It was Avantika Bahl’s first session at Dance Dialogues, the new dance and movement initiative in the city. The contemporary dancer from Delhi was aware that the dance community wasn’t as active in Mumbai as in her hometown, but she decided to check it out anyway. At the session, which she had expected would be a routine dance class, a group of dancers and non-dancers gathered at the venue for a screening of a theatre performance, ‘Unselfed’, followed by a discussion with its director Sujay Saple. After her first session, Bahl became a regular during which she often met and exchanged ideas with Saple on how the performance could be enhanced. A few months later, Saple invited Bahl to perform as part of the play. She said, “Dance Dialogues gave me the opportunity to share space with a bunch of eminent directors, filmmakers and actors. How often does that happen?”
Not very often, according to Ranjana Dave, the founder of the Mumbai-based initiative. Classical training gave Dave, an Odissi dancer, very few chances to venture outside the guru-shishya circle and meet other artistes. “Also, classical dancers are rarely encouraged to take up inter-disciplinary work,” she explains.
Prompted by these limitations, Dave launched Dance Dialogues in November 2011 as a space for the dance community to interact with artistes of other disciplines. Today, it enjoys a loyal following of dancers of classical and contemporary forms, as well as non-dancers. The group meets twice a month. One of the sessions is screening or a workshop where the artistes whose works are in focus are invited to talk.
On April 19, however, an open house replaced the usual workshop. “We threw the doors open to everyone for a full day of dancing. There were multiple sessions of three to four hours each for different forms of dancing,” said Dave, adding that the presence of non-dancers rids everyone of the inhibition they might experience while dancing with professionals.
The other session is what Dave calls ‘a jam’, a 2-3 hour session of a contemporary dance form called Contact Improvisation (CI). “Here, the dancers derive the energy from contact with their partners’ body,” she explained. CI sessions teach the participants balance, counterbalance, body lifts and breathing techniques, and also how to dance safely. “There are a few dancers in the city who practise CI, but there was no space to train in this dance form regularly. So, we included it in our agenda,” she said. Again, these sessions are open to all at a registration fee of Rs 100 that pays for the venue.
Dave believes that Dance Dialogues is making a small but significant change to the city’s cultural scene. “Earlier, whenever a renowned dance master came to India, he would tour cities like Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai. But now, we get calls for shows in Mumbai too,” she said adding, “We want to open non-dancers to the world of dancing and dancers to artistes from other art forms.”