'Holi' daze

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The age-old Indian festival of colours turns into a work of performance art

Never before in the past 23 years has WOMADelaide, the four-day festival of world music, dance, arts, ideas and food, begun in such a colourful manner as this year.

The hour-long parade aptly entitled ‘The Colour of Time’ took place on Friday 6 March at the expansive Botanic Park bordering Adelaide CBD.

This big cloud-burst of colour marked a fitting start to the open-air festival coming on the heels of Holi observed the day before. Whether it was a coincidence or well thought out scheduling, full kudos to the organisers!

The parade, which replicated India’s Holi, was the brainchild of a French outfit called Artonik. All participants and the admiring audience were Australians. The electrifying fusion music accompanying the parade was provided by three French instrumentalists, Laurent Pernice, Richard Berret and Philippe Capitani. Giving a catchy title and adding music and dance, Artonik turned a simple Indian folkloric fare into an artistic event worthy of being a major attraction at a world class festival in a foreign land.

The show was bold and bright – with a lot more verve and vibrancy than I have ever witnessed in India.

The parade started in a rather unusual way. A large audience formed a huge circle around Laurrent Pernice, playing an electric sarod, when suddenly a girl lunged into middle of the ring and another man started rolling on the grass. As the crowd wondered what was going on, a dozen or so others jumped in and started twisting, turning and twirling their torsos as if they had more than a fair dose of bhang – a must-have masti stimulant at Holi. Soon it dawned that all this was part of the act.

As the sarod player and the two guitarists, accompanied by a pair of large mobile towers of sound system, moved along, the crowd, magnetised by the enchanting music, followed them Pied Piper style, with the ‘dancers’ pirouetting all along the route. After moving some distance, the parade came to a halt and the dancers bared themselves to pearl-white bathing costumes and their dancing routine became delicate and evocative as in a modern ballet.

A few minutes later, a couple of dancers drew some patterns on the ground pumping cream-coloured powder from didgeridoo-like bamboo tubes, while a couple of others filled those patterns with a range of colour powders forming large rangoli on the grass. Soon all the dancers elegantly and effortlessly donned long lily-white kurtas and pyjamas for their next round of routines, gently spraying gulal powder in the air resembling a modest Holi celebration.

That was only the start. What was to follow was simply spectacular. Moving forward some hundred metres, the dancers climbed on a low-level long platform and got into a spell of dancing a la Bollywood with a huge crowd of young and old in front imitating their every move, resembling an elaborate scene from a blockbuster Mumbai movie. As the tempo of music and dance became frenetic, the crowd began to throw copious amounts of gulal powder in the air. A number of ‘volunteers’ embedded in the audience released thick plumes of powder from canisters in a rainbow-like eruption of colours. It was one massive cloud-burst of colours giving an eerie look to Adelaide’s eastern skyline, outdoing the spectre of crimson haze on the western horizon seen every day at the setting of the sun. Hundreds of young and old doused in coloured powder were in a daze, clapping their hands, swaying their hips and stamping their feet, matching the mood of the music, with the hour-long show reaching a crescendo.

At the start of the parade this writer was the only (naturally) coloured person in a crowd of a few hundred, but at the end of the show everyone was ‘ coloured’ and they seemed to revel in their transformation with beaming smiles and bemused looks.

The Colour of Time parade was repeated on the following three days of the festival with the crowds swelling in strength and savouring the spirit. Spiced with music and dance, the simple Indian festival of Holi had turned into a work of performance art.


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