Veteran kathak dancer Birju Maharaj had once said, "art has to exult and elevate", because the purpose of any art form is to purge oneself and unite the mind, body and soul. In an attempt to elevate and enlighten the audiences, UK-based Indian classical dancer Himadri Madan is spreading the message of 'Climate Change’ through her performances.
A graduate from Bengaluru’s Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography, the Bharatnatyam and Kathak professional says that while growing up in India, she was deeply influenced by Bollywood and that is how her interest in dance began. She started training from the age of four in Bharatnatyam and later in Kathak and Jazz before beginning her graduation in the field.
When Madan moved to the UK to pursue an MFA in Choreography from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, London, where she was awarded the Leverhulme Trust Scholarship and began training in postmodern contemporary choreographic practices, she came across the Climate Clock installation and that deeply impacted her. Madan recently choreographed and performed ‘The Ticking Clock’, which was based on Climate Change, created and performed by Theiya Arts Dance Collective at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the Edinburgh Multicultural Festival in 2022. The performance supported by the Climate Clock centres talks about the urgency of climate change, the countdown as the main driver for the performance.
Madan says the audience is asked to put on a timer of 35 minutes, which is the duration of the performance. After 35 minutes the timer goes off, symbolising the end of the ticking clock.
In order to not leave the audience overwhelmed after the performance as there might be children too, they create and distribute a resource list including names of businesses they can support, everything people can do to slow down climate change; documentaries, podcasts to keep a tab on. “We don’t have a solution as we are not scientists. We can only just contribute to the ongoing conversation. My choreographic practices tell stories and engage audiences,” she says.
The performance employs fluid movements traditionally used in South Asian classical dance forms to depict nature, gradually telling tales submerging the audience in an introspective recount of how humankind's relationship with the environment has changed over time. The development of the project was supported by The Workroom and the National Theatre of Scotland through their Artist support residencies and Discover residencies respectively. She started working on the climate change project in 2022 and hopes to travel to places this year too with it.
Madan believes that art gives people an opportunity to reach a wider range of people and a diverse audience, also makes things easier to absorb than a written piece of information from journals. She wishes to start conversations through her performances and thinks that is the smallest difference that can happen from any performance.
She recalls that previous generations have fond memories of being close to nature and the world around them was very different but this generation has to go to places to find natural surroundings. “Nature was a part of their lives. So our performance includes storytelling sessions, folk songs, different classical dance forms to present a story of the changing scene.”
Her performance includes five dancers, one musician who is a tabla player and one sound designer. She hopes to bring her performance to India someday soon. “It depends on logistics. Our theme is very close to South Asian culture but we are also building a decolonial perspective,” she said.
When asked about her other projects that involve social messages, she says that there are two under production – one talks about motherhood mandate and the roles women play, and the other talks about internalised body shame, body dysmorphia, caste, gender, both very universal themes to connect to a large range of audience and to reclaim one’s own voice through art. “Most people in the audience feel marginalised in one way or the other so this is an attempt to reclaim our voices and create a space for other people to talk about themselves.”