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The tiny Chennai apartment may have been far removed from the world of arc lights, but for the artistes of the Scottish Dance Theatre it was no less important. They were working on an even more challenging choreography here - a set of moves to help the autistic children who spent their day at this centre, Lotus Foundation, come out of their emotional shells.
For SDT, this work is as important as the vivacious, rigorous and hugely acclaimed dance pieces they performed later that evening at the Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao hall - Luxuria, Drift and Dog.
The Scottish team is travelling across Chennai, Bangalore, Kolkata and Delhi on a much-awaited dance tour backed by the British Council. But their intent is also to take dance to the unlikeliest of audiences - from lay people and senior citizens to the underprivileged and physically challenged.
"Our target is to bring the language of dance to as wide a demographic as possible, " says James MacGillivray, SDT's artistic director. "The purpose of working with dance organisations and academies is threefold - to share a little of the dance education and culture in the UK, to indicate a flavour of the culture and style of work of SDT and open a discussion about cultural exchange and partnership. "
SDT believes that no one really has two left feet. Its non-specialist workshops are not meant to transform people into dancers but to open their eyes to the kind of lessons that they can learn by moving their bodies. The group's reasons for working with nondancers vary. At the Chennai workshop for instance, SDT's aim was to provide tools for the teachers to encourage the autistic children to move in order to build confidence, trust, social skills.
"Autistic children have very little body awareness or even awareness of facial expressions. Dance makes for a great learning tool for them in the socialisation process, " says Aruna Nagesh, choreographer and consultant with the British Council for the southern leg of SDT's outreach work.
Dance is recognised as a great medium for individuals to let go of their inhibitions. "It is enriching to reach out to different groups of people and changing the tools of dance, making people aware of their own bodies, " says SDT dancer Eve Ganneau.
For MacGillivary, the biggest outcome from the Chennai session was that the teachers immediately felt that their hard work was validated. "We had come thousands of miles across the world to lead a session with the same purpose and objective, in the same manner, and with the same spirit they have been striving to achieve for so many years, " he says. The body never lies;it can tell us more about the people around us than any words can - this is the philosophy underlying SDT's dance outreach work. "It is important to share skills with professionals, and for our dancers to work with new bodies and learn new ideas, " says MacGillivray. "But it is just as important to provide opportunities to move and dance to all, so that everyone has the chance to feel their blood coursing with music and life. " Back home in Scotland, the group also works with senior citizens. These sessions focus less on mobility and more on creating a dance language that is inclusive. "We don't simplify dance for various groups, " says MacGillivray. "We just say reach as high as you can. It could be from a wheelchair or a walking stick, or even just across a small space. "
SDT will perform at Kamani Auditorium, Delhi, October 30 at 7 pm
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