To celebrate the Belgium king and queen’s state visit to India, the hugely popular Belgian collective dance initiative, Bal Moderne, is coming to the country for the very first time. The Belgian royal couple, King Philippe and Queen Mathilde, will be arriving in Mumbai on Thursday as part of their seven-day visit to India.
The idea behind Bal Moderne is to free contemporary dance from the elitist bracket within which it is usually confined, by getting members of the public to perform specially choreographed pieces put together by some of the world’s leading exponents of the performing art form. At the Gateway of India on Thursday, in the presence of the royal couple, three leading, cutting edge choreographers — Belgium’s Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Wim Vandekybus and Mumbai-based Ashley Lobo and his company The Danceworx — will be leading the crowd through the programme.
Oonagh Duckworth, artistic director of Bal Moderne and the face of the initiative, said over email: “Belgium, a small country, boasts a huge amount of very talented and cutting edge contemporary choreographers. We have been asked to present Bal Moderne during Belgium’s official state visit to India because I think the project is very affiliated with what Belgium does well: contemporary dance, whilst demonstrating the Belgian sense of fun. Mumbai is also a capital of dance, the Bal we hope will highlight this mutual affinity.”
Bal Moderne was created by artist and film producer Michel Reilhac in 1993 for the Festival Paris Quartier d’Ete, where it became an instant success, and it remained a huge hit with the public for the several consecutive years that it was organised in Paris. The basic idea was simple, if revolutionary: three short choreographies of three or four minutes, made specially for people with no experience in dance, are taught to the public over the course of one evening. It is a precursor to the ‘flashmob’, and people of all ages and walks of life are encouraged to participate. The concept travelled to Brussels for the first time in 1996 where it was greeted with just as much enthusiasm as in the French capital. Duckworth was given the exclusive rights to Bal Moderne by Reilhac in 2000, and since then, the tiny nation of Belgium has been the home of the initiative. It has travelled around the world and has collaborated with some of the best choreographers around the world, such as Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, who was also executive producer of Bal Moderne from 2000 to 2007, Damien Jalet and Zsuzsa Rozsavolgyi.
Duckworth sees Bal Moderne as “an important antidote to contemporary dance, sometimes being thought of as inaccessible or boring.” She believes that the communal nature of the initiative, as well as the lack of pressure to perfect the moves, is what makes it a success everywhere it goes. “I think dancing together often brings out the best in people. The Bal Moderne choreographies are not in fact so simple, but people feel united in the challenge of trying to dance them together. Nobody is expected to get them completely right and making mistakes is part of the fun. People don’t feel conspicuous in a big crowd and the rather structured way of teaching the choreographies means they never feel at a loss. We also try and adapt the project to the different cultures and context in which the Bal is presented.”
In Mumbai, the programme will begin at 6 pm with a flashmob created by Lobo, which the public will also be encouraged to participate in. Pieces by Cherkaoui and Vandekybus will then be taught to the crowd, and after this, a DJ set will be performed. About 3,000 people are expected to participate in the programme, with every single one being taught each of the three pieces. The challenge, Duckworth admits, will be huge, but according to her that is what makes Bal Moderne so exciting. She says, “The aim is that people have fun, but underlying that we also hope that people, even during the four or so minutes of the dance, will feel an artistic vibration. It might possibly even ignite an interest in contemporary dance as well as reveal just a tiny bit of what happens in Brussels.”