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Airplane - equals - headache.
With a heavy headache finally I land in Dhaka. Of cause it was ultimate stress to get the connecting flight in Delhi, even the first mashine landed before scheduled time. Running, security check, another check, almost getting in trouble with the security persons, ... . I wonder why they sell this ticket, if it is in fact not possible to reach the next plane.
The evening before was the presentation of "A Piece for You, Chennai" and just a couple of hours sleep were not enough to do the travel relaxed. At 6 am the taxi picks me up when it is still dark. The city wakes up as well. Almost peaceful it turns to light, but I know which chaos will appear soon.
In Dhaka of cause my backpack is broken in two places and I want to claim that but the manager has to come for that and he takes too much of my headache time to turn up, so I leave it and hope to find strong needle and thread.
Already the first few kilometers to the dance studio where I will sleep and work gives me the right impresion of the city: bulky busses and rikshas tell me about what is normally going on in Dhaka. The busses are in pale colours painted over and over again and are all around, all sides from the bottom to the top, battered and scratched. The bicycle-rikshas are painted individually in bright colours and various symbols. Also motor-rikshas are numourous riding around, mostly in green and the doors are made out of metal fence, so that it gives the impression that a little cage on three wheels is speeding around. One of them apperently dropped, like it is common for all three-wheelers. A woman is standing in the door of the vehicle which lays on its side and looks around astonished and shocked, unable to get out the by herself blocking al, the traffic. I was told late, that often you can not open these cages from the inside ... .
But all the traffic is not too much, the rikshas empty and even the busses are not full.
The reason for this spooky traffic is the strike, called "Hartal", a kind of general-strike, which is called out each year, since the political parties are struggling for power. Momentary the situation seems to change each hour dramatically. For example the leader of one opposition party got imprisoned by the government, and heavy fights causing even death, could break out any minute.
The people are tired of this and only about 50% of them are on strike, but moist of them are just scafed to go out of their houses. Thts why it is a bit spooky in the city. For me so far it is good, because I dont know if I could work another two weeks in a noisy, overcroeded city.
The bad thing for the project is, that if the situation gets worse we have to cancel the show on the 18th. According to my contract I would not see any Eurto then, well lets talk to the director of the Goethe Institute again, the lady who invited me here ... .
The group of dancers is very willing, talented, clever, great dancers and a few more things. Though it is "Hartal" everyone is on time from 9am until 4pm. The first three days we progressed a great deal and could already show a little performance in just two more days. The concentration span is short though and it seems to be very common to interrupt someones words befopre finishong one sentence. Something I can not stand. Mostly the strong ladys do that and also they tell everyone what to do. even I have to defend myself sometimes not to be hassled around constantly like: here eat now, come, sit down, rest now, do this and that. But all, that is more amusing than a real problem.
Teaching is necessary and I like it more and more. We spent two hours each morning to work on streches, since they necer do them. That is restrictimng their moving range a lot in all directions. Foot and eye connection is neede as well since the classical Bengal Dance is all happening in a plie without using the rolling of the feet. One man in the group ghas enormously strong and tight thighs, but NO cafs at all. And so on and so on. But one aspect of the dance is picked up without effort: the articulation of the joints. Where as in europe and Amerika, I have to explain and do and do again and noone seems to understand the value of this, here in Asia it is part of the traditional dances to use the joints a lot in hands and arms, also use the joints in coherence with the eyes. Just sometiomes it is presented flat towards the spectator. Only on Java I saw the multidirectional presentation of dance happening with different bodyparts in different directions while the entire body was spiraling, that it made me dizzy.
Learning from film and the French ecom´nomic adviser, because I cannot get out of Dhaka
"Thomas, come with me to the film!"
"Yes, sure .. ."
Lubna, the grande dame of the dance in Dhaka is the founder of the studio "Shadhona" where I work. She is well connected in all of Asia and working with the Goethe Institute in many projects.
The film is a semi documentary by a Bengal regisseur about the fight of Bengal people to build a new dam after a huge flood. Shown it is in the french Ambassy. Because of the Hartal, not too many guests arrive. The film is quite touchy and teaches me alot about the population. The conversations they have are the ones people have all over. And I dont know why, but only when I get the translation text in the film and I understand the conversations, I get much closer to the people and their worries, but also the humour they have, the relations-problems of the main couple in the film, and so on and so on. Without the exact words I always tend to simplify not only the speculation about what the people might say, but with that also the people themself. Quite unfair, I think ... . Or, arrogant ... .
"Thanks, I learned a lot about Bangladesch now!" The director of the film understands and replies that I should take it with me, laying one hand on his heart.
The French and German Ambassadors are there some other officials, some artists. These ambassadors are usually relaxed and talkative with anyone, just the German guy seems a bit stressed. The French economic advisor tells me about the situation in Bangladesch. He thinks the situation gets better. One crucial pioint is, when the step is taken to emancipate the woman. even they dont earn much but if they have a bank account and a future for themselves, the country gains much more stability than when man are in charge of their accounts. Sounds logic.
My question which kind of country the west needs to make best business with, he either doesnt understand or he dodges. Maybe he doesnt see the point of it at all, but I see behind his eyes more thinking as he speaks out.
Despite then fact that every day there are dead people and here and there rallies in this power game and artificial trouble making, life goes on.
I am invited to a pre-wedding party. Hundreds of people gather in an expensive place. The dress code is orientating on the family dependence: the colours of the ladies dresses and the stile of mens shirts tell you to which family they belong. JKust a few are sticking out, like me.
The couple is placed on an altar with flowers and food, the cremony is to makle them up with chalk and feed the with food. Then many songs are sang, selfmade films are shown and before it goes on for hours and hours with more shows and the dinner I ask to be driven home. Too tiring is the noise for me and I dindt have much time to rest so far.
Leaving the place I notice two armed guards at the door with the same oldfashioned rifles and a bit more modern shotguns as I saw with other uniformed men on the streets. Police? Pivate security company? Military?
The news at this moment is, that it is not sure if the military would be united behind the Prime Minister as it was the case some years ago, when the highest ranks were installing order and a government again.
If just noone would care about this trouble ... .
Today just a few dancers come to the studio, because the political situation is most unstable in Bangladesh. People need hours to get from one place to another, many dont go out of the house. Who knows how the situtation will be in the evening, when the have to get home again.
One of the opposition politicians and war-criminal was sentenced to death and only on a last minute interferance of his lawyers he didn get hang at 00.01 this night, as it was announced.
Of cause, it gave a good reason for the opposition to freak out again. fire here and there, at least one person shot, still Many say all is steared and a powergame, but I would prefer if the ones in power, or who want to be in power, do it mongst each other, and dont let the population kill each other.
So, our work is as well a statement, not to get irritated by incompetent politics and we do our work, making art.
Well they killed him just two days later. Strategically not really at a momet to get the tension out of the situation ... .
It gave the others enough reason to burn down a few cars and attack police and other politicians, some people got shot many injured. Can I call it: "boring"?
Seeing the dancers coming every day, seeing the Riksha riders everyday working 12 hours to get some food for their family together, what do I think about the politicians? Changing positions maybe, they can choose to do two weeks with me, or riding Riksha. But the dancers and the riksha riders take over their positions as well, of cause. Lets see who is doing a better job!
Judith Mirschberger, the director of the Goethe Institute Dhaka, tells me that they dont get many requestes from artists to come there and work.
Artists! What is wrong with you? You want to be in Shanghai, NY, any other hip place to show off your "work"? Get the fame? But not doing the work which is necessary in the remote places and so much appreciated by the people there, because rarely someone comes. Not hip enough? Berlin is better, because you get what you expect, you will meet all the other hip artists who tell you about the hip places they have been, and you have to compare in the hipness of "art-practice". Do you mean working art, or do you mean talking about it?
Dhaka is an adventure, I can promise!
The show went phantastic. More then full house, we had problems to fit all the people in. Despite the fire in the streets and other fearmaking "events", the audience comes.
The dancers did great and still can put more on stage as we ever rehearsed. It is the first time for most of them, that they speak on stage their own ideas. Extra applause the young ladies get from the audience, since it is not too normal to articulate the own mind as a female 16 year old.
Already before the show many of the dancers tell me that they miss me. After the show even more and I do too.
Thank you Bangladesh!