Choreographic process: Sunitha
Duration: 00:07:20; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 4.370; Saturation: 0.045; Lightness: 0.461; Volume: 0.505; Cuts per Minute: 0.136
Summary: The Gati Summer Dance Residency 2012 offered five emerging choreographers an opportunity to work with experienced mentors in the field of dance, theatre and sound design. It was held in New Delhi, from 21st April to 22nd June 2012. During the nine weeks, the residents developed their own individual choreographic works. The resident choreographers came from multifarious performance backgrounds including Contemporary dance, Kathak, Manipuri, Bharatanatyam as well as Theatre. This year's residents were Divya Vibha Sharma (Bombay), Rakesh Mps (Bangalore), Sanjukta Wagh (Bombay), Debanjali Biswas (Kolkata) and Sunitha (Bangalore). The mentors were theatre director Sankar Venketeshwaran from Kerala, German choreographers Susanne Linke and Urs Dietrich, and Swiss sound artist POL. The Residency concluded with the final showcase of the residents' works on 21st and 22nd June 2012, at Sri Ram Centre, New Delhi.
Arushi Singh’s research was analyzing the choreographic process of each dancer at this year’s Residency. It involved intensively documenting each mentor’s class and rehearsal process of the residents, supported with continued conversations with the residents and mentors. It has led her to shed light on the choreographic journey of each resident including their pre-expressivities, the preliminary ideas for the piece they wanted to develop, the process of developing their movement vocabulary which moved in and out of methods that they already were trained in as well as those they inculcated from collaborative work with mentors and fellow residents, to the very end of finalizing their pieces by engaging in other aspects of their performance such as props and sound.
Sunitha has been trained in Bharatanatyam for thirteen years. She has received actor training under various people from across the country including Sankar Venkateswaran.
The opening section of the piece introduces us to a small table. As one will see in the following lines, the table will act as a device of fragmentation that helps in ‘mutilating’ and isolating parts of Sunitha’s body. It commands a space wherein she can place and offer her various dissected body parts for an investigation. She first experiments by isolating her hands from the rest of the hidden body behind the table. The idea is to play around with the various ways a singular hand gesture can connote different meanings; transformation of the same hand gesture from being aesthetically pleasing to one which is grotesque; by using hastas from Bharatanatyam and completely overturning their conventional meanings as defined in the dance form. Employing asamyutahastas as defined in the Bharatanatyam vocabulary she would play around with commonplace meanings held by the gesture.
Along with this, the slow movement of the hands intensifies the performativity of the movement because it multiplies the meanings: the movements might evoke the most diverse associations for the spectators. For example, she used the shikhara hasta to signify a gesture usually recognized as thumbs-up, which is used in reaction to something good. She also inverted the hasta that expresses a reaction of non-affirmation. The hand rises in pataka hasta, transforming into a mushthi. She releases her hand slowly and stretches out all fingers. The cascades of gestures are slow and timed with the music. She uses the soochi hasta (check glossary of words to know the various uses of this gesture in Bharatanatyam) to point towards the spectators and gives an indication that she is calling out to them to come. Sunitha remarks during the rehearsal that while sweeping through hamsasya, sandamsha, mukula, vyaghra, she wanted to investigate the aesthetics of these gestures created by using the same hand.
Successively, she dovetails into investigating other parts of the body like the head, eyes, chest, and legs. For instance, after the cycle of hand movements was over she slowly raises her head up to expose it till a point such at it looks sliced up and ready to be served on the table. She uses the variations of drishti bheda or movements of glance, which is prescribed as a subset of mukhaja abhinaya or facial expressions. She begins with adhomukha
, keeping the face downwards and eyes in avalokita
. Following up with the head and eyes kept straight in sama
. She slowly moves her head up looking at the sky in udvahita
, raising the eyes up in ullokita
. This cycle is repeated twice. She moves her head sideways on both sides equally.
Then she repeats this by adding the simultaneous eye movement on both sides i.e. pralokita
. Usually in Bharatanatyam, facial expressions, including the specific choice of an eye or head movement, are used to evoke a specific sentiment. For instance, avalokita
is commonly used to denote shyness. In the use of the head and eyes, Sunitha moves mechanically, the directionality of her gaze lack any emotion. It gives a sense of an object submitted to its scanning. Moreover, hastas may accompany the eye or head movements to conjure something subtly different. For example, a performer moving their hands from mukula
, from avalokita
with the simultaneous movement of head in utkshipta
signifies the act of seeing. Sunitha chooses to completely separate all parts of the body. The audience’s attention is drawn to the tempo, intensity, force, energy and direction of Sunitha i.e. her specific and individual physicality, as a result of the slow time or the repetition of rhythmic patterns.