ARENA – Creating spaces for the arts

ARENA – Creating spaces for the arts      

Janani Murali

The performing arts and the community are integral to each other’s existence. If the performing arts are essential tools of human endeavour to introspect, question and find spaces of joy, the community must open its hearts, minds and spaces for the arts and artistes to enable this. Over time, as communities evolve, so does the performance arena. This series of articles will look at currently developing arenas that are enabling the pursuit of and engagement with art.

Sarani, the Whitefield dance collective, while not a physical space in the strictest sense, is an arena to reckon with. Those who are familiar with the cultural geography of Bengaluru are well aware that events of cultural significance are concentrated in certain older parts of Bengaluru. Whitefield, on the eastern periphery of the city is more often viewed as the IT hub consisting primarily of residents who have migrated from other parts of the country for work in these tech companies. How true this perception of Whitefield is can be debated but there is no denying that there is a need for spaces that encourage and celebrate art.

Deepanjali Bedi, a Kathak exponent, came to live in Whitefield in the year 2000 and was immediately struck by how much of a cultural wasteland it was. “I had at that point lived in Australia for some years and was amazed at the opportunities I was offered based purely on talent and not who I knew. At how communities, people and cultures came together through the arts and how there were vibrant cultural spaces accessible to all, irrespective of social status or education levels.  I kept thinking how wonderful it would be to create a space for dance, based on those principles, here, in Whitefield.  At that time, I had a few students but mostly travelled to Delhi as I was working with a repertory company there and I believe that those ideas would have remained just that, ideas, except for a series of serendipitous events. I had for a few years volunteered at the Nellurahalli Government School, to teach language skills through movement. I could see how passionate these children and other volunteer teachers were. And so when there was a suggestion to hold a fundraiser for the school, I felt excited that maybe, finally I could put a community event together,” said Bedi. Like-minded individuals came together from within the dance loving community of Whitefield. School children and volunteer teachers joined in to train for six months for a fundraiser Samanvita, organised by Whitefield Ready (a volunteer group that works with schools in Whitefield) for the betterment of the local government schools. The show revealed how much dance was loved and how little Whitefield had to offer people in terms of both performances and dance education. “The volunteer teachers and dancers by then had found a deep connect and decided to stay together to continue to give back to the community through dance. And that, of course, led to the formation of Sarani,” said Bedi.

Sarani translates to ‘the path’, to all things dance in Whitefield. Sarani was instrumental in the dance carnival of 2018 in the then Whitefield Forum Mall, supported by Whitefield Rising and Whitefield Ready. Tagged, ‘Celebrate Dance, Celebrate Community’, the event aimed to take dance out of the auditorium and into public places of congregation. An immensely successful event, it was followed up by the Whitefield Folk Festival in 2022. In partnership with Nexus Whitefield and Yakshadegula, Whitefield communities and government schools presented folk dances from various parts of India while organisations like Yakshadegula, Kathegararu, Ranga Charaka, Puppet House (Mysuru) and Yashaswi Kala Vrinda showcased various dance forms of Karnataka. With stalls, activities, games and performances all coming together, the celebration of art and community was at the forefront. While the scale of such events can be mind-boggling, the focus of Sarani’s activities have essentially been three-fold — initiating a formal dance-education programme at government schools, taking performances to intimate studios and chamber concerts, and facilitating educational workshops for students of dance. Workshops and technique classes somehow seemed to bypass Whitefield despite there being many students and practitioners of dance within the community. Bringing renowned artists and educators to students in Whitefield has met with great enthusiasm.

Mindful of accessibility and inclusiveness in all its endeavours, Sarani is a non-profit venture that has also given importance to affordability. Unique spaces in residential communities, green open areas of restaurants, malls, terraces et al have been transformed into aesthetic spaces for learning and performance.

The core Sarani team brings its diverse skills and expertise to its common passion and love for dance. While the professional dancers are forever ready to choreograph something new for the local school children, teacher volunteers and the Sarani team, chimes in with meticulous planning, identifying talent, venues, photography, social media, communication, bringing dancers and the audience together from across communities, fundraising and execution of every event. Since this team has organically come together, there is a great appreciation for each other’s strengths and views. For Shubha Nagarajan, a core member of the Sarani team, “Being part of Sarani was joining hands with like-minded people close to home whose sole purpose was to promote quality dance. My involvement in charitable activities for many years, ability to use dance to create awareness to underprivileged children was a great opportunity for me. As we have evolved, I also benefit from viewpoints of not just dancers but also non dancers who appreciate it.”

Sarani continues to evolve, taking the community of art lovers in Whitefield along. For all major events Sarani reaches out to the wider community for help and there is a large group of volunteers who regularly come forward to support them. There is also a regular and ever-increasing group of audience base that come to watch and participate in the events. This is the extended family of Sarani.

 (The author is a Bharatanatyam dancer and a freelance writer)