A multi-media dialogue on water

Through movement and melody, artistes across genres spun a sensitive narrative at Adishakti, Auroville

Published - February 14, 2019 03:42 pm IST

From ‘Churning Waters’

From ‘Churning Waters’

The impact of a performance growing on the viewer is indicated by a moment, movement or a melody lingering for long after the performance.

A pentatonic melody with the lyrics ‘Aasai udane neer nilai kaapom’ rang in the ears, as the many parallels on water futures and climate change sustainability were reinforced by ‘Churning Waters,’ a collaboration of Indian Australian, Indigenous Australian & Indigenous Indian artistes.

From ‘Churning Waters’

From ‘Churning Waters’

The performance was a collection of simple stories and metaphors, a cross-pollination of mythology, movement and music, to build a meaningful narrative on the future that can be imagined when women’s voices, women’s stories, women’s aesthetics and sensibilities are felt, lived, and experienced by both performers and audiences/communities alike.

‘Churning Waters,’ a research-based performance project, supported by the Australian High Commission in India, under the artistic direction of Dr. Priya Srinivasan and art management by Shreya Nagarajan Singh, brought a unique inter-cultural and interdisciplinary collaboration with an ensemble of respected cultural leaders and world-renowned artistes/performers from rural and urban backgrounds, from two of the most ancient civilisations in the world.

From ‘Churning Waters’

From ‘Churning Waters’

It was a site-specific performance. The audience also moved along with the performing artistes, to different settings within the venue that it was performed at. The first performance venue was the breathtaking Adishakti at Auroville, Puducherry, which was perfect soil for the organic coming together of the various elements of the performance. The audience were ushered in by a visual of the thematic waters as the backdrop and a sound installation carrying stories that each of the artistes brought into the performance, mounted on a tree. The performance began with a ceremonial fire, built by the Australian Indigenous artists.

Artistic conversation

The audience were escorted to the next setting, where Nadine Lee, a Larrakia community member and renowned visual artist, shared her story, followed by a Kalinga Nartanam by Bharatanatyam exponent, Priyadarsini Govind. The stories of the two artistes were related through a conversation between them. Nadine talked about losing her language and her land to fracking which emits poisonous gases. Priyadarsini in turn responded with how Krishna vanquished the poison spewing serpent, Kalinga, by gracefully dancing on its hood. The performance was led to the next setting by the waters of the pool, which also formed a metaphor of the ocean separating the conversing stories of marginalisation between Gina Maree Bundle, a Yuin/Monero cultural leader, who introduces herself as a daughter of a stolen generation and Thilagavathi, the first female Kattaikuttu artiste, who had to break societal norms to live the life she aspired for.

From ‘Churning Waters’

From ‘Churning Waters’

The awakening of the human race after every deluge was highlighted, by the depiction of the parallels in the mythological accounts of the Matsya avatara and the Noah's ark, by Priya Srinivasan, dancer, choreographer, scholar and the Artistic Director of Churning Waters, to the lovely music composed and rendered by Uthra Vijay, teacher and musician from the Lalgudi school. The audience were then led to a lively ambience of Kattaikuttu by Green Kumar, Loganathan and Thilagavathi, young Kattaikkuttu performers rising to be the face of folk theatre today. Thilagavathi as Yama, made a satirical claim that the mighty god of death had no business of taking the lives of people, since people land on his abode on their own by destroying their environment.

An interaction between Thilagavathi and Sylvia Nulpinditj, artist and Yolgnu cultural leader, traced interactions in their cultural history. The finale, connecting to the title of the performance project, depicted the churning of the waters in today’s context, bringing out plastic and paper wastes, and placed the bare fact of what the oceans have been reduced to. The performances in DakshinaChitra and Mettumulluvadi were adapted to the respective sites and audiences. Each of the performances drew a large receptive audience and garnered wonderful responses.

Social issue

To conceive and implement an artistic performance project that talks about a social issue, is metaphorically and in this case literally between the devil and the deep blue sea. Interchangeably, the devil, being the issue of water futures to be outlined, and the deep blue sea being the depth of the art forms that need to be reached and used judiciously to enrich the performance experience. To join the dots of different perspectives on the issue without compromising on the quality of the art forms was a feat alright. The responses on the process of developing the content and collaborations from the artistic director and artists Gina and Nadine resonated with an intention to experience the diversity of their worlds, while sharing the cultural connections.

“The choice of the collaborations was to represent different positions of power, and how they unite through the arts. One of the challenges was to keep all their worlds intact, with the understanding that they are perforated,” added Priya Srinivasan. At the risk of sounding cliché, Priyadarsini Govind admitted just how humbling it was to artistically meet other forms, at a stage in her career where she was interested in experiencing different choreographic visions. “It was wonderful to see how my form lent itself to a larger context and enriched it,” she said.

Uthra shared how the process of searching the Matsya Purana and other texts for relevant content, challenged her creativity. “If they laugh about it, they will think about it,” shared Thilagavathi, nervous about taking new content through her dance form, but excited about the wonderful collaboration. In a conversation with Sylvia, while she was hand weaving gifts for women that she performed with, she stopped for a moment and said, “What we are enacting now is history that is being repeated, through stories, art and dance.”

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