Audiences across the globe, for the first time ever witnessed a 360 degree virtual reality animated video created for an Indian classical form, Kathak with the premier of five-part web series titled ‘Megh Akhyayika’ (‘The Tale of a Cloud’) on February 2 on You Tube VR. Being an amalgamation of literature from Meghdoot, morning ragas and hand illustrated visuals so as to give an effect of painting and not animation, Gyan Dev, the man behind the project says the real challenge was not technical but finding an aesthetic language for the project.
Recipient of Sangeet Natak Akademi Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar for the year 2012, this lighting designer, a NSD pass-out, who has worked with major theatre directors, musicians and puppeteers such as Leela Samson, Ram Gopal Bajaj, Aditi Mangaldas, Ashley Lobo, Anuradha Kapur and Dadi Pudumjee among others says that the idea of the project came to him during the lockdown.
“I kept wondering how were we going to move forward considering one does not foresee auditoriums opening up to full capacities anytime soon, even with the vaccine. My aim was to try and find a new medium to showcase performance art and a new language. One thing is to find a medium to showcase Indian classical dance forms online, but how will the aesthetics work? As opposed to contemporary, classical have set rules as a long line of tradition is being followed. It is important not to rock the boat too much, but find a way of using modern technology with traditional classical dance forms like Kathak.”
Considering the fact that this technology has never been employed for classical dance forms, the artist did not really have any reference points. “360 degree animated videos were usually made for wildlife or employed in gaming technology. Also, what we are offering is not a substitute of a live performance but a language which is inclusive, has an essence of live and doesn’t take away from the classical dance form.”
Once Gyandev started working on the technology, it was time to look for dancers for collaboration. “That is where a Chennai-based friend and dancer Neha Banerjee comes in as dancer and choreographer. In fact she was already working on the project ‘Megh Akhyayika’ for the stage.”
Talking about the reactions from the dance community, the artist is pleased that most of them have been positive. “Artists are looking at possibilities to showcase their work in these times. And it is really important to keep working, not just to express but also to mirror what is happening.”
And how does the classical world take to his experimentation in lighting design? “Well, I must admit, they are cautious, especially the traditional art forms. But let us understand that the classical dances are highly codified. The moment you start talking about a new possibility, people become a little wary as they do not know what the outcome would be and would not want to compromise on the authenticity of the performance — culturally and traditionally. In my experience, I have realised that it is not about the old or new generation, but value addition and how much it affects the art.”
Also working on a performance project with dancer Himanshu Sharma in Goa, Gyan Dev recently shot a live performance video with Kumudini Lakhia’s group in Ahmedabad. “Based on five elements of the earth using interactive technology, the live video was shot with projections in the back and sensors on stage. In this, lights were an intrinsic part of the performance where it also starts playing with the dancer. In both these projects, technology is not trying to find fusion, but synergy.”
(Sukant Deepak can be reached at email@example.com)