Tucked away in the corner of the city, Antara is a world of its own. Antara Artists’ Collective Trust, is a dance community, made up of teachers, students and is open for anyone who is passionate about dance. Kathak, Odissi, Bharathanatyam, Violin, Tabla, Sitar, Hindustani vocal and Carnatic vocal are traditional art forms taught in Antara. In this urban-Indian society, where becoming a classical dancer is so formulaic, Antara gives us a unique perspective on dance and what it is to be a dancer. To become a classical dance artist, in today’s society is a matter of learning the syllabus and passing the junior, senior and vidvat exams.
“Syllabusizing” dance and having huge productions and performances in enormous auditorium is not a thing here. At Antara, performances take the form of sunset baithaks in the glow of oil lamps. During performances, the audience and the artists share an intimate time and space so that appreciation happens at a deeper, face-to-face level. Without making a display of dance by evoking the idiom of “preservation of Indian culture”, Antara nurtures dance-form as a vital bodily practice. This keeps the art functional, alive and relevant without deadening it into a historical artefact. For people of this community, dance is fundamentally a practice and the objective is to internalize it as a bodily and reflexive activity into their day-to-day lives. Aparna Uppaluri Banerjee, who is the founder of Antara and an Odissi dance teacher says, “What matters is the depth of experience. Lot of people who come here need not wish to become long-term artists but in whatever time they spend here, it is important that they find a new relationship with themselves through dance.”
Young children use their mind and body alike in the learning sessions reflecting the coexistence of practice and theory. While they learn to gain control over their bodily movements, they are also encouraged to articulate it. It is heart-warming to read their small yet tremendously thoughtful essays about how they feel and think about dance practice. An eleven year old student, Sakshi writes to her Aparna aunty, “You might usually feel that your mind is the master and can make your body do whatever it wants to. But that isn’t true. If your body would not exist your mind would not exist. Your mind is the one who makes you stressed out, angry, unhappy etc., but your body does nothing it’s just there. It teaches us to be. So, when your mind gives instructions to your body, give your body the freedom to think and explain to the mind too.” Apart from the dialogues and discussions, Antara houses a library with handpicked books on traditional arts in order to facilitate serious theoretical pursuits.
However, by simultaneously being a classical dance school and a radical space for kinesthetic exploration, Antara faces its share of struggles. Teaching the classical arts, having small traditional crafts exhibitions are some of its main livelihood sources. This is precisely the cause that Antara is motivated by - to create a forum for teachers, students and enthusiasts alike by bringing them together and offering a space to support meaningful learning. To stay true to its cause and to keep away from corporate overheads and banners involves commitment from all its members. The people working here to keep the place alive, reflect the emotional and intellectual bonding that they have with each other and the space. Subverting the dominant employer-employee relationship, Antara is a family set-up where the spirit is that of give and take. Moreover, it is through daily activities like having lunch together and serving each other that Antara thrives like a family. Due to their sustained efforts Antara is growing now. Nevertheless, they make sure that they flow with their own definition of growth, constantly struggling against the tide of profit and display.