Craft of the body

Dancing away: Agent Provocateur; Say, What?; Sangeet Bari

Dancing away: Agent Provocateur; Say, What?; Sangeet Bari  

Dance in 2017 has manifested itself in new contexts, highlighting the power of movement

A raised eyebrow could mean anything in dance, and it is up to the performers to contextualise it and tell a story. For instance, in the musical, Sangeet Bari, performed by lavani dancers and city-based actors, gesture and nuance hold up a compelling narrative. As another example, there’s the Aryabhushan Tamasha Theatre in Pune. At their home theatre, younger dancers live in a warren of rooms surrounding the performance space. With three spectators in attendance, they calmly don a nine-yard sari and dance a time-bound set on stage. A bell is rung when their slot ends; they stop mid-sentence and walk off stage, all expression wiped clean off their faces.

This past year has seen dance open up and been explored across disciplines by artistes. This has made one attentive to the body in various contexts, encouraging an imagination of dance as the possibility of movement, beyond its usual place in a staged act of performance.

An unlikely marriage

The restored silent film Shiraz: A Romance of India (1928) played to packed houses across the country. It was accompanied by a live score composed and performed by Anoushka Shankar and her team of musicians. In the absence of dialogue, it is up to the actors to make every moment legible, sometimes by exaggerating their emotions. The emotion is intense, but also interrupted by the cinematic medium, in its structuring of scenes and intertitles. It is the music that tethers this emotional narrative, giving the audience something to hold on to as the story progresses to its climax.

It is common for classical dancers to photograph themselves against the backdrop of heritage sites. As Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You topped the charts, fans filmed themselves performing to the song in various settings. Among them were a group of Odissi dancers from Bhubaneswar, dancing to Sheeran against the façade of iconic monuments such as the Dhauli Stupa and the Brahmeswara temple in Bhubaneswar. The dancers charmed a wide online audience, going beyond classical dance circles, but they also attracted the ire of traditionalists who felt that Sheeran’s lyrics were a blasphemous addition to an Odissi performance.

In Ahmedabad, in July and August, graffiti cautioning Hindu women against ‘love jihad’ appeared on public walls. Avni Sethi — the founder of Conflictorium, a museum of conflict — went to five such spots in the city, revisiting her training as a kathak dancer performing to the Bollywood song ‘Pyaar kiya to darna kya’. Channelling the spirit of the song, she sought to protest the intrusion of the politics of fear in the domain of love. Artistes across the country have been using their work as a means of resistance, emphasising on the need to end violence and fear, and encourage free speech and equality.

Transcendent dance

Younger artistes aren’t waiting for patronage; they go out and find it. Among others, Jheeni (Sanjukta Wagh), Say, What? (Avantika Bahl) and Agent Provocateur (Sujay Saple), all made in Mumbai, drew on community networks and audience engagement to travel to several cities across the country. The landscape of performance is changing before our eyes. In a nondescript DDA flat in New Delhi earlier this month, an audience of 15 watched Sonnets c. 2017 by the theatre company Guild of the Goat, experiencing Shakespeare’s sonnets as a series of visceral scenes set in modern domestic spaces. The viewers silently shadow the actors, almost voyeurs in moments of great intimacy. Outside the house, kitchen aromas are palpable; Shakespeare and dal-roti are unlikely bedfellows.

At the Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa, Dayanita Singh’s photographs catch Saroj Khan absorbed moments on set, directing and demonstrating dance moves and intimate scenes with a stunning unselfconsciousness. Khan learned dance on the job, becoming an expert at nuance, subtlety and the power of suggestion. These photographs from the 90s remind us of her lasting influence. The American choreographer Mark Morris curates these photographs into a short set, setting them to a score of Carnatic nadaswaram.

A vignette from Time Takes the Time Time Takes, a work by Lebanese-Spanish duo Guy Nader and Maria Campos, performed at the Attakkalari Biennial this February in Bengaluru, serves as a powerful reminder of change. Five dancers depict a moving wheel of time, lifting themselves off the floor in a chain to travel in an upward arc, then descending in a straight line, like a needle on a compass, seemingly unaffected by gravity or the limitations of the human body.

As much as 2017 speaks to the possibilities of movement, it also records the passage of time.

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Printable version | May 30, 2020 9:06:41 AM |

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