Walking on water and other tales

What do Kabir, Frida Kahlo and lopsided umbrellas have in common? These divergent strains inform three independent performance projects by young performers in Mumbai and Bengaluru. What binds them is more than youth – their works represent personal journeys of discovery and the evolution of process.
At the NCPA, Mumbai, on July 29, 2011, Sanjukta Wagh presented Bheetar Bahar, in collaboration with Hindustani vocalist Makrand Deshpande. “Bheetar Bahar is not a performance,” she states at the outset. “I think of it more as a process in which I am exploring breath and form – in terms of what the body allows you to do and how you can push the boundaries of your form and yet remain in it, or not. The space around me resonates with Kabir’s words, creating a very meditative space when his philosophy mingles with the drone of the tanpura. In this space, we endeavour to invoke nirguna. Invoking nirguna is antithetical – for nirguna is anti-being; how do we invoke non-being? As saguna forms in flesh and blood, by not letting our minds dictate, reaching nirguna begins to be about undoing yourself and plunging into the present moment.”
An improvisation workshop Wagh led last week served as a corollary to her improvised staging of process. On the final day, she presented her piece to participants in the studio space. Some of her collaborators, who have seen her work develop over six months, said that her vocabulary tended more towards Kathak now, compared to the freshness of non-definition in her initial experiments with improvised movement. Wagh has trained in Kathak for over two decades. The ‘formal’ performance, meanwhile, bore no resemblance to what she had ‘performed’ the day before. “Even our rehearsals are performances,” says Wagh. “Sometimes, as energies, Makrand and I might coexist, without being in tune. Sometimes we come together and at other times our energies collide. The more we discuss Kabir, we find ourselves coming even closer to each other as individuals and trying to invoke nirguna.”
Come August 12, 2011, Jyotsna B. Rao presents “Spirit” at Alliance Francaise in Bengaluru. Her piece is inspired by the life and works of Frida Kahlo. Rao focuses on breath, using it to harness emotions that then translate into movement. She says, “Toward spirit means toward breath. I make shifts between characters by changing the way I breathe and hold energy. The spirit is never stationary; it is through this quality of motion that I explore the dualities of pain and love, past and present. The light design is inextricably connected to the movement, because the spirit moves to seek the light. My hair hangs loose throughout the performance, and I cover my face with it. That is how I obscure any ideas of gender or identity, privileging the manipulation of breath. I use an elastic band as part of my costume – as an allegory to the cast Frida had to wear all her life. She would paint on it – her life was full of pain. She perhaps articulated this in The Broken Column, where her body is pierced with nails - it is a striking image. My personal experiences also play a role in shaping the piece.”
The colonial-style environs of the heritage structure Manikyavelu Mansion, the Bengaluru wing of the NGMA (National Gallery of Modern Art), will frame a site-specific performance by Veena Basavarajaiah and Deepak K. Shivaswamy on August 7, 2011. Evolved over a month of reacting to the water bodies at NGMA, their work, H2Zero investigates the water-body relationship in different walks of life. Bodies and everyday objects associated with water question its identity in its presence, absence, use and abuse.
“H2Zero is about bodies in public spaces with reference to architecture designed around water. Water in a bottle is water with an identity. It works just like human identity. We are not creating a dance piece; it is a movement installation. Deepak and I work with a couple of actors, trying to become part of the space and highlighting the qualities of the water and architecture, not the other way around. We also use a CCTV camera, with sections of movement responding to its presence, in its mute witnessing of everything that transpires before it. We’re questioning our audience, inviting them to respond to water and its identities. For instance, we plan to place water bottles and plastic bags on their chairs. By performing the simple act of removing those bottles and setting them aside, they establish their attitude to water, to everything that is happening around them,” Basavarajaiah explains.
The fragmented notion of visual image as performance might come into being here, as the performers work with a photographer who helps them understand what images work from the audience’s point of view. Interestingly, later in August, the performers have secured permission to perform the piece at a prominent Bengaluru mall.

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