In conversation with Sharmila Banerjee and Sudeshna Swayamprabha
Each year, 29th April is celebrated as International Dance Day across the globe. International Theatre Institute (ITI) initiated International Dance Day in 1982. This year, the theme for the day is, 'Purpose of dance'. In a candid chat with The Daily Star, eminent dancer Sharmila Banerjee and her daughter Sudeshna Swayamprabha share their perspectives on dance, the pandemic, and the spirit of International Dance Day.
For the second consecutive year, Bangladesh is celebrating International Dance Day amid a countrywide shutdown. Dancers have resorted to virtual celebrations.
"International Dance Day is about unity among dancers around the world," says Sharmila Banerjee. "Rabindranath taught us how to unite different forms of dance, he taught us that the beauty of dancing comes from this unity itself. If we can enlighten ourselves to follow the path of unity shown by Rabindranath, it will be the biggest success of International Dance Day."
Sharmila Banerjee is the lead Manipuri instructor at Chhayanaut Sangeet Bidyatan. She also spearheads the dance school, Nritya Nandan. Since March 2020, the school has been conducting online classes. "Children were confined to their houses and they needed a breathing space during these troubling times, their enthusiasm to participate in the classes was high and even their guardians appreciated such activities."
German ballet dancer Friedemann Vogel, the message author for this year's International Dance Day, stated in his message, "Dancers are often celebrated for their physical prowess, when in fact we are sustained even more by our mental strength. I believe it is this unique combination of physical and psychological agility that will help us overcome, to reinvent ourselves to keep dancing, and to keep inspiring."
Expressing solidarity with the message, Sudeshna shares, "The mental strength of a dancer is being put through a difficult test during this time and every one of them are succeeding."
Sudeshna has been dancing from a young age, following in her mother's footsteps. According to her mother, Sudeshna's attentiveness and her respect for dance makes her a skilled performer. Her intentions to dive deep into her work is what Sharmila Banerjee admires the most.
In Sudeshna's life, her mother is her mentor, guide, and biggest supporter. When they work together, they always discuss ideas with each other to come up with new aspects for different performances.
After completing her graduate and postgraduate degrees in Anthropology from the University of Dhaka and her second master's in Manipuri Dance at Rabindra Bharati, Sudeshna is currently a full time teacher at Chhayanaut and Nritya Nandan.
"Conducting online dance classes is very challenging, but I think this is far better than postponing the classes for an indefinite time," adds Sudeshna. "We are conducting the classes at a slower pace, but the fact that we are continuing to learn is important."
According to her, one silver lining of the pandemic is that artistes gained much-needed experiences, and got to explore their characteristics and re-invent themselves during this time.
Sharmila Banerjee, along with Sudeshna, was busy throughout last year, participating in various virtual programmes, seminars, international festivals, and workshops, both at home and abroad.
When asked about the current state of dance in Bangladesh, Sharmila Banerjee shares, "Even the classical dance form is going through innovations today. By maintaining tradition, new forms of dance can be created."
"Artistes play a neglected yet significant role in the society. I think that during this pandemic, everyone realised the importance of art and artistes throughout the world," adds Sudeshna. "Different forms of art helped people to overcome the distress caused by the pandemic."
Sudeshna hopes to expand her knowledge of contemporary dance forms. "Our society thinks contemporary dance is an assortment of different western dance forms, which is not the case. It is about how you make your own work relevant to the society at present and how it can stem from even the traditional forms of dance," she adds.
"My one request to everyone is to not learn dance just through YouTube or other video-based mediums, but also to truly dive into the depth of the basics of dance, and learn the craft with practice and dedication," concludes Sharmila Banerjee.