Some dance shows entertain, and some educate. Then there are shows that entertain to educate. When Walls Dance is one such show that premiered in Mumbai and then travelled to Bangalore, Delhi and Ahemdabad and soon will be shown in Pune, Chennai and a few dance festivals too. When Walls Dance is a live Bharatanatyam performance with animated scenography, costume and interaction. This production seamlessly blends Warli art, Bharatanatyam, and animation to narrate the enchanting tale of Champa, a young girl from the Warli tribe, and her beloved Champa tree.
This extraordinary project not only aims to educate people about the environment but also sheds light on the rich cultural heritage of our tribal folk as well as the classical art forms. It delves into the concepts of environmental sustainability and ecological sensitivity, employing a unique storytelling medium that sensitises both young and adult audiences to pressing issues that afflict our planet. The story unfolds in an immersive experience using hybrid mediums, art forms and design.
I spoke with dancer Prachi Saathi, who conceived this show along with Upasana Nattoji Roy and had a few Warli artists and musicians participate in it too. Excerpts from the interview:
How did the concept of When Walls Dance come about?
The birth of this idea took place as I drew parallels between the stick figures we draw in dance and the Warli art and I felt the urge to bring them together. With the help of my research guide Rajendra Chaudhari we researched about the Warli traditions, lifestyle, culture, dance and music which lasted over a year I arrived at a story of a little girl Champa and her beloved namesake the Champa tree.
Was the research very extensive?
Oh yes, we made several visits to the Warli village at the outskirts of Mumbai at Jawhar Maharashtra where we met them, spoke to them, danced, listened to their songs and music, ate their home cooked meals, watched some of their rituals. We met the famous artist Bhagwan Kadu who makes paper mache masks which we have used in the production. Because the production was always envisioned as a collaboration between dance and visual art I asked Upasana Nattoji to come on board as a collaborator who brought the Warli art-form to life through her exquisite animation. We had extensive meetings to brainstorm and arrive at the stunning visuals. Upasana is a very passionate and sensitive artist herself and was able to bring our visualisation to life.
How was the music created for the show?
The music for this production has been co- created by Satish Krishnamurthy and Swapnil Chapekar. It is a beautiful coming together of the structured Carnatic music and the free flowing Warli folk music. It was also very important that we maintain the sanctity of the Warli culture and tradition and at the same time not move away from my idiom of communication; Bharatanatyam. The lyrics were taken from the Warli tribal folk as well as written by Swapnil Chapekar and Rajendra Chaudhari.
How did you prepare for it?
The entire process of creating this project lasted over 4 years. First was the writing of the story, the music composition, then came recording it in the studio where we brought the artists to the studio, then the choreography. Post this Upasana and I met almost every week and worked closely on integrating the dance and animation. Upasana herself being a dancer was a huge asset to the project.
What about the costumes and jewellery?
You will not believe, interestingly I had my costume before even the story. Because in my very first trip I picked up the local fabric and jewellery and decided to transform that into my costume. Some of the jewellery have been handmade by Rajendra Chaudhari. I designed the costume myself and Rajubhai did a fabulous job of stitching it just the way I wanted it and it is indeed one of the highlights of the production.
The costume, the jewellery, the masks all speak of the rich indigenous culture. When walls dance gives us a glimpse of how art forms can come together in an amalgamation of artistic practices across different storytelling mediums to trigger urgent and important conversations about our relationship with ourselves and our surroundings.
You surely have lots of people to thank for this show, isn’t it?
Absolutely yes, I have many to thank, especially the renowned Bharatanatyam exponent, Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee Smt. Rama Vaidyanathan for her support, my co-producer – Switch Studio, Scenography and Animation – Upasana Nattoji Roy, Research & Art advisor – Rajendra Chaudhari, Music composition – Swapnil Chapekar & Satish Krishnamurthy. My superb team of Vocalists – Swapnil Chapekar, Ketaki Joshi and traditional Warli artists from Jawhar, Maharashtra. Lyrics – Swapnil Chapekar, Rajendra Chaudhari, Traditional Warli folk songs. Flute – Sandeep Kulkarni, Sound Engineer – Tapan Dewanji at Trio Digital studio. Warli Animation – Upasana Nattoji Roy and Aishwarya Chaudhari, Warli Type – Aditi George, Poster Design – Saurav Roy, Design Manager – Nigel Gomes, Costume Realisation – Raju Ghulambhai, Masks Design – Celebrated Warli artist Shri Bhagwan Kadu and Script guidance – Shaili Sathyu and Sanjukta Wagh. Without the support and involvement of these people the walls would never have danced.
What is the next you want to do with the show?
After the kind of wonderful reactions in all the cities, we have received our enthusiasm has propelled and we wish to take this work to more and more places. We also want to reach out to various schools, colleges and villages where we would like to share this piece of work. But ofcourse to take this to more places we need the right kind of support and we are more than welcome for people to join hands with us.
Sandip Soparrkar holds a doctorate in world mythology folklore from Pacific University USA, an honorary doctorate in performing arts from the National American University, He is a World Book Record holder, a well-known Ballroom dancer and a Bollywood choreographer who has been honored with three National Excellence awards, one National Achievement Award and Dada Saheb Phalke award by the Government of India. He can be contacted on [email protected]