It is one thing to see a performance as a product and it is another thing to wait for it, to scratch through the process as the insider and the outsider. And the matter of being in and out is one of the most interesting factors when it comes to #INTERSECT this year at IGNITE!—not just for the performers themselves, but also for the whole Gati team and of course, the audience.
The inside-outside debate is there in every collaborative creative work—how much of it is mine, how much of it is yours, how do two artists approach the much anticipated crossroad? Like just a passerby, without really paying much attention to the other, or like finding a friend—sharing a snack and a tea, or like a competitor or even a bully, claiming the road and pushing the other one off to the pavement—outside?
For the team, who have either worked with the #INTERSECT artists extensively as technical helps, as coordinators and taking up many other roles around it, it has been an experience—both exciting and tiring—of watching various tensions generating from collaborations and thus, negotiations—not only between the artists but also with the space, time and content.
After all, in a cross-cerebral work like this, it is these moments of small shifts, tensions, philosophical and aesthetic differences as well as similarities, and empathies that make a piece interesting to watch. These are also moments, at which the artists become vulnerable to the external eyes—being political bodies, yes, but not just the obvious politics that they are intentionally embodying through this performance. Rather, a micropolitics which is more internal and personal in nature—little power plays, unspoken conversations… More so in this case, as these collaborative combinations were not really chosen by the artists themselves, but externally constructed keeping in mind certain similarities in their nature of works.
Interestingly, such alternately political moments also challenge the grandiose around the larger political statements which are in many ways easier to talk about, and are indeed talked about more frequently almost with a social compulsion in many contemporary performances. They are talked about without always really going out of the comfort zones of the performers’ existences, or pushing the boundaries of the performance languages.
After about four months of sweat and struggle, last night was when these three works finally opened up to the audience in a more formal sense. How did these three pieces deal with their conversational process becoming the product for external consumers? Could the audience too, on their part, look at them as something beyond yet another series of short projective performances?
16”=1 MILE: Rajyashree Ramamurthi & Susanta Mandal
Sound: Colin Waurzyniak, Anirban Dutta | Photography & Video: Desmond Roberts | Light: Ankit Pandey | Megalito and Steel Cello: Brian Carlson
Rajyashree introduces herself as a performer/dance educator/ video dance maker/raconteur. Susanta was trained as a painter and later branched out to conceptual installation-based work. Together they looked at the geometry of the space and the body and their architectural communication with each other. Susanta, who has worked on building and installing structures in site-specific projects, brought in the concept of mathematically precise measuring and Rajyashree—with the natural physical abilities of a story-teller—complemented it by reacting, making use of the narratives of lines of the moving torso.
16” was the most performative and at the same time the calmest in nature among the three. In fact, quite literally so too, considering the fact that this particular show took place in the only ‘warehouse’ which was dust-free and air-conditioned, thus was comfortably cool and moreover free of the exhaust-fan noise, unlike the other two spaces. Nevertheless, 16” was possibly the ‘funniest’ of the lot. There was something crazily subversive in the blunt manner in which the two artists juggled with the jargon of Mathematics and Dance: borrowing Mathematical texts and even images that spoke about Chebyshev’s intervals, points of intersections of curves, open and closed brackets, multiplanar graphs, infinity, or formulae involving endless ratios of squares of variables and what not! The sing-song hyper-recitation of alphabets led to creation of more specific lines through the body—both linear and curvilinear, at multiple heights, thus moving in multiple planes in various angles to the ground. Although certain frontal postures could possibly be held with a greater sense of stillness by Rajyashree at certain moments, by and large, the two bodies and the large installation of an imitation of a machine that created more lines contrasting the slanting warehouse roof largely kept the space alive from beginning to end.
Mathematics and Dance are two subjects which can be related not only at the level of counting or precision, but also, almost philosophically, at the level of visualizing abstractness, and last but not the least, at the level of indulging into jargon that comes free with that abstractness! The artists made ample use of such connections.
The performance started with the artists sitting and simply looking at each other—creating an invisible, but a very strong, straight line, or even an inch-ruler, measuring the distance between them. Then they started shifting slightly, choreographed to create further ripples of lines in the space, which then was materialized by holding two ends of a thread and the tension is negotiated by moving about, like a coherent logical system, constantly finding interconnections. The performance stood out as it involved both the artists being strongly present in the space—taking collaboration to the level of sharing and understanding.
There were moments of brilliance such as the sudden hint of reversal of a phrase by Rajyashree and re-winding of the thread by Susanta, or Rajyashree’s walk between the ‘thread-rails’, being led by Susanta holding a dim Fresnel-like lamp around her, followed by Susanta’s unhurried, perfectly measured back-steps along the same rails, or the moment, when they took little side-steps over a wooden plank in order to carefully—almost affectionately—get away from each other’s way—almost celebrating the non-planarity of the geometry of complex intersections. The fact that it could be watched from all sides broke the exhaustion of proscenium and gave a new meaning to length in terms of watching the performing bodies at various distances.
DELUGE: Rajan Rathore & Anpu Varkey
Video/editing: Yashas Chandra | Soundscore: Vinny Bhagat
Rajan Rathore is a contemporary dancer originally trained in B-boying and Hip-hop, but also one, who has consciously shifted away from that identity—working meticulously with body, space and images, looking beyond the cheekiness and the immediacy of street-performances, while retaining the street dancer’s openness and approachability without over-intellectualization. Anpu is an artist with a varied understanding of what visual art is, having worked extensively with both abstract and narrative forms, exploring alternate, subversive and sometimes surreal spaces and techniques such as that of graffiti, comics, photography and videography. It is their connection to street-art that attempted to bind them in a frame, somewhat successfully, but with interesting points of friction.
Deluge started with the dancer wearing a gas-mask—almost being dragged into the flat horizontal projection of the stop-motion video—a form that Anpu chose for making her statement. The video also dealt with the concept of decay and damage in an urban everyday life—symbolized by blocks of squares forming the backdrop, with a single red block of light like a Cyclopsic Big Brother’s red-hot eye daring the dancer, the viewer and possibly even the ozone layer!
In this performance, it felt as if the visual artist was lending a concept and the dancer was holding onto it as well as reacting to it—thus giving the audience a feel of a very different kind of collaboration—though no less intriguing—than the previous show. Although it was Rajan who was on the stage all by himself along with the projections, it never for a moment felt like just a solo performance in front of a decorative unrelated backdrop, nor did his body become superfluous, being overwhelmed by the images.
The body sometimes chased the projection, sometimes became one with it as the video was projected on the body as well. Those were the moments when it felt, as if poisonous blue-green chemicals really flowed over Rajan’s body, or as if things grew on him, or drowned him into, or the grappling hands and squirming body of another urban man within the film was pulling him into the film itself.
Some other instances, Rajan’s body and the video together acted like superimposed images—like a photograph that has been exposed at wrong moments. This effect was almost embodying the process of this particular collaboration—the struggle that Rajan faced while contributing through his physical intelligence to Anpu’s strong visual intelligence, while keeping his own artistic and ideological peripheries intact.
Dramaturgically, the highest point of the performance was when the flash-lightning effects were created—thus making even the dancer’s movements look like a stop-motion film. Continuous images of contractions and releases, twitches, winces, clutches, throws were created, while the dancer moved circularly around the stage, as if being sucked into a whirlpool.
In the film, leaves growing on windows could be seen as a symbol of dissent over the decay. But the dancer’s body—although strong and agile without slackness, remained a part of the ongoing video-scape of decay and depression, and didn’t propose an alternate physical statement in these terms. This lack of proposal too was interesting to watch in terms of equations around the concept of creative collaboration.
THE BIG DREAM: Surjit Nongmeikapam & Kartik Sood
Co-presenters: Yengkokpam Purnima Devi, Laiphangbam Suraj Roy | Sound design: Jaskaran Sandhu
Surjit is a dancer/choreographer, who has in his creations often concentrated on politics and violence, oppression and resistance, and Kartik is a visual artist (painter/photographer/digital artist), whose work has an inclination towards the mysterious—almost postmodern in the sense that it attempts to bring back lost memories and narratives using minuscule human bodies—often placed in large, dreamy landscapes, to which those bodies have non-apparent, mystified relationships. It is this ‘dreamy’ nature of the work and the concept of playing with time and reality, that brought these two artists together. What can one say about the politics of dreams?
The performance opened with two canvases installed vertically on the backdrop, at a broad angle. They held two parallel moving projections of one of Kartik’s signature surreal landscapes—a meadow surrounded by hills, a lone bird flapping its wings, tiny human figures who, from the distance at which the audience was kept, could be dancing, or equally plausibly strangling one another! Three dancers including Surjit walked within a cellophane tunnel—their backs bent, with torch lights held in their hands or mouths. And then they crawled out, like larvae wriggling out of cocoons.
The strong, parallel but opposite movements of the bodies of Purnima and Suraj elevated and depressed the space. It created an interesting semi-contradicting image to the slight asymmetry of the canvases holding those slightly shifting moving images. In fact there were various attempts of creating such contrasts. An installation of two large, red, rectangular boards, which could be seen as an inside-out replica of the canvases on the wall, moved towards the dancers and sucked them in. Hands grappled the air and clutched the edges of the boards from behind them, threw stones, got shot at. Yet, the two bodies climbed up the boards and descended in front of the audience once again. Then the dancers moved to another space holding three other still canvases. The psychedelic circular traversing of space of the two dancers came to an abrupt end, defining an end to the show itself, as Surjit’s body hidden behind the boards suddenly shot like an arrow towards that almost ritualistic loops of movements, and the lights went off.
This particular show brought in a third kind of collaboration that did not, or did not intend to build a connection between the two collaborative forms emulating the minuscule figures in the canvas.
It was intense to watch the bodies—the walks, the sprint and the fall. But the two very different dreams of these two artists never really came onto the same plane of physical interpretation or cerebral understanding, except for the few moments in the beginning. It remained, or chose to remain a raw juxtaposition.
A child in the audience made a very honest (the kind of honesty that usually only children can come up with) and intriguing comment at the end of the shows—“It was creepy!” What could be the source of this creepiness she had perceived? It could be many things. But for last night’s shows, it could very well be the sound. All three performers used low grumbling noises for several long minutes. Yes, indeed in order to achieve different ends, but the question remains whether the sound accompaniment of contemporary performances is falling into certain stereotypical patterns. A similar collaborative project with musicians, or even sound engineers could come up with illuminating answers to this doubt.
Photos: Sidharth Sarcar, Sharan Devkar, Madhushree Basu