Could you introduce yourself and let us know more about your role in the performance?
My name is Arno Kamolika, I am a Vancouver based dance artist and instructor, I have been trained in Bharatanatyam and Manipuri under Sharmila Banerjee, Belayet Hossain (Bangladesh), Prof. C.V. Chandrasekhar (India) and Jai Govinda (Canada).
I am performing as a dancer in the performance. I have co-directed the project with Akhil Jobanputra, and developed it with the help of my fellow musicians. I am also the choreographer of most of the production. In the second chapter, the choreography of the narrative pieces have been mentored by Smt. Bragha Bessel.
What inspired you during the creation of Parāśakti?
I think an artist gets inspired by more than one thing during a creation process. I had different inspirations during different phases of this project. The teachings of my gurus always inspire me in the initial phase of any project, in this case I got inspired to create a quite simple invocation based on Chaturasra Alaripu, as a homage to the goddess as well as my gurus to start the performance. But once the collaboration started, I got heavily inspired by the artists with whom I was working on this project. Each song, poetry, swara, rhythm or raga they were bringing to the studio was inspiring me to experiment and to tell a story that I have not thought of before. On a personal level, nature - specially the divinity and serenity that can be experienced in the landscape, the water and the forest, and discovering a sense of gratitude for the mother earth, were some inspiring factors for me to create this project.
How did you balance the Hindustani and Carnatic elements?
Being a Bharatnatyam dancer, I am familiar with Carnatic rhythm structures. On the other hand, being a dancer from Bangladesh, I have spent most of my life around musicians who practice Hindustani music. My guru Prof. Chandrasekhar is also a scholar in both Hindustani and Carnatic traditions. The freedom to work with both these elements in the same project is a privilege that I have felt after a long time.
I believe that all artists are musicians first irrespective of their training and they are always there to support each other. For example, in the studio, if Srividhya was singing a Carnatic raga, Satpreet and Sharanjeet were complimenting her devotedly with dilruba and sitar in the same way they would do for a Hindustani vocalist. Curtis was playing the mridangam to suit the softness of a Hindustani raga. Akhil was reciting cholkattus like a nattuvanar, where Srividhya was following the Hindustani ragas to create some alaps. Since we had 5 musicians with incredibly distinctive skill sets, we created a unique mood for each chapter by forming one chapter around one artist, and others complimenting them.
This diverse music also caused changes to the choreography. Some pieces were based on very rigorous Carnatic talas and swaras, where some parts were created where only dilruba or sitar were improvising on their own to follow the dancer or the dancer was following them. Most of the time we chose the raga to suit the theme or story of a chapter, rather than choosing a random raga because it’s either Hindustani or Carnatic. Initially, while working on the script, we tried to keep a balance between the numbers of Carnatic and Hindustani ragas used in the work, but by the end of the process it was hard to find the distinction, as all the artists were trying to merge with each other.
I think when artists trust each other the balance comes automatically.
How did you feel when you were rehearsing and performing at the Chan?
Chan Centre is a lovely theatre to perform in. The architecture and interior of the auditorium automatically makes an artist feel something that is larger-than-life. Although, I must say, the empty seats of that huge theatre reminded me of the sad reality of not being able to perform in front of a live audience. But the amazing production team took that sadness away with their warmth and support.
The credit of this production goes to the production team of Chan Centre Dot Com series, as much as it goes to the artists who have created it. The support we received from the people behind the scenes - from the first Zoom meeting until the day of the recording were amazing. There were several departments working at the same time - Dave, Kirsty, Mike, James, Lloyd, Andrew, Don with many others to take care of stage, video, audio, lights, and overall management. They were doing their best to capture our production to its best while keeping all safety protocols in place. I have never worked in a digital production before, so it was a huge learning for me.
My sincere gratitude to Chan Centre and their highly skilled team of professionals for the amazing work they are doing.
What was it like creating something during this pandemic?
It felt like touching fresh water after a long thirsty day. All the artists were so excited just to be with another artist in the same room and sharing their work. This pandemic has almost made us forget what a blessing it is to be able to interact with another artist. Personally, I was active during the pandemic learning and teaching dance on virtual platforms. But I still was nervous initially about how I would feel to work in a studio after a year with this new normal being around.
But when I started working, I was surprised to see how easily I adjusted to working with other artists. I also think that a year of isolation made all artists more compassionate towards each other. We all were in this process for the sake of experimenting and enjoying the journey and did not really think much about the outcome. We were 6 artists working with each other as a team for the first time, and we kept thinking why we have not done that before.
Most of the artists involved have never worked with a dancer before. But it never felt that way because we were cherishing every moment of those rehearsals and in-person conversations so much. And in the end of the journey, we managed to create something together, so that was a bonus!
Watch Arno perform in Parāśakti: The Flame Within, streaming on March 19th.