) and this was an altogether different experience. I was able to develop a relationship with Yael and Andre that was to a degree on an equal footing. Living, working and socialising with each other created a connection between us and this had a positive effect in the studio. I felt that there was a powerful motivation as a participant to absorb movement information. Failures were acceptable - there was time for correction, and trusting their instruction, I revelled in a conducive environment for my own personal growth. The act of pushing my body to a conscious limit and beyond that was exhilarating, and having the occasion to perform in works devised by choreographers (for whom I have a great respect) was not only an informative experience - it rekindled my passion for dance performance.

The classes did seem to depend heavily on Western contemporary dance and it would have been of interest to the participants to have classes led by a contemporary choreographer from India.

Taster sessions were given in Indian dance forms such as yoga, Kalari (a form of martial art) and Chaau. Bharat Sharma introduced us to Chaau, which is traditionally danced with a sword and shield and has its roots in social dance. In unison we set up a motion and rhythm as we practised one of six basic walks... we were an army progressing in a forward direction, bodies adopting deliberate poses, focused and with an almost spiritual concentration we trod in the footsteps of our master, Bharat Sharma... This was a powerful dance form and an area for possible further study.

Christian Ziegler, creator of William Forsythe's Life Forms CD-ROM, provided expert knowledge and support for choreographic experiments exploring the application of new technologies in live performance. Fortunate enough to participate in the dance and technology groups, I was able to work as a 'responsive tool' for the various choreographers. For instance in the sonic environment, facilitated by Joseph Hyde and Christian, the movements of the dancers affected the speed of the music and image sample. Divided into small working groups, facilitated by Andre, we experimented with finding geometric forms within the body and placed these movement improvisations within the sonic environment. This experiment led to a discussion of how the space might be divided to produce differing effects. In another technology experiment - this time with participant choreographer Rosina Bonsu (5), a ghosting effect was created to enhance the themes of the choreography, using delay-time technology whereby a multiple image was projected when the dancer was in motion and conversely a single image when the dancer was still.

The nature of dance and new technologies work necessitates the input of many individuals - at times working in a collaborative situation, at other times discretely, finding creative resolutions to problems. This notion of inter-authorship (i.e. the lack of sole author) when applied to the product of multi-artist dance and technology explorations was raised during the laboratory but never fully explored. As to the question of whether the technology was driving the choreography or vice versa, discussions were only touched upon when in fact room should have been made for proper debate. Experimentation played a key role in the use of new technology and combined with the frequent power cuts in India, it did encroach on our valuable time that should have been utilised for choreographic development. For many the technology experiments, though never a full end product (it was always a work in progress) did provide an insight, which fuelled creative thinking for the potential use of new technologies in live performance.

The Laboratory was concerned with inter-disciplinary approaches to group choreography, and the question was raised of who actually has the final decision in the process of making work in this way? Cathy Lane, composer on the resource team, suggested that often it is a choreographer who holds the budget strings - having raised the funding - and therefore their vision moulds the collaboration. Perhaps collaboration is about learning to trust your fellow collaborators and having an open ear to their ideas. In my experience collaborations are not universal in form - we are all individuals... and as such, communicate on many different levels.

The group was effectively the life-force of the Laboratory and through group discussion, facilitated by Professor Christopher Bannerman, agreed changes to the structure. The new schedule enabled participant choreographers who had submitted proposals to be allocated a choreographic slot. Though time for these independent projects was restricted to a three-hour and two-hour block, the time constraints meant that the work was focused and achievable. The resulting intensive projects produced a range of choreographic 'works in progress' that had great vitality and potential for further development. Especially important to me was the opportunity to develop a specific choreographic idea with a team of committed artists; the experience was both intimate and rewarding. This 'intimacy' evolved from close-contact working with fellow participants. Spartan living conditions and the exclusion of materialism centralised our purpose and strengthened the bonds between us as creative people.

The journey we had started as participant choreographers had seamlessly transformed us into performers in others work, students in training, collaborators and choreographers, initiators of ideas. Facets provided a framework from which we could explore our multiple cultural identities and facilitated an exchange of learning through our peers. Erik Pold, explained further: 'Working in small groups... all the participants began to blend in together, to start using each other and to get to know each others ways of working, ideas about dance, art, life in general... and not neatly separated into cultural categories.' (6)

On a slightly more (constructively) critical note, the Lab did not fully succeed in cultivating a critical forum for evaluating the works in progress; perhaps as Christopher Bannerman suggested, this was a language issue (not all concepts are universal when interpreted). Nor was the Lab structure always as accommodating as it could have been, but our feedback will almost certainly inform Facets 2003.

Now that I have returned to the UK I am keen to develop the choreographic and film work that I piloted at Facets. On reflection, I have gained intimate knowledge and first-hand experience of diverse cultures, enlarged my network of friends and practised new working processes that have tried and tested both my body and my mind! Facets 2002 has established a context for 'global artists,' (7) who can easily cross physical boundaries and exchange cultures and friendships... for our common language is purely... dance.

Fleur Derbyshire, independent dance artist and project manager, essexdance. Email fleur.derbyshire@bigfoot.com

References

1. Funded by a grant from DanceEast and supported by essexdance
2. Facilitated by Professor Christopher Bannerman, head of ResCen, Centre for Research into Creation in the Performing Arts at Middlesex University, UK
3. 4. Kashyap, Tripula, choreographer and dance therapist, Bangalore
4. Bonsu, Rosina, choreographer, Glasgow
5. Pold, Erik, choreographer, Denmark
6. Palazhy, Jay, artistic director, Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts, Bangalore and Imlata Dance Company, UK

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Animated: Spring 2002