A message on stage

Kolkata-based danseuse Alakananda Roy is using dance to transform lives of a group of prisoners. She feels every person should get a “fair opportunity” to right the wrongs and change his or her life.
Hundreds of kilometers away from the metro city, Monica Chanda too believes that every criminal has the right to look forward to a better life. This is the reason why the Shillong-based dancer chose the District Jail in the hill town as a venue for her Independence Day performance.
Chanda, who is the founder of Gitanjali Dance Academy, and her troupe mesmerised audience at Raj Bhavan on August 15 before performing at Shillong District prison.
“I had proposed to the DG (Prisons) about arranging a cultural programme on the jail premises and it was approved. However, all those who performed were part of Gitanjali and the jail inmates were the audience,” says Chanda who admits that she was emotionally moved to meet the prisoners, especially the women.
A life defined by restrictions and bound by invisible chains is intimidating to the outside world. “The whole idea of choosing the prison venue was to show the contrast between the lives in and outside the prison. It was also with the aim to give them hope,” says Chanda, who often speaks out on social issues through her art.
The dance performance on August 15, which was choreographed by Chanda’s 24-year-old daughter Madhubanti, spoke about the class and gender atrocities post independence. “But at the end we show that repression does not continue and the oppressed class revolts,” explains Madhubanti.
Asked whether Chanda wants to look beyond the one-day performance organised in association with Rotary Club Shillong, the dancer says she would like to train prisoners in the art form.
“I met a young female prisoner in the jail. Her eyes caught my attention and I felt she wanted to say something but all her words seemed to have solidified within herself. It was at that moment that I realised that they need a medium to express their angst. The idea of involving prisoners in dance performances came to me then,” says the danseuse who has already sent an informal proposal to the prison authorities and is awaiting approval.
Chanda is planning to form a five-member troupe who will train the prisoners. But instead of starting dance classes immediately, Chanda will first start with counselling, yoga and basic fitness regime. Her daughter, who has studied art history, is also helping her realise the dream to make a change through dance.
“My subject is giving me visual clues which help in the choreography,” says the young dancer who is also sensitive to the problems of the prisoners. She feels dance can bring the two worlds together and give them a common space for expression.
“Dance is not just about poses and makeup and the spotlights. It is a language that our body speaks and that existed even before humans learnt alphabets and words. It is a therapy too,” says Madhubanti as Chanda nods in agreement and adds, “But here the art form is often misconstrued as a performance on stage and I want to change that perception.”

~ NM

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