2021, the year gone by

Productions like Drishtikon's Within were reconceptualized and transformed into online endeavours

When I thought of doing a year-ender article, my mind went totally numb. My first wish was to wipe out this year and rewind the last two years. Life always has its hiccups, there are always issues to be sorted out, but there was still some sense of normalcy before March 2020. The past two years have been like being caught in a tornado. The storm has lifted you off your feet and you are swirling within it without any control, and maybe you have still not found your feet.

On a personal note, 2020 began with losing my father. Then I lost my mentor to cancer in 2021, and a dear friend to COVID just two months later. The rest of the year just went by trying to maintain my sanity and find my footing in this whirlwind. But on the arts front, this year was a landmark. In 2020, when the COVID pandemic had just begun, during the first wave, many professional artists were totally out of work. It became difficult for them to make ends meet. The very possibility of continuing to be a professional artist became a question mark. And then it was the online platform that started giving artists a small window of opportunity. By January and February in 2021, there was a lifting of restrictions on movement. By the spring, before the second wave began, some of the Indian population had already got its first dose of the vaccine. And hence, after the second wave, you could see a slight ebb in the disease. A few live performances took place, with few or no audience members, but with a proper crew to make a performance-like shoot. There were events in open areas where the chance of transmission was lower. During 2021, many new terms entered our vocabulary — things that made it possible for people to perform, like ‘bio-bubble’, or ‘quarantine’; you could see a hybrid age coming in.

Individual dancers like Divya Ravi produced short versions of new works, to be elaborated for physical performances in the future

However, it was still not very popular. People staunchly believed in live performances, for dance at least, but now, the concept of making videos or movies from home or streaming a performance online with only a few audience members present physically was taking root. Of course, everyone was on the online platforms, talking to each other about dance, or talking about life without dance, or simply chatting to boost sagging spirits. Editing and videography became skills that everybody wanted to master. We saw the coming up of online magazines, online newsletters and official websites. There were performances even with live critics on board, who gave their opinion immediately after the performance. And of course, this is not to mention classes, which had already gone online when the pandemic began. This was the arrival of a new platform in dance, that is, the online platform: on your phone, on your notebook, on your laptop or on bigger screens. 

Senior gurus like Geeta Chandran adapted their teaching and performances to the new online medium

We were on the verge of resuming live performances in September, around the start of the last quarter of the year, when the festive season is about to begin. The government started warning of an impending third wave. People were asked to mask and avoid crowds. Yet, people openly flouted COVID regulations, but the festive season went by without the third wave. So at the end of the bygone year, we were just about to restart actual performances. In, fact a few places in Delhi opened up for performances. But alas, OMG, Omicron struck. Delhi again saw a spike in numbers and all events were cancelled again.

Young dancers presented new work, like Dakshina Vaidyanathan, who performed about and for her baby during her pregnancy

However, again, online events and festivals have saved the day for dancers. Their videos have displayed excellent videography, and sound, lighting and editing have made them very interesting to watch. There are online platforms that have come up that are live streaming or replaying videos of ticketed performances, like Aalaap, Navatman, Shaale and Tikkl, where you can not only watch the videos, but there is often a panel of expert commentators who are giving feedback live. Immediately after the performance, you can hear the dancers’ opinions and put forth your own. Here again, we have seen human resilience come back like a boomerang. There is no dearth of online videos, festivals and events. Again, we will have the luxury to pick and choose.

As I welcome the new year and give and take wishes, in my heart, I know it is only a number unless I resolve to do something good for humanity, to reach out to people, to say my sorries and thanks and to thank God for each day that I live.