I am currently Joan of Arc, a character I have always fancied enacting since school. Slow music accompanies me as I play a withered Joan, praying to her saints. I kneel, drop my head and move my arms slowly to internalise the pathos of the situation.
At Theatre Nisha’s The Primal Instinct, a physical workshop exploring the actor’s body, Shakthi Ramani, the trainer, has asked us to dramatise a situation. It is a difficult process, expressing an array of complex emotions through your body! And, that’s the purpose of the exercise; to develop a body vocabulary of one’s own.
During the first movement exercise, we are asked to write our names using our bodies. Shakthi reminds us that it is not necessary that the viewers should be able to read the exact name. However, we try our best. I am especially proud of my ‘y’, an otherwise difficult syllable, thanks to a yoga posture I learnt last year, where I stand on my head with my legs up in the air. The purpose of the exercise is to gently ease the participants into contemporary dance without intimidating them. “Our name is very intimate to each of us. Otherwise, contemporary dancers could look quite esoteric. But, for all you know, they might be writing their names,” she smiles mischievously.
Shakthi, who is a full-time actor with Theatre Nisha, has done her diploma in movement arts and mixed media from Attakkalari. “There is a voice in your head that constantly warns you to not make a fool of yourself. Do not listen to that,” she tells us, as she asks us to move to the music. Some of us twirl in the air like Chhau dancers, while I stick to basic Bharatanatyam moves. I wish I could jump too like the others, but the voice dictates me to not stray from my comfort zone.
The workshop also involves squats and push-ups. But Shakthi’s approach makes it different from a gym session. When she says, “Give your body all the love that you need,” we break into giggles, but also stretch our muscles and arch our backs with a renewed love for our body. We also do partner stretch exercises, which help us move even the tiniest muscles that we hardly realised existed.
By the second day, participants are more comfortable with each other. Shakthi asks each of us to respond to our co-participants’ movements and move along with them. Though a little uncomfortable at first, gradually we team up with those who we can sync with. Shakthi also reminds us that it is important to walk away when you feel uncomfortable with someone.
The workshop ends with a small production. We are divided into two teams and asked to dramatise two paintings. My team enacts the crucifixion of a saint. It is vintage and other-worldly. But, we feel connected. The two-day session has brought about a team spirit and, in 15 minutes, we bring out a narrative and put together a small production. The day ends with a massage, a groupie and a chorus plea from our side for Shakthi to start a YouTube channel.
During the first movement exercise, we are asked to write our names using our bodies