We enter the Siddhartha hall of Max Mueller Bhavan, a space enclosed by stark white walls to find an imposing box of bright white light, turned on its side. The shuffle of our feet and the rustle of our clothes seem to mar the integrity of this sterile space till we realise the presence of the performer. At once, our conceptions of performance as a divide between performer and audience, the body of the performer and the performance space are shattered. As this piece, titled, Beautiful Thing 2, unfolds, Padmini Chettur moves impassively through the length of the room in clean straight lines, in stark white light. The performance expands from the performer to the space, melting the boundary between the two. Padmini Chettur performs the geometry and repetition in dance while Zuleikha Chaudhari creates the physical angles within which this drama unfolds, unornamented, broken down to the basic. The piece questions the very formation of contemporary dance as a form.
In this tête-à-tête, Padmini and Zuleikha talk about the structures and abandonments of a body in a space, providing us with dots to connect in as abstract or constrained a shape as we please. How do movement and meaning find each other? We ask them big things. We ask them about Light and Time and Bodies and Audiences. And they respond, in turn, with minute instances and even larger propositions.
Body and architecture:
Padmini Chettur: My research on body began at a point in my early twenties after a fifteen-year practice in Bharatanatyam and a few years of working with Chandralekha. I could begin to see and reflect with detachment upon the many layers of conditioning, patterning aesthetics and constructions - those that were devised hundreds of years ago as well as those that were conveniently added along the way - that had been imposed upon my body.
Depriving and deleting the body's own instinctive and more logical structuralism and intuition.
I wanted to unlearn.
Joint by joint, muscle by muscle, I began with my colleague Krishna Devanandan, to let go of stylistic movement habits, to dig deeper into the skeleton of body, to re-look at our trajectory from childhood to 'affectation', and this work is never ending.
It has brought me, and hopefully the other bodies I have influenced into an endless questioning, unlearning and relearning, with the immense visual tension of the horizontal line.
Zuleikha Chaudhari: Body as an object/form.
Body as a measure.
Body as a constructor of place.
The diversity of time, the intensity of time or time in particular is what individuates us more than anything else. Everyone's relationship to their own time is extremely personal, private and singular. Duration becomes a subtext of how the body experiences and responds to place.
Architecture as a structure: structures which connect one place to another, a time to another, an idea to another, one body to another.
Structure which is a three-dimensional drawing in space - an object and a diagram and a scenario waiting for things to happen.
Light and Noise:
ZC: Light and sound as experiential and sensorial measures: Light is time.
It is precisely the explanation that contemporary astrophysics gives for this darkness that I would now like to discuss. In an expanding universe, the most remote galaxies move away from us at a speed so great that their light is never able to reach us. What we perceive as the darkness of the heavens is this light that, though traveling toward us, cannot reach us, since the galaxies from which the light originates move away from us at a velocity greater than the speed of light. -"What is The Contemporary", Giorgo Agamben
PC: The fact that my own treatment of movement has been about looking for detail and complexity has made speed itself problematic. The 'slowing' down of movement or the fact that the passage of time feels extended is not merely a deliberate choice, but also a necessity to fulfill all the criterion of moving.
ZC: What animates movement?
What fragments movement?
What dislocates movement?
What disorients movement?
What is inside and when does the inside become the outside?
Are inside and outside a matter of perception and perspective rather than a physical/spatial positioning?
What is the relationship of physical actions in space with place?
Time and Space:
PC: Both 'PUSHED' (2008) and Beautiful Thing 2 (2011) are works that play with what I call the traveling image. The notion that image contains space, and that the carrying of space across the horizontal allows for a very clear trajectory for both the 'mover' and the viewer to follow. I like the fact that then time becomes a parameter for this crossing and is therefore intrinsically connected to space.
Time and space together become a little like a dotted line that the body must draw as it moves.
What is then open is the space between the dots and the quality of how one connects.
ZC: I am more excited by place (not location. not site).
To be at all - to exist in - any way is to be somewhere , and to be somewhere is to be in some kind of place.
" The Fate of Place", -Edward Casey.
The making and unmaking of place and the measure of it.
Place is in constant change/flux /motion/happening.
It is a verb and an action.
It is poetry it is speculation it is fact it is analysis it is a gesture.
A thing which is also a depiction which is also an experience.
Place is an event.
Form and Audience:
PC: In a sense, traditionally the 'form' of showing dance has been performance, and one of the challenges for the contemporary dancer is to re-look at the notions of performance that we are still asked to fulfill. Entertainment, spectacularity, the proscenium, audiences who sit in darkness, dancers struggling under the glare of sidelight and the most problematic: performativeness.
As performative spaces and curators struggle to open their minds to the provocations of the non-spectacle, or even more challenging performative propositions, I honestly think that it is time for the artists who create to undo the currently existing hierarchy and power equations between the 'show-ers' and the 'do-ers'. We are currently controlled and being dictated. The content, form and identity of dance is being subtly directed by hegemonies, both outside and within the context. The real question at the moment is this - if I do not accept, or refuse, these performative contracts, will I stop being a dancer? Is my work on body and space only to be assessed if I fulfill the rules of mainstream artistic protocol? How many people must I entertain every year to validate my existence as a choreographer? How will I share methodology and research?
I would like to see a time now when we are supported not only to arrive at a product but for research and process, which I think we pay less and less attention to. This is what we must teach at dance schools and studios - ways to research investigate and interrogate. If not, we are headed towards the mass-production and consumption of mediocre uniformality. We will become clones of a single generic entity, 'the contemporary dancer'.
ZC: A metal frame contains space, or the space contains a metal frame, depending on the way you look at it. To turn. Take a moment | to feel your head balancing on your neck. Of grouping. The metal meets wood at an angle that begs replacement. To distill. Are your arms supported | to help maintain the position of your trunk and shoulders? To simplify. Are your shoulders back? Is your back straight? Is your body weight distributed evenly | on both hips? Are both your feet squarely on the ground? Of symmetry. The light is bright, so you walk around. This is a container, containing you. Of tides. It stands still, you move. Of refraction. It moves, you stand still. Occasionally | you take a deeper breath. Of context. Can you see the form? Of layering. You know exactly where you are. -"Relocate", Rehaan Engineer and Himali Singh Soin.
As told to Manjari Kaul, a writer living and working in Delhi.
Padmini Chettur is a contemporary dancer and choreographer with trained in Bharatanatyam. She spent ten years working with Chandralekha, during which Chettur began her own research of the body's geometry and its relationship with space. This politic of developing a contemporary dance idiom continues in her work.
Zuleikha Chaudhari is a theatre director and lighting designer based in New Delhi.
Beautiful Thing 2 was performed by Padmini Chettur with a light installation by Zuleikha Chaudhari at Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi in November 2012 during IGNITE, a festival of contemporary dance organized by The Gati Dance Forum.
Form is a bookshelf holding books, a spine of a book holding its pages. It is the architecture after the architect. Just as gravity holds the earth down even as it floats in some larger space; just as the body holds a consciousness, even as it daydreams outside of it. It is a line bent into a symbol, droplets of mercury constrained in a thermometer. It is a molecular bond, it is our minds finding habit.Read More
By Padmini Chettur and Zuleikha Chaudhari, Issue 20, FORM: THE BODY LOCATED, March 2013