Helena Waldmann, renowned Berlin-based director, came to Bangladesh to incorporate one of the most controversial issues of Bangladesh in her new production, “Made in Bangladesh”. She uses 'exploitation' and 'dance' as subjects in her work, which is contextually and choreographically based on the garment industry of Bangladesh. This is a topic that has gathered attention through the years after almost unending controversial catastrophes that gave the garment factories the image of sweat shops, more so after the colossal collapse of the Rana Plaza in Savar last year. She claims, “Made in Bangladesh” explores the notion of sweat shops in the garment industry, and then goes on to compare them with artistic 'sweat shops' of a dance studio. Her strategy to imbibe a South Asian dance form in the production by using the leitmotif of the continuous footwork and 'chakkar', or pirouettes, of Kathak to symbolise the repetitious work within garment factories.
Waldmann first came to Dhaka, at the invitation of Lubna Marium's Shadhona, in mid-2013. Later in December of that year, after a lengthy and strenuous audition process, out of many eager participants, she chose 12 Bangladeshi Kathak dancers and embarked on rehearsals from January. The next session of rehearsals were held in March, along with co-choreographer Vikram Iyengar, a Kolkata- based Kathak dancer. Her approach with the dance form is to deconstruct it to an extent where the staccato dynamics of the Kathak footwork and overall style reflects piecework sewing and running of machinery in the choreography.
She explains, “Both dancers and seamstresses (workers) live at risk to their health, in return for low wages and at a constant risk of losing their jobs.” With a strong message, which needed to be translated into performance, 'Made in Bangladesh' uses multiple elements on stage that include documentaries on factory owners, dancers, buyers etc. Waldmann uses dance as one 'layer' in this production, where dancers will share their appearance with other elements such as music, video, and the architecture of the stage. Co-choreographer Vikram states, “I have tried to get to the heart of the severity that many Kathak movements and elements are able to convey.”
The dancers are, Md. Hanif, Munmun Ahmed, Masum Hussain, the writer, Nuzaba Tahreen, Shareen Ferdous, Shammy Akhter, Urmi Irene, Trina Mehnaz, Bishwazit Sarker, Labonno Sultana and Sharmin Shoma. The production is the outcome of a collaboration between Shadhona and Ectopia Dance Productions. The production is funded by the German Federal Cultural Foundation and other organisations, including Goethe Institut Dhaka. Director of Goethe Institut Judith Mirschberger says, “If you wonder how the production looks and sounds, I need to ask you for a bit of patience.”
“Made in Bangladesh” tours Europe and stages the production in nine cities from November to December this year. The Bangladeshi premiere is likely to be held in Dhaka after the tour ends.
Waldmann hopes that the 'revolutionary' production will portray a polyphony of images to the audience.