The brainchild of Odissi dancer Sreyashi Dey, Rasa is true to its Sanskrit meaning of “taste,” “juice,” or “nectar.” The festival combines ancient Indian classical art forms, particularly in the realms of music and dance. It also strives to exhibit contemporary Indian performing arts in conjunction with the classical, featuring professional visual artists, dancers, and poets. This year, Rasa was challenged to reimagine its usual format. Spanning four virtual weekends, it offered a range of music, dance, poetry, and art exhibitions.
The musical program featured vocal and instrumental performances by practitioners of the Patiala gharana, the Mysore gharana, the Kerala Kalamandalam, and Shantiniketan, to name a few. The experimental band “Mughal-e-Funk” performed their original composition “Akbar,” which was inspired by miniature Mughal paintings and juxtaposed with a digital art video.
Fine art exhibitions showcased the curatorial work of Chandrima Bhattacharyya, the artistic production of Indian, Bangladeshi and American artists such as Dilara Begum Jolly, Piyali Sadhukhan, Promiti Hussain, Ruma Chaudhury and Sutanuka Giri, and photography, including the genre-defying work of photographer Charlee Brodsky and a moving series of photos about the meaning of home, the city, and the village by Uday Hajra.
Presentations about art scholarship were delivered by field experts. Pika Ghosh, a historian of South Asian art, spoke about the rich experiential dimension of kantha, textiles woven in Bengal and Bangladesh from used layers of cloth. Paroma Chatterjee, professor of Byzantine art history at the University of Michigan, spoke about the associations between Byzantine art and the work of Jamini Roy, a renowned Bengali modernist.
Spoken word demonstrations included a collaboration between poet Zilka Joseph and pianist Veena Kulkarni. Sumita Chakraborty, the University of Michigan Helen Zell Visiting Professor of Poetry, read poems from her book Arrow, out now with Alice James Books.
Along with a range of Bharatanatyam, Kathak, and Odissi dances, Rasa 2020 also featured a special tribute to esteemed Bengali poet and essayist Batakrishna Dey. His writings were put to music, choreographed, and performed by his daughter—chief curator and producer of Rasa, Sreyashi Dey. For a complete recap of the festival or a detailed overview of its components, please visit rasafestival.org.