Changing doors of perception

A body is deftly used as a brush to paint a narrative in an empty space without a palette of colours. A story sounds more powerful and penetrating if delineated with mime acts and gestures in lieu of a written text. Similarly, words have a tangible texture. One can feel them. They are an accumulation of sonorous and meaningful consonant plus vowel sounds (syllables), which can echo into one’s ears, long after they have been uttered. They have a lingering effect amidst silence and long distances. All this and much more were unequivocally drawn on stage by ace contemporary dancer-actor Jyoti Dogra in her one-hour piece called The Doorway.
Recently, this visually unconventional production was performed at The Harrington Street Art Centre in Kolkata as part of the just concluded New Performance Festival, jointly hosted by India Foundation for the Arts (IFA) and the Seagull Foundation for the Arts. Assimilating a tapestry of unusual themes, unconventional performances, innovative ideas and scripts spanning across different genres and languages in performing arts sphere, the festival just blends it all! For those not in the loop, since 2006, the IFA instituted New Performance programme has been supporting contentious creations and appreciating reflective performance practices that extend beyond the prevalent idioms and forms of performing arts and create new modes of presentation. In an effort to bring these unorthodox performances to a wider audience and create a dialogue around new modes of performance or theatre, the IFA had initiated the New Performance Festival.
The one-of-its-kind fest was first organised in Bengaluru a couple of years ago in 2008 and off late, the second edition of the same was held in the culture capital. Literally, a “doorway” to unique concepts of physical techniques, an uncharted territory of experimental theatre, unorthodoxy of vision and approach and a deeper interpretation of a cryptic subject, the esoteric essence of Dogra’s recital on the dais makes room for some intellectual thinking and an interactive response on the audience part. In a way, the spectators on the opposite end of the rendition keenly take an active participation to decode the abstract imageries of The Doorway drama. They keep their brains constantly functional and continue to absorb, react and evaluate what is unfurling before their eyes.
Basically, a collection of real and fanciful tales, woven together into a physical sequence, thus exploring the nature of our physically inhabiting “open” as well as “closed” spaces, The Doorway is clearly drawn from the choreographer’s autobiographical material, folk songs, fairy tales and fictitious experiences. The play’s narrative is communicated through bodily images, actions, gestures, chants, mumblings and with minimal spoken texts or verbal dialogues.
Interestingly, The Doorway is an ongoing process-based work that continues to evolve with each fascinating performance unleashed in sight. “My play involves Jerzy Grotowski’s techniques which by accessing an onlooker’s impulses, trickles into his/her system. Steeped with multiple narratives, the piece majorly comprises a slew of body-induced imageries. Each individual watching the production actually makes an immediate connect or forges an association with its content to emanate resources and make the piece complete. Hence, the interaction between the performer and the viewer exists at an experiential level, rather than orally. This form of physical theatre is very popular in Europe. There are specific dance forms which thrive on the merit of human body’s practical applications.
How dexterously and diversely an agile body can work out its skills is what this theatrical method primarily boasts of,” enlightens the nimble-footed dancer. Measuring steps with alacrity and adroitly, Dogra further elucidates: “Physical theatre refrains from formalising the aesthetic aspects of a dance alone. For it incorporates other performing crafts as well. Martial artforms, theatre, physical exercises, acting styles, expressions, et al. It conjures up a visually appealing structure which is fathomless in impact and inimitable in presentation.” For the uninitiated, Jerzy Grotowski was a world-renowned 20th century Polish theatre director and innovator of experimental theatre — precisely the “theatre laboratory” and “poor theatre” concepts. This illustrious stage practitioner made his directorial debut in 1958 with the production titled “Gods of Rain” that had introduced his bold approach towards the text, which he continued to develop throughout his career, thereby influencing many subsequent theatre artists on the way.
In the past three years, Dogra has remained committed to the art of theatre training and performance work which follows in the tradition of Grotowski’s Laboratory Theatre. This has by far influenced her to make use of the multifaceted dramatist’s exercises and theories about an actor’s processes.
She has been working with Khalid Tyabji and Jola Cynkutis for short intervals of time on an actor’s work process over the last couple of years.
Conforming to a variegated prism of divergent rays emitted through different chromes, Dogra corroborates of mixed reactions flowing in from diverse quarters. “Whether I showcase this endeavour to a remote village, in smaller towns and suburbs or in a well-heeled urban society, responses are bound to differ from one another. While the actual imagery was about a woman making pickles and shaking a jar, some conveyed that they felt the jar to be a foetus inside a uterus.
For others, the imagery appeared to be a homemaker’s orgasmic delight in consummating her marriage or a woman evoking her sexual urges and hidden desires. Now these reactions can also vary at a social level with different cultural connotations propelling the spectators to follow suit. But the whole context was very Indian in its essence. In a nutshell, I have dug up some facets from the life I lead of have led so far. So, the canvas essentially bears an Indian saga in its entirety. Besides, live sounds, whispers, guttural sounds and inarticulate mutterings have been employed to enable an easy understanding of the enthralling piece,” she explains with examples.
A self-taught artiste, Dogra’s maiden directorial overture has been well-acknowledged by the attentive audience of Kolkata. “Here I find the audience to be very receptive and culturally inclined. They have a discreet taste for both fine arts and performing crafts. It’s been a rewarding experience for me to exhibit my play at the heart of the culture capital,” she humbly pays her gratitude. A Delhiite by birth, Dogra currently resides in Mumbai to fulfil her professional engagements.
Having been armed with a rich, learning-teaching stint from the prestigious stable of the National School of Drama’s (NSD) Theatre In Education Company, this versatile actress (television, cinema, stage) unabashedly confides that “I stand in front of the camera, only to make a living out of its commercial stakes. It is however the environs of a stage and its challenging propositions that attract me like a bee to its honey. There I get my true calling.”
Having recently finished shooting for a Hindi film, Dogra maintains a tight-lipped silence on its making. “It’s an arthouse project, reeled by an independent filmmaker,” she said.

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