Blending genres of Ballet and Bharatanatyam to evoke acceptance and respect.
Melbourne came alive with the Melbourne Fringe at the Dance house Carlton, with two extraordinary talents taking centre stage at the Sylvia Staheli Theatre. Artistic director- Deepa P Mani engaging with the other lead artist, Sheena Chundee - a ballet choreographer alumni of the Royal Ballet School of London.
Deepa has thirty-plus years of training and experience with an acclaimed performance in India, the United States of America, and Australia. Deepa moved to the United States in early 2000 and delivered several successful performances, travelling widely within the country.
Deepa diversified into contemporary Dance when she joined Tehreema Mitha Dance Company (TMDC), well known for its highly athletic and modern dance styles and performed in eminent productions, including Metro DC Dance, Capitol Fringe and Alexandria Performing Arts, as one of the lead dancers.
In 2008, Deepa moved to Melbourne to join her partner and continued her passion for Dance under Dr. Chandrabhanu, a renowned artist and performer in Australia and Order of Australia recipient in 2006. Deepa continued to perform in many shows and produced her first Melbourne solo show, "Daya", under the Jamudvipa Productions and Chandrabhanu Bharatalaya Academy.
Now, as the Artistic Director of Chandralaya School, her latest dance performance, TOUCH, is all about raising cultural awareness and redefining people's views of acceptance, challenge, bias and prejudice.
Sheena Chundee trained full-time with The Royal Ballet School from the age of 11 after receiving a scholarship. After graduating at the age of 17, Sheena danced and choreographed with The Royal Ballet company and multiple dance companies across Europe, creating and performing classical and contemporary roles.
Sheena founded Rebel Stepz Arts in 2010 when she began creating educational and artistic programs and performances, event management, production services, team building projects and theatre craft.
TOUCH kept everyone glued to their seats, including me, when I saw two dancers rule the dance floor totally in sync with two dance forms, and it was a visual treat.
The Dance delves into the minds of two South Asian dancers with similar cultural backgrounds who pursued different art forms- Ballet and Bharathanatyam ; they go beyond the pathos of culture and together as artists struggle to find their place in the mainstream.
Truly relevant work comes from working across fitting into cultures, and as Artists, it's the struggle of acceptance. The collective comprised women of colour from diverse cultural backgrounds, including Asians/Indians/Mauritians, and Africans.
The opening sequence serves as a solid visual representation of the disparity dancers have faced. It reflects isolation, separation and the disjointed spine of the society experienced by those accepted because of their cultural differences.
Then slowly, the 'Story' unfolds as artists blend and merge their movements, becoming "bilingual" and embodying harmony and power through accepting and understanding diversity.
TOUCH, through Dance and music, demonstrates the beauty and peace that can be achieved through respect, regardless of race/ethnicity. The goal is to get the audience thinking about seeing a brown ballet dancer and, as Australians, how they will as an audience interpret Indian Dance.
An art form that is so ancient, profound, and worldwide accepted, why isn't it here in the Australian mainstream? “ Why can't we have dancers from cross-cultural backgrounds working together to produce mainstream work?” Deepa says.
"Our project must be seen and heard, as it has a clear and powerful message," Deepa says.
In today's time, things are pretty different from what they seem. The world appears unhinged and misguided, but when something like TOUCH comes to a theatre, it makes you believe in art and there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
Deepa and Sheena have pioneered a fresh form of artistic expression by seamlessly blending Bharatanatyamwith elements of Ballet. This innovative approach has opened exciting avenues to fuse cultural traditions with collaborative creativity, emphasising Abhinaya (acting) and Anubhav (emotion) as key elements in this dynamic fusion.
This subtle performance is sophisticated and echoes the pathos of cultural narration through its originality. It gives us joy to see Melbourne, a melting pot of South Asian talent, and the periphery of Indian classical Dance re-born with these new genres of talent.
Seeing beautiful Deepa elegantly take centre stage with the juxtaposition of two dance forms and artists successfully conveying the message with her art was a visual treat. We at G'day India congratulate the team of TOUCH along with Deepa and Sheena with this beautiful, heartfelt performance.
Following its appearance at the Melbourne Fringe Festival in October 2023, "TOUCH" is set to return in 2024, expanding its reach to various venues across Victoria, Australia.
By Nandita Chakraborty