CHAT Preethi Athreya lingers on loss long enough to make one see the absurdity of it
P reethi Athreya's “Sweet Sorrow” begins with a narration of loss. Different voices in different languages capture the moment of death and seek to work it out in two ways for the audience, firstly to fathom the intensity of the event and secondly with its random repetitions to stir a sense of the absurd.
Performed recently at the Bharat Rang Mahotsav, the performance, choreographed and directed by the Chennai-based dancer, created well-constructed images while also allowing the audience to draw from it a sense of continuum.Excerpts from a chat.
What defined your approach to “Sweet Sorrow”? I believe the body holds within it one's emotional impulses and it is the way to communicate, not through words, not through tangible expressions, especially when it comes to deeply felt expressions.
In all cultures, there is a strong way of representing loss, be it the Japanese, Jazz or Sanskrit cultures. The drama and the exaggerated form of representing loss and the intense stylisation around it, prompted me to find chinks in it, to critically look at it, to get past the beautifully crafted artistic representation of loss and get into something human about it.
One notices a lot of “silence” in your performances, not a dull silence, but a very active and potent one at that.
Absolutely, silence is a very important device and at the root of what I create. It is not a movement that I have started, but is present in a lot of old forms and is used deliberately by dancers like Chandralekha and Padmini Chettur.
You have been trained in Bharatanatyam under the Dhananjayans and Leela Samson and are now working with Padmini Chettur. How do you look at your artistic journey with the form itself?
I felt the need to open up the form. The Dhananjayans and Leela Samson all come from the Kalakshetra trajectory, where the modern approach to dance is already set, the sense of abstraction has come in. From Padmini I learnt it is essential to have a new knowledge of the body with every work. At a fundamental level about how you hold the spine, the middle of the back, etc.
What was the difference when you performed a piece earlier presented in dance festivals before a theatre-strong audience? Before a theatre-strong audience I realised the readings where coming home in a different way. They were concentrating on the theatricality or the dramatic nature of the performance. But I felt happy that after the performance, they stayed back and said they felt very close to the work. I see it as a small victory, where dance is appreciated not by dancers alone, where you don't have to be a scientist to appreciate a theorem. It becomes a point of simplicity that is owned by all people and it does not become daunting to approach it.