Can we show case of our culture in USA and use Odissi dance groups as a profitable venture?
By Sandip K. Dasverma
The answer to this question is: Yes.
Odissi dancers have been visiting USA since early 70s. Two names that were known early to the Indian community in North America's metros were Late Sanjukta Panigrahi and Late Kelu Charan Mohapatra. Both are legends and have since passed away.
We have come a long way since then, particularly after the International Odissi Dance festivals in 2002/2003 at Washington DC with active help of the then Indian Ambassador Mr. Lalit Mansingh. A new generation has taken over and the group dances have become popular. Additionally, a large group of male dancers, no longer masquerading as females (Gotipua style) are now becoming popular. A good Odissi dancer can now earn 1 lakh plus on a trip to USA, all costs paid. They are still not floating in milk and honey but no longer starving either, if they are good. The purpose of this article to discuss plans and possibilities to take these troupes to the next higher level, so more artists, can earn more. Also a corpus fund ($1 million) can be created out of the profits to support the purists and the pure form.
Strategic changes needed:
- Odissi troupes now must focus on mainstream Americans rather than target only Indian audiences. They still continue to depend on local Indian host groups (mostly Oriya or Bengali groups) for transport, food and shelter, to keep them within budget and provide them a support group in an alien circumstance.
- Professional management of the tours must happen, with good scheduling, good planning, regular networking with the local patrons, like a touring theatre company.
- There should be a central promotion group body for promotion of Odissi in America – constituted by the individual local patrons/promoters a body of hundred who have worked in the past or still working on it, as a independent non-profit federation or under OSA as a special unit.
A. The following visible developments have happened in the last decade or two:
- The grace of Odissi is now appreciated all over India and its popularity has come at par with Bharat Natyam, the most popular of the classical Indian dance forms, except in South.
- The development of group dances with equal number of men and women has transformed the image of Odissi from a slow, solo dance to a rhythmic dynamic dance form with lot of energy and speed.
- .It has come to the throes of a financially viable industry, provided it is professionally managed. The techniques of Scheduling, financial planning and marketing and electronic communication needs to be introduced to make it flourish. Of course it needs nurturing to become a cash cow.
- Like cricket, it is now a hobby, from which one can make a living, provided one is a top end of performer, (I would assume those within top Fifty women and men, can earn 2 to 3 lakhs an year – after all costs..
- Odissi has become very popular outside Orissa, all over India, particularly in West Bengal and among Bengalees.
- Awareness of the dance abroad has become wider. From ambits of an elite audience it has moved to general awareness among American public.
- There are now at least 60 to 80 American communities and big cities where more than one Odissi performance has been performed. If we include Canada it will probably be 100 communities. However public forget the performance if it is not repeated within 3 years plus/minus. These can be expanded to 150 or more if persistent effort is made, targeting all towns of population of 50 thousand or more.
- There are at least 20 / 25 Odissi Dance schools in North America that are run by good Odissi dancers, who teach this increasingly popular dance form. They are creating awareness and appreciation among general American public, in addition to Diaspora. A list needs to be prepared of such schools, as they are they are a natural ally/host to the touring teams and any performance in those communities is mutually beneficial.
- With web sites being easy and cheap, each troupe can develop their own web site, providing information about their group and while they tour a web based info on them. They can also post a standard brochure and poster which can be customized.
B. Exploitation of potential and future vision
1. Many questions come up. Like can we bring more than one troupe a year from Orissa, and make the trips financially viable?
2. If it is possible what is the model?
3. What will be goal of such expansion?
4. What will be the infrastructure needed?
5. Can the Oriya network, as it is today, run it and do justice to its potential?
6. Economics and financial viability.
C. Areas of Improvement, a few answers to the questions raised:
1. Develop a net work of Odissi lovers – not necessarily Oriya people, preferably Oriya, other Indian and American fans from the beginning at each target community.
2. A significant improvement in presentation with use of video, projectors and light. For example I saw a Mohini Attam group create the background and change it through overhead projector. This type of action will be particularly applicable to the dance dramas like "Konark" or "Katrina" by Orissa Dance Academy. Now it is being done by them on a white or black back ground, which could be significantly enhanced by a background depicting a sea on the background. Various other such projections to enhance the presentation.
3. Standardized optimal stage size, sound quality and light needs to be communicated early.
4. Standardized explaining of the nuances or each troupe having its presenter, who has practiced American English.
5. Making standard marketing techniques available to each community leader. As to how to Contacting local TV, local news paper etc.
6. Renting good but decent halls for cheap – possible if planning is done more than four to six month before the performances. Always using a non-profit organization as local promoter to avoid tax related problems.
7. Last but not least moving focus and target from Indians to general American community stated above. Visible local coordination with church groups or other community groups, are to be attempted as a policy.
8. Planning Workshops on local dance schools or collaborating with local Ballet schools one in each place of visit to expand market and create curiosity for the dance form. However in the initial trip only one in 4 places should be aimed at about 5 places to start with.
9. Collection of fund either as a bank loan or an investment from people who get 10% return on his capital, if venture succeeds. For example 100 people giving consent to contribute $1 K each can raise $100 K for venture capital. There could be call up only if the money is necessary, so money is not sitting in low paying bank accounts. However these venture capital donors can alternatively make the up the Board to run the venture and decide what they want to do with the surplus funds after they get their money back. It is expected to be donated to the Odissi Trust Fund.
10. For city performances the ticket should be on average $25 and for small town America $15 / person. Each center can bring in sponsors and donors and can use the extra money after paying for the troupe and expenses for their club or philanthropic goals. This way we can create a vested interest in them to repeat and thus will develop a permanent market.
11. The profitable efforts should also agree to give 50% of the surplus to a Odissi Foundation Fund to be floated and a significant portion of the surplus – and up to 50% should be deposited in a general fund (target $1 million) for the promotion of pure Odissi dance form. This will be an endowment fund, like the one Srikhetra at Chennai has, for Bharat Natyam. There are no patrons in Orissa for Odissi and Government of Orissa is in the process of withdrawing from all such activities due to the advent of market economy.(this suggestion is by Dr. Sri Gopal Mohanty, who like many others, feel that the original dance form is threatened).
12. Try to use 2 out of 4 layover days – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, to promote appreciation of the dance form in small town America.
13. A standard rate for small towns should be $1 k for 1st visit, $1.5 K for second and subsequent visit. These will be on M, T, W, T days. (Week days). Other arrangements will be similar.
14. And halls will be smaller 200 to 300.
15. A standard remuneration of $4k/ performance to the party for the cities or big town and weekend performances is recommended. The transport, stay and food will be on local promoters, they can pay in cash or kind, at their choice. Thus facility can be provided like hosting the artists and giving them a ride.
16. Hall size in cities should be about 400 plus (depending on past success) – for performances on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
17. Live music is a must for these performances.
18. Develop a database list of all the communities where there has been performance in the past and keep the contacts updated.
19. For emergency situations a few of the artists getting international driving license and a credit card will be desirable.
20. There are many cities where Oriya groups are feuding among them. As a result if one group promotes an Odissi dance group the other completely non-cooperates or occasionally even create obstructions. This should be handled carefully by the national entrepreneurs by giving a program to each of the groups as a healthy competition rather than unhealthy rivalry. This should happen, in the common interest of every person from Orissa, to spread of name and fame of Odissi in North America, a cultural Gem from Orissa.
A sample virtual project:
I am using here a fictitious company which is visiting West Coast named ABC Dance company to demonstrate what I have in mind. They will fly in to say Washington DC as Rudrakhya has done this time and then fly to Seattle or Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston or Dallas, Washington DC/ New York, New Orleans, Louisiana to the six metropolitan areas and move around the area like shown for West Coast.
- A trip to west coast by ABC company, consisting of 4 male dancers, 4 female dancers, 5 live musicians and the Guru & the manager(who usually is the Guru or a lead dancer) – A team of 13/14 people, any variation is OK.
- The troupe will travel max 250 miles daily, usually 200 miles or less & preferably 100 to 150 miles.
- They will be hosted free by the hosts in individual houses or low cost Motels of Indians which will be paid for by the hosting community.
- They will be given preferably Indian food, with occasional variations.
- They will move in a 16 seat bus which will carry their instruments and belongings for the length of the trip. If they use Air travel the local trips will be in such a bus.
- Alternatively they could travel between cities by Air and travel locally by a bus.
- Food should be provided by the hosts or an allowance of $25/day in lieu of that / person.
- Private residential hosting accommodation is fine. Else Four / Five Motel Six type double bed double rooms to be provided.
- They will dance maximum 6 days a week, with Friday, Saturday and Sunday in big cities. And 2 / 3 other days in the 4 weekdays preferably rested every 6 th day.
- They will spend their rest day sight seeing supported by hosts at established fan bases.
- They will get adequate rest and food, so they can perform at their prime.
- They use a similar color fliers(couple available via internet) with localization and printing done by local promoters.
- Local TV, Radio stations and news papers requested to make public service announcements, not only in the Indian News papers as now. Ads will at no charge to the troupe..
- A few new locations have to be developed, for future exploitation/visit.
- Some flexibility is there and some are challenges to be undertaken. These are just suggested and can be modified or based on entrepreneurs can be added or deleted. Just gives a general idea of how in the west itself nearly 30 performances can be sold with 18 weekend performances and 14
- Group tickets viz. Disneyland and Universal Studio will be provided by the local promoters but may be shared by all locals, if more than one, are local.
They deplane in at Seattle and take a days rest, after finishing their trip to OSA July 4th convention, 2007.
1. 1st Performance Seattle North area Friday July
2. 2nd performance Seattle South Area Saturday July
3. 3rd performance Olympia Sunday July?
4. Sight seeing Seattle and Olympia Monday
5. 4th Performance Ellensburg(small town) Monday
6. 5th performance Richland(small town) Wednesday
7. 6th Walla Walla(small town) Thursday
8. 7th Performance Portland, Oregon. Friday
9. 8th performance at Portland, Oregon North(Vancuver) Saturday
10. 9th performance capital, Oregon, Sunday
11. 10th Medford, Ca Tuesday
12. Stay at Sacramento and Sight seeing at Capitol
13. 11th Stockton, CA Thursday
14. 12th Sacramento CA Friday
15. 13th San Francisco, CA, Saturday
16. 14th Hayward or Palo Alto, Sunday
17. 15th Livermore Hindu Temple, CA, Monday
18. Sightseeing Yesomite on Tuesday or rest
19. 16th San Rafel, CA, Wednesday
20. See San Francisco Thursday
21. 17thperformance at Freemont, Friday
22. 18h performance Santa Cruz, Saturday
23. 19th performance at South San Jose, Sunday
24. 20st Bakersville, Monday
25. 21nd Thousand Oaks, Tuesday
26. visit Universal Studio on Wednesday
27. rest on Thursday
28. 22th performance Los Angeles, Friday
29. 23th performance in Pasadena area, Saturday
30. 24th performance in San Diego, Sunday
31. sightseeing at San Diego, Monday
32. 25th performance Orange county, Tuesday
33. 26th Diamond Bar, Wednesday
34. See Disney Land , Thursday
35. 27th performance Riverside, Friday
36. 28th performance at Los Vegas, Saturday
37. 29th performance at Reno, Sunday
38. sight seeing at Lake Tahoe Monday
39. 30sth performance at Redding, or Davis Tuesday
40. See Lassen Wednesday Travel to Seattle
41. Fly out to Dallas, TX, Thursday AN and rest
42. Next performance on Friday at Dallas, TX.
Alt step 37. 29th performance at Phoenix, AZ
38. sight seeing at Grand Canyon, Monday
39. Rest day at Safford, AZ
40. 30sth performance at Safford, AZ, Wednesday
41. Fly out to Dallas, TX, or Houston, Tx, Thursday AN and rest
42. Next performance on Friday at Dallas, TX or Houston, Tx.
43. * A south central itinerary to be drawn up by a set of locals
- 18 X 4 = 72 K
- 12 X 1 = 12 K(can go up to 18K)
- Transportation costs:
- The bus will cost approximately 10 K, to be shared by the 30 parties about $400 / party max and $300 / party min.
- Food costs:
- Either it can be paid @25/day/ artist
- or will be provided by the hosts to the satisfaction of the artists.
- Quality and personal hosting will be preferred and main consideration will be the cordiality of the hosts.
- Accomodation costs:
- It is assumed that in most of the places host families will be identified ahead of time.
- In the worst case Motel accommodation can be arranged for by the hosts either free or paid for at their choice which shall be of reasonable quality(Motel six for example).
- Entertainment costs:
- Tickets to the places like Disney Land etc will be paid for by the local parties unless they make a loss in the performance.
Thus a net profit for the party for a properly organized US, West coast tour will be nearly 70 grand, assuming only a few small town performances will be squeezed in.
Alternatively, they can perform around four Airports Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Los Vegas and Dallas. They will unable to perform couple of performances and places to visit like Reno, Davis, Medford. But wont have to travel back to Seattle and they will spend one week less. However local transport will be the head ache .
Trips will be, with 3 month advance ticket:( some one can check if there are group travel tickets for 14 people)
Seattle to San Francisco @$52/ person by SWA
San Jose to Los Angeles @$52/ person by SWA
San Diego to Los Vegas @??
Los Vegas to Dallas @
- By S. K. Dasverma