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Life lessons from a pumpkin

Swati Mohan’s dance theatre festival in Gurgaon talks about being ourselves instead of constantly worrying about being someone else

A pumpkin is a pumpkin. It doesn’t worry about being anyone else. This is the premise behind Danza Performing Arts’ ninth annual summer dance theatre festival this weekend titled ‘Be a pumpkin. It’s great’.

“It’s all about allowing yourself to just be without pushing yourself to rush into anything,” says Swati Mohan, director of Danza, a dance school based in Gurgaon. Accepting and rejoicing over one’s flaws and boons, and understanding that humour is an essential part of life, it urges you to celebrate your life.

Founded in 2007, this year Danza has completed a decade in the relentless and fearless exploration of “self” with dance and theatre. Dancing since the age of five, Mohan began her formal career with the Danceworx Performing Arts Academy, after which she started her own school. Swati created a space for people like her who wanted to explore themselves. “It’s a place for anybody and everybody who is seeking themselves and nothing beyond that,” she says.

Gearing up: Students of Danza Performing Arts rehearsing for the ninth annual summer dance theatre production, Swati Mohan the director and founder of Danza (top right)

Inspired by a pumpkin which was lying on her table, she wrote a few lines almost a year back. She never knew that this would end up as the next dance theatre production in the coming year. “I am here just to be a pumpkin. No stress. No conflict. Just being a pumpkin is great. Just sitting here after I have grown up, with no rush to be anywhere. I am here, where I am meant to be,” reads the lines.

Struggling a lot last year because the only affordable cultural space that existed in the city stopped functioning, they were not sure of making an annual production this summer. However, they decided not to give up and therefore chose to be just themselves for this year’s production. That’s when she worked on the lines and created a script for this year’s production. “People might just want to write a poem, or want to dance right here in the streets, without bothering what others might think.”

The basic idea is not to give in to the pressure of following conditioned patterns dictated by anyone, even by one’s own self. The yearning to get out of set mechanisms opens the doors to knowledge which in turn commands free and wild imagination. “In this microwave age, people are always in a rush to meet the standards that they themselves have not set.”

This year’s performance uses four different elements to present the story. The script is narrated by a Sufi pumpkin which is portrayed by 75-year-old poet, singer and actor Malti Sawhney. It also explores clowning. According to Swati, the clown inside you is your higher self and one must explore it. Playfulness should never be abandoned. Along with these, the dance vocabulary includes contemporary and jazz dance. The crew with almost 50 members, all students of Danza, includes everyone from five-year-old kids to adults, amateurs and professionals all under one roof. Live music and performers’ interaction with audiences make the production more vibrant.

Danza has eight dance theatrical productions to its credit. Each year, the dance troupe comes up with original work; they do not perform adaptations. Swati believes that the beauty, growth and discovery one experiences while exploring an art form cannot be explained in words. Students have to come on stage to understand how dance is a tool for communication, expression and creation. The dance theatre is organised in the summer because of the long breaks during this season. “It takes almost six weeks of rigorous practise before hitting the stage,” Swati adds.

However, the journey has not been easy this year. Due to the shutdown of Epicentre at Apparel House in Gurgaon, they had to perform in Shri Ram School last year but wanted to get back to the proscenium where they belonged. They managed to get hold of Apparel House this year again but it costs them more than R5 lakh in rent. Swati has organised several crowd fundings to raise resources and it has been mostly her friends and people related to the crew who has helped in raising the money.

Picking up her favourite line from the script, “Mumkin toh nahin har khwab mukkammal ho jaye, Par kabhi kabhi kuch hairat ki bhi baat honi chahiye,” (It’s not possible for everything to be completed but sometimes there should be surprises) Swati explains that this sums up her entire experience behind this production. She never expected to come up with this scale of a performance after last year, and it’s still a hairat (surprise) for her as to how things fell in place.

Every year, the production is met with good response and there is a loyal audience. Swati hopes that this year she can expand her audience and bring in more people to enjoy her work.

The show is set to be staged on June 9 and 10 at Apparel House, Gurgaon, with Dilip Shankar as production mentor. Drop in to explore the pumpkin in you.