Can a traveller experience a city through the art forms thriving therein?
Yes, if one goes by the initiative taken by Kerala-based Experiential Tourism company, The Blue Yonder and dancer Swati Prasad. The duo has yoked tourism and performing arts, in curated, city-specific modules—Dancescapes— to showcase each city from a cultural perspective.
The niche experiences were created based on suggestions given by inbound travel operators and a demand the founders saw in “the conscious traveller who wishes to experience this eco-system, up close,” says Gopinath Parayil, who runs The Blue Yonder. He has been conducting Kathakali trails in Kerala as a popular showcase for nearly two decades. “The difference now is the focus on cities and on the urban traveller,” he adds.
Their first tour was launched in Puducherry in August 2023, and modules in Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai, Kochi and New Delhi commence in October. “The customised modules will enable a traveller to visit art spaces, observe the art form, experience a lec-dem or view a performance and finally learn the basics of the art,” says Gopinath.
Swati, a dancer pursuing art management believes that a symbiotic relationship exists between the artiste and the city, which results in the expansion of the art itself and the city gaining in terms of variety and depth. “We have identified curators in different cities, people who are connected with the art space and are artistes themselves. They are slowly shaping the tours,” she says adding that their tool of expression will be different and the city tour a fresh experience.
Curated by theatre practitioner Ramaswamy and founder of the Vellipapadai Theatre Movement, the Puducherry module will consist of engagements with local folk arts, martial art and theatre groups.
“The areas around Puducherry have a great tradition of folk art. We have local fold dances like Paryaittam, Oyilattam, Sattaikuchi Chinakolatam, Periyakolatam and more. Therukoothu or traditional street theatre of this land is famous. It is performed overnight in temple festivals,” says Ramaswamy. He speaks about an exchange between visitors and members of local drama group like the Mailam Murugan Therukoothu Nataka Sabha founded by a youngster, G Avinash, Mamallan Silamban run by Master Palanivelu, an authority on the form and a classical dance school run by Vithya Arasu of Natyakala Vidyalaya.
Leading the tours in Chennai is gymnast and visual artiste, Ghanapriya who has selected four experiences that offer a fresh perspective of the city. She is consciously projecting nouveau dance forms of Chennai, away from the classical presentation of Bharatanatyam that the city is well known for.
“Chennaites are great dancers and like the Gujaratis who have their dandiya and Punjabis the bhangra, Tamil Nadu and Chennai has Tamil kuthu. “It is a highly energetic and uninhibited dance. We will showcase this under folk expressions which will also have young female Parai artistes perform,” says Ghana. Another unique dance that’s developing in Chennai will be showcased under Afro-Dance Hall, by Alisha Ajith. “The dance explores the common rhythm, movement and beats between African and local dance,” says Swati adding that travelers will be encouraged to participate in the class.
An art walk led by Ghana, will be another experience, held at Urur Kuppam , the housing colony on the beach in Besant Nagar. “I play frisbee with the kids of the colony on the beach for years, so they will take the travellers around the space.It will end with food by the seaside.”
Deepthi Ravichandran, a movement therapist will demystify Bharatanatyam and hold workshops and classes related to the classical dance.
A performer trained in Bharatanatayam, Nenita Praveen is curating the Hyderabad modules. “At the end of the day the modules are travel-centric experiences, so we have to keep distances, localities, artist studios and spaces in mind,”says Nenita who plans to include ongoing performances in the city, studio visits, workshops and heritage-cum-storytelling walks.
Heritage city walks curated by journalist and historian Yunus Lasania, a musical experience of the Qawwali at Yusufain and a dance performance at Golconda Fort will be part of the tours.
“Hyderabad has a thriving hip hop community and an LGBTQ + community with their art forms, which are novel and contemporary. Belly dancer and Drag performer Sravan Telu and the Cypher Hours with their high energy jam sessions, will be part of the itinerary,” says Nenita, who worked with the Daksha Seth Dance Company and runs the Meenakshi Studio for Arts. Dancescapes will be launched in Hyderabad on October 7 and 8.
Swati, overseeing the Bengaluru module, says the city is interesting to navigate and has connected with dance schools that practise new approaches, like Citizens of Stage Collective, founded by dancer Diya Naidu, with initial support from Shoonya Center for art and somatic practices. “They have a wide range of movement experiences for people from all walks of life,” she says. Some of the other art schools she speaks about are Beru and Nirali Dance School founded by Bharatanatyam Dancer, Priyanka Chandrasekhar, who is also a lawyer.
“Beru art space is a community run organisation and recently staged a dance production, Taala Tamate, in collaboration with Aravani art project and a parai collective called Adavi. Ours is a residential space and we generate a lot of productions, so the place is buzzing with processes. Travelers can get educated on that,”says Dayanand Akhilesh, founder.
The first dancescapes module kicks-off in Bengaluru on September 30.
Curated by actor and actor-trainer, Lakshmi Menon the modules focus on the Latin Christian art form Chavittunadakam, one that takes the travellers to the island of Gothuruth,where the dance is claimed to have originated. Inspired by Europea opera the performances are high decible, energetic and involve vigorous foot stomping. Other experiences include engagements with a hip hop team, House of AOS, a hybrid kalari team, movement workshops by the Labyrinth Collective and a visit to Mudra Dance Studio at Convent Junction, founded by modern dancer Susheela Pai. “Kochi has a growing community of rappers and our performances draw crowds,” says Vishnu Radhakrishnan, who manages the six member crew of House of AOS. He adds that their team of professional dancers perform hip-hop, freestyle and mixed styles of modern dance.
The tours in Kochi kick off in the first week of November.
“Kochi has been home to people from different parts of the globe and continues to bring in international influences. This is reflected in the cosmopolitan lifestyle of the city ,” says Lakshmi. Gopi speaks about the association of Dancescapes with Responsible Tourism and the benefits of the initiative to the artiste community.
“This is the road map for us and largely the vision. It will create new narratives about the cities,”says Swati.
A single experience comes at an introductory price ranging from ₹ 1,000- ₹5,000.