This text initiates a series of writings by Urvi Vora, a contemporary dancer and researcher from New Delhi. Urvi will use online resources and the languages she knows (not only English) to do a search about Latvian dance. She doesn’t know anything about it, but her degree in dance anthropology and interest in virtual space and its power are the perfect tools to get involved in this experiment. Soon, we will know what is Latvian dance!
Introduction before Urvi’s introduction
Inta Balode, chair of the board of the Latvian Dance Information Center
The collaboration with Urvi Vora is a result of an interesting chain of events. The foundational reason is the establishment of the Latvian Dance Information Center (LDIC) in June 2017. The formal reason is the funding received from the Ministry of Culture to do certain “state tasks in the field of dance”. One of the main tasks of the Center is the organisation of National Dance Prize uniting ballet, contemporary dance, stage folk dance, urban, jazz, and other styles. Before this, there has not been much dialogue among different dance genres, so LDIC sees as its duty to initiate and foster the conversations.
The personal reason that led to getting know Urvi is a funny facebook post where I was desperately calling for help because I could not manage all the things I needed to do. It was a kind of search for an assistant / psychotherapist / massage therapist etc. all in one and, of course, unpaid! And, of course, not very seriously meant. Even then, several people got in touch with me asking if this was a job proposal. I had no idea what it was, but I was very glad to hear interest and started inventing jobs in accordance with the expertise of these people and the things LDIC wants to do. And even though the post was in Latvian, Kinga Szemessy from Budapest Contemporary Dance Academy whom I met in Lublin, Poland during a seminar with Xavier LeRoy, used google translate and put me in touch with Urvi. Urvi was searching for some remote jobs at that time. And here came my idea to find out if Urvi would be fine to play this online search game to tell Latvians what is Latvian dance from a whole new perspective. Urvi said – YES! And here we go! Next text coming on Friday, November 8.
I will begin by telling you that I began fostering the dreams of becoming a dancer around the same time YouTube became an everyday entity. An eleven-year old in New Delhi would come home from Kathak class and place herself right in front of an outdated Windows desktop and enter in the search box – “dance”. If only it was that easy to find the dances I recognised. I stumbled upon video after video of beautiful, blonde women with something that looked like a puffy skirt and a tight black t-shirt. I wondered what it was that they were wearing, what they were trying to do and how easily they would get on their toes and leave me gasping. I would write down what I had heard that day without knowing what it meant – pleeyay, pleeyay, paday booray. I only corrected it to ‘plie, plie, pas de bourree’ years later when I found myself in a leotard and tutu in my first ballet class at the Russian Cultural Centre in Delhi. The dancer in my dreams started to take the shape of a Ballerina instead of a Kathak dancer and it had started with that one odd YouTube video. A couple of years ago when I was training to become a dance anthropologist, I had the privilege attending a rehearsal at the Centre National de la Danse in Paris and at that time, there were no spelling mistakes, no confusions – I knew what I was looking at.
Having spoken in English all my life, I have not found it hard to navigate the digital world of dance and knowledge in general. However, I grew up in a family that spoke in three languages at once – Hindi, English, and Gujarati – and recently, my attention was drawn to the fact that it is almost impossible to let go of English in the digital world. When I was asked to take up this assignment, I was faced with a few questions. How much did I know about Latvian dances? Very little. How much would I know about Latvian dances in a language other than English? Honestly, I have no idea. So, this is where I will begin.
With very little knowledge of Latvian dances and the curiosity to dive into the digital world of dance, I am going to try over the next few weeks to introduce the various resources available for someone who wants to know more. What is Latvian dance? What does it take to learn it? What might it look like? What would one wear? And much more. From my initial findings, advanced realisations, and my reflections, I plan to create a narrative of a journey to discover the world of Latvian dance. Through a series of ecstatic successes, miserable failures, and hilarious experiences, I hope to educate myself on the world of Latvian dance, the digital world of information, and the ways in which we stay connected to bodies far away.
Last year, I travelled to Serbia with a friend of mine from the Philippines. In a beautiful French-style cafe in Subotica, he went to the counter and explained to the waitress who did not speak in English, “I would like three cups of coffee” holding up his middle finger, ring finger, and pinky. She looked at him with a blank face and clarified, “Three?” holding up her thumb, index finger, and middle finger. Both of them stood there baffled for about forty seconds before realising they were saying the same thing. I continue to tell people that story and remind myself that people and bodies are fascinating. The way people use their bodies, even more so. And the moment when you look at someone and realise what they want to say is baffling and beautiful at the same time. I can not wait to find the same on the other side of this project.
Now before you google me in a different language and find the wrong version of me at the wrong time, I leave you with me, dancing.
*Urvi Vora is a contemporary dancer and researcher from New Delhi. She has recently finished her postgraduate studies in Dance Anthropology in which her interests revolved specifically around modern rituals, performance of politics and performative affect. She uses her training in Anthropology and Philosophy to find interesting ways of working through dance, theatre and film. She has been a member of The Pind Collective, a group of young artists from India and Pakistan who create and respond to each other’s work on an online platform, for the last two years. She is currently conducting her research laboratory on the affective relations of violence, migration, and movement and the significance of translation in Budapest.