Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

And Then They Came To India: Dance Theatre

Histories and memories always had the best stories to tell. Stories that were inspirations and eye-openers, stories made of realities and half-truths. And stories that could unfurl in movements and melodies. Such a story, it is, of the Parsi community in India and danseuse Mallika Sarabhai lost no time in unearthing the potential for a visual treat that lay hidden under the dog-ears of history. Thus we have And Then They Came To India, a dance theatre scripted and directed by Sarabhai which will be in Kolkata on September 12. “The idea of communicating history in a colourful and lively manner always interested me. The close-knit Parsi community, and their influence in the cultural landscape of India is something that fascinated me,” says Sarabhai. Reason why she decided to mix the myths with the truths, the past with the promises, and bring the untold out of the closet. And Then They… opens with tales from the times preceding the birth of Zarathustra, progresses to exploring the birth of Zoroastrianism, the rise of Islam and culminates in the final escape of the Parsis to India.

“Dance theatre is literally a mingling of dance, theatre and story telling, in the form of a sutradhar, here a spinning dervish,” says Sarabhai. There is very little that the Parsis have, in dance forms so to speak, so the danseuse incorporated Middle Eastern influences in her work.

Recreation of the past remains largely incomplete without costumes and Sarabhai saw to it, that And Then They…turned out to be closest to the historic reality. “The costumes were created after intensive research, from Persian paintings and books on Zoroastrianism that I got from my Parsi friends,” says Sarabhai. The performance that will be touring 18 cities, which comes in a 45-minute package, has music scored by Jaya Nair, Darpana Musicians and Eero Hameenniemi and will also feature Sarabhai’s daughter Anahita Sarabhai.

Condensing a cultural history into a 45-minute performance couldn’t have been easy. The task was daunting and the Persian history has stories that could ‘last several nights’, but Sarabhai wanted colour in her creation. “I chose things that were fun to enact and could be beautifully visualised and realised. Of course, I did have to dramatise the very important bits of history also,” says the danseuse.

Parsi history, like most others, is dramatic and eventful. It’s just that it is neither talked about extensively, nor featured regularly in creative endeavours. This made Dr Villoo Morawala Patell, founder of Avesthagen Limited, a life sciences corporation, throw his weight behind Sarabhai’s creation. “The way Mallika conceptualises and retells stories we might have heard hundred times over is fascinating,” says Patell.

So, how does the danseuse expect a culture-specific production like And Then They… to reach out to a cross-section of audience? “Kolkata always had an eye for history — even if it isn’t its own. And with the recent Tata Nano stand-off, it might be a good time to rethink what the Parsis stand for,” she laughs.

Original article here