STEPPING UP FOR A CAUSE
DANCER AND CHOREOGRAPHER MANDEEP RAIKHY ON HIS LATEST PRODUCTION QUEEN SIZE
Awoman dressed in black, with cropped hair and no make-up is part of the audience. She keeps smiling at the two actors who display no inhibitions about their anatomy. Shirts and trousers come off and male bodies in all their glory move on the rickety charpai placed in the intimate auditorium at theatre director Neelam Mansingh’s house in Chandigarh. There is rhythm and also an intelligent lack of it. While she watches Delhi-based dancer and choreographer Mandeep Raikhy’s Queen Size, a choreographic response to Section 377, she almost bursts out laughing as soon as Arnab Goswami’s voice booms in the background as part of the fantastic sound design. Anti-climax?
A few hours earlier, sitting in the glorious January winter sun, 36-year-old Raikhy, who completed his BA in Dance Theatre from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, UK, in the year 2002, says that he shares a complex relationship with dance. “I think I am able to articulate best through the body as I am deeply connected to it. It has become my language to speak in, my sense to decipher what goes around,” he says, almost dreamily.
To Raikhy, the idea of Queen Size—a reaction to Section 377 that makes homosexuality criminal in India— came when a number of major writers returned their awards in the face of growing intolerance in the country. “That was also the start of agitations at JNU. I felt dance must respond to social context. It is really sad that dance as an art form has always been clinically apolitical, maybe because it bears the burden of 4000 years of our cultural history.” Talk to him about the fact that the protests mostly saw writers returning the awards and speaking out against the government and he is quick to add, “I can speak only for dancers. But yes, that is what happened. Maybe it is to the fact that they are heavily dependent on the state for resources. And when we talk about dance in India, what comes to mind is the classical tradition, something not really associated with dissent. I wanted to change that with Queen Size.”
Lamenting the lack of professional training facilities in contemporary dance, Raikhy says that those interested either have to go in the classical fold or shift abroad. “There is nothing in the middle, something which is highly problematic. When we come back with a different skill set, we also imbibe alien metaphors, making it tough for us to translate them into local means to reflect the social reality here.”
Raikhy smiles when ‘art in the time of Modi’ is brought up. “It is really surprising that the present regime has managed to induce so much fear. However, I believe that the only way one can truly be an artist is through resistance? ”
While the conversation shifts towards his much-talked about previous play A Male Ant Has Straight Antennae, a project that explored masculinity, he elaborates, “Through dance, we constructed and deconstructed many layers of masculinity—looking at the body and scanning it for gender construction. It was about how slight changes in the human body— touch, gait, and glance define gender; how it is shaped by the society and at the same time very personal to an individual.”
Dancer and choreographer Mandeep Raikhy