The program on October 10th, 2016 at IGNITE! held at Oddbird Theater was a lot about claiming the public space. For example it started with the film screening of the dance film SPEAR that spoke largely about Australian aboriginal men finding the meaning of their life on everyday urban streets.
The two short performances that followed the screening, spoke volumes about the same topic, in a very interesting way.
Let us view these two performances in the light of questions around the gendered performing body and the aesthetic associations that we make with it. The ongoing exhibition in the same venue with images from choreographer Chandralekha’s works in fact made these performances even more interesting to watch, with photos verging on eroticism portraying male dancers in close contact on one side, and photos depicting the Yoni with women dancers at provocative angles.
Keeping at par with Deluge, which was performed on the 9th at the same space by Rajan Rathore with Anpu Verkey’s film based on urban decay, Deepak Kurki Sivaswamy and Manju Sharma’s choreographies: NH7 and Rush Hour visited similar topics on streets and everyday life with their physical and visual representations, and highlighted their multiple hierarchies.
In Deepak’s piece, the street, which is primarily a male space in the Indian context, came alive in terms of establishing territories, using images of violence and competitive strength as well as that of comradery and bonding and their vulnerabilities, using the tool of male, subaltern bodies. It was more interesting, since even the film that was screened before the performances established the physicality around urban spaces as a predominantly male arena.
The choreography spoke exaggeratedly and dramatically about discrimination, bringing in street sounds, denoting the co-existent multiplicity of culture in Indian road-sides. But the images and expressions referred to clear, definitive maleness. A small-screen run of the dance film Private I’s right outside the auditorium added to the air of machismo, as it narrated the same gestural language of male-bonding-unbonding on the street–the clanking of chests, the competitive handshakes–the constant territorial battles.
From that aspect, Rush Hour was a relief in its lack of projection of gender and socio-cultural angst. It was not simply because of the calm, unexaggerated presence of Manju and her dancers, but also the effortless presentations of original body techniques. Their continuous sways, tilts and circular path-traversing spoke of the expressionless tediousness of everyday travel, which every woman or man on the road is equally subjected to.
There were ample moments of tension and urgency, but what stayed with the audience was the embodiment of the silent, almost unrecognized support system that exists in the Indian street-life.
It was beautiful to see Manju’s strong presence reclaiming the public space as a woman dancer/choreographer through her work. It remains to see how this piece develops into a full-length production. Nevertheless, it already evoked many pertinent questions regarding how artists with different gender identities visualized the same space in different ways, how they selected their kinetic expressions to interpret their visions, and how gender might be playing a role in not only all that, but also in choosing a similar content but building a completely different animal out of it.
All in all, what came across on that evening was a wonderful team-effort that brought alive the streets within the Oddbird blackbox.