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Cultural Confluence

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By Raji Unnikrishnan

In a stunning display of cultural diversity and artistic excellence, the Cultural Theatre in Bahrain became the stage for a remarkable confluence of dance traditions from around the world. The audience was captivated by the debut performances of Korean traditional dancer Yi (Lee) Chul-jin, a master of the Seungmu dance, and flamenco exponent Betina Castano, whose rhythmic footwork resonated with the beats of passionate music.

The event marking 50 years of the Indian Fine Arts Society in Bahrain, also featured renowned Kathak and Lavani exponent Aditi Bhagwat, whose performances were a blend of elegance and vigour, masterfully intertwining the narrative essence of the dance form with the hallmark of complex footwork and meticulous rhythmic sequences.

Adding to the event’s splendour, award-winning Manipuri dancer Latasana Devi presented her graceful and poetic rendition of the classical dance form hailing from India’s eastern territories.

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Speaking to Bahrain This Week, Chul-jin expressed his excitement at performing in Bahrain.
“I am so happy to showcase this traditional art of my country to the audience in Bahrain,” he said.
“Seungmu is a folk dance of my country, also known as the monk’s dance, and the dancer is dressed in a Buddhist monk’s attire. But it is not ritualistic.”

Chul-jin, according to Aditi, with whom he is collaborating on stages, is the only male Korean dancer performing these traditional dances that are usually performed by females.
“He was trained by a female teacher, and ever since he has been performing these dance forms, which are deeply rooted in the country’s history and art,” explained Aditi.

Chul-jin, a promoter of Korean art, is also an art manager and runs a theatre movement in Seoul, South Korea. Aditi collaborates with him on theatre projects and festivals. He curates four festivals throughout the year and works with the Korean Arts Council.

At the Cultural Hall, Chul-jin performed rhythmically to an elaborate choreography, resonating a spiritual journey—the very essence of Suengmu. Draped in white with a scarf (originally a symbol in Korean Buddhist shamanism for cleansing impurities) and a stole each in his hands, he shifted according to the rhythm, intertwining flowing movements and stillness. His long white sleeves and serene white hood added to the depth of the breathtaking pause followed by a soul-stirring movement, leaving the audience in a meditative trance.

“Even the gaze is very inward, focusing on the inner meditative moment, not so much catering to the audience, unlike ballet or other dance forms, which are very upfront like that, yet it is so meditative and expressive,” explained Aditi, helping Chul-jin in translation.

Betina, a virtuoso of flamenco, tapped her feet to the soul-stirring melodies, her dance a vibrant tapestry of emotion and precision. A testament to the power of flamenco in conveying the complexities of human emotion through its dynamic and intense choreography, the new generation dancer left the audience spell-bound as she performed alongside Aditi.

“Music and art unite everybody and are healing,” she said.
“To feel that you touch and move people in public and that you give them happiness so that they can forget their sorrows—this is, for me, really magic. Music and dance have no borders, and they give us peace!”

She has created more than 20 shows blending the different cultures of Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Egypt, Morocco, India, Latin America, and Europe. She experiments with world music and dancers from various cultures and has developed a wide range of choreographies.

Aditi, who is connected with Chul-jin, Betina, and Latasana on collaboration projects, said she believed in the connecting ability of art beyond borders.
“I would like all the audiences to know that we are gathering art from across regions. It’s a big challenge, and it is just sheer enthusiasm that has gotten us here,” said Aditi, who leads the team of the four artists.
“I’m very happy that, through borders and beyond, I’m with my colleagues, trying to put forth a message of coexistence or similarity, running lives parallelly. Coexisting, respecting each other’s values, and stepping into each other’s lives in space to know what the other person has to say and offer—it’s more or less a meaningful conversation.”

Aditi described Latasana as a ‘lovely spirit’, adding that her open mindset is what made her a perfect part of the team.

“As far as a project like this, you need someone who’s a purist, but also someone who can cross borders and accept other forms. Otherwise, with a closed mind, you can’t approach a project like this. That’s why I knew that for Manipuri, it had to be her (Latasana) and nobody else. You may be a good dancer or a bad dancer, but if you don’t have the right attitude and spirit to respect other forms and accept this, this can’t happen.”

The evening saw the artists portraying their individual styles, as well as neat overlaps between the dissimilar dance forms—an overlap between Flamenco and Korean, another overlap between Manipuri and Flamenco, then one between Kathak and Manipuri, and finally between Korean and the other forms. A combination of Kathak and Flamenco by Aditi and Betina and the finale featuring all four artists on the centre stage were received with thunderous applause from the audience.

“It is not creating fusion; it is co-existence; these styles can coexist by still being their own original art forms. It’s like watching a painting—you see a painting, and the person who’s perceiving the painting decides what the painting says to him. So I leave it to the audience to explore this canvas and see what they take back.”

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