It seemed like the birds and insects were having a rave party outside, it poured like lord Shiva was dancing in joy! My first night at ‘Shivakumara Ranga Prayoga Shale’- a school which teaches theatre in a village of Chitradurga district, Sanehalli. Lets talk about the day now-I reached Birur and Madhu, the administrator picked me up in the school van, I heard about the many renowned theatre artist’s like Smt.B.Jayashree, Sri Prasanna from Ninasum, Sri K.G.Krishnamurthy, Sri Basavalingiah, artists from N.S.D, visit to the institute –made me a bit nervous! We halted at a nearby village Ajjampura where I had the privilege of meeting an old man Sri.Krishna Murthy, who had been documenting newspaper cuts of theatre from all over the country-he even has won awards for it and people from through out India visit him for references.
Shivkumar Ranga Prayoga Shale is a reputed, residential school, which gets around 50 applicants every year among whom only the best 18-20 are selected. These students are trained in various aspects of theatre like Abhinaya, Aharya, and Western theatre at the end of which they need to give their exam to get a diploma. The school also absorbs the best of these students to create a new play that tours all over the country for a year (Thirugaata).
I met a couple of bright-eyed students when I was sitting in the portico. They looked lithe and strong. I remembered I was told that I could go on the whole day if I wanted to, I wondered “the whole day, how tough are they”???
I was introduced to a set of 20 theatre students mostly in their early 20’s. I began by telling them a bit about the history of contemporary dance. I started with an easy warm up and included some simple rhythm based movements. I soon realised I have to first introduce them to the basics of speed, pointwork and moving with music before I proceed. Didn’t know how time flew by, both our energy levels were rising.
It was mid April, scorchingly hot in Sanehalli and suddenly it began to pour to everyone’s surprise. The place we were rehearsing became wet and away went the electricity. Guess what we did? Instead of stopping work we danced in rain, wow it was so much fun. We danced with sticks which is called Kolata, a traditional folk form of Karnataka. Our folk dances are really a great way of bonding, it would be fun to introduce them in urban discos. We then shifted to one of the classrooms to practice rhythm and footwork in candlelight. As opposed to a regular class-format, I decided to have fun asking the students to stand in a circle with me in the centre turning direction every time to teach.
It stopped pouring and 3-4 students got down to mopping the floor. They took turns in cleaning the studio everyday- a beautiful system which teaches you how important teamwork and dignity of labour in the field of art is!! We programmed some basic beats in the keyboard to practice spins to end the day.
In my spare time, I used to chat with Mr.Nataraj Honnavalli, the principal, a very learned, witty man who loves to crack jokes, we hit it off very well, discussing everything under the sun from politics to art.
As it was raining heavily, we closed all the windows. When I was asleep a little bird, which looked like yellow-throated sparrow, lost its way, got stuck inside the room and was flying frantically. I got up and opened one of the windows to help the bird but couldn’t. After a long time, the bird found its way out, when another bird from outside came and saved it showing the way out. I didn’t know how the sparrow knew it’s friend was stuck inside, I guess some of nature’s most exquisite work is on a miniature scale!!
The next day when they had a kalari session in the morning at the outdoor Greek amphitheatre, I prepared for my next choreography session with them. When I asked them to compose on their own, they came up with some brilliant compositions which I guess even I wouldn’t think of. I think their theatre education has given them a strong sense of blocking. Also did some contact work and each one would try and say, “mam’ mam’ look at me”, imagine a 20 mam’s to attend too, I love their zealous, drives me to teach them more.
We spotted a snake lying next to the door which was chased by the students as though they were chasing a dog!! Everyone is in harmony with nature here, if there is a natural calamity tomorrow these are the people who will survive I guess, ha ha!!
I became one of them, supremely spirited, eager to share my knowledge, woke up early started class at 6.30 am. Many of them were complaining of body pain, price of enthusiasm! Took an easy stretching session to ease their pain. I set their choreography, which Mr. Honnavalli wanted to use for a poem later. I was happy to see how fast they progressed in 3 days. Their sincerity to learn and absorb anything you throw at them is extremely motivational for anyone who works with them. The students used to say I brought rain to Sanehalli and would be beneficial to take me to a desert.
While I was waiting in the bus to Bengaluru, there was a girl who had run away from the house because her father scolded her. The whole village knew who she was and advised her to get off the bus and go back home. This would never happen in a city, where there is so much population and I guess that girl would have been lost forever!!
I went to teach dance in Sanehalli but came back a student with a lot of rich experiences. I think it’s a must for all of us to invest time in our villages, it’s our roots.