Contemporary dance sequences will come alive this evening at Gateway of India
Art, with limited opportunities for engagement, tends to distance its audience. But when thought goes into making it more tangible, the passion is returned in ways that endure. In 1993, contemporary dance in Europe was largely a solitary pursuit, confined to professionals in the circuit. Collective dance initiatives were almost unheard of and flash mobs were still a decade away.
Dancers from Brussels and Mumbai rehearse in Andheri; (below left) a Bal Moderne event in Brussels
To bridge the gap between the dance form and commoners, Michel Reilhac founded a participatory dance project, Bal Moderne, in Paris. The idea was simple: short choreographies created by professionals for people with no experience in dance, who are then taught the sequences in a non-elitist atmosphere. The concept was a runaway success and since the turn of the century, Bal Moderne has been adopted by the Belgians, becoming somewhat of a national speciality.
On the occasion of the Belgian royal couple's ongoing state visit to India, the project, which has been well received across Europe and in Melbourne and Peking, has come to the city for the first time with the event, Brussels Dances With Mumbai.
"Belgium is a very small country with a disproportionately high number of dancers," says artistic director of the project Oonagh Duckworth, before heading off for rehearsal at an Andheri studio. "But initially, when professional choreographers were approached for the project, they were a little reluctant about being part of something that they felt would take away from the gravitas of their work."
However, when they noticed the happiness that uninhibited dance movements bring to people, things began to change. In fact, many of Belgium's established and up-and-coming choreographers have contributed specially created dance sequences to the project's repertoire. For this evening's "guided dance party", as Duckworth calls it, participants can expect a choreography sequence by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, who was recently appointed as director of the Royal Ballet of Flanders. Among his popular works is his collaboration with Beyoncé on her Grammy 2017 performance. Wim Vandekybus, who was largely responsible for putting Belgium at the forefront of the European dance scene, is another contributor. Popular choreographer and contemporary dancer Ashley Lobo is the project's collaborator in India, whose sequences will be performed and taught at the Gateway, too.
Oonagh Duckworth & Ashley Lob
So, how does this participatory dance event pan out? "Bal Moderne comes from the term Bal-musette, a popular, multi-generational style of dance in France that brings together people of several age groups. And that's the idea behind all our events — to create a sense of solidarity among people through dance," explains Duckworth. Each choreography is designed such that non-specialised public groups can pick it up in about 40 minutes. The dances are fun, yet sufficiently challenging.
"When it comes to contemporary dance, India has a long way to go. Things don't change overnight, but events like these have a snowballing effect," says Lobo.
And when everyone around you is dancing like no one's watching, how do you not give in?
On Tonight, 6 pm to 10 pm
At The Gateway of India, Colaba.