Delhi weekend: Attend the closing act of Bon Jour India fest
Think of a crane with a 50 metre boom, a wide open space and a giant ball of steel hanging roughly 50 metres in the air. It sounds like a demolition drive. Add dancers and actors who hang from the frame of this giant spherical frame and the idea of demolition turns into a metaphor of sorts.
For three decades now, since 1982 when it was founded by dancer Brigitte Burdin and sculptor Gilles Rhode, Transe Express has tried to find ways to take performance art into the heart of clogged modern cities. But the only way to occupy the heart in the modern age is to go vertical. This weekend, the Express group will do just that when they bring their giant ensemble of bells made of aluminium, the Celestial Carillon as it is called, to the heart of Delhi and perform something that is as unique as its classifier – celestial art. This marks the conclusion of the Bonjour India festival in India.
The Carillon is a lotus-shaped bellringer 17 metres in diameter that is both stage and apparatus for members of the Express group; a group that includes actors, musicians, directors and more. “It is incredible what they try to do all at once,” says Sanjeev Bharagava, founder of Seher, the company producing the show in India. “Most of them are actors and performers, but crucially almost all of them are brilliant technicians. They have a clear idea of what they need, there’s a scientific precision in whatever they do. And they do all of it themselves.”
Maudits Sonnant, as the 45-minute performance is called, will see more than a dozen artists merge acrobatics, music and theatre in one show, most of it mid-air. Bringing a potentially high-stake act to India, where it has never been held before is one thing, making it happen in a crowded city like Delhi is all the more challenging.
“We had been working on this project for some time. Before we came to Delhi we surveyed Mumbai and realised there were no open spaces available,” says Paiker Haq, who has managed the project through to completion. “Even in Delhi, the majority of the open spaces available are outside the centre of the city. IGNCA (Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts) was that rare spot where the group could perform.” Even while they zeroed in on the location for the performance, Paiker and her team had to consider several things – from security to the strength of the tarmac plus enough space for the audience to stand, and move around during the performance.
In a way, the Express group’s Carillon is an indictment of the way our cities have developed over the last few decades. “Any performance of this nature can only happen in the heart of the city. But it is just not possible anymore,” Bhargava says. The diminishing spaces for performances of this nature echo the near-extinct circus industry in India. Once a regular attraction in our cities, the industry has either run dry or has been squeezed to the fringes of our towns.
Paiker says the French group has been incredible at acclimatising themselves to the way things work in India. “They don’t come with the we-are-artists attitude. Their musicians set up their own instruments. They ship their own equipment as well. Where in India have you seen artists who set up their own equipment? It was refreshing even for us to work with them,” she says.
WHAT: Maudits Sonnant
WHEN: 6.30pm - 8pm, February 24
WHERE: Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, Janpath.
NEAREST METRO STATION: Central Secretariat.