In the Making - The Postnatyam Collective
Duration: 00:58:20; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 32.786; Saturation: 0.240; Lightness: 0.426; Volume: 0.167; Cuts per Minute: 0.171; Words per Minute: 123.856
Summary: From the historical seminar at Gati Dance Forum's first festival of contemporary dance, Ignite, in 2010.
Anita E. Cherian: We are delighted today to study the new developments in Indian dance. I must congratulate the Gati Forum for conceptualizing this seminar with such attentiveness and clarity. I must also thank them for inviting me to the above in this extraordinary exciting new venture. Their initiative is an attempt to bridge the gap between continuing experiments in the areas of dance creation and performance since the last century that have sought to expand and reconfigure the boundaries and vocabularies of traditional movement systems; and the critical-conceptual mediatory languages in which these are written, talked about in the media and in academic circles. One is working here with an acknowledgement of the fact that public discourse, from all shapes and types, has failed to keep pace with innovation in dance and performance.
Given this context, the seminar is directed towards the following: Documenting and critically analyzing the artistic practices of emerging and established practitioners, with a special focus on the evolution of new languages through innovation and experimentation. Interrogating and articulating the shifts in new directions. Watch these innovations in context with their previous dance training and experience and clearly discovering new vocabularies and moulds through which to theorize Indian dance.
So this project references, as its backdrop, the work that has been done on innovators like Rukmini Devi Arundale, Uday Shankar, Chandralekha and Kumudini Lakhia. And in order to understand the aspect, the various aspects of these artists' work, scholars have had to take into account historical and political contexts, personal histories and influences, perceptions of tradition and innovation, content of work for narrative, approaches to pedagogy, and institutionalization.
Across this preliminary structure this exercise represents, in very important ways, the eye of the audience accustomed only to the finished product. Through this exercise there is an inserting of this eye into the precious and intimate spatial process. The researchers here have negotiated the issue of proximity to the work in process very differently. The most valuable example of this whole exercise might well be the telling of how Aditi Saxton engaged virtually with the diasporically dispersed work of the Post Natyam Collective.
I will now introduce the three researchers and leave them to introduce the artists that they have worked with. The session will run as follows - Aditi Saxton will talk of her engagement with the Post Natyam Collective; Sunil Mehra with Navtej Singh Johar; and Mangai with Preethi Athreya's choreography. Each session will run for an hour. Forty minutes for presentation and fifteen minutes for Q and A.
Let me just introduce Aditi. Aditi Saxton is an independent journalist and script-writer based in New Delhi. Her writing focuses on the creative arts, literature and their interception with culture. Her passion for Indian Contemporary Dance was ignited while working with Gati on their Second Annual Residency Programme. She has previously taken classes in one on Dance Ballet and Bharatnatyam. She has a BA from Mount Holyoke College and has completed her coursework in Journalism at the York University and Shakespeare at Oxford. Thank you.
Aditi: Hi everybody. Welcome. I'm very very excited to have two members of the Post Natyam Collective here with me today. I'm going to introduce them briefly and then speak with them for a little while and what we're going to go over within this umbrella, 'In The Making' - is why this group of four, sometimes five women are dance innovators and how they actually go about creating their work. So...I started to think of the Post Natyam Collective within the framework of that as if somewhat the inductionist, mathematic would see it - the Venn Diagram. Here are these four women, sort of rooted specifically in Indian traditional dance but scattered globally - Sandra is in Munich, Cynthia is LA and the other two members are variously...well, all of you were already... So the frame becomes an increasingly globalised world, and the nexus, the spaces in which they intersect, is one we all somehow share in - the internet. So these four Post Natyam members, Anjali Tata and Shyamala Moorthy aren't here today, but this is Sandra Chaterjee, Cynthia Ling Lee and Sangita Shresthova who often does choreography and was also one of the founding members of the Collective.
They rotate roles as directors through art performers and since that doesn't seem to take up all their time they also double up as artists, as poets, as writers, as editors, as critics and as scholars. They workshop each other's individual work and then engage in a sort of sustained collaboration with each other. In the Emerging Artists showcase yesterday, we got a selection of three of the Post Natyam's works, all of which at some point are works in progress because they engaged thematically with the core issues that the Post Natyam Collective is, has been directed towards. And we'll share brief video clips with you later for those of you who weren't able to attend the performance yesterday. Cynthia presented Ruddha (rude, huh?) which is.. "( Break in recording)"
[ruddha (rude, huh?) is a series of "false translations" of traditional kathak compositions, where North Indian rhythmic syllables transform into nonsensical English gossip, and idiosyncratic postmodern movement suddenly shifts into classical kathak. Based on traditional kathak compositions learned from Bandana Sen and Anjani Ambegaonkar.]
(They talk of Sandra's work, Lajja, which explores the myriad shades of lajja: shame, shyness, and through that the body and desire.]
...but on the other hand we have this much larger than life video projection of her on the backdrop that is very much in the eye of the camera, that is very deeply engaged in...it sort of pans out, in and out in rhythm with her movements. And so as she dances she is varying, in very minute nuanced ways, the dance that is playing on screen and the one that is appearing live in the flesh. I found it interesting yesterday, Sandra, and this is the first time that I've watched you perform live, that there is actually a third view present in this, which is a shadow. And I'm not sure if that is something you intended. We hadn't discussed it previously because, well because it's the first time I've encountered it. There's a third view in terms of the shadow on the screen so there is this sort of trisector of imagery. It is definitely a devotional piece but also so extremely sexual. So voluptuous, so languorous in its movements that it does confound somewhat our ideas of how we express,... or the title itself - 'Lajja' - of course denotes to most of us, the sense of shame, modesty, this idea of domesticity, and what are the confines of that but interpreted as again with this overlay of desire it becomes this specialty. Interesting!
And then we had a somewhat marred performance of Tell Me Sister. There were unfortunately some technical glitches but it was extremely extremely thought provoking. This piece was an introduction to Post Natyam's deep engagement with videography, and whilst Sandra's piece gestures towards that, this one - the projection of a moving image, what forms the screen, what things are presented on sort of portrays...the moving image and the moving backdrop are starkly reflected. It is thematic, largely thematic, a piece that has been in progress for the Collective for a while now. And we'll talk about how the Collective works, what their process is in just a little while but it has been, it stemmed from an article, an academic article by Veena Talwar Oldenberg who wrote on figure of the courtesan but specifically on this child widow who escaped the confines of the lives, of the life, in the nineteen sixties by choosing this alternate sphere. So Tell Me Sister begins with the video projection and then it is, because it's a work in flux, we saw it presented in a different format yesterday, and that moves into how this child widow sort of... uses this modernised female figure as a motif for transformation.
So while we go through this seminar, I think some framing questions that I found useful, perhaps you will, when we talk about the Collective is one that Anita just indicated. How important is the process? Is the journey greater than or equal to the destination? And where, in what, at what point do we mark the product as final? At the time of its performance? or at the time of its inception? Are beginnings and endings just, as postcolonial critic Homi Bhabha says, sort of comforting notions for our middle lives and are we seriously really interested in at that sort of end of the century, the fading eagle as he calls it, that is supposed to focus on the intermittence, the gaps, that we haven't paid attention to.
The next question was what is, what do we conceive of as innovation is, does actual change, change as we perceive it, have to occur before we call something innovative? Must there be some sort of 180 degree rotation at an axis before we can say that this is new, this is interesting, this is a departure? Or can it happen in somewhat softer, gentler modes? Can transformation occur just from the blurring around the edges not necessarily in huge departures or breaks with tradition but just in minute calibrated changes? And of course there's this sort of subsidiary question to that is how much is acceptable? ...this far and no further? What is the...what are these boundary lines that delineate quality and rigour and at what point is crossing past those just become gimmickry? Is it unethical to some at some point that (past the line) (?) that those traditional formats that we are, that all these dancers are rooted in.
And of course eventually, what significance does any of this have... for this festival, for contemporary Indian dance, for Indian dance as a whole if viewed as an entity? Are these socio-cultural and aesthetic phenomena? Do they really define our discourses? Are we engaging with them just sort of with this navel gazing attitude or do they have, can maybe be extrapolated into arts, architecture or with specific reference to the Post Natyam Collective's to be directors for social justice? So what is, what do these multi-disciplinary perspectives really want scholarship? how are they evoked? How are you writing them? What is, does the Collective do to engage with them?
To me dance has always been, as from a personal perspective, sort of this great cultural bridge. I think that being in Delhi as a child, I remember going to the ballet with my mother frequently. The (?) and the Russians were... and strongly present. And it was for me a foundation of deep later interests and ones that I'd begun to realise much...well at this point in my life. So as cultural bridges I found it..."( Break in recording)"
...and an especially effective medium. And I think, you know with the intense media scrutiny on Michelle Obama's recent Cori dance shows that dance is that absolute metaphor for life. It is the one that everybody kind of really gets. So it has been this bridge but then as I started learning about it, with contemporary dance I realised that there was also this massive divide. This idea that the purity and sanctity of traditions must be preserved is still very very rooted, it's very active in certain pockets and innovation and experimentation is sometimes still frowned upon. And so, I found that a bit disconcerting.
And these sort of polarised opinions, the view points that people have really makes, made this particular exercise interesting for me because Post Natyam Collective to me is much more a bridge between that somewhat, what I think of as a cultural abyss of this sort of hard-line puritan.
So the Post Natyam Collective itself. This is it. They're working in these globalised parameters as I mentioned that we all somewhat find ourselves in and they're growing with these new languages. And they do crystallize this idea of what new technologies are doing for us. Are they liberating us? are they somehow imposing themselves on us? or are they simply just another medium? ...are just another language? And dance as an especially communicative art form has resonance with some of the challenges of finding modes of communication.
The other interesting and somewhat controversial aspect of the Post Natyam Collective is who do we choose to represent us? Who do we authorise? At what point do we let go of our identities and say, this person is this format or this group of people is able to claim a certain identity and represent it on stage for us? And in doing so are giving somewhere a hypothetical translation to our individual lived experience. Where are these boundaries and how do we define them both as audience and lay people but as performers and critics as well.
So specifically... I'll just move forward now, that's a lot of questions to throw out there but...and talk about Cynthia and Sandra who are here. Cynthia is Taiwanese. She has studied classical piano from childhood on and then found modern dance as a liberating mode of expression after all that rigorous strength and training required for classical piano. She is also a poet. She first travelled to India on the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship after she graduated from Swarthmore. And quickly grew intrigued by Kathak. Found it helped her forge a reconciliation with her classical music background. And it's been a (?) trip ever since .
Sandra's from Germany and she's visited India. It is at home for her from when she was a child. Her early dance was Kuchipudi for which she trained for 4 years. She's also worked in contemporary dance and ballet and a number of other forms including Polynesian dance while she was at University in Hawai'i. And that sparked her initial interest in choreography. An awareness of the female body has stayed central to her modes of expression.
What the Post Natyam Collective has done that is somewhat new, different, interesting for us is well, more specifically it's the way that they interact. Definitively a break from how most groups of people come together. Because they're scattered across the world they have found that the internet has been the most effective means of communication for them are skype calls once a month and they post, because they're interested in documenting their process, they post an online assignment to which each of the members then responds and also presents online. And then all members will present feedback to that initial prompt.
They have actively engaged with text, critical scholarship. In fact those often form the prompts. The online assignment they give are in the form of these, either textual excerpts or perhaps poems, things that have a specific resonance with women audiences. They've used padams and Annamayya's, which is a courtesan song and after an article by Oldenberg I metioned earlier. And their responses are very, equally variegated, They have spoken and written word compositions, they've done art works, they've got finger dances, and of course video projections. And the feedback that they get is equally formal in structure. They don't simply do the thumbs up or thumbs down or facebook 'likes'. They are specifically interested in donating what are the gaps in meaning, what things have particular resonance, how they have interpreted the others assignment and often if you had the time, and you go through their creative process blog you will know that each assignment is often a springboard for another and then the next and the next. And so there is a constant building block exercise without necessarily sort of crumbling that and then there are of course options and tangents that they work off as well.
They also incorporate Rasa and Abhinaya in its very classical Indian tradition but then also use it in sort of reformatted ways, in a somewhat reticent way. As Anita mentioned, forge a new vocabulary. The idea that choreography is sort of a Western construct is turned on its head when it, well first of all there is no single author in their process. They all co-own and co-create any given work but there's no single moment of traditional choreography. They're using, well, sort of, how do I put it...?
Cynthia: It's not like it is is one finished product, no. It's a collective process which in its turn turns the notion of choreography on its head.
Aditi: Absolutely. And the light and shadow of these sort of moving spot-light, the idea that they are communicating over the Internet, that they are reclaiming marginalised female figures and that they are members of the diaspora are symbol...they are the core issues of their work. And I think I've spoken for a while so maybe we should go now to a clip. That would illustrate that better.
We're going to watch "Tell Me Sister". It's in, it's a different version than the one that was performed on the stage yesterday but equally intriguing.
00:22:54,166 --> 00:24:19,360
"Tell me Sister" - Video Clip.
Aditi: Let's start thinking about this piece specifically. 'Tell Me Sister' is what you call it and it clearly has, it worked directly with some of the core defining issues of the Collective. Can you talk about its genesis? How did it come about? We've judged your piece as just that.
Cynthia: Well then let's talk about more typical beginnings then. One of the beginnings was that Anjali gave an assignment based upon an article that Shyamala had found, which I had read many years ago as well. Which was Veena Oldenberg's, ethnographic research she did in Lucknow on some of the remaining courtesan communities there. I think she was there in the early eighties but this particular story was, well this probably was occurring around the sixties because she had already, you know she was older when she was telling her story. So it was her life's story, what happened to her. So Anjali picked this particular story, there were other ones in that article. And asked us to do a piece about it and I think she told us to use this story but she also said I'll incorporate the Dupattas or something and asked what we could build. And the response to that assignment, I didn't follow all the directions, I was a bad girl, and I made the first video with the sound that you saw.
Shyamala made a study which was with the white cloth and had the projection on her back. That projection was made by Anjali several months earlier as a translation of a problem of mine which was a translation of a thumri that I learnt when I was a baby Kathak dancer. So you know there's these different levels of translation in this over time. In the end we're undoing this notion of one fixed product. So there are these two separate assignments and then Shyamala wanted to work with it more. Because when she opens the projector, she can actually play with it in the studio. But because she can't see the projection when its on her back, and you can't just trust your bodily visceral feeling because you don't know how the projection looks, she said please help me and be my outside eyes so we became her director. So we put together, this is a very early in-progress version of the piece that we showed as part of a lec-dem we did about Post Natyam's process. So it wasn't presented, it wasn't a finished thing at the time.
This was in May about this year that this happened. Since then we've kind of expanded it after the... this thing (gestures with her body) and added a part without projection where you sort of show the transformation into the courtesan character more clearly. So even though in this form there is a solo, it had very clear contributions from, at the time, the three of us. And then we took that material and adapted it and added and yesterday in our technically challenged performance, so it is now in that incarnation a quartet for two.
Aditi: I'm going to read a really short excerpt from Oldenberg's article about the figure that was the inspiration and not a representation in this particular piece. It's transcribed and it says: "I had no recourse," this is the widow in white, the widow figure that we are speaking of, "I had no recourse to the laws, or to lawyers, only to my wits sharpened by adversity. I first tried to get back at them with sly acts of sabotage. I did the washing up indifferently, leaving a dull film on the metal platters and the pots. For this my mother-in-law thrashed me. I would sneak into the kitchen when my sister-in-law had finished cooking and add a heavy dose of salt to the lentils and vegetables. I would hide my smile when I heard the yells and abuse heaped on her by the menfolk. She caught me one day and thrashed me soundly until I howled with pain."
I wanted you to talk about this idea of sabotage or sort of the recourse that you find in dance. [Cynthia: I'm not as oppressed as her]. Well let's put it this way, even if it's not sabotage there's certainly a degree of subversion in your work of imposed narratives. How do you try to give expression to that? How do you try to find moments, not just in performing these stories clearly just by privileging them and inflecting them you are already bringing them to a certain spotlight. But then in the performance how do you also incorporate this idea that even at this lowest point there are means of challenging what has been given to you? I am speaking about 'Tell Me Sister' specifically and if there are points in that piece that you find were doing that and I'll interject later with what I thought.
Cynthia: Where I'm being oppressed and I find that there's some way to protest...?
Aditi: What are the protests you're launching?... So maybe I should go ahead. I found that having the actual performance prefaced by textual and sort of images of sand was specifically interesting because it is such an impermanent medium...sand is...and then having that be the dramatic basis of her story shows, personally to me, the incredulance of that struggle or at least the idea that it's beautiful, that it can change very very rapidly and just as rapidly as her circumstances. And then having the video projections on her body, but her body protesting that. That it's a great deal of riding that was...And I found that that was a very strong message that... And then of course, I don't know how much mythology was intended, but there's this sort of Vastraharan moment where she unrobes herself from the confines of this white and steps into colour. And that to me also lauds a certain distant note that this isn't correct, that Yes!, that these are the accepted colour lots but I'm also progressing to the other. I'm sorry, I feel like I'm imposing...
Cynthia: No, no. That's great cause it's great to hear how it reads. And then what I thought, what I wanted to avoid was just representing a courtesan as this thing, this disempowered figure who just has it all and is a woman and because we wanted to problematize that as well, which I think that focus of the performance that you have the reception...
Sandra: ...which is what led to this version yesterday with the preface of the sort of displaced contemporary dancer who thinks about themselves and their objects as...
Aditi: Sandra would you mind running over just a sort of quick what you presented...
Sandra: Yesterday this section was prefaced by a solo which started with a projection of me dancing. Part of, again it has a similar story of origin as this piece. It was based on, in part, the tawaif (courtesan) section of this part which you didn't see as well as another translation that Anjali did of a annamayya padam almost a year ago in one of the assignments. Together with her and my assignment I came up with a phrase which I performed just in evening sweatpants with boots and a dhoti in Munich in front of a (?) piece just assembled. [Cynthia: You can see the architecture, its very clearly European]... and it's November. So that sort of opens up this section but it's entered the video, I'm dancing in front of the video and the video is interspersed with text about the exotic. There are different definitions of the exotic, of object exoticism and of strategic exoticism by Marta Savigliano who actually writes about Tango and the strategic exoticism was a number of Huggan (?) post-colonial exoticism of might emergence (?)
So that figure who dances in front of that and dancing in front of that just placed projection that interrupts the ballet text. I'm also wearing a hoody, but it's in white so there's a relationship too to her. She enters while I dance and when she enters I transform to a scholar and sit at a computer on stage while she's doing her...
Aditi: Which isn't such a stretch from reality, Sandra is a self-confessed geek (?). She's done her PhD from UCLA so it does make sense. So in this idea that their work is in flux perhaps this is a good moment to introduce how the assembled pieces would work and perhaps Cynthia and Sandra will speak too about what they mean by a margam (?) format and how that's unique to the Post Natyam
Cynthia: That's a definition in process.
Sandra: You know Ikea furniture...yeah you can assemble. A piece has different elements and you can assemble.
Cynthia: But the thing is that it's not mechanisation like that. We all become the same and that any body could be replaced with any other body. It is actually a flexibility that allows each choreographer - performer's individual voice to come out. And that allows adaptations in particular contexts, both in terms of a specific venue - or even an art gallery or a proscenium and are you in Delhi or Los Angeles and all those things we hope to take into account as we re-assemble in a new context.
Aditi: Which brings us to sort of another facet that is specific to Post Natyam Collective. At what point does the audience like to assert itself? Because you're so thorough and document and have to share with each other the exultance of performance and because it's all of your product is the audience already a part of the process or does it only happen that you become aware of it at the moment of performance?
Cynthia: I think that it was a long time before we made our process completely public and so we were very conscious about inviting people into the process at stages of unfinished work, when we decided to do that. Trying to make our assignments and processes as transparent as possible to see that as valid in itself and so...
Sandra: It took a while to get there.
Cynthia: It took quite a...probably at least a year.
Sandra: At least a year. I mean we'd been working on material for a year before we decided to actually make the process public.
Cynthia: And like I've done a lot of stuff in progress with Shyamala where we invite colleagues, interested community members and they, you know invited them back at that sort of vulnerable unfinished stage. We've also done audience participation things where they have to perform.
Sandra: Well I think what's also interesting about this process as we develop different sections in different countries is different audience contexts become harder for a piece very early on. So audience readings in Germany or in the US and in India sort of come together very early on in the process very consciously. And so often times you create a work in one place and then you tour it and you get all these different contexts and you get all these different reactions to a finished piece in different countries. But for us it's already part of the process to have a transnational audience interject, kind of.
Aditi: which is sort of, I'll shift to the dialogic need which is still connected to what you're just saying about audiences. And then in this piece, specifically, I don't think we have time to break down and talk about Lajja.... this idea of the gaze, especially present Sandra in your dance, in Lajja, because you're performing specifically in resistance, I would say, a direct, forthright interpretation. Cynthia also in yours because you choose to inflect the audience into your performances, as I said, jump off stage. And then you're looking at the absence of you which makes this an idea of the gaze which is a very post-colonial construct in that it is something that's...that performance necessarily as subjected to but within the discourses that you guys engage with, in terms of feminism, in terms of marginalization, how do you feel negates a critical concept? Am I being clear?
Cynthia: Yeah, it's just the question...
Sandra: It's a huge question... I don't know if I'm going to get very theoretical but I just want to address why it's so permanently there in my work is because I feel like in the context that I live in, I encounter a particular kind of gaze daily. Whether it be in daily life or on stage so that it is heightened. But I think there's a specific gaze, that is also very specific to living in Europe. You know moving through my "hometown" quote-unquote. Like look like an Indian body you know. Looked at like a strangeling that doesn't really belong there and having all these sort of fantasies projected on to you, like literally in the most unexpected places, in the big theatre, in the metro, in.. And it sort of never leaves my consciousness and so I cannot go on stage and present myself in public without having that constantly sort of there. So I realise that it's a very specific kind of context that that's coming from so...which is why the sort of engagement with exoticism.
Aditi: I'm just going to ask you to comment on it specifically since... "[Interruption in video]"
Cynthia: She decided to jump off and sit in the audience several years ago and I was creating this work with that. I was very uncomfortable with what I was doing. I started doing this as an exploration and then it felt really wrong. Like the internalised classical dancer in me was like 'how dare you, you mischievous....da da da form... you know, this devotional blah blah blah....' and she was quite disturbed, that Cynthia inside of me, cause of all this sort of aggressiveness and rudeness and it felt sort of directed to the audience. But the audience had done nothing bad to me yet and so I said, oh, then I should yell at myself, that would be better. So I decided to go sit in the audience and kind of, in my head, I sort of have several different audience members that I kind of channel. So one is kind of delighted, one was really confused, and one is offended and one is kind of like the heckler who is the real slimy guy...in my head. I've been through all.
So yeah, in a way, especially when I was creating a piece and starting to make sense of it there was an obvious sort of babble between the part of me that was nice to be kind of in-your-face and funny, like very pedestrian and this sort of very sincere classical dancer who has her own place as well. So I told them to talk to each other and they had an argument basically.
Aditi: I'm sorry, we have time constraints and so we're going to break shortly ....
Anita: Do we have time for questions from the audience or are we done?
Aditi: We'll go straight to the audience
Audience Question: Could you tell us more about the gaze that you encounter everyday, I found it fascinating what you were saying. I do not mean to be obtrusive.
Sandra: Well it's just, it has different layers I think, different levels. One of them being just, I mean very everyday, very practically sort of, you know moving to a place where you're continuously encountering, you're continuously aware of people thinking you're not from there or you don't belong there. So that's just a very everyday incarnation of that gaze. Like an incident that happened for example on the bus. Like when something falls on somebody or a pram moves and you're like...I actually think twice about helping because it's actually being, often seen as being, why'd you interfere...this is not your place. And I feel like it actually affects me a lot more in the place where I was born, when that happens everyday. So that is one underlying current that happens.
Cynthia: Actually that happens to me too. Depending on the part of the US that I've been, I've been asked if I speak English, I've been you know just treated as a complete foreigner, not in California but I grew up in Texas so that kind of... In the US being Asian in certain pockets means you're a foreigner.
Sandra: So I danced one part that I remember, like from kindergarten, but then it sort of shifted at a certain point when I became a teenager where I felt this really intense sort of sexualisation happening and strange conversations happening with random men talking about Bangkok and their last vacation and stuff like that. And then that also at the same time that you're becoming a classical, like trained in classical dance and starting to learn padams and performing that sort of role on stage but continuously, from the very start being confronted with that sort of gaze. You know the two thousand year old temple dancer and being told like you can't...you get on stage and you can pass...you can dance well so it looks like you're from India but just don't open your mouth. So there are different levels of the gaze. That I cannot erase from my work, because I just feel like... whether I do classical dance or whether I'm being myself on stage when I do contemporary I just continuously feel that. That tension.
Audience: I found very interesting what we saw being questioned, but I mean its wonderful what you're talking about and Cynthia also said, which I found fascinating, which is that how with the courtesan we're trying to keep up this notion that the courtesan is a women who had everything.. everything in the sense that...
Cynthia: I mean I don't want to say that she didn't have power because she did but I didn't want it to become romantacised in a way that it recognises... does it recognise the fact that she was operating in this patriarchally structured society and that there was this very particular pocket that offered options, I don't know what the options are right now, that may be resolved because of the social circumstance issue.
Audience question: Aditi, would you say the balancing of choreography was (?)...?
Aditi: I think I did. And it's a difficult one to feel specially because I have not enough of a grounding in Indian dance but in the intended meaning, I think, at this point we're (?)... please don't take offense, but this idea of a single person coming, directing movements, this fixed unitary body - and this is something that Cynthia and Sandra have discussed in detail, they'll probably do a better job of connecting - that seems to be a western innovation. The idea that Indian dance practice has, and this is just for purposes of definition, it seems to have grown more organically, the traditional dance practice. So, in the notion that there is authorship, that to Indian contemporary dance I have found is still new. Of course the reason we're all here today is because it's interesting what sort of (?) and innovations have been made. Do you want to add to that?
Cynthia: I don't want to say choreography is western or non-western, I think the term is under debate worldwide at the moment. But the word, it's a word that has Greek roots, it means writing - dance. So it means dance with text. Something that you can fix and in its most conventional understanding it has been historically associated with a single choreographer who authors a dance, who creates new movement, movement invention that didn't exist before which is nonsense and that the choreography in the text doesn't really shift. Meaning that the performative variations that have been or change of times are not really taken into account so the making of the dance itself apart from the teaching of it and the performance of it, is seperated out in that moment, like that according to Susan Foster...is choreography. It's always better to incite someone else; then it's their fault.
And the practices are shifting rapidly in the west as well in terms of collective authorship, in terms of emphasis on process over product etc. but that was one of the originary definitions sort of that were my traits.
Anita: I have two questions. One for you and one for Sandra. Cynthia the one for you is, yesterday when I was watching Ruddha, and I don't mean this is any kind of potentially problematic political way, but I was watching Ruddha and the sense that I got was that, what became very clear was that there is a way in which the quote-unquote traditional vocabulary of Kathak is irrelevant. And that you were really engaging with that irrelevance and saying what do I do with this thing? How am I to use it? How does it engage with contemporary disjuncture, with crisis? And I wanted you to comment on that. And again, I refuse to, kind of, buy into these very problematic assumptions that these are sacred things that can't be touched etc. so that's my question to you.
[Cynthia: I'm not sure whether I think it's irrelevant that's why I'm trying to figure out how to answer...]
Anita: Irrelevant by which I mean that in it's traditional form it does not address the contemporary. So disjuncture or you're own sense of disjuncture, you're own sense of splitting need.. the form cannot address that in its originary form whatever that might be.
Cynthia: In the formal script of setting... So I will speak about why I think... I'll speak about it on a personal level and not generalise to talk about and include each other because I don't feel comfortable doing that. I actually don't believe that, I think the form is very relevant to people on their own terms in the right here and now. For me the reason that I choreograph the sort of splitting and disjuncture is that the form as much as it speaks to so many parts of me, as a musician, as a dancer, as a poet at all sorts of different levels, the form as I recieved it, doesn't attract all parts of me including the butch, like the kimber (?) face... well that's Mr. ??? fault because he discussed the question and then he rubbed his beard and said, 'there doesn't seem to be a lot of points for the butch in Indian classical forms is there? ' you know, like the hairy (?), like the more aggressive parts of me and then there are parts of me that are just playful in a way that I think you can do the classical form but I didn't learn like that and so I hadn't reached that point in the form where I can just do it without shifting the vocabulary but that's really the part that's really just irreverent and silly and funny. So I just wanted that there be more parts of me in the picture and talk to each other.
Anita: Okay thanks. Hello Sandra. This is about Lajja and also about the friend you served in Tell Me Sister! What I found interesting was that on one level, incredibly erotic image. And that incredibly erotic image is undermined by the scale of it. And you know that's very interesting where you're using this really in- your-face body to make the audience uncomfortable. I'm seeing this but can I actually fantasize about this? And I also got the feeling that you were in some senses talking about sexuality as Hindi cinema has worked with it. And how, that kind of, I get a pejorative..., for lack of a better word, bloating the body through the image. So you are both desirous and yet fear it. So I'd like you to comment on that.
Sandra: Well. First, it's interesting that you felt eros. I'm thinking about an essentiality and one of the ways in which I have been taught to encounter it is by erasing sexuality. Which is something I feel like I'm erasing about myself, which is why I refuse to go there. So I am trying to really, like you said, confront the gaze with that sensuality in a way that undermines and makes one uncomfortable. The references to Hindi cinema actually come from the...the gaze which is Sangita Shresthova. It took a long time for me to actually make the projections in the sense that I've always been thinking that there should be a projection with the movement. But it was actually three years after I made the movement that the projection was added. And that was because I actually went and sat with Sangita and talked about the way she behind the camera would see the body and follow the movement. And she is a scholar of Bollywood, she wrote her dissertation about Bollywood. So very much the cinematic conventions that she uses are drawn from that genre.
Anita: Any other questions? Thanks very much for a really wonderful convention and could we please have applause...