Dancing the dilemmas away

Dancing the dilemmas away

Classical artistes must shed their inhibitions and upgrade their skills to suit the digital space.

Prachi Hota

To persevere, to invent new ways of doing something, to work towards a goal with sincerity and passion are all hallmarks of a successful person, especially so during extraordinary situations such as the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns that 2020 has thrust upon the world. Among many people who are trying to re-invent themselves, are artistes who are upgrading their skill sets, by understanding technology that helps them connect with their fraternity and audiences. One such artiste is young Prachi Hota, a trained Odissi danseuse, who currently lives in London, UK, where she is pursuing a degree in filmmaking from the London Film School. She was among the early artistes who went digital with their performances.

In a chat with DHoS, Prachi spoke of her foray into the digital space and learnings from the experience. “I decided to go digital because auditoriums and classes are closed. But, artistes need to perform. Webinars and online workshops began almost immediately after the lockdowns were announced. Even festival organisers started performances on Facebook Live and other online platforms. So, I decided to jump in as well. Since the lockdowns began in March-April, I’ve had three performances in the digital sphere — one organised by a dance institute in Odissa, the second one for a festival organised by the All-India  Dancers’ Association and the most recent one for a festival organised by the Purvai Sanskreetikala Vikaash Kendra, Kolkata,” she said. The best thing about going digital, according to Prachi, has been the ability to reach people in their homes and to take performances to people who could hitherto not attend concerts due to time constraints or bad traffic.

“Auditorium performances are different. The energy is palpable and it spurs artistes. At the end of our performances, we do something called a Moksh, which is a prayer for salvation, not only for the artiste, but also for everyone present. It is a very spiritual thing. That is missing now. But digitally, we can see numbers in the audience feedback. It is a shared experience too like how art is meant to be and we are getting views even from people who don’t understand dance well,” she said.

Many challenges

Prachi however mentioned that online performances organised in India are still largely free to view, compared to ticketed performances abroad. “There has been a debate about this because we also have bills to pay. Slowly, we are seeing festivals in India that are becoming ticketed. A lot many artistes cannot afford to perform for free,” she explained.

One of the most important learnings for Prachi has been to navigate her way in the digital arena. “Nowadays, an artiste has to do everything. When I perform from home, I have to make sure the audio is good, background is creative and lighting is good. In auditorium performances, we have technicians handling all that. At home, the physical space for my performance also shrinks as I have to keep the camera in mind. This was difficult to adapt to at first, but has been fun getting to know,” she said.

This apart, Prachi feels that when the world gets back on its feet, a lot of performances will continue to happen in the digital space because of the immense potential it provides. “Thanks to lockdown, I now save time otherwise spent commuting between rehearsals and performances and I am able to focus more on practice to improve my art. Dance transcends all barriers and though digital performances are not as formal as auditorium performances, this informality has brought about increased interaction with audiences sitting in the comfort of their homes and among peers and seniors in our fraternity through workshops, webinars and talks. I do hope I get to collaborate. This is not easy in our art form, but not impossible.”

Academic route

Prachi, who gave her first full solo recital at the of 12, started dance lessons in Kolkata at the age of three, when her parents allowed her to try a variety of dances before picking one. She recalled being mesmerised by Odissi. But, since she was too young to start formal dance lessons, her teacher initiated her into Rabindra Natak folk dances.

Soon, she was learning the basics of Odissi from her first guru Ms Arpita Venkatesh and by the age of seven, she was under the tutelage of late Guru Sri Harekrishna Behera, who was credited with establishing Odissi in north India. “My family had moved to Delhi and I enrolled for guruji’s classes. He taught me the basic math associated with the complicated rhythm system of Indian dance. He would insist I attend recitals to understand how to interact with audiences. I was able to comprehend that lesson much later,” she said. Prachi now hopes to increase her scope through the academic route. “I have conducted a few talks, which have been attended by senior artistes. That’s very encouraging and I hope to continue,” she said.