Nine dancers spread across eight cities and five countries – Meet Srishti. An initiative that is the brainchild of Meghna Das (Akar Productions). Art is truly what is helping us all get through the pandemic and retain a sense of community, whether you’re a performer, creator or consumer of it. Read on to find out the thought process behind this incredible collaboration from Meghna Das (Bangalore), Emma Morris (Montreal) and Olga Merekina (Shanghai).
- What was the motive behind the collaboration, what idea or thought did it originate from?
Meghna: A lot has changed since we first went into a lockdown in March 2020. But at that time, our biggest worry was how to continue being Performing Artists in a situation so unprecedented. No one really had any answers. In my work as an artist over the years, I have had the honour and privilege of having worked with many incredible and talented performers around the world, who have also become dear friends. In my conversations with them at the beginning of this global pandemic, I found that we were all saying the same things, voicing the same concerns, navigating the same challenges, even though we were in geographical locations that otherwise have little in common. The desire to do something together, to find a way to celebrate our practices and our artforms in a realm that was changing in front of our eyes led me to Srishti. The music, composed by Grammy-Award winner Sandeep Das, was also a collaborative piece of work. That lent itself to a collaborative piece of dance so beautifully that we all jumped at the chance to do something creative with it. The project gave us the opportunity to explore what it meant to create work in isolation, on a new platform, in a new way.
Cut to almost a year later. We launched Srishti a little over two weeks ago, just days before India woke up to the 2nd wave of COVID-19. The country is now reeling, and our systems are crumbling under the pressure. I know, first hand, the kind of grit and determination it takes to try to do our bit to help the nation back on its feet. I am in awe of the people who are spending every waking hour trying to help. And I caught myself wondering if it was the time to dance at all. How does one celebrate the things one loves while there is so much despair and fear all around us? I felt guilty to be dancing; I don’t know if there’s any other way to say it. But I will say this: We have received so many kind words over the last two weeks, from people all over the world, thanking us for a project that brought a few minutes of joy, or a refreshing break, or hope, to someone’s day. To me, that has value too. And while we all volunteer to help, use our platforms to connect people, offer words of hope and encouragement to each other through rough times, we are grateful for art. For the ability to come together and create beautiful things. To find connections in a world more and more divided every day. Art is a privilege and I have never felt that more in my life than right now.
With Srishti, I got to create, at a time when not only was it a luxury to be able to… but at a time when it was so, so difficult to be creative at all. And I am so grateful for that.
- In brief, could you also explain the process behind bringing all the dancers together and executing your vision?
Meghna: The nine of us are scattered across eight cities and five countries – Canada, France, India, China, and Australia. If this project was possible, it was because we have access to technology. Many many hours of many many days were spent on WhatsApp video calls, Zoom, Skype, and FaceTime. We managed to talk, in pairs or small groups, sometimes at odd hours of the night or early in the morning, sending sample photos and videos to each other, to figure out how it would look. As director, I tried to give broad guidelines on technical aspects and locations and have long, detailed conversations about creative aspects, but only conceptually. Each dancer has brought their unique style and technique to the piece. Once the videos came in, the challenge was sitting at the edit table. Bringing nine dancers together in a 4.5 minute film, with not only differences in style, but in light, ambiance, and camera, was a huge learning experience; one I couldn’t have managed without 2 incredible editors who spent endless nights working to bring the ideas to life.
I can talk endlessly about this process. So, briefly, I’ll just say this: Doing this took an army of people. Beginning with the incredible music composer and his colleagues who make music that inspire dancers like us everyday, to each dancer’s individual support group (friends, partners, family) who helped plan and shoot each part in each location, venue partners, our editors, managers, friends who shared our work, right to strangers who support the arts everyday. This was very different from performing on stage, and it opened our eyes to how many new aspects of the creative process we needed to learn about and understand. This is only the beginning, and I hope we can continue to create things and offer some joy to those around us.
- What made you connect to the purpose and be a part of this collaboration?
Emma: During these extraordinary times, I was interested in finding ways to exchange with other artists. This project felt like a unique opportunity to connect with artists across the globe as we discovered what it means to create across borders. As we collectively discovered our surroundings through dance, it felt like we all held on to a similar understanding of movement and our current times even though we expressed it in vastly different locations. This collaboration allowed for new connections and a reminder of how small our world is and how we can use dance to connect us.
Olga: When Meghna approached me in October 2020 to join the project, the experience of COVID was already fading in my memory. What seemed to be a nightmare a few months ago was becoming the past. There were some restrictions on travel in China and some requirements for mask-wearing in public areas, however, in October it was already possible to practice and perform dance in public. What made me join this project wasn’t my immediate experience or state of mind; it was a rather general query about how dance might stay a part of our life and what is essential for it to survive as a part of culture.
- What did this whole process feel like and what was your creative journey through it?
Emma: This process allowed for me to gain a deeper understanding of how my dance connects to others and my surroundings. As I danced in the snow, I was challenged with how my dance can move, grow, and shift in the natural elements. My dance changed by how the movement interacted with the snow around me. Nature forced me to adapt as I danced in the deep snow which proved to enrich and surprise the movements. My creative journey also questioned how I could use the music to connect with the other dancers. As I moved individually, I visualized the other dancers doing the same, to the same piece of music. Being able to see the other dancers expressions in the final presentation was very inspiring.
Olga: I spent most time just listening to the soundtrack, since it is the only point of interaction with other dancers. I tried to get to know it better. The other task was to choose the location. I have tried a few spaces near my home, searching for one I felt connected to the soundtrack and to myself. And then I just had to wait for the first warm and sunny days in Shanghai to shoot the video. I filmed several versions and then chose those I was most satisfied with.
Click here to watch the full video – Srishti by Akar