Under my byline

Top-class moves

Posted in Art, Foodie by Rrishi on 26 July 2009

Classical dancer Prathibha Prahlad bridges worlds, and makes us a lasagna

Last winter the city came alive with a blaze of banners and posters announcing the second Delhi International Arts Festival (DIAF). The person behind the spectacle was bharatnatyam and kuchipudi dancer Prathibha Prahlad, festival director and head of the Prasiddha Foundation.

I’m visiting her flat overlooking the treetops so that she can show us what dancers eat on their day off. (Lasagna.) I am also curious to learn how a classical dancer turns into a skillful organiser who bridges the chasms between cultural, corporate and sarkari worlds.

Prahlad started dancing at the age of four. Her first teacher was a neighbour. Her second was a student of her ultimate gurus, luminaries like V S Muthuswamy Pillai and U S Krishna Rao. “By the time I was 18,” she says, “I wanted to be professional.” She quantifies: “I did four to eight performances a month for many years.”

During most of her dance career, Prahlad lived in Bangalore. Over time, she began to think about the conditions under which artistes like her, and those less fortunate, performed. “How can I improve all this — light, sound, stage design, colour, image, look and feel, branding,” she says she thought, and also finances: “There’s no funding for the arts. You’ve got to find the money.” This took her well beyond the typical “sabha” and sarkari performance — and into festival territory.

She set up her foundation and organised annual festivals in Karnataka, including the Hampi Vijayotsava (now run by the state government), Eka Aneka (at which the late Gangubai Hangal also performed) and Sharad Vaibhav. In 2003 she moved to Delhi and in 2006 the first DIAF took place, with support from ITDC, ICCR and others.

“That was hugely enthusaistically received. Then I started thinking of a long, multi-art, multi-venue festival, where the branding and the artistes are top-class.” Her model was the Edinburgh International Festival, at which she had performed. The result, with help from co-organiser Arshiya Sethi, were the last two DIAFs, with a mix of Indian and foreign performers. From 900 artistes and 40 venues in 2007, DIAF grew to 3,000 artistes and 300 venues last year, when its budget was Rs 15 crore.

After Edinburgh, Prahlad thought: “India has a variety of forms, so many languages, music traditions, dance traditions — why could we not mount a festival which was so large and varied? I think we have over the years become a very diffident race, lost our sense of self, of who we are. Culture defines who you are, internationally, and if you’re losing out on that…”

FAVOURITE RECIPE

TORTILLA-ROLL LASAGNA

½ kg chicken, cut into small pieces
1 tbsp garlic paste
1 tsp ginger paste
2 onions, chopped
1 tsp red chilli powder
2 green chillies
1 tbsp cooking oil
Sweet corn kernels, boiled
½ kg spinach
Grated mozzarella cheese
Salt, fresh-ground pepper

For tortillas:
Cornflour and maida

For white sauce:
250 gm milk
1 tbsp maida
1 tbsp grated mozzarella cheese

Heat oil, add garlic, wait for it to brown slightly, add onions and wait till they soften, add chilli powder and green chillies and stir until the whole masala browns. Add chicken pieces and cook until done. Clean spinach, steam it lightly. Chop small, add salt. For white sauce, blend together milk, maida and mozzarella. To make tortillas, make dough using more cornflour than maida. Roll and cook on tava as with chapatis, without oil or ghee.

To assemble: on tortilla, spread a tablespoonful of white sauce. Sprinkle chicken, spinach, corn, a bit of cheese, and pepper if you like. Roll up, slice into wide segments and line up loosely in a baking dish. Repeat for about four or five tortillas. Then spread remainder of white sauce and mozzarella cheese on top. Sprinkle with remaining corn. Put in the oven at 95°C for 10-15 minutes. Serves six.

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