Spaces, interstices


Even a slithering arm can define space, or appropriate it — one begins to perceive years of polite armrest nudging afresh while watching Mandeep Raikhy’s Inhabited Geometry. Two dancers are constrained to share a rectangular space demarcated by light. A pointed foot poised just within reach, suddenly lunging out to land in the vicinity of the other body — and discomfort is a palpable manifestation of space as it seethes through the air.
Inhabited Geometry, in the choreographer’s words, is inspired by the notion of lived experience of architecture in Gaston Bachelards Poetics of Space. Raikhy dances with five others — Rukmini Vijayakumar, Manju Sharma, Deepak K. Shivaswamy, Rajat Bakshi and Divya Vibha Sharma. In Mumbai last week, he presented his work at NCPA’s first contemporary dance festival. Spread thin over a fortnight, this showcase of contemporary dance continues next week with Astad Deboo premiering his latest work, Interpreting Tagore and Mango-Cherry Mix, a collaborative dance work by Navtej Johar and Hiroshi Miyamoto.
Inhabited Geometry constantly plays with Bharatnatyam in its use of hand gestures, delineating sequences like the bow-and-arrow, and at one point, matted hair. In other moments, the stage resembles a taut field of plumb lines. Bodies manipulate the space around them and hyperextend into space. When the dancers’ hands end in tripataka-hasta, their protruding fingers seem to playfully agitate the air. At times, they work in pairs — one dancer sidles in carrying a second, immobile dancer. Reiterating a single movement, the latter doesn’t react as her/ his limbs are repeatedly snapped back to a neutral position with increasing aggression, a sequence reminiscent of the operations of the black-clad kuroko, stage assistants in Japanese theatre, as seen in Ariane Mnouchkine’s Tambours Sur La Digue.
Performed to a soundtrack by Ish Sherawat, Inhabited Geometry incorporates video art by Chris Ziegler, which serves to replicate, and periodically exacerbate human movement. Like new, undiscovered spaces, perhaps this piece must grow on one; yet, at times, one tends to wander out of it and feel unmoved by what is happening on stage.
Raikhy was accompanied by fellow Delhi-based choreographer Anusha Lall, whose work Tilt, was also invited to the festival. Tilt was performed by five dancers dressed in grey and white, a cracked layer of beaten silver foil (varq) slapped over some part of their bodies. Meant to be a creative exploration of some of Bharatnatyam’s fundamental principles, the piece commences with a flourish of the mridangam, rather like the prelude to a classical Bharatnatyam performance. The slowness of the movement gives one time to sear every action into memory, to watch a pair of eyes determinedly follow an arm — a realisation of a verse from the Abhinaya Darpana that seeks to convey the importance of seeing, and ways of seeing.
A particularly striking image was that of four dancers guarding the periphery of the space, containing its energies and then spinning wildly to the next position, their arms stretched out, in abandon, as if to let go of that energy. In another sequence, even as a sudden lifting of the foot caused dancers to unintentionally stagger in unison, their moment of vulnerability seemed to make them less surreal.
The five dancers — Anusha Lall, Aranyani Bhargav, Mandeep Raikhy, Rukmini Vijayakumar and Suhail Bhan were accompanied by percussionists Suchet Malhotra and Vetri Boopathy. Malhotra, who rallies an array of objects to produce sound, even banging on the very metal stool he is perched on. Tilt also references an excerpt from a dhrupad alap sung by the Gundecha Brothers’ for Chandralekha’s choreography Sharira.
The conditions in which Tilt had to be viewed left much to be desired. The piece was performed at floor-level in a rectangular space, with the musicians sitting upstage, given the conventional sight line at the NCPA’s Experimental Theatre. The chairs facing the “front” of this stage make for a stilted and obstructed view – one is left twisting and turning to look at the body below waist level. This was not the best way to watch a piece like Tilt that is so deeply invested in the use of the body — at times wildly vacillating, hurling itself across space, and elsewhere, filling bars of sound with the jerk of a shoulder. It brings one to question if our black box venues truly fulfil their role as spaces that facilitate innovative production design.

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