Coming back to life

During its journey spanning 14 years, Ranan's Shunya Se - re-imagined in the light of an eclectic dance philosophy - has travelled widely. Its chief choreographer, Vikram Iyengar, and co-choreographers, Debashree Bhattacharya and Sohini Debnath, citizens of a postmodern dance universe, have together encountered many new worlds of movement and improvisation in one and a half decades. Their recent revival of Shunya Se at Gyan Manch displayed an astonishing and rare openness of body well outside their rigid classical training. With time, a more sophisticated point of view and a nuanced theatricality have helped them invent a convincing vocabulary of their own.

By Dance - Kathakali Jana
  • Published 16.09.17
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During its journey spanning 14 years, Ranan's Shunya Se - re-imagined in the light of an eclectic dance philosophy - has travelled widely. Its chief choreographer, Vikram Iyengar, and co-choreographers, Debashree Bhattacharya and Sohini Debnath, citizens of a postmodern dance universe, have together encountered many new worlds of movement and improvisation in one and a half decades. Their recent revival of Shunya Se at Gyan Manch displayed an astonishing and rare openness of body well outside their rigid classical training. With time, a more sophisticated point of view and a nuanced theatricality have helped them invent a convincing vocabulary of their own.

But this vocabulary develops organically from the grammar and lexicon of Kathak. Rhythm, shape, design, musical current and physical movement dissolve into a marvellous harmony. Shunya Se is an exploration of space (shunya), air, fire, water and earth through the limits of Kathak and what lies beyond the edges of its unyielding classical syntax. The adventures of the body, in Shunya Se, become an end in themselves. Its objective constantly shifts between talking about the elemental universe and re-discovering with renewed wonder the elements of Kathak, its ideas engaging with the body to create a newer system of signification.

The traditional movement patterns of Kathak are deconstructed and the straight lines, arcs, structures, phrases, sub-phrases, whirls and pirouettes thus arrived at, along with many softnesses and stillnesses, become the basis for the new edifice upon which Shunya Se stands. Such is the sense of discovery in the piece's innovative turns of phrase that it becomes a compelling pursuit for the audience to figure out the new expression.

There is complex footwork of mathematical precision but the dancers do it lying down on stage in a way that only their feet are visible. On another occasion they match the movements of their feet to vigorous percussive beats, their feet accentuated cleverly by illumination even while their upper bodies remain in darkness. In Shunya Se the 'nritta' (pure dance) elements of Kathak catch air, fire, dampness and mud, depending on the element they become a reference for, and wash over you like a sensation.

The exploration of the power and possibilities of light and costume is integral to the experience of Shunya Se. Subtle changes in Sudip Sanyal's light, its concentration and diffusion, its dimness and radiance, create a mysterious and abstract narrative of their own. The light developed as a part of the choreography, as it were, offers its own poetry to enhance the dance. Katy Lai Roy's role as designer of costume is collaborative too. The garments with their asymmetric hemlines, elongated trails, flowing layers and intrinsic changeability sometimes double as props. Whether it is the hungry licks of fire, the flow of water or the gentle waft of a breeze, outstanding visuals are achieved in which costumes play an important part. Light and sound together translate into pure design for the work into which music - a Tagore song, percussion, bol padhant and instrumental music - and silence add their bit to take dance to a thrilling new terrain.

Another revival of an older work, contemporary dance outfit Sapphire Creations Dance Company's Alien Flowers, was presented at Madhusudan Mancha recently. It is a balletic work themed on same-sex love which had been staged as The Alien Flower in 1996. Significantly, days after the Indian judiciary's declaration of the freedom of sexual orientation as a fundamental right, the reimagined production progressed from gay love into a more inclusive spectrum of sexualities, questioning mindsets and points of reference for different gender identities.

Using the dramatic texture of a play, to which in-your-face costume, props and the in-built erotic charge of the ballet form add their significance, choreographer Sudarshan Chakravorty tells the story of a gay man from birth to a vulnerable youth of sexual awakening to death. Love, passion, heartache, homophobia, despair, the tension between the mainstream and the queer, claustrophobia and, amidst it all, a quest for identity are the experiences on which the piece is pegged.

A team of competent dancers - Paramita Saha and Ankita Gupta are among those who stand out for their supple movements and winning stage presence -bounce, leap, tumble, execute multiple pirouettes and turn cartwheels with a bewildering velocity and sharpness.