Marrying the thoroughly classical opera with the traditions of Ramleela was never going to be easy. However, given the response a unique performance of Ramleela in combination with opera got in Delhi recently again reaffirmed the universality of the language of performing arts. The International Ancient Arts Festival (IAAF), conceived by Odissi danseuse Reela Hota, highlights how music and dance, vital therapeutic tools in traditional systems of healing, can successfully address the urban lifestyle challenges for 21st century busy executive, seeking to achieve elusive work life balance. In an email interview, Hota explains more about the festival and its aims. Excerpts
In what ways does the festival connect to the modern urban lifestyle?
This is India’s only multi arts event which educates while entertaining and calms a person’s nerves thereby reducing anger, keep work stress levels in control and help avoid conflicts at work. The healing powers of international ancient arts are validated today through scientific research and this can help the business executive stay healthy and reduce man-days lost to poor health.
Ill health resulting from excessive ambition, peer pressure in a competitive Society, stressful targets in a poor business environment and rising violence are taking a toll on a busy executives health. Today, arts are being used extensively in therapy to help a person seek his happiness and peace of mind as arts create a balance in the nervous system by activating the left side of the brain.
Arts education is not intended to train you for a specific job, though it does prepare you for the world of work by providing you with an invaluable set of employability skills, including the ability to think for yourself, the skills to communicate effectively, and the capacity for lifelong learning.
The list of skills, abilities, capacities and attributes normally associated with a liberal arts education includes, but is not limited to, the following analytic and knowledge-building skills;
evaluative and critical thinking skills;
creative thinking skills;
effective oral and written communication skills;
critical and reflective reading skills;
problem solving and pattern intelligence skills;
synthesis skills and the ability to express the results of analysis and evaluation;
the ability to pose meaningful questions that advance understanding and knowledge;
the ability to conduct research and organize material effectively;
information literacy and other skills associated with learning how to learn;
the exercise of independent judgment and ethical decision-making;
the ability to meet goals, manage time, and complete a project successfully;
self-confidence and self-understanding;
the ability to cooperate with others and work in teams;
a sensitivity to individuals and tolerance of cultural differences;
the ability to use equipment and
an informed openness to new information technologies.
What is the focus for this year’s festival ?
The focus this year was to highlight the positive effects of dance and music on the human body and mind. Traditional dance is both spiritually liberating and cathartic. Dance as a therapy has been effectively used to treat mental and psychological problems including cerebral palsy.
The IAAF establishes “Healing through Creative Arts across Cultures” since it combines elements of therapy like music, dance and drama in Antar Yatra and Ramleela in Opera Art form.
In Antar Yatra – Inner Revolution historical and contemporary figures like Buddha, Meera and Nirbhaya have been depicted. The highest chakra for animals is ‘mooladhara’ which is the lowest one for human beings. Hence a person, whose consciousness is in this chakra, having just evolved out of the animal world, retains most of the base qualities. He is brutal and vicious, and lives by his primitive instincts; and to fulfil his needs, he often resorts to violence and that results in rapes. It is not enough to punish but it’s also important to reform from within since a soul evolves from chakra to chakra. Each chakra has certain attributes, and a man’s nature, as well as actions is governed by them. One can elevate oneself to a higher chakra, to be a better human being, and lead a more harmonious life and contribute towards creating a peaceful society.
Through the cross cultural Ramayana in opera, we want to show that Lord Rama is a state of being that each one of us must strive for.
How does the festival connecting arts and healing?
Ancient societies believed, and rightly so, that the health of an individual is dependent upon the physical, emotional and spiritual environment of which he is a member. Art, both visual and performing, enhances spiritual creativity and emotional reparation. Today, creative arts are extensively used in therapy to help a person seek happiness and peace of mind.
I found very similar traditions in the cultures of Turkey, Vietnam, China, native America, Africa, Egypt and India. Classical and folk dances of India, the whirling dervishes of Turkey, the Vietnamese ballet are all intrinsically linked to their cultures’ healing systems. Research shows that Native American drumming is healing, Chinese musical instruments are meditative, Indian classical dance also has yogic elements in it, the list is endless. IAAF was conceptualized with the goal to emphasize on this aspect of arts as much more than simply a higher form of entertainment.
Music and dance appreciation, creativity is linked to the left-brain. Citizens develop a lopsided personality since they mostly use the right brain which is the reasoning, planning side, thereby neglecting their left brain. This Festival aims to create awareness in them that through dance and music they can activate their left-brain and a balanced personality spontaneously.
A study recently published in Sweden, a follow-up to an earlier nine-year study tracking thousands of individuals over the course of 12 years, found that people who frequently attend museums, art exhibitions, concerts and movies live significantly longer than those who do not. The Positive Effects of Sound on Human Body and Mind – a study showed that people with Alzheimer’s disease function more normally if they listen to Mozart and the music even reduces the severity of epileptic seizures.
IAAF highlights how music and dance, vital therapeutic tools in traditional systems of healing, can successfully address the urban lifestyle challenges for the busy corporate executives.
How difficult is it to get a multi-national, multi arts programme together?
The Festival showcases unity and spiritual significance of the world’s culture through dance and music. While it’s a challenge to put together even one international collaborative work, we were choreographing two. The highlight of this edition was that for the first time anywhere in the world, there was a Ramleela in opera form. Opera from Italy is a part of Western classical music in which singers and musicians perform in a theatrical setting and an epic like Ramayana posed many cross cultural challenges. There was a learning curve but paths are made by walking where no one has been before.
It was creatively challenging to bring together 100 Artists from five countries together on stage to perform an Indian epic like Ramayana with the language and cultural barriers. When one wore the hat of the Creative Director, it was a daunting to learn the nuances of the 12 art forms that we showcased over two days. Being the first throws up its own set of challenges and Yoga Guru Bijoylaxmi Hota had to write the script in English six months ago. This was then sent to Italy for translation and original Music was composed by Maestro Antonio Cocomazzi.
Many hands make light work and we had a fantastic team with Massimilano Damato in Italy sourcing the right talent to play the lead roles. On the artistic side, I was fortunate to have an extremely talented and creative team such as maestro Marco Pucci Catena who in a very short time with a limited budget understood the story in great depth and directed the Ramleela with the reverence and artistry that it deserved. Since budgets don’t stretch the artists did not have the luxury of rehearsals over an extended period and Rafaele Abete came in from Italy and transformed himself into Lakshman of Ayodhya in a matter of 2 days only on his first trip to India. Closer home, Gautam Kaul, the celebrated ex IPS officer and also the President of the Delhi Symphony Society, helped in putting together the 28 member orchestra in Delhi.
What are the budgets for it?
This year we had planned for an international quality Antar Yatra and opera of Ramleela with artists from 5 countries and fabulous sets which would have necessitated an investment of 50 lakh. Since we could only raise half the budgeted amount we focussed on getting great artistes but could not afford equally great sets.
The corporate sector should partner Rays of Wisdom Society, a charitable organization and help scientifically establish and propagate the wisdom behind ancient arts and healing to help people live a better quality of life – physically, mentally, socially and spiritually.
What are the future plans for the festival?
India is a cultural super power with a rich cultural heritage which fascinates the Western world. The festival would like to go international and spread the message of healing through creative arts across cultures. Last year IAAF travelled to Romania and in the coming year we are carrying coal to Newcastle by taking the opera to Italy and also to USA. Arts are the best way to break cultural and national barriers and bring people from different cultures around the World to hold events on socially relevant subjects. These artistic collaborations with each style maintaining its language and music provide creative satisfaction.
Musafir Namah Bureau