Gati Residency- (July - August 2009)

A Dancers' journal.

Reminiscence of my experience at the Gati Residency through notes that were recorded in my Journal during the two months of residency.

The piece I proposed to create at the Gati residency was named 'MAYA' that explored the concept of Illusion of perception. To find a medium of expression through movement and music to communicate the essence of science and spirituality. The emphasis was on theory of relativity and exploring ways to express the illusion of time and perception.

Friday, July 3

Introduction meeting and residents presentations

Indian contemporary dancers are parallelly trained in multiple traditional art forms and to look for a movement vocabulary that expresses individuality without making it a fusion of different forms is in itself a challenge. I had to make my cup of tea choosing water from an ocean.

In the first meeting we were asked to talk about our intention and choreographic process with all the mentors and choreographers at Gati . Its one thing to be able to write a proposal and get selected to create a piece based on such an elaborate subject, but once you pass this hurdle comes the real challenge. I had to have a plan, a structure .. a plan to convince myself and also the mentors that I know what I am doing .But the truth was .. I did not have the slightest clue..

I sounded like a bundle of confusion when I said that I wanted to create a piece that would take the audience on a journey through time and play with their perception to feel that the piece did not happen because everything we perceive is an illusion.A piece about time travel where the performer travels faster than light .I drew parallels between infinity, parallel universe, multiple universes , black holes and principles of Indian spirituality.

The response from the mentors was simply amazing. I was allowed to feel confused and completely lost . I was not at the residency to have perfect answers but to question.

Sunday , July 5

Mentors meeting and presentation of their work

The mentors had the strength to steer the residency in different directions based on their expertise but they remained an out side eye with valuable feedback and guidance. They gave in valuable inputs that only a dancer would not be able to provide us with. For example It was interesting to get a theatre artists', choreographers' and a light designers' input on choreographic process and movement .They spoke about their work their approach to choreography, conceptualization, improvisation techniues, light design, use of other medias and research.

July 6th to 12th

First week of residency

The first week was a bit difficult , simply because I was not a resident of Delhi and I needed time to settle and get acquainted with a new city, co residents and mentors, hot weather , intense schedule and the feeling of being a resident choreographer. I felt like an island in the land of unknown physical and mental space.

I remember the first day of my creative process.I was given five hours to work at Siddhartha hall. A huge, pristine empty space that easily swallowed my presence. Perfect! Just what I wanted when I was feeling completely lost . My movement stratergy was to work with the concept of Thandava and laasya from the Indian classical form. The text of Soundarya lahari from which the piece was inspired talks about the play of opposite forces of Shiva and Shakthi. The constant loop of creation of destruction in the universe is symbolised by these elements and I had decided to create a movement vocabulary subjecting this element to different laws of physics like force,vacuum, energy, acceleration, momentum, centrifugal force and gravity. The movement that emerged was extensively vacuum.

Monday , July 3

First Mentor - choreographer meeting with Navtej Singh Johar

A week into the Residency I realized that all preconceived notions about how to create movement was failing .Navtej helped me realize that I have to subject the idea to different improvisational techniques to find a vocabulary that would become the language of the piece. I was going through a phase where I was creating movement that designed to work almost like a formula. He asked me not to hide behind my strengths because seldom are artistes given this luxury to fail and commit mistakes in the process of learning .

July 18th.Lighting workshop with Zulleikha at the National School of Drama.

We were at Bahumukh with Zulleika learning elementary techniques of lighting design.The workshop was at Bahumukh at the NSD where the residents could actually explore and play with lights . In other words it shed some light on how our pieces would be constructed. My piece was based on the illusion of light and the workshop was very valuable and helped me use light as a motif to explore illusion.We were also given a design of the theatre space where the piece would be staged and also the technical facilities that are available . We got to play with lights, with parcans, fressnels, Pcs, profiles and also projections.

Monday, July 20

Group presentation - all choreographers + mentors

The first presentation was a joke. I was lost . I had nothing to show. Did a few improvisations and remember Anusha telling me to shed my body memory at a very surface level to find something new. Anusha Lall suggested that I shed the body memory at a very surface level to discover something deeper. My movement exploration had resulted in small ridiculous sequences called ' Shiva drinking a cup of tea ' ,' Broken Laasya', ' Birth -rebirth' which were all thrown away.

The structure of the piece was in my head . I had managed to find a narrative that the the piece would have a begining and a similar end to represent infinity. . Had a breakthrough in my search for the perfect vocabulary when Maya.K.Rao asked me to explore a state of body where thandava meets the fetus . But really ' Thandava in a womb??? Trust me ! As crazy as it sounds it worked!

Thursday,July 30

Second mentor and Choreographer meeting

Meeting with Zulleika Allana. A young theatre director and Designer stepped into the process of creation at the ideal time. I had the whole piece structured theoretically and she insisted that I give myself a beginning and an end point and physically move from one point to another to let the journey evolve. It was a tendency to give up the path when I lost the flow from one idea to another . Everything seemed disjointed and things that worked in isolation failed when pieced together. I had to dance my journey through , to find the natural flow of events. Distortion is a choice that a choreographer makes and my piece required an organized chaos. Zulleikha helped me understand that I had to let the journey evolve and discover innumerable ways to get from one point to another by walking different paths.

Mandeep Raikhy came to watch one of my rehearsals and he helped me realize that apart from being a choreographer , I was also dancing the piece. He was able to focus on my dancing and pin point elements that I was neglecting. "My mind was being a choreographer while I was dancing and a dancer while choreographing . Therefore both my body and mind were lost!"

August 1 to 11

Finally my collaborator musician Suchet Malhotra stepped in .We had to work with the music in tandem with choreography as the illusion of time greatly relies on the rhythm structure and the texture of music used.

We decided to divide the length of the piece into a clock and divided into 12 equal timed divisions and further divided them into various aspects of the journey.We worked with the element of time cycles that repeats itself in the Rhythm sturucture.We worked with cycles of seasons, birth and death, day and night and circles in space and music exploring infinity. Felt a bit dizzy with all these possibilities..

Had to choose and discard many elements. (You can see the dizzy design of my clock piece in the picture)

Wednesday , August 12

Work in progress showing - all choreographers, mentors and invited guests

After two rehearsals (discussions ) with the musician the 'work in progress' had to be presented. It was quite a dramatic event .All the bugs and insects hiding in the underworld of Gati basement decided to watch the performance along with invited artistes and mentors.There was blood on the dance floor! :). The most dramatic performance ever held at Gati basement that had nothing to do with the choreography created by the residents.( The effects of monsoon on basements are quite dramatic)

All the choreographers presented a rough structure and were questioned and challenged differently . For my piece, every one said that it was too neat, too structured, too organized and not chaotic enough with respect to the concept that I was working with. 'Great ! I created something very predictable!.. not something that is explorative , challenging and experimental. I am playing it too safe'.

August 12 to 18

After the work in progress , I was convinced that I did not have a piece. I had to look at the piece in a new light , I had to start from scratch. Before creating the piece in a new perspective I had to scrap everything I had.

That is what I did.. I did not do anything for a whole week except have dance training with another choreographer/teacher . Two weeks left for the final performance and I did not have a piece. I went to the rehearsal space and actually spent time doing nothing for a week.

Gati had started printing and publicizing about the performance and they wanted to know if I still wanted to call my piece MAYA and asked for a brief write up. "What piece??? " ,"What MAYA?".

August 18th to 26

Thanks to Gati that all our sessions and showings were being documented. I got to review the piece through the video of 'work in progress' along with the musician . There were elements that worked but the journey just did not seem complete. We imbibed a lot of input from the feedback that the mentors and other artistes present at the showing had given . We retained elements that had worked .We could have revamped the piece or just redesigned to make it perfect but instead we just decided to evolve it further.

August 26th

Few days left for the final performance, two hours left for the informal showing at GAti , I am still in a choreographic chaos .ITs not happening! What was happening with the other choreographers ??? It was very unfortunate that everyone at the residency was an active component in the creation of the piece except for the co choreographers. The sole reason being we never got to cross paths during the rehearsal process and during presentations/ meetings it simply did not occur to any of us to give feed back and share with each other while sailing in the same boat.

Friday , August 28

Dress rehearsal

The residency was designed to conclude with a public performances in a proscenium theatre. The whole two months of residency , the focus remained pre dominantly on choreographic process and creating movement and not other elements of performance like light design, costumes, music and presentation. Its would have been different if the residency did not aim at a conventional performance in a controlled space where a few days would be dedicated for production.

We had the dress rehearsal at Habitat centre where everyone worked from 10pm to 6 am with lights. We got to run our pieces at 4am in the morning with droopy eyes and drowsy bodies.We managed to squeeze a week of production work into one night and get all the technical factors of a performance together in a matter of few hours. It was challenging and extremely tiring but we got to work in the performance space for a considerable amount of time. We could not achieve perfection but we managed to reach a level of presentability that worked for all the pieces.

Saturday, August 29


Wallah! Maya (Ewa calls it the Red piece) was ready...

The theatre was filled with art enthusiasts young and old. We could sense the love and support .

Amazing energy. Performance is just a cherry on top... the process is where the true cake lies...

When I went on stage, just before the lights came on, a huge realization dawned on me that I was in Delhi and the audience have no clue who I was but they were present to witness and support three young emerging choreographers. Thanked Gati for this euphoric feeling that I felt , as I danced my heart away.

Indian contemporary dance , a unique genre .. Where does it belong in the world scenario of contemporary dance. With multiple choice of traditonal art forms to inspire the movement vocabulary and with each art form having had a deep history and tradition ,it is not easy to define or categorize Indian Contemporary dance in India. Indian art has always been contemporary and has beautifully undergone changes in terms of conceptualization, treatment of subject or movement vocabulary.

A dance residency in India exclusively for Indian dancers and choreographers is a unique venture. There is abundant resources and talent but we lack proper platforms to channelize them . The numerous traditional art forms are a great source of inspiration and provide us with expansive raw material to create work with. But does one find an arena to create, experiment and explore within the frontiers of a classical form? The art forms have not confined exploration but the lack of space and opportunity to present and create seems like the only thing limiting artistes of India.

To have had two months of space to create, altruistic mentorship, funding to create work, production costs and living expenses covered , liberty to explore and create Individualistic work without restrictions of form , to focus on the process without the pressure of creating a product ,to have space for eccentricity balanced with professional pragmatism and to be a resident in a lovely city like Delhi with rendezvous with interesting people every day is truly a luxury for artistes in India.