Conditions Of Carriage

Conditions of Carriage‘ is a contemporary dance piece choreographed by Preethi Athreya. Created out of tasks based on finding ways to carry the dancing bodies on and above the ground, Conditions of Carriage is a group-choreography touching upon balance, empathy, rigour and the intersection of sports and dance.

The following link is a collage of various performances of this work.

Photo credit – Sharan Devkar Shankar (at IGNITE! festival, Delhi)

Copyrights of video and photo – Preethi Athreya

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Brihannala: A Myth, A Journey, A Dance-conversation

A conversation with Aniruddhan Vasudevan (first published in Aainanagar)

Aniruddhan Vasudevan is an accomplished Bharatanatyam dancer, performer, writer, translator and activist based in Chennai. His dance/theater piece ‘Brihannala’ raises questions about gender in Indian Dance, Theater and society.

“I had watched an earlier version (excerpts of which are to be found in this page) of this piece in Chennai four years ago, and a desire to talk to Aniruddhan about it has been there ever since.” – Madhushree (interviewer).

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Scene from Brihannala

Q: Why Brihannala? It’s an Indian mythological character and as a Bharatanatyam dancer you may have sought your protagonist in that literature…there might be other reasons…but I’m naturally assuming that the issue is the so-called social ambiguity of gender. But then there were other characters with – I shouldn’t say similar – may be parallel gender-issues like Shikhandi, Yuvanashva, even Chitrangada in the same literature.

Aniruddhan: The answer to that is, I am afraid, rather simple and straightforward. I started learning Bharatanatyam in 1988 when I was six years old. That was also the year BR Chopra’s famous mega TV series, ‘Mahabharat,’ started airing on Doordarshan. The episodes that had me riveted were the ones where we see the Pandavas in the thirteenth year of their exile, living in disguise in the kingdom of Virata. Arjuna becomes Brihannala, a transgender woman. I was really enthralled by that visual representation of Arjuna’s temporary transformation. That impact, I think, stayed with me. Later, as a queer adult, I have had moments of deep gender crisis, but they were always short-lived, though intense, experiences. And when I looked for some kind of a metaphor or a short-hand or an ideal-type to understand these temporary intensities of gender I experienced, I thought of Brihannala again. Plus, I also had this weird crush on the Arjuna I saw on TV, and I could not tell if it was actually a puppy crush on the actor (Feroz Khan) who played the role). Then later there was also this intense Krishna love, triggered by dance songs and Vaishnava poetry. So all of it seemed to somehow converge on Brihannala as a figure that helped me make some order out of this chaotic flow of desires.

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Kolam: Strangers in Indian Paradise

Kolam‘ (2014) is an 11 minutes long dance piece choreographed by Chennai-based contemporary dancer Padmini Chettur commissioned by French choreographer David Rollandas part of the contemporary performance project ‘Stranger in Indian Paradise‘ conceptualized and created by David Rolland Choréographies in association with Basement 21. It shows ten dancers walking on a 400 sq. ft. carpet decorated with a gigantic kolam. The dancers move along the curved lines halted by grids for the steps. As is the baseline of Rolland’s project (a continuation of an earlier project named ‘Stranger in the Paradise’), the dancers walk with the aid of pre-recorded audio guided scores. The stark contrast of the intense calm, concentration and sense of rhythm of the inner dancer’s self strictly following the individual set of instructions (recorded by Chettur and Rolland) through earphones, the apparently crude and chaotic background score (audible to the audience only) composed by Maarten Visser and the lighting designed by Rolland – ranging from a flat white (bright against the vivid purple of the floor) to the robotic lighting towards the end leads this short artistic statement to a dramatic high. 

Music – Maarten Visser

Carpet design – Sumant Jayakrishnan

Photography and Videography – David Rolland, the Alliance Française de Delhi

Venue – Kamani Auditorium, Delhi, India (as part of DanSe DialogueS festival, India, 2014)

Watch excerpts from the performance here or directly from the Youtube page.

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Total Masala Slammer/ Heartbreak No. 5: A Review

A case of mistaken identity for the Indian classical dancer?

Preethi  Athreya

This review (also available online here) was first published in Dance Research Journal, Vol. 36, No. 2 (Winter, 2004), pp. 139-143. It is being re-presented here with the permission of the author, in addition to a few performance photos and a short excerpt of the performance (uploaded by the director). Photo courtesy – Michel Laub (http://www.michael-laub.com/showContent.php?id=138) and photographer Monica Rittershaus. We would be happy to remove the review/ video/photos if we are notified of any copyrights rule violation.

Total Masal Slammer/ Heartbreak no. 5, conceived and directed by Belgian director Michel Laub and visual artist Marina Abramovic [1], has been described as a European American Indian multimedia theater project combining dance, theater, video projection, art installation, and music. Laub and Abramovic draw on vastly mixed references to deal with themes of race and multiculturalism. A recurrent theme is women and their abuse in different cultural perspectives. Laub and Abramovic are fascinated by two extremes of Indian culture: on the one side the purity of classical Indian dance and art, kathak; on the other, the triviality of soap operas and kitschy TV serials produced by Bollywood (Archa Theatre 2001). Laub’s theater is said to play with the conventions of theatrical representation, constantly bringing the rehearsal process onto the stage. Less interested in trained actors than in forceful personalities, Laub looks for a fusion of the autobiographical details of his performers with fictional situations. So, what happens when Michel Laub, a postmodernist with a tendency to parody order, system, and signification, collaborates with Kumudini Lakhia, a traditional reformist for whom art is about poetry, wonder, simplicity, and dignity?

In Total Masal Slammer, unrequited love is “performed” in different performance traditions of kathak and Bharatanatyam, Bollywood soap opera, and German theater. Actors, sometimes wearing period costumes, read out excerpts from a book with exaggerated melodrama or affected irreverence. Audition videos are screened, and there is much dancing– contemporary dance, cabaret, kathak, and bharatanatyam. It has a deliberately fragmented piece-by-piece approach with actors seated on stage, taking turns to perform their acts. Goethe’s text. “The sorrows of Young Werther,” appears and disappears between numerous unconnected episodes. It concerns a young man stricken by unrequited love to the point of taking his life.

The French Kiss Scene

The set is minimal with a cinema screen on a raised platform upstage center, a wooden platform downstage center and chairs on either side. A backdrop of billowy cloth tumbles down dramatically with some scene changes. Among the characters are three contemporary dancers, seven kathak dancers, and two bharatanatyam dancers chosen from the auditions in Bombay, Ahmedabad, and Chennai. Woman as sex object is a recurring motif. A dancer in a sequined dress wriggles and sways as she recounts the mischievous story of her Caribbean-European origin while a European dancer in a clinging red sari listens to her Walkman, giggles, and imitates an Indian accent; she returns later in the nude and joins a group of female kathak dancers, mimicking their delivery of bols [2] .

A male kathak dancer sings a song about love while a frantic woman repeatedly runs across the stage. Two male Bharatanatyam dancers begin dancing a traditional fast-paced rhythmic piece while the traditional accompaniment suddenly changes to an electronic techno beat. Excerpts of films are projected on the screen from time to time, including a clip in which a Bollywood dancer with her thrusts and covert glances fills up the screen and is followed by a eunuch. Renowned choreographer Kumudini Lakhia demonstrates sorrow in the classical tradition. During intermission, a kathak dancer performs a complicated rhythmic piece in front of the curtained stage. The last scene brings all the characters on stage at the same time, each doing their routine in a frenzied pace.

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Padme: The Obscure Lotus-bud

Madhushree

Padme– brain-child of Netherlands-based contemporary (trained in Bharatanatyam) dancer, choreographer Kalpana Raghuraman and India-based contemporary (formerly Bharatanatyam) dancer, choreographer, dance-journalist, dance-producer-presenter Anita Ratnam– has been one of those long-awaited long-advertised contemporary dance productions all over the social (dance) media. December 25th, 7:45 in the morning, Chandralekha’s Spaces– the clay-court of Indian dance performances, looking onto the waves of the Indian Ocean at Besant Nagar, Chennai, was just the apt venue and time for the troupe first time visiting the city– the soft sun and the morning-breeze cleansing the Margazhi frenzy of last evening, the smell of damp leaves and wet sand welcoming us to the sweaty clammy weighty brain-racking physicality that dance is.

I had arrived to Chennai just the day before, after a desperate year-long hunger for watching dance performances. And there it was– fresh and fleshy to be pounced upon– the one that I have been often reading and contemplating about in last few weeks. Padme has been different in many ways. Result of a cross-continental collaboration between Ratnam and Raghuraman, respectively the co-producer along with Korzo Productions and the choreographer of Padme, as well as seven young Classical dancers from Bangalore, keen and excited to travel the new path– Padme has been, from the beginning to the end, a professionally commercial piece promoting the youth as a package along with all its components of freedom, freshness and arrogance, which is often a good thing to some extent.

padme

The program started with a music repertoire titled as Float performed by Anil Srinivasan on the piano and Krishna Kishor on the percussion. I am a regular back-bencher when it comes to music shows, but that day it was not just my intrinsic musical shyness but also the already packed rows of chairs replacing the more frequently present striped carpets at The Spaces. As it happens with music, it was possibly working for some and not for the rest. I was one of the latter. I repeat though– I am really a philistine when it comes to music; besides I might have been too distracted trying to save myself from nature’s well-directed droppings from the overhead greenery. Yet, what put me off that day was not that particular form of art but its presentation in a manner of calculated corporate nicety, even during the Jugalbandi. Somehow it did not fit as a justified inauguration to an experimental art-piece! But then there was the Narthaki booklet in bright red and black with thousand dance anecdotes as well as the inimitable enigma of Anita Ratnam herself with all of her five feet and eight inches to keep my eyes occupied. For such a long time she has been a name to look up to for so many young Classical dancers (including myself, ages back, in a workshop in Kolkata) all over India, providing some of them with space, money and most importantly inspiration to work differently within but at the same time out of the Classical terrains, to come out of the labyrinth of the guru-shishya parampara and claim one’s Art as one’s own. But of course after the claim comes the matter of accepting the responsibility of it. That is where Padme failed.

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Across, Not Over

Across, Not Over is a collaborative dance production choreographed by Preethi Athreya – contemporary dancer/choreographer based in Chennai, performed by Kathak dancer/choreographer Vikram Iyengar – Artistic Director of Ranan: a performance collective-cum-dance institute based in Kolkata. renov14u Concept/ Choreography – Preethi Athreya

Performer – Vikram Iyengar
Venue – Spaces, Elliot’s Beach, Besant Nagar, Chennai
Music arrangement – Siddhartha Bhattacharyya
Vocal – Sudokhshina Manna Chatterjee
Sound score/ Scenography – Preethi Athreya
Publicity design – Pravin Kannanur
Videography – Vijay Bhoothalingam/ Pravin/ Akhilesh
Co-produced by India Foundation for the Arts.

The full-length production can be viewed here –

The piece celebrates the subtle movements of the genderless ‘Kathak-body’ – much neglected in comparison to the more catchy-therefore-famous trademarks of Kathak – the footwork, the twirl and the ‘Rasa‘, in particular ‘Sringara’. The intricate expressions of the ‘kalai’ (wrist), the circular and linear motions of the upper body announcing the often unrecognized deep-set relationship of the muscles with the solar plexus, the lightweight angular head-movements that generate the mood and soul of Kathak are highlighted in the performance.

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Wall Dancing

Wall Dancing‘ (2012) is a three hours long dance production choreographed by Chennai-based contemporary dancer Padmini Chettur in the year 2012. It explores the relationship of the dancer’s body, alone and collectively, with the surfaces around her. A wall that a dancer leans on can be a real wall, or the floor, or other bodies in the same space, or even the vacuum. The audience is encouraged to move within the space to explore the three-dimensionality of the piece.

wall

MusicMaarten Visser

Video – Vishwanadhan, Nadine Tarbouriech

Performers – Akila, Aarabi, Aditi, Madhushree and Palani

Venue – Focus Art Gallery, TTK Road, Chennai, India

Watch excerpts from the performance here or watch it directly from the playlist:

Copyrights of photo and video – Padmini Chettur