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Day in a dancer's life

French choreographer Michel Kelemenis performance gave Chennai an idea of his dialogue between dance and music

IT'S BEEN a whirlwind month in India — Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata, Delhi, Pondicherry and finally Chennai — but French choreographer and contemporary dancer Michel Kelemenis has been "rebuilding myself with the programmes I have been giving here." Kelemenis says he came to India with a choreography visiting card and not with the idea of giving performances. "I wanted to observe and feel costumes, sets and lighting and meet Indian artists. And I came alone to be as light as possible," says Kelemenis, who has been creating a new programme every year since 1987.

At the Sivagami Pethachi Auditorium on Friday, Kelemenis gave Chennai an idea of his dialogue between dance and music. During the 50-minute programme, presented by the Embassy of France in India and the Alliance Française of Madras, Kelemenis performed two of his famous pieces, "Kiki la Rose" and "K.danza".

The first was a light piece to the accompaniment of music by Hector Berlioz. As Kelemenis puts it, "Kiki la Rose is an evanescent dance. Nice costume, nice dance, very easy to watch." Choreographed in 1998, the ten-minute piece was inspired by the poetry of Theophile Gautier and was Kelemenis' first attempt to illustrate words with dance. "I see this piece as the life of a dancer. You spend so much time to perfect one movement and it is lost in a moment," he explains.

In contrast the 45-minute long K.danza is deeper, incorporates words and various tones of music in a kind of extended dance play and stays with the viewer much longer than the airy movements of Kiki la Rose.

Kelemenis dances to four musical solos by Philippe Fenelon. With simple, precise, almost ballet-like movements, he plays out the day in a life of a dancer. At times he is the choreographer, sometimes the dancer and sometimes the hard taskmaster. Words have been added to include the audience in the process of creation and make understanding easier. Kelemenis says K.danza requires greater attention from the audience. "It is not a show or a performance. You have to be very attentive to this kind of dance. The working process of dance is shown on stage."

The music is also contemporary and "not the kind you can wake up in the morning and listen to." From the rhythm of the harpsichord, the music moves to throbbing percussion, which Kelemenis interprets with abruptly graceful movements that fit the discordant beats and tones. Sounds like clanging spoons against upturned vessels and a scratchy, off-key voice singing a simple Tamil song form the last parts of the piece.

Kelemenis says the music does not welcome dance - or the viewer — but that he took it up because he needed a new challenge. The second challenge was to get the audience to like it the first time they saw and heard it.

"I am 43 and known in France as a good dancer," he says, apologising for his seeming lack of modesty with a diffident "I am sorry to say this, but I must." Kelemenis says K.danza was a form of introspection because he needed to separate the technical side of work from what it meant to him.

"And it worked. I have been surprised by the response. People are open to this kind of music in dance. Most people, in India as well, say they like K.danza better. Probably because I appear more human in the second piece," he says.

He's planning to work with Indian dancers for his show in April 2005. Kelemenis is also planning to organise an Indian seminar in his hometown, Marseille, which will include Indian film, dance, music and even a Punjabi DJ.

Fine footage

EVEN IF you have missed Michel Kelemenis, there's more happening on the contemporary dance scene in the city all next week, courtesy the Alliance Française of Madras.

They're presenting a "Contemporary Dance Film Festival" in association with Magic Lantern. From February 23 to 28, at 7 p.m., films of extraordinary contemporary dance performances by some of the world's best-known choreographers will be screened at the Alliance Française Auditorium on College Road.

Some of the choreographers whose work will be screened are Wim Vandekeybus, Sasha Waltz, Gilles Jobin and our very own Chandralekha. After the screenings, the films will be available at the Alliance library for students, choreographers and dancers to borrow.

Preceding her performance at the Museum theatre on March 2, Preeti Vasudevan and lighting designer Marcus Doshi will conduct a contemporary dance workshop on March 1 at the Alliance Francaise auditorium at 10 a.m. The workshop will give dancer and performers a basic introduction to the nature and use of lighting technically, and an understanding of the emotional and compositional content of light in performances. It's open to both performers and designers. For details, call 28279803 or 28271477.

SHALINI UMACHANDRAN

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