LENDING PROCESS TO PERFORMANCE
EVEN OVER the telephone, the sense of anticipation, and sometimes, uncertainty, is electric. The aspiring choreographers at the Gati Summer Dance Residency are busy preparing for their final joint presentation, a week before the formal showcase, “ All Warmed Up”, at New Delhi’s Shri Ram Centre on June 15-16, 2011. One resident remarks, “ There is the possibility of being completely shattered.” Having spent 10 weeks shaping their performances, mapping the path to probable fruition and then unravelling threads, their works are now deeply personal, too intimate to be described in succinct lines.
The Gati Summer Dance Residency ( GSDR) began in 2009, aiming to assist would-be choreographers from diverse dance backgrounds in developing individual choreographic works over a period of 10 weeks. The choreographers have access to financial support, individual mentoring, production assistance, workshops and rehearsal space during the residency. Now in its third year, GSDR expands its reach to support six residents from diverse performing arts backgrounds. They are Niranjani Iyer, Mehneer Sudan, Deepak K. Shivaswamy, Mayuka Ueno Gayer, Rukmini Vijaykumar and Surjit.
GSDR is perhaps the only residency in India to support young choreographers. “ This is a fabulous opportunity that encourages young choreographers to indulge in their own creativity. It is also a great networking point – India is so big; the range of people doing contemporary dance surprises you. I already know that I will collaborate with some of the residents after we go our separate ways. Resources that are basic in Europe — where you can get funding to cover the cost of rehearsal space or lights — are a luxury in India. For the first time in India, I had the luxury of being able to concentrate on my work. I had mentors, space and technicians to take care of all stage requirements,” says resident Deepak K. Shivaswamy.
Shivaswamy will perform “ LVOE”, a solo piece that uses the body and space. He elaborates, “ I use headgear to relate to the society that surrounds me. I am not keen on exoticising myself by using an existing aesthetic, such as Indian dance, or superimposing a western style on Indian movement, which is the other extreme. I deal with the dynamics of movement, helping the body to create a movement score that is translated into performance.”
Nongmeikapam Anusha Lall of the Gati Forum says that feedback from previous editions of the residency has helped consolidate its structure. “ During the first residency in 2009, choreographers were assigned a space and worked on their own from the beginning. Later, they said that they felt very isolated. The spirit of the residency partly lies in people coming together to share their experiences and build a community. This year, we began with a week-long intensive programme where the residents and mentors lived in one place and participated in workshops and discussions built around their proposals and past work. The mutual sharing and collaboration was complete, because we also shared space and time outside work. By that time the residents were ready to embark on their individual processes,” she reveals.
Talking about “ process” constitutes vague territory. However, one can attempt to understand the residents’ works through the experiences and realisations facilitated by the residency, which they are only too eager to share. Mehneer Sudan, who has a background in contemporary and jazz dance, found that the residency was a personal challenge because she didn’t normally thrust herself into spaces where she had to explain her choices. She says, “ I have had to confront my patterns of thought – you have to be self-critical and constantly stand up for the part of yourself that is making you dance. You have to be clear about your choices; when you are in doubt, others can read your uncertainty. A lot of your choices are often questions – and you have to question these, asking yourself whether a movement must exist because the piece demands it or whether your ego is running riot.”
Sudan’s work has been inspired by her encounters with masseuses. “ There is the tension of letting a stranger touch your body in unfamiliar ways. Is that moment intimate or mechanical? You might want that attention and feel the need to be touched. The audience found the piece sadistic; they felt I was manipulating my partner’s body. Perhaps I am. I explore movement with the theme of the massage in my head; the audience can take what they want from my piece,” says Sudan, who finds that the moment of the massage has great dramatic potential.
Theatre performer and director Niranjani Iyer, who has worked in France, India and Ethiopia, was happy about the open-minded approach to her work at GSDR. She comments, “ Not slotting things as dance or theatre is a healthy attitude to have. Exploring a different language is an experiment, for I am a theatre actor working with movement theatre. Traditional Indian dance and theatre has always been a mix of natya and nritya, but in contemporary work, there is a clear demarcation between dance and theatre. Increasingly, in the West, performances explore fluid disciplines where the lines between dance and theatre are blurred. Our mentors are Maya Krishna Rao, a theatre actor; Anusha Lall is a dancer and Chris Lechner has been working with actors for over eight years. It is useful to have that diversity in mentoring.”
Lall believes that the final week can be a place where choreographers reconsider everything they do. “ All this while, the explorations were mostly process-oriented. There is a feeling of wanting to settle down. You want to find the spine of your work and make it safe and presentable. Given that it is a residency, the choreographers must push themselves. One burst of ideas can create special moments,” she says.
Mehneer Sudan performing Inside Bodies, Talking Comfort
Deepak Shivaswamy in LVOE