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Thoughts on Helena Waldmann’s Made in Bangladesh

Bangladeshi dancers, deconstructed and repackaged classical Bangali dance

Share on Facebook January 29, 2015, Reporter : DhakaTribune, Reader : 399

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Helena Waldmann’s dance production “Made in Bangladesh” on Monday at Shilpakala Academy was a visceral, gritty and disconcerting experience – extremely powerful and evocative.

Waldmann and her Kolkata-based co-choreographer Vikram Iyengar, along with her troupe of 12 Bangladeshi dancers, deconstructed and repackaged classical Bangali dance techniques to convey the drudgery of factory work. The entire show proved to be an exercise in capacity to sit with discomfort and unease.

The show’s narrative was a commentary, mainly focused on the garments industry in Bangladesh.

The music was intentionally repetitive and drawn out – initially lulling the audience into soporific ease – only to flip us over to an anxious frenzied loop as the tempo and intensity built. The dance moves reflected the same frenetic rhythm and precision of the music, magnified by the relentless drill of sewing machine needles on the projector behind the dancers. This multi-sensory experience was heavy and left the audience with a lot to process.

The sterile, dignity-stripping, numbers-driven repetitive culture of the industry eroded away at the humanity of the workers. The dancers beautifully portrayed the tension of competing in a thriving industry while giving up more than they had bargained for, or even understood.

The erosion of vitality and of aliveness, slowly replaced by veneers of automated posturing, was haunting and tragic to watch. And then to be immersed into the chaotic ambient sounds of the Rana Plaza collapse, followed by a grinding halt – backlit by the infamous image of two people huddled in an embrace as the building crushed them and the air out of their lungs – was intense.

One of the dancers ends this scene with a long hard stare into the audience , conveying so much in her unsaid words. Blame. Reproach. A plea. Despair.

“Although they dislike this system,” Waldmann said: “the women in the factories told me that they are happy to be leading independent lives and be a part of capitalistic society. At first I was shocked, but then I realised that they are young, want to earn money like everyone else. For them, this life is still better than living in the countryside with no water or basic amenities.”

After last November’s premiere of “Made in Bangladesh” in Ludwigshafen, Germany, and the Europe tour that followed, the ensemble most recently toured India with the support of Goethe-Institut, participating in two renowned dance festivals as well.

This was the first performance of the show in Bangladesh. (Source: DhakaTribune)

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