With COVID-19 lockdown affecting everyone, how has it affected dance schools such as yours?
The effect has been severe in every single sphere across the globe and ours has been no different. We have all had to shut down the physical space in which we were teaching. We have resumed taking classes online now but it’s nothing close to teaching and correcting students in person but with the present situation this is the best we can do. We also give them a little extra research work or choreography to work on so they can make use of this time to understand the form a little better. We have also started an online workshop series on the Punyah Dance Company website which involves detailed teaching of pieces including sessions by scholars and musicians to understand a piece in depth. Parshwanath Upadhye has already done two modules of it and the response has been overwhelming. Performances have all been cancelled. We were just starting a three month US tour of our production Abha. The team had been working on it for close to a year now and most of the shows were already sold out. We also released Abha for online viewing on our website for people across the globe since travel with the production does not seem possible in the near future. Like us, across the globe, a lot of the artistes have had to cancel much awaited performances.
There’s been a burst of art being created and shared on social media, your opinion on this?
I think it’s lovely, when people are trying to figure out ways to keep themselves occupied, if art helps then why not! I know there has been a debate about it being insensitive of artistes to be performing when people are dying out there but I think this is the closest we as artistes can help at this point in time. In fact when I did a live session for a trust called Samarpana, not only were we able to raise a considerable amount of money to help out daily wagers to survive the pandemic but we also had a huge number tuning into watch. What touched me was when a frontline medical worker messaged me asking if I could save my performance so she could watch it after her COVID shift ends. Now if people who are in the thick of fighting it find art as a breather, the debate should end there. As a rasika, I have been able to watch artistes who I yearned to watch but never got an opportunity to. To interact with them and get a glimpse of their relationship with their art is truly beautiful and inspiring. Obviously nothing compares to watching a performer in flesh and blood but under these circumstances it is a breath of positivity amongst all the chaos.
As an artiste, how are you dealing with the lockdown and what advice do you have to offer from your learnings so far?
Personally it does not feel like I have free time anymore since there is no help with housework, so all of us are busy with the household chores which is refreshing in a way because a lot of us are discovering new sides to our personas. I started practicing yoga diligently only post the lockdown and apart from the physical exercise, it gives me a sense of peace. I would just like to tell people to deal with the lockdown in their own ways and not judge other people for how they want to deal with it. You want to learn a new skill, do it! You want to lie on your couch and eat chips the whole day, do it. Do what gives you a sense of calm at this crazy hour! Because no-one understands you like you do.
They say one never stops learning, so what new thing have you attempted to learn during this lockdown?
I did try a lot of new things in terms of cooking. From akki roti to baby steps in baking. I wouldn’t claim to have aced it but with the lockdown extending, I think I am going to have some decent culinary skills. I religiously do an hour of yoga every day, previously with all the travel that didn’t happen. Spending a lot more time with my six year old has taught me a lot (including colouring inside the lines!)And I love my sleep, so getting those extra hours of sleep brings a smile to my face. Now when I say all this out loud, it feels like the lockdown hasn’t done that much damage, yet!
Do you think art has a role to play in keeping us healthy (physically/mentally) during this lockdown?
Absolutely! Most of us are surviving this period because of art. It’s lovely to see some amazing work being released online for people to watch and this includes all genres. From Ballet to Bharatanatiyam; from Ranga Shankara to NCPA; everyone is putting out work that is legendary. From an avid book reader to a MasterChef addict, most people consume art, I say most people only because I know we have a whole section of society that cannot afford their daily meal and I hope and pray that this nightmare ends soon and they too can get back to their daily hustle.