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Darpana :Mirroring values

More often than not, it is a performance or a dancer that is reviewed and in all the limelight is lost somewhere the ardeous efforts of the people behind the scene. I simply could not help but feel this way after I was a participant at the Festival for the Young conducted by the Darpana Academy of Performing Arts recently at Ahemadabad. This definitely called for a travelogue.

One has to applaud the efforts that the team at Darpana, to say the least. They have been conducting a youth festival over the past three years at Natarani on the occasion of World Dance Day making it The “oh-so-very-special” festival.

The usual mantra of organisers these days for any young performer of any dance form is "local transportation and hospitality," and (if the poor things are lucky) to-and-fro tickets along with an "honorarium." Well, the hosts at Darpana provided their performers with all that and much more, in style!!!

I had reached the place one day before the scheduled day of my performance and was one of the lucky few to be put up at the ancestral home of the Sarabhai's. Now, that experience, I cannot really put into words. So I'll try my best and leave the rest to your imagination. It was one of those old bungalows with high ceilings and huge wooden crates in the corners. Numerous works of art were put up on the walls, ranging from traditional to modern. One could hear birds chirping through the day, and what's more, there actually were peacocks strutting around! The walk from the bunglow we were staying to the main gate itself would take more than 20 min, but we had very helpful and kind chauffeurs picking us up every time we had to get somewhere.

Having the opportunity to attend the performances of the previous day, I noticed that the ambience for an aesthetically pleasing evening was created with utmost care. The premises of Darpana have been constructed and decorated in a such a way that every nook and corner spells "Art!". As one entered through the gate, very apt Carnatic music was being played and the area was lit with strategically placed candles. The gate to the amphitheatre would not be opened until 15 min before the scheduled time. And meanwhile, the audience had an opportunity not only to enjoy the music but also to notice the beautifully designed flex of the performers of the festival. Something that was heartwarming was that the poster had photographs of all the artists, but in the places of their names, the form that that they represented was given, which, for me (and I am sure I can speak for the other performers too on this) emphasised once again the fact that we were there as representatives of the dance form. So, no pressure!!!

Once the gates were opened, we were guided to the amphitheatre by the candles lit along the winding path that led to it. There were volunteers helping the public to their places to be seated in an order - care was taken such that the view of the audience will not be disturbed by those who might turn up a bit later. The seating area was so well constructed that one could sit back and relax quite comfortably. No fidgeting in the seats whatsoever. The stage itself was simply elegant with just a plain black back-drop, sans any banner (which was quite a relief!!!), and yet so beautiful, with a huge tree beside it, and the dry leaves at times floating onto the dancer during the performance.

My performance was scheduled for the next day and I was asked to hand over my CDs to the technician in the morning itself. Whenever I carry recorded music, I usually am really stressed out about whether the technician will play the right CD at the right time. I cannot be branded pessimist, because it happens often that the wrong CD is played. But, when I got my CDs back after the performance, (somebody gave them to me and I didn't have to run around looking for the guy to take them back), I noticed that there were tiny yellow slips stuck on the covers, with a marking denoting the I/II/III performance, the 1/2 item and the duration of each item, along with seconds!!! Really, so many times the order of the CDs is bungled up and causes so much confusion in the performers as well as the audiences, and this is an amazingly simple yet effective way of keeping such accidents at bay!!!

The publicity given was so meticulous that on the day of the performance, journalists from various dailies called each performer and enquired about their backgrounds and the details of the numbers to be performed. What was really heartening for the dancers was that the turnout of the audience was full, and though the program began at 8:30 pm and ended at 10:00, the amphitheatre was packed until the very end. The crowd consisted of not only 50/60 somethings, but also of many youngsters from the educational institutions around. And, it resulted in applause at all the right places, accompanied with loud cheers too, which was quite new for us classical dancers, but was fun and encouraging at the same time.

The green room, (yet another place that causes unwanted stress before a performance) was another stand out arrangement. Though my performance was on the fourth day and many dancers had used the green room before I did, I did not have to deal with used paper flowers or other varieties of strewn litter lying around. It was clean and tidy and had laminated posters of Mrinalini and Mallika Sarabhai's performances from across the world, which was really very inspiring.

Once we were on stage, we, of course, had a great time as the audience was so responsive and the amphitheatre was so beautifully built that one could actually speak to the audience. After each number was over, and the lights were off, there actually was a volunteer holding a torch, guiding us off the stage, so that we would not bump into anything and hurt ourselves. I mentioned this to one of the members of the team, and he said, "We face those problems when we perform, right? So, we didn't want you facing them." I mean, how thoughtful can they get?

After each day's performances, the artists were given no cumbersome mementos that simply refuse to fit into the bag. We were congratulated with a rose, a small, gift-wrapped, handy something and a rolled-tied-around-with-a-mustard-string certificate. Once I opened the knot of the mustard string, along with the certificate was a poster of the festival that they had used for advertising! They were nudging us to one day create a room which was bedecked just like the green room described above! And the wrapped gift was a signed copy of Mrinalini Sarabhai's autobiography! Am I floored!

After those who wanted to greet the artists back-stage had left, they had arranged for an interview of each artist, asking them various questions which ranged from "Tell us something about your dance form," to "what do you think is the biggest challenge for any artist." This entire interview which lasted for about 15 min was recorded with a professional camera and lighting. I felt like I had gone there for a performance, which I did, but along with it, I was given a grooming session that I thoroughly enjoyed! Seriously, could it get any better?

Apparently, it could. Only yesterday, I received a courier from Darpana containing a video of my performance with the videographer not missing out even a bit of the performance, nor using his "creativity" (I don't know why people have this desire to try and capture just the movements of the feet). It was a very professionally shot and edited video, and along with it, were the paper reviews of my performance, neatly cut and pasted on an A4 paper, along with cuttings of the name of the paper and the date!

There was this huge scrap-book that was given to each performer to be filled in beside their pasted photograph. We were supposed to give our feedback there. But, obviously, I could not get all this to fit in there however much I tried, and so, this came to be. But more than that, it is a pointer to organisers around the country, especially those who organise youth festivals, that we, young dancers also can to treated well!