Let’s Take a Collective Jump!

Preethi Athreya‘s Condition of Carriage on 16th October brought a stunning end to the Delhi phase of IGNITE! 2016.

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In this work, Preethi and her team together search for an “honest, functional body” and the visual as well as intellectual power of its raw physicality, and in that process they address various politics associated with it. For example, through its almost gender-neutral treatment of the body, but with slight conscious tweaking, it plays with or against cliched readings of gendered bodies.

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A Dancing Girl

Rajyashree Ramamurthi

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What do I know about the Dancing Girl statuette from Mohenjo-Daro?
– That it is a small bronze figurine of a pubescent girl wearing bangles and some jewellery in what seemed to me as a predecessor of the odissi tribhanga stance.
– That it was just assumed that she is a dancing girl because of her posture and adornment.
– That Gregory Possehl – an archaeologist – called it “the most captivating piece of art from the Indus site”.
Captivating, it must have been for choreographer and performer Sujata Goel; enough to inspire her to develop the full length work – titled the same – that was featured on Saturday 15, October at the contemporary dance festival – IGNITE!

Engulfed in darkness, you wait in silence for the work to approach. And then…
You see what resembles an arrow head parallel to the floor pointing stage left. It is the bent elbow joint but almost before you have time to figure out which part of the dancer’s body it maybe, you are sealed in darkness once again. The next time you see two mounds about a foot and half off the ground that meet, creating an angle and opening out into a triangular structure towards the ground.

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The Thought-Provoking Defects of the Victimized Body

Performer Kalyanee Mulay, along with Vishnuprad Barve, has choreographed unSeen as a statement of dissent. Her on-stage statements address problems which are relevant in our present gendered world. But interestingly, at IGNITE! 2016, on the evening of Friday the 14th, her poignant performance came with its own set of problems, which are part of interesting debates within the politics of expression, creation, activism and art.

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Kalyanee is trained in theater forms and her body is not a dancer’s body in the traditional sense; this is a tradition which is not only classical but also contemporary. In fact, everyday body-shaming in India is probably more of a present-day truth than fifty years earlier, thanks also to the current self-projective consumerist lifestyle and the Western aesthetic hierarchy—simplistically put.

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A Delicious Masterclass

Sujata Goel’s masterclass was possibly the only moment in the festival so far that could be labeled as ‘good fun’, at the same time introducing the participants to serious choreographic ideas.

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Seven participants played games based on tasks regarding contact and compositions, as she conducted the session. It was a delicious two hours at the middle of the festival cum conference hullaboo. Just clean, crunchy thoughts about the body and its creations. What were the recipes behind this deliciousness?

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While @Gati…

IGNITE! 2016, based on the theme of Form, Identity and Dissent, is running. Anyone who has organized a festival of this dimension can vouch for how physically and mentally taxing this could be for the organizers! This week is a high-strung one at Oddbird Theater for the Gati Dance Forum team.

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A battle is on between the vibes of the constant preparation, the fatigue that comes with it, and the cheerfulness which is inherent to the team.

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So some of them decide to take a breath of fresh air on this morning and visit their spiritual and professional home @Gati…

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…to vent it all out thorough spending a bit of time for themselves while also waiting for today’s first program–Vinaykumar‘s master class,…

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Claiming the Gendered Public Space

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.

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NH7

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.

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NH7

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Reading SPEAR

Some questions came up at the opening performances at IGNITE! on October 9, and then traversed and lingered during the program last night at the same venue, OddBird. Questions around collaborative creations—of course, but also around gender, race and appropriation of social issues, or even an appropriation of the concept of resistance.

Last night’s program comprised of a film screening and two short performances. During this screening of Director/Choreographer Stephen Page’s debut feature film SPEAR, some of those same questions came up, carrying some interesting and some troubling connotations.

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The film was Page’s effort (2015) to bring Bangarra Dance Theatre’s work under the same name, to the film medium. The narrative revolved around a man named Djali—played by Hunter Page-Lochard. This young man stood on the streets of Sydney and visualized himself as going back to his aboriginal roots, while trying to understand what his real existence in his urban, modern world meant. He saw his own reflection in other lost and restless aboriginal souls—torn between their urban existences (upside down realities, smeared with white dust, wings chopped off) and their irresistible roots to the wilderness, which they continuously, secretly desired for.

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#INTERSECT @ IGNITE! 2016: The Frictions of Cross-Platform Collaborations

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.

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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?

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Closing Address by Sadanand Menon

Sadanand Menon began by saying that the conference was one where we collectively experienced a collection of thoughts which don’t comfortably fit together. Are the ideas behind the conference new or are there connections that we can find in the past? Dance comes with a history of discontinuities. The idea of continuity is a construct. We have the huge history of women temple dancers without a clear historical record. We are still in the process of excavating that reality. This was followed by a change in patronage, when the dancers shifted to royal courts, and from there they moved to the streets. It is important for people today to be aware of this history. The ‘deep memory ’ of this baggage needs to be acknowledged and not run away from. Unfortunately a large part of this history has been lost to us. The visible image left is that of an dancer who dances for an nationalistic urbanized audience which is limiting, deeming many forms of the performing body as transgressive and rejecting it.

In these time of the rise of the right wing, how does one make sense of the body and what does one say with it? Does one work with the body only to make it look interesting or does one ‘talk back to power’ with it? There has been a ‘talking back’ to the hegemony of classicism in the world of Indian dance. Practitioners from other disciplines need to be engaged in conversations who have been also engaging with this ‘talking back’. One needs to creatively work with confusions into a conversation which could lead to enlightenment. Contestation is inevitable in this moment of history. Art has to become an engine that challenges a certain kind of leveling cultural formation. We need to have the resource of the arts to address this and engage with this. One can not, then, simply experiment. This is the moment for an aware intervention given the reality of an assault on the body from all sorts of restraining devices. The traditional artist often ends up endorsing the system. The contemporary artist with the application of consciousness, stepping out of the space of ambiguities, must then challenge the system that surrounds him or her. The modern moment ended up privileging the bourgeois self. However, modernity seems to have collapsed proving to the artists that they are not better than anyone. Art has to find new resources.
What does one do with one’s received past? As long as traditions are reworkable they hold their importance. Chandralekha used to say that we must pick up our tradition once in a while and hold them against the sun to see they reflect light anymore or not. Tradition doesn’t always need to be rigid. It could be the potential source for multiplicity, creativity and possibility of change. The contemporary moment cannot be a moment of half baked ideas. One needs to know the foundation to talk back. If the piece is not making someone uncomfortable one is only feeding into the cultural monolith.

Building the audience is an important task for the people who attended the conference, which is not to say that one needs to seduce the audience, but bring the audience to dance. This could include people who want to engage in the same kind of conversations but from different fields who would want to collaborate in the project of bring a new language to ‘talk back’.

Menon finished by mentioning the presentations of Jhuma Basak, Preethi Athreaya and Sanjukta Wagh which talked about bringing in the marginal history of contemporary dance into the mainstream and unlearning habits which is a process that has to be self reflexive in order to speak a new language.

Dancers need to read into time and respond to it. They also need to get out of themselves and realize that there is a larger world outside and must respond to it.

The conference concluded by those in the room holding hands and promising to ensure that the circle of a supportive dance community would be much bigger in the next IGNITE festival!