16 May 2011

DIRECTORIAL MUSINGS: More Questions than Answers

'Return' - technical rehearsal

The working title for this double bill of performance work was Conversations with Kathak, and the initial idea was to create a series of small pieces exploring different dialogues between Kathak and other individual impulses such as text, music, voice work, film and so on. How on earth did that develop into two distinctly different presentations: one, a fleshed out, focused and thought through piece emerging from an intense association with the world of Kathak, and the other, an extremely nascent, shaky and rough-edged experiment bringing together varied performance elements, random and often contradictory sources, and diverse performers?

'Dreamed' - technical rehearsal
A couple of things do connect these two diametrically different pieces: early uncertainties about where we were headed and why, and a certainty about what we wanted to engage with in terms of approach and process. For the production we today call Return, the engagement with every aspect of Kathak as a richly evolved and evolving dance form was a given. For the piece we today call Dreamed, the engagement with a variety of impulses and Kathak’s response to them was what we wanted to play with and explore. But the choosing of a focus, a binding idea, eluded us for a long time.


The process of creating Return saw Debashree and I spend session after session asking ourselves what is was we wanted to dance, why it was we wanted to dance. Literally returning to creating a duet piece after ten years, we wanted to tread carefully and specifically. The questions soon became more analytical about why we dance at all, what dance means to us, what dance offered as a form of expression, and the apparently changing face of how dance is performed and perceived today. Does dance enshrine a philosophy, an approach to life, an acknowledgement of something bigger than ourselves? Has dance become more about technique, form and virtuosic skill and less about an uplifting human experience? In the quest to conquer the externals of dance, do we let the spirit get away? Where does dance begin and where does it lead? What is it’s purpose – entertainment, enlightenment, enchantment … all of that and more?

We were playing with rhythms, abstractions, various music tracks trying to find inspiration. Wandering through several nebulous pathways and dim possibilities, we found ourselves drawn to some very specific vocal music impulses, all of which were tremendously classical in approach, treatment and performance. Each one seemed a pure expression and exploration of one particular and personal idea emerging from the singer. Somehow this abstract particularity led us to re-examine and rediscover each and every small nuance of Kathak that we today take for granted Рso much so that many of them are not even performed any more. Living in a world of large pictures and instant entertainment, the subtle, the internalised, a slow flowering of ideas and images can seem rather pass̩. Indeed, how much of dance today is about an internal experience Рboth for the performer and the audience? A rediscovery of what dance Рspecifically Indian classical dance Рstands for seemed the road to walk down.

Guided invisibly by these inspirational and deeply moving music pieces, we were led backwards into the vast storehouse of Kathak finding gems we had forgotten all about along the way – little jewels rarely brought out of the dusty, yet living, museum of Kathak, precious stones which shyly and / or graciously revealed themselves to a gentler, humbler enquiry on our part. The attempt for us became to realign ourselves – so to speak – with a dance that magnanimously allows us to enter and experience all that it offers, rather than a dance that we have mastered, leashed and wrought into a series of astonishing skilled circus acts. Artists surrender to art and are therefore able to enter and discover it from within. Mere mastery subjugates art: it cannot then envelop the artist.

We thought of what Saraswati stands for – not as any religious association, but as a concept. What does she embody for art, for artists? How does one approach her, get to know her – by chasing her relentlessly or by opening our minds and hearts and allowing her in with humility, respect and the desire to serve? We serve her, she does not serve us. And once we yield to art, we make – or re-make – the most amazing discoveries. The attempt in Return has been to reflect this journey back to an essence.

Musically each piece we chose inspired us to focus on a very specific aspect of Kathak, really try and zoom into its possibilities in various ways – slowness of pace, subtle grace, the awareness of sound and rhythm, the development of abstract pure dance, the stories one can tell with and within one single line from a lyric… all leading coming together in a celebration of Kathak. Again, musically we have tried to give each instrument its due, discovering what it contributes to the music and the dance in this return to a space and spirit we should never have left.


20 May 2010 saw the launch of the Ranan Repertory. A motley group of dancers and actors came together in Ranan’s rehearsal space committed to working and playing together as performers. Dreamed has emerged out of a year’s work with repertory members through acting and movement exercises, dance and text explorations, voice work, workshops led from within the group and by guest artists, film screenings, sharings and more.

The original idea was to create a series of small pieces bringing together performance elements that we have begun to explore and experiment with in our repertory sessions – sessions which take place without the pressure of an imminent production, thus providing a secure space in which we can imagine, try out, fail, create, learn and push ourselves as an ensemble of performers. The aim was – and still is – to stage a possible way and process of working and creating performance – a way and process that we are at the very early stages of discovering for ourselves.

We began by selecting elements and ideas to work with: a text or two we were already dabbling with, something written by a repertory member, some songs we had started on initially thinking only of voice exercises, rhythm cycles, and other random ideas put together collectively. There was no attempt at threading a logic or continuity that would bring everything together in any way. We were playing, exploring, experimenting, creating, discussing, dispensing…

It was only very late in the day that very tenuous connections began to occur to me. Each piece that we had had zeroed in on as a final selection seemed to have something to do with desires and dreams expressed or withheld, fulfilled or neglected, remembered or forgotten. The words ‘dream’, ‘dreamed’, ‘dreamt’, ‘dreaming’ and various references to and images of ‘home’ recurred in the texts and lyrics we had selected as both as initial impulses and as responses during the process of work – apparently purely by coincidence.

I began to look at the act of dreaming as an expression of secret desire, of memories real or imagined, of regret and loss, of reaching out to achieve or touch something just out of reach – unattainable but very much there. Why was it not achievable, what obstacles blocked the way… each separate piece we were working on seemed to be finding answers to this question, seemed to be striving to reach a particular point, seemed to be – indeed – dreaming of creating something that existed only in our heads and refused to actually take shape in space and time.

A strange jigsaw began to emerge of a plethora of characters – some related, some not, but all with dreams they reached out to, all with obstacles that hindered them, all with a desire to find themselves in another space, another time, another home. The dreams could be triggered by memories tinged with regret, secret sorrows, lost loves, wanting to be loved or even the urge to dance freely and joyfully. The metaphor of this dream-space became embodied in the idea of a pomegranate tree, a pomegranate grove – somewhere one wanted to be but couldn’t. How could one get there? Why could one not? Was there a spirit which called to us from that grove urging us to keep trying, keep pushing till we found a path to the garden, to the fulfilment of what we dreamed?

Dreamed is the first time any of us in the repertory have attempted to work in this fashion. I have myself never devised work collaboratively or alone, in fact have steered clear of it. This experience has touched not only on devising together, but on drawing together varied performance elements that many of us are only just beginning to discover for and within ourselves. The group comprises performers from a range of backgrounds and levels – some experience, some still training – all stepping out in some way or the other from their comfort zones of performance that they are familiar with into trying, playing, dreaming with a little something else.

We do not call Dreamed a production – it is not one. It is an expression of the very nascent stages of an idea of how one can work, can create, can play in a performance ensemble. We present it as it is – complete with its rough edges, unanswered and unasked questions, trailing threads and unattained possibilities. Dreamed is therefore perhaps only the beginning of a dream we have yet to travel through.

11 May 2011

love, bonds, freedom, regret, dissatisfaction, bitterness...

Amlan and Debashree - technical rehearsal
Amlan and Debashree had already been talking about the source texts they wanted to respond to for some time before I came into the picture. They had settled on two 3-line poems by Bangla poet Sisir Kumar Das. The first addressed the tensions between duty and love, freedom and bonds. The second – with the idea of unfulfilment. These two poems seemed to resonate together somehow. The connections and contradictions between ideas of love, bonds, freedom, regret, dissatisfaction, bitterness…

We began to ask questions of each other:
-         Is love necessarily freedom? Can it not also be a form of bondage – the bonds of love which begin to suffocate?
-         Who considers what freedom? For a dancer, the act of dance could be an expression of freedom. For a poet, it could be the writing of a poem
-         Could dissatisfaction come out of the fact that one has had to suppress love for reasons of duty?
-         How do all these colour a relationship between two people? Are there individual aspirations which are smothered by the habit of staying together? Does one unknowingly or knowingly quell a yearning for something more in the other?
-         What is the sensibility of dissatisfaction? When does it set in and why? Are there clear cut reasons necessarily? Or does it emerge from a sense that there is something more to experience and reach for, something that present circumstances do not support?
-         Does habit kill love? Can togetherness encourage loneliness? Can finding love actually be a loss?
-         Can love, freedom, release crumble and die? Can movement and music crumble and die? How do the things we value in life – whether we have them or not – fade away?

The improvisations began by looking at just the first line of the first poem as a point of departure. More than two months down the line, it has been unnecessary to go further just as the text itself finds no place in the piece that has been created. It just provides the impulse for the exploration.

Amlan and Debashree - technical rehearsal
Somehow the white wall in Ranan seemed to pull both the performers towards it. What was it? An obstacle they were trying to vault? A relationship that had grown out of proportion? A challenge? A promise of something better? A magnet pulling them back from desire and aspiration? An expression of a vast, inner emptiness? A neutral stillness? A death?

We played with distance and proximity, stillness and motion, aggression and empathy, tension and release, beauty and ugliness – and the areas where these opposites blur into one another … what is one looking for and what holds one back at each point? Can the tables turn?

Musically a classic Simon and Garfunkel number we had been working on separately seemed tailormade to respond to and layer this quiet, yet crucial, tussle between two people who could just as much be perfect strangers as caught in a long-term relationship.

07 May 2011


technical rehearsal - Anubha, Jayati
  • Four text excerpts from three wholly unrelated and vastly different sources: Dreaming, a play by Peter Barnes; How to Cut a Pomegranate, a poem by Imtiaz Dharker; and Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree, a novel by Tariq Ali.
  • Four performers: two actresses (Anubha Fatehpuria and Dana Roy), one dancer (Sohini Debnath) and one actress and trainee dancer (Jayati Chakraborty).
  • Music impulses from a Turkish album, Jeff Buckley’s ‘Lilac Wine’ and an unusual theka of the 15 matra Pancham Sawari taal often performed in Kathak
  • A 7 year old email from Imtiaz Dharker touching on the associations of the pomegranate especially for someone from an Islamic background
These were – or rather became – the impulses for one of the pieces in Dreamed, the piece which has developed to become the fulcrum of the whole performance, a piece which talks about memories real and imagined, about times and opportunities gone by, about loss, about bittersweet regret, and about future hope that springs from the debris of lives half lived. 

'ANKUR 2011' - Call for Applications

Committed to nurturing new talents in and new audiences for Indian performing arts, Ranan initiated ‘Ankur’, an annual event for emerging talent in the Indian classical dance, in 2004.
‘Ankur 2011’ is scheduled for 16 September at Gyan Manch, Calcutta this year and will form the second evening of the annual programme of Brindar - Ranan’s Kathak training wing. Applications for solo recitals in any classical dance are invited from prospective participants between the ages of 18 and 30 as on 1 July 2011.

05 May 2011

Premiere of 'Return' and 'Dreamed'

Ranan announces the premiere shows of a double bill of work reflecting both our roots in classical dance and our experimental creative processes.
Return and Dreamed premiere on 20, 21 and 22 May 2011 at Gyan Manch, Calcutta.
For more information on the productions and regular blog posts, click here

How does one reconnect to one's own art, how does one return?
How does one knit together Kathak; fragments of text by Peter Barnes, Imtiaz Dharker, Tariq Ali and Anjum Katyal; classic songs by the like of Simon & Garfunkel and Harry Belafonte; and an exploration of desire, yearning and loss? Hmm...

read on...