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To Strike the Right Balance, it is Important to Realise that giving up is Okay: Abhilash Ningappa

To Strike the Right Balance, it is Important to Realise that giving up is Okay: Abhilash Ningappa

Titas Dutta: Abhilash, you are trained in dance and choreography from SEAD (Salzburg Experimental Academy of Dance), Austria and APASS (Advanced Performance and Scenography Studies), Belgium. And you are also a yoga practitioner and a martial art teacher, specialising in Kalaripayattu. So, what encouraged you to step beyond your own practice and become an entrepreneur by opening-up a residency, and creating opportunities for others to collaborate and practice their craft?

Abhilash Ningappa: To practice art we need space and support. A plan of action. It was necessary for me to build a studio from scratch. So, I built a small studio and started organising small scale projects that eventually grew on their own and culminated in my present studio, which is a big studio with a lot of space. 

But it wasn’t easy. I had to invest all my savings, including my earning from my work in Europe. I had returned to India, freshly trained in performing art, filled with excitement. I wanted to devote all my time to practice, but ended up spending months writing emails and proposals for collaborations. Although I exhausted my options, I did not receive any positive response. I soon realised that with almost non-existing funding opportunity and missing network that could bring together like-minded practitioners, many budding artists were looking for guidance and support. Moreover, many had to rely on odd jobs and their families for financial support. I figured that I might get some kind of support after years of hard work, but I was not prepared to wait for an eternity.

So, while people went out to see performances, to socialise, to try and market themselves, I decided to stay in the studio and started organising by bringing together like-minded people, who were eager to work and create job opportunities for themselves as well as others. This aspect of organising—that is, bringing people together—is what I enjoy the most. This is where the magic happens. Many collaborations were started during this period that eventually turned into full-fledged performance projects!

Titas Dutta: Compared to other cities, how would you rank Bangalore when it comes to performance related residencies? Is there anything in particular that you think should change in these residencies?

Abhilash Ningappa: Living in Bangalore, I am more aware of its cultural milieu than of any other cities’. It is true that in Bangalore performance related residencies are gaining ground. Take for example, residencies organised by Shoonya or 1 Shanti Road. Suddenly via workshops and classes there is some space to help think, plan and execute programs. Interestingly, performance-based projects are reasonabley well supported now.

While it is very encouraging to see local artists and teachers participating in such residencies, I feel, what we lack are projects that are more solidly grounded in research. It would be nice if artists were given more time to research, and then share their findings through lectures and discussions. Since in big cities time is a rare luxury, perhaps the prospect of learning deeply, or creating an environment for meaningful exchanges turns out to be an expensive proposition.

Titas Dutta: Can you tell us how a dance residency is usually planned? And how can it be structured as a financially viable model?

Abhilash Ningappa: I guess, to each his own. I have planned dance residencies in various stages. Initially, there were small projects that took shape in my living room, and then I organised small yearly projects, and now I have moved onto big projects. While there was some amount of planning behind everything, it was also important to give the process time so things could pan out on their own. Of course, there was no funds initially. So, I started inviting projects that already had funding and were able to afford the studio space.

Also, since transparency helps build trust between collaborators, I am very particular about transparent budget planning. As you can see, while some methods directly help make the residency financially viable, other methods—or practices, if you will—do the same in a roundabout way.

Titas Dutta: When you are curating or programming, what are your main considerations? Please walk us through your process.

Abhilash Ningappa: It is fairly simple. My main consideration is the quality of the work. For instance, if it speaks to the audience, connects with them, or perhaps it does the opposite, and challenges the social norms and makes them feel a little uncomfortable, I wholeheartedly embrace the project. At this point, I just sit down and work out the logistics!

Titas Dutta: As an artist-entrepreneur naturally you wear several hats. Do you ever feel a conflict between your artistic desires and the business side of your enterprise? If yes, then how do you strike the right balance?

Abhilash Ningappa: But business can be creative as well! I never see them as two disconnected entities, maybe that’s because I always work with a creative mindset. Conflicts may arise from time to time, but those are negligible when you look at the bigger picture.

Whenever I get an idea about a project, I write down all the elements, and I make a mind map of all the interesting aspects and arrange them in a table. Then, I zero-in on the most important aspect of the project and all my focus revolves around it.

I start with an idea and pursue it till it satisfies me creatively, after which I move on to the next idea, to the next project.

To strike the right balance, it is important to realise that giving up is okay, that one should take chances, and that one should learn to take a pause in-between. These are all important considerations for things to flow in various directions.

Titas Dutta: In your experience what is it that enhances the value of a residency most?

Abhilash Ningappa: Spaces and performances are co-dependent, and they need each other to survive, let alone thrive. And as it happens, residencies like ours facilitate this symbiotic exchange to happen. So, I believe, it is such year-long exchanges and activities that actually elevate a residency, justify its space and celebrate the art it promotes.  

Titas Dutta: In your field of work, what do you think are the most common mistakes young entrepreneurs make? What would your advice be to artists thinking of starting their own entrepreneurial journeys?  

Abhilash Ningappa: I think research should go hand-in-hand with artistic practice while organising programs. Stay humble, stay active, take a break, get inspired and meditate. Also, do not completely rely on anyone or anything, make every choice on your own, allow yourself to get worried once in a while, and still make it happen. If something worries you that means there is risk involved, and that means it is a work worth doing. 

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