With venues closed for the foreseeable future due to the ongoing pandemic, dancers are looking for alternate stages. In Boxed, an online series curated by Chennai-based veteran dancer Anita Ratnam, they find the freedom to choose where they would like to dance. Even if it is a bathtub, a kitchen or a flight of stairs.
In the first two weeks of lockdown, Ratnam noticed that many dancers were taking to Instagram, performing from their living rooms. “I was interested in what this period means for young dancers — especially those between the ages of 20 and 39 — who have just finished training and want to express themselves,” she says. To give them a platform, she and her team at Narthaki came up with the concept of Boxed. Each 15-minute episode features five dancers, performing their original choreography for two minutes each, in a space of their choice. They also explain why they chose that particular spot.
Explaining the name of the series, Ratnam says, “We are all boxed into our homes. What can we do to acknowledge our immediate space? So I asked artistes to choose the space they wanted. Costumes were not allowed, nor could they use the music of their [individual] form. The idea was not to reach for anything that they were comfortable with.” Instead, various music clips were sourced directly from composers and shared with the dancers.
In the weeks leading up to the series, they received over 300 applications. “My initial instinct was to keep it open only to classical dancers. Since it is such a structured art form, many artistes struggle to go beyond that framework. I wanted to get them to push their boundaries,” says Ratnam. However, with entries including a Cirque du Soleil acrobat, a flamenco dancer from southern Spain and a Tango dancer from Argentina, she decided not to limit the participation.
Why not go the Live route? “We wanted the series to be technically sound and have better production value. The dancers are instructed to film their performance from various angles, so it can be edited to give a cohesive look at their form,” she says. The other reason is that artistes need to be compensated for their time and talent. “One of the most distressing things for me is that during this lockdown, dancers have been giving away their art for free. Which is why both the performers and the production team involved in Boxed are given a token honorarium,” she says.
So far, two episodes are available on Instagram. The show features everyone from ballet dancer Weijun in Malaysia to Bharatanatyam dancer Divya Ravi in the UK, and Belgium-based Bollywood dancer Tompiewompie to Kathak artiste Roopa Krishnamurthy. The current plan is to have two episodes out every alternate weekend. “However, with the number of entries we have, we can go on for a while,” concludes Ratnam.
Watch Boxed 3.0 and 4.0 on Instagram @anitaratnam on May 30 and 31