Thursday, November 21, 2013

Man in the Universe

So, you think you know it all?
Then you haven't looked around,
So much to learn from Nature
- it's beauty that surrounds

Air, Fire, Water & Earth
different elements but one in spirit!
They teach man the 'Power of Union'
Coexist, embrace harmony, together man knows no limits!

Fruits & flowers we pluck, uprooting them
Our benefits they serve - of food, worship, mere decore...
They teach man value of service, despite death!
Find joy in being selfless & make love not war!

The mighty Sun, the illustrious giver,
humbly sets each night for the rising Moon
Together they teach man of humility, of letting go of the disastrous ego...
However big, you need to step back at times, for a greater boon!

So, you still think you know it all?
Then you forget and ignore that you are just a ' Man in the Universe'
Learning is immense, hidden in each second, each moment!
Open up your self & in nature let your being immerse!


What would I do without the Write Tribe prompt's I wonder!! So, you think you know it all - this cue has been provided by Jairam Mohan, one of my favorite bloggers whose fiction and mythological related posts are brilliant, effortless and definitely keep you coming back for more!

Monday, November 18, 2013

I've been busy lately...

I'm so excited to share with you all what I've been upto for the last few weeks...My friends and now my few blogger friends have come to know the passion I have for dancing. I have always wanted to take my passion a few steps ahead and do something more...Apart from training professionally in Jazz and Modern, for a very brief period of 4 months I taught few kids Hip-Hop, Jazz and freestyle....well another post another day I might tell you what happened to that...

So, I am pursuing an online course at Coursera. We are into the 4th week now and this course has let me explore and open up to the world in an entirely new way. It's like I have a new pair of eyes!

Creating Site-Specific Dance and Performance Works is a free online class taught by Stephan Koplowitz of California Institute of the Arts

Creating Site-Specific Dance and Performance Works means what it actually suggests....Creating a piece of choreography NOT inside the four walls of a class or on a stage but to go out, explore the world, let the architecture, history, community, social relevance of a 'site' inspire you to create a site-specific work. 

I have always believed that Dance is Universal language and I have wanted for long to use it as a tool to spread awareness about important social factors inflicting our society and in my own way create a better world by spreading joy and happiness through 'movement'. 

I didn't know how and where to start. I've had plenty of ideas and my diary has seen several 'plans' and outlines of opening a Dance NGO etc etc but the implementation never happened. What stopped me? Too much thinking, to much detailing and then a point somewhere which made me go " I'm not ready yet". Lack of confidence, inexperience, not enough expertise pulled me backwards. And then I stumbled upon this course and I said "Why not!!"

The past 4 weeks had made me go out of my comfort zone, out my home, with a camera and note-pad in hand to lands where I would not have thought I'd go and do a twirl, a twist or a split!!

The Course structure is such that every week we have a series of online video lectures post which we are asked to do an assignment. This assignment is anonymously evaluated by three peers who are also taking this course. I'm privileged to be in a class where I share the space with Choreographers, Dancers, Actors, Theatre personalities, Art students, Dance educators, Media & digital arts executives etc from well all over the world - Greece, Taiwan, Istanbul, Brazil, Italy, Russia, Spain, India, New York, Boston, name it and it's there on the Google maps! So so much talent and so much diversity!

I thought of sharing my assignment 2 here for (a) a general record, (b) to invite feedback from friends and peers (since the assignment evaluation was anonymous we are not able to follow through the entire project of the peers), and (c) as a reminder to keep not only complete the course successfully but to actually this time execute it to finality!

So here goes mu assignment (as it is!)....and fyi the score/evaluation has already been completed for this assignment. 

And a very very special mention to my Mommy, my husband and my friends from my dance school - Shivani, Sheena and Manas...Thank you and love you all!!

Assignment # 2 - Creating Site - Specific Dance and Performance Works

Part 1

My idea of creating a Site-specific work is to primarily bring about a change for the betterment of our society. This piece will focus on the importance of Education as a tool to educate and empower one and all. Illiteracy is a major problem that plagues the Indian society. Despite the government spending huge amounts on education, 100% literacy still remains elusive and a distant dream. In India today, 4% of our children never start school. 58% don’t complete primary schools. And 90% don’t complete school.
The site selected for this particular piece is primarily a school, which is a temple of knowledge.
Some of the filters that helped me approach and select this particular site are:
  • Physical Site - I intend to choreograph a promenade performance here which will use various corners of the school – stairs, classroom and the open field/playground each signifying and furthering the cause of education. Inside the classroom, I would like to play with various inventories available - 2 entrances, set of windows on top, one huge window, benches, chairs, blackboard, whiteboard, table, bags, duster etc. If you see the photographs below the classroom setting has not been changed here. But for my performance I would be using only 7 benches and chairs along with one teachers table.. 
There are two entrances to the class and on the other end is a very well lit window. I want to use the window as a representation that education ‘lights up lives’, that education transforms lives and leads one to enlightenment.
  • Current Use and Community – The particular school chosen is Fr. Agnel School, Noida whose vision is to “provide Excellent Education as per the principles of equality, love and brotherhood matching it with the best practices of education and student development” They also run a charitable institution called ‘The Father Agnel Ashram’ which provide shelter, education and skill training to the poor, orphaned and destitute children. I want to work with this community particularly and choreograph the finale of the performance with them in the open field.
Once the original work is choreographed in this school, I want to place this piece in different sites of "education learning'. This could range from private institutions, government schools, NGOs working for education for girls, orphans, street children and in rural India, community schools etc. I am very much inspired by the work of Martha Bower/Dance Theatre and Etcetera and Anna Halprin both of whom focus on community largely and envision to create a better world through Arts/Dance. Though I have no prior experience in creating such works, I aim to start a similar Dance based revolution in India which will promote important social causes through Dance.
Part 2
Since I aim to do a promenade performance, the audience structure varies as the choreography moves to different locations in the School. The below sketch gives a fair idea of the audience structure and where they will be placed as the choreography enfolds. I have divided the piece into 3 parts and the audience would be required to walk from one place to another.

Part 1 - The site focused is the stairs which lead to the classroom. The audience is standing on either side of the stairs.
Part 2 - The classroom setting will have 7 benches and chairs along with the teachers table as shown in the sketch. The audience will either be seated or standing around the space to view the performance. There are two entrances which can also be a gateway for the audience to view the performance from outside.
Part 3 - The audience will be seated on a raised stage in an open space where they can view the dancers in front in the open green play field.

The number of audience would vary from 20-30. Though the last stage happening in the open field can incorporate a larger number of audience, the number has been restricted due to the limitation of space available in the classroom.

The piece will not be ticketed as it's main aim is to promote a cause. Although, we could look at the options of fund raising/ donation at a later stage. The performance could run at regular intervals of time making it open for a wider audience. So once the final piece (part 3) is being performed (by the community students), the part 1 of the choreography would be started for the next audience members group.

Part 3

I sought the help of my friends to give a better illustration of the visuals of the site.

1. The below picture depicts the stairs leading to the classroom, the window, railings and stairs provide good inventory for a choreography. The audience would be placed on either side of the stairs.


2. The below pictures are of the classroom where part 2 of the choreography will unfold. Benches, blackboard, books, tables, windows etc will be used to enhance the site-specificity. The class setting will be changed to only have 7 benches as in the sketch below and the audience will be seated or standing around the area.


3. The below photos show the play-field where the performance will take place in an open field and the finale will be danced by the community students. The audience will be seated on the concrete raised platform in the background of the school building.


4. Audience Design and staging plan



Site - Specific Dance - Work inspired by the elements of site itself where the artistic decisions are made in dialogue with the site. 

Promenade Performance - A site - specific performance where the audience walks to specific locations within the site as the performance unfolds.

Site Inventory - Otherwise known as "casing the joint", this is a process of taking stock of what is found in a site: counting elements (windows, lights, poles), measuring distances between points, or the act of noticing simply what is there without any preconceived ideas or agendas.

So friends what do you think? I really hope I'm able to take forth my ideas and put them into actual practice and execution! Fingers crossed! 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Love Life in all its Hues

"Hey don't you feel guilty in any way. This is my choice and I don't regret my decision a bit!" It was for the hundredth time that I had said this to her, but she still remained unconvinced. She doesn't realize how happy and satisfied I feel doing this.  She has been the one that held my hand and taught me how to walk, not just my first steps, but she has been there at every step of my life, helping me unravel the many mysteries of so called 'life'. Our love goes beyond the one that siblings share. She is my mother, my friend, my guide, my God. So when my wife warned "it's either her or your family" or my office management laid out the resignation papers in front of me, I didn't take a second to make the decision.
It's true that "When you love you wish to do things for. You wish to sacrifice for. You wish to serve". These past three years I have lived by this quote. Making sure that each living day is a joyous one for her. That is the only prayer that I have.

I still remember that night when I got the terrible news that my elder sister had met with a horrible accident. The 2 hour drive to the city hospital where she had been admitted is still a haze...the road ahead misty because of the tears running down, the noise of honking cars a murmur as I was cursing the drunk driver who had run over my sister's car. The doctor announced that due to severe spinal cord injury Shree had to be kept under monitoring for a few weeks, before giving the final prognosis. For the first three days, she was in the ICU in a medically-induced coma. When she finally opened her eyes, I couldn't face her. What do I say to her? I for no reason felt that I had betrayed her...for not being there with her that night. I felt guilty...for being the one able to stand instead of being the one lying on the bed. 

That horrible night Shree was driving back from a dance recital of one of her students. She had been teaching Bharatnatyam for the last 9 years to a group of children from her colony. It is proud moment for any teacher when their students outshine them. She was very happy that one of her students was getting a scholarship from the Cultural Resources and Training, Ministry of Culture and it was from that functioning that she was returning. She had pursued me to come but I had excused myself on the pretext of work...

"I can feel the sunshine on my face Ashwin, but I'm unable to catch the sun ray's through my hands. I can't move Sonny", these were the first word she uttered when she woke up. I could see the colour disappearing from her eyes as the reality dawned on her. I slowly walked to her bedside and kissed her forehead. "It'll be okay, Akka", I could feel the hollowness of my words but she cheered up nonetheless. She was like sunshine...her smile lit up the room and I had a new hope in my heart...I prayed that this gloominess would end. The next day however the doctor confirmed our worst fears. Shree would never walk again. Due to the spinal cord injury, she was announced as a C5-C6-C7 quadraplegic, the term seemed to make no sense to me except that my sister was now paralyzed from her chest down and would be in a wheelchair forever. She could still use her hands, although they were severely contracted.

Shree had been dancing for long as I remember. As a kid she had won many competitions both inter-school and inter-state. Grace, beauty, Rhythm, Poise, all these words were second names to her. I always thought and believed that she was born to dance. And now all my beliefs and my life's learnings were being questioned. I am sure these thoughts were troubling Akka too but she didn't express any such emotion. The way she held herself, the way she inquired with the doctor the Do's and Don'ts gave me courage.

"Ashwin, remember that year when I had gone to the Jaisalmer Desert Festival to perform. I was to dance amidst the golden sands of the Thar desert. I was so enchanted by the idea, so very eager to perform but that day we experienced a terrible sand storm. The organizing committee had to pack up everything in just a few seconds. We all were huddled up in one tent. It had gone absolutely dark by 4:00 pm. No one knew that we would survive or not. But we did, Sonny. We did! The storm settled and the next morning as the Sun rose, the sand dunes stood glittering like diamonds. The landscape was not recognizable. The sand dunes had shifted, re-positioned themselves. But they were the same and in fact looked stronger than ever after the ordeal" I silently kept looking at Akka,taking in her words. "What I'm saying is Sonny, this too shall pass. I know it will."

I always knew Akka was strong. After our parents died, she took it upon her to provide me with everything and all our neighbours and near family praised the way she had taken the entire episode in her stride. But wasn't this different? She had lost her limbs but yet she didn't break down. I felt so proud. Akka do you realize that I have stayed with you for selfish reasons. That my decision to stay with you and serve you is purely because I know you are a higher being. That sacrificing the phony life that I had...was nothing compared to the love that I have for you. That these past 3 years have been a blessing to me. Your actions, your fight, your will to live providing me with enriching lessons.

Today, Shree has her own dance school. She has students coming to learn from her from all over the world. She sits in her power wheelchair and dances with her hands and face. Grace, beauty, Rhythm, Poise, all these words are still second names to her. Sure, Life has changed but she hasn't.


The above is a piece of fiction where I have used Hemingway's quote "When you love you wish to do things for. You wish to sacrifice for. You wish to serve" from 'A Farewell to Arms' - A challenge posted by Write Tribe. Seems off late the writer in me gets inspired only by the many wonderful prompts at Write Tribe!! :) :)

As I was researching 'Quadriplegia' I came across many inspiring stories. I want to salute all these fighters who have won against all odds and have such an amazing will to live. Do check out the below links.
The story of Vivian, a 24 old bright chap who has found new meaning in Painting
The story of (Super)Dan Harvey as told by his best friend
A husband-wife duo who blog at Love Like This Life, who are happily married, wheelchair and all.
Graham Streets, the founder of Mad Spaz Club, whose tagline reads 'Where all the cool wheelchair people hangout'

Thank you all for inspiring!!

I also came across a news article in TOI, where a quadriplegic girl was denied a university seat because she could not climb the stairs. This raged me and again I felt ashamed to be living in this country which fails to treat its citizens equally. There are few foundation in India which are doing a great job to spread awareness on this issue. NINA Foundation  is one such institution.
Remember the movie, Guzaarish, the first movie in India which broached the taboo topics of quadriplegia and euthanasia. Although I loved Hrithik's acting I did not like the message the movie sent out to its viewers. Dr. Ketna Mehta who runs the NINA Foundation holds similar views and shared her thoughts here.

Do you have any such inspiring stories to share? A person who despite their disability/medical condition has always remained positive and has inspired you? Have you loved someone that being with them is the only thing that matters and serving them is your highest reward?

Do share your stories and always remember that Life is what you make of it, so makeitbeaYOUtiful!!