Behind the red curtain

Updated: Apr 10, 2020, 11:05 IST | Prachi Sibal | Mumbai

A new storytelling initiative uses dance theatre to reinterpret ancient Jataka Tales for both children and adults.

When Preeti Vasudevan, New York-based bharatanatyam dancer saw her daughter's school shut down and her professional assignments dry up due to the lockdown, she knew she had to do something else. With experience in an online learning platform previously, she sought to make the most of this situation through social impact projects. It's how she thought of stories, ones that could resonate with people around the world. "I couldn't go into a dance studio to film and had to do the filming at home. So we pulled our curtain — which is red — and used that as our 'theatre' background. It then dawned on us that all storytelling cultures use curtains as the luminal space and so it gave birth to the name of the project," she adds about naming it The Red Curtain Project.

The project aims to showcase stories from the Indian subcontinent in dance theatre style and has released its first series from the much-loved Jataka Tales that talk of compassion. Stories like The clever antelope, The hare in the moon, and The tiger and the hunter are up for viewing so far. "It's fun — seeing animals outwit humans is what we need now. We need a healthy combination of the light and the serious in our lives now," she says. The future series, she explains, will include both ancient and modern stories. It will also be open for submissions from children.

While the story videos are up on the website, they have also decided to upload 'back scenes' that tell the story of their making. "Hopefully, this will inspire others who are non-professionals to come forward to tell their own stories," believes Vasudevan.

The process of producing them, she reveals, involves re-scripting them for recording and working with music collaborator Mal Stein for them to reflect a range of emotions. "Meanwhile, we have a creative team that designs for each story; we choose the main gestures and expressions to match the stories for interactivity. Quiz (about each story) and challenge questions are selected. We are also working on bringing other artistic interpretations of the main character of each story — how people interpret and express in different cultures is so exciting to see," she says.

And to bring them together at a time like this is what drives Vasudevan. At the end of it, it is the simple values of positivity, empathy, compassion and laughter that she hopes people will take back from it.

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