Presently, dance in Bangladesh has reached unprecedented heights of excellence and is much appreciated at home and abroad. However, it is more the skill of the dancer than the content of dance, which is receiving accolades. Though amongst performing artistes of Bangladesh it can easily be said that dancers are the most trained, the same cannot quite be said about the social awareness of our dancers and little does dance in Bangladesh portray the conflicts, agonies and joys of the real world.
Keeping this context in mind, Shadhona, A Center for Advancement of South Asian Culture, recently arranged 'Shakti -- A Feminist Perspective Building and Performance Workshop' at the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy from April 13 to 22, conducted by Kamla Bhasin, leading feminist activist of South Asia, and Ananya Chatterjea, Director of Dance and Professor in the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance in the University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis, USA.
The experience of dance, in Bangladesh, has mostly been one of extensive tutelage and proficient practice in kinesthetic movements, which have been handed down from one generation to another, rather than an intellectual enterprise. Rarely are one's personal or collective experiences of life's conflicts, agonies, or, for that matter, joys portrayed on stage. On the other hand, dance is a powerful means of conveying these images; of increasing awareness about life's varied experiences, with the ultimate goal of bringing about change where necessary.
Therefore, when Shadhona decided to work towards bringing about a change in the narratives used in dance in Bangladesh, it decided to first work on narratives based on women's experience. To create an awareness of what it means to see the world through women's eyes, Kamla Bhasin initiated the participants of 'Shakti' to concepts such as feminism, gender, patriarchy and the relationship between patriarchy and power. Kamla gently explained that feminism is merely an ideology that believed in equality of all, and did not in any way want to establish matriarchy in place of patriarchy. Rather, Kamla explained, feminism believes in equality not just of man and woman but equality of class, race and all other socially created divisions. Kamla Bhasin, further, took all participants through their personal experiences of gender and suppression, inspiring them to look at their own lives individually and collectively.
Ananya Chatterjea then helped the participants to translate these experiences into performance. Chatterjea's own work is marked by the use of an alternative paradigm of movement, which though evolved from traditional genres of dance, is also a collective of movements and phrases that grow out of various exercises which delve into the experiential world.
In a way, this workshop was meant to empower dancers to claim the narratives and idioms of their performance as their own creations rather than as an art handed down to them and repeated mechanically, thus reclaiming dance as their own creation.
At the end of the workshop participants, under the supervision of Ananya Chatterjea, came up with a presentation which was named 'Awbelar Kawtha' or 'Untimely Tales' in which the pain of growing up as a woman within the bounds of an oppressively vigilant society is overcome through partnership and determination.
The workshop was supported by OXFAM, the American Center of the US Embassy in Dhaka and SANGAT.
Shadhona hopes this is the beginning of their work with dance and social justice and is inviting proposals from dancers for productions of this genre.