A detailed report of Apsaras Arts tour to France
Over the years, France, as a country, has emerged as a hub for the performing arts and is an important destination in the international touring calendar of Apsaras Arts. We, at Apsaras Arts, have had the privilege of visiting France with our work and workshops for nearly 20 years now, and our most recent multi-city tour – spread across a month, where we toured —— cities across the length and breadth of France – marks our third tour to this country that is truly a connoisseur of the Indian classical arts, especially Bharatanatyam.
Our recent tour that began in October and culminated in November, had our Artistic Director, Aravinth Kumarasamy and our Principal Choreographer, Mohanapriyan Thavarajah, as the ambassadors of the arts for Apsaras Arts, taking a big slice of Bharatanatyam across venues and spaces in France where we were, yet again, overwhelmed with the keenness and knowledge of the French on matters of the arts; we were moved immensely by their interest in the Indian epics and in a sense, this reinforces the fact that as a country, France has a lot of ties and connections with Asia that has fostered its understanding and appreciation of all things related to Indian arts.
The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. We know of a slew of French nationals, who have, over the decade, formally studied Bharatanatyam. Guru Muthuswamy Pillai, a nattuvanar, who lived in France, went on to create and leave behind a legacy in the form of students who have continued their practice and performance of this art form. Over the decades, a whole host of students have travelled to the Kalakshetra in Chennai to train in dance at the institution and also from other gurus based in Chennai, India, and its adjoining areas.
The France Tour: An Overview
Our France tour, this time comprised of a series of performances, talks, masterclasses, film screenings and discussions. Needless to add, the response was overwhelming. Our shows – performances of our solo productions, Parama Padam and Thandav – performed by Mohanapriyan Thavarajah had full houses across venues that housed audiences between 300 and 600. We also had the opportunity of screening our films, Amara and Sita, across Strasbourg and Paris, for an invited audience and it was heart-warming to have always more than a hundred guests – diverse and eclectic comprising dancers, students of the arts, visual artists, curators of museums, and an invested community of connoisseurs – who were soaked in the film and were keen to share their perspectives and listen to our insights on the films and their making.
For us, no tour is complete without a workshop where we have the opportunity to interact with the dance fraternity; practitioners and performers of the dance who have the possibility of keeping the art form alive and bustling. The two workshops helmed by Mohanapriyan Thavarajah at Strasbourg were organised by Vidyalaya, an institution helmed by Rajarajeswari Parisot, a resident of France for over 40 years. A dancer-choreographer from Pondicherry, India, Parisot is an economist, a PhD holder, and as a retired lecturer from the University, her singular focus has been to promote Indian arts in France.
The workshop saw a healthy participation from the students of the institution who attended it with enormous enthusiasm and energy. Incidentally, this workshop marks their third with Apsaras Arts, conducted by Mohanapriyan Thavarajah. In fact, for our performance of Parama Padam at Strasbourg, the students of Vidyalaya, performed a Pushpanjali at the foyer of the auditorium, welcoming the audience and setting the tone for what was to come. Incidentally, the students had learnt this Pushpanjali from Mohanapriyan during our workshop for them in 2019.
Genesis of IPAC France
Significant amongst other things was also the genesis of IPAC France by Apsaras Arts, heralding our foray into France, annually. The workshop therefore became the opening act, the inauguration of the Indian Performing Arts Convention (IPAC, for short) in France and was conducted at the Indira Gandhi Hall at the university. The workshop, for us, meant the possibility of meeting a host of dancers from in and around Paris, who are trained formally in Bharanatyam for over 8 years, and are filled with curiosity to further their art.
Forging Collaborations: Moving Forward
Interactions and conversations like these help us strengthen our connections with the dance fraternity in France and forge relationships that have the potential of making a significant impact on the arts landscape of the country. This tour also had us forge a collaboration with the Embassy of India in Paris. The Embassy was responsible for organising four events for Apsaras Arts that included the performance of Parama Padam in Paris, the performance of Tandav in Cannes and Nice and the films screening of Amara that was followed by a discussion on the film, in Paris.
As an institution, we have always believed in the spirit and the power of collaboration and we are happy, yet again, that we managed to start a conversation with the Singapore Embassy in Paris – we had eminent persons from the Embassy attend our performance of Parama Padam and the screening of our film, Sita. Conversations are also underway with the Sri Lankan embassy in Paris and we are hoping that these conversations will translate into meaningful collaborations in near future.
As a dance repertory company steeped in tradition but conscious of the dynamic world where dance lives and breathes in, it is always heart-warming to share and present productions that we create with thought, imagination and integrity that are inspired as much by ancient epics and mythology as they are about the world that we live in.
Our France tour this time had two talking points – Parama Padam and Tandav – both solo productions, by Apsaras Arts, presented and performed by Mohanapriyan Thavarajah. With exposure to the traditional Margam repertoire, for audiences in France, the possibility of witnessing a solo thematic dance production that was inspired by the game of snake and ladders, unfolding as an hour-long performance in the form of Parama Padam, was a welcome relief and opened up many a conversation possibility.
In classic Apsaras Arts fashion, the music for these productions was well-constructed and created exclusively for this work. This was also something that struck their imagination and fancy. With an intent for our work to be accessible to audiences and for it to truly connect with them, we had ensured the commentary and narration in the work was recorded in French alongside subtitles in French that enabled seamless entry points into the work.
Amongst the many compliments we received for the choreography, music, lighting design, the standing ovation we got for Parama Padam’s performance at Ranelagh, was also testimony to our own attention to detail and the way it was received by those who witnessed it. A creme de la creme audience including several dignitaries, ambassadors, many of whom had traveled from Paris, as well as UNESCO ambassadors who are based in Paris, were part of this star-studded evening that had the artiste and the audience, connect in a way that is only possible in a live performance and one that stems from an intent to make the work as inclusive and accessible as possible.
Reviews of Parama Padam :
“Like an angel of life, draped in his luminous costume, the dancer gradually showed me how to succeed in this climb. His expressiveness, his physiognomy, the position of his fingers, his hands, invite me to not let go. Gradually, the artist dissolves his identity in the rhythm of the music. He imposes himself on stage with dynamism, through coded and precise gestures and footwork: an athletic performance of a body in the service of the divine. And I keep climbing, without dreading the fall, to the top of this ascending curve, to the very place where light triumphs over darkness…”
November 7 2021
Danièle FRAUENSOHN November 7 2021
“Mohanapriyan presented us with a magnificent spectacle: the danced one of the course of a human being’s life, of his trials, his doubts and his aspirations to achieve perfection and serenity…”
“Words are insufficient to describe Mohanapriyan’s visual storytelling, his incredible virtuosity as a dancer and the variety of expressions and moods that he communicates to the audience. And it does not even matter if the spectator does not grasp every detail of the mythological background, since the dancer conveys a universal language”
The Human side of the Tour
“At Nice, we went for a morning walk and strolled into a cafe we spotted along the way. The waitress who served us breakfast was a local French girl who identified us as tourists, and asked us what we were doing in Nice. When she found out we had a performance that evening, she evinced interest to be there. We shared details and left. We were pleasantly surprised when she not only showed up with a date but came backstage to tell us how much they enjoyed the dance!”
“The audience who watched the performance in Cannes, took the trouble to drive down to Nice to watch the show again. At Nice, we also bumped into this saleslady at the shopping mall and the salesperson there also wanted to bring her son and come for the show. We were really touched by the response of the audience”
“The dance fraternity in Paris actually came together in a large number. The Bharatanatyam teachers in Paris rallied their students and came in such a large number to watch the Paramapadham show. We don’t get to see that in other countries where the teacher may come on their own but for them to rally and bring their students is something rare”.
“The performance in Lunèville was a charity event with exhibition and sales. It was put together to raise funds for various charities in that area and some charities in India. We felt very satisfied to perform for a cause. Similarly in Avignon, we performed for a fundraiser for an orphanage in Pondicherry called Adaikalam. We were surprised by the overflowing audience who turned up to witness our show. When we went on a morning walk for breakfast, every 3 meters we saw a poster for the show being displayed. Even at the local market, many stalls displayed the Tandav poster, rallying people to come and watch the show again. All the people there willingly supported the artists.“
“In Strasburg, the senior students were learning from Mohanapriyan for the second time and so they knew what to expect. For the workshop in Paris where we had the inaugural for IPAC, the turnout was overwhelming. The students came from different schools to learn. Anusha Cherer, A French teacher, who organized the workshop in Paris last time, brought a number of her students to attend the masterclass.“