On October 15th I will be presenting a solo Bharatanatyam dance recital in Salzach Halle in Laufen, Germany. It will go on for no longer than 25 minutes, and can go almost utterly unnoticed in comparison to real Bharatanatyam performances that last about 1.5 hours consisting of an entire Margam (or, more fashionably, a set of elaborate compositions), live music, and your own Guru doing a striking Nattuvangam. I will be presenting two or three short pieces - an Alarippu, set to Tisra, A Kriti on the Ananda Tandava of Shiva, and a Deveranama on Krishna. Music will be played from a CD, and none of the compositions are mine.
I am no Bharatanatyam dancer. I have danced it all my life, fulfilled a variety of exams in it, performed it numerous times, but in a matter of definition, I am not a professional Bharatanatyam dancer. I do not earn my living from it, I do not perform it often (enough). Just to put things in perspective.
Bharatanatyam, for me is like a parent you disagree with, but no matter how strongly you argue with them and turn to the other side, they will quietly stay there. In your life. Patiently, waiting for you to calm down and come back. It is a rather private relationship.
This is my first Bharatanatyam solo since I do not recall how long a time, and my first public Bharatanatyam performance at all in the last 3 years. Needless to say, I am nervous about it. But in a way, this performance and the rehearsal period reflects light upon how far I have come in my journey in relationship to dance, and my very roots of it.
I am witnessing my fifth rather glorious autumn in Salzburg, out of which I have been teaching Bharatanatyam to non-Indians for three and a half years. And what I have learnt out of it is almost invisible in a way that a snake loses its skin and grows new ones. Losing the "Indianness" out of the "Indian" things about me and my work has been the most remarkable aspect of all of it. Teaching people to dance stories that mean nothing to them emotionally or logically, working with bodies that are very different from the bodies back "home", applying aesthetics of an entirely different culture onto something completely different, all of which while making sure you sustain their interest in engaging with this oddity. I do not presume to believe that even I entirely understand the transition that I went through with this experience.
What I definitely do know is that it helped me put this art form entirely out of its context and renew my personal meaning and understanding of it. Of course, one cannot take the India out of Bharatanatyam and vice versa, but to understand it in a bigger context, (for me) to find its relevance in a world that seems to move and change at an insane pace, is nothing short of a blessing. It somehow allows me to make sense of myself in the bigger picture. Like I said, rather private a relationship.
By the way, the performance starts at 19:00 at Salzach Halle in Laufen, right across the border from Salzburg. Any of you that is close by and have an evening to spare (it is even a Saturday!), hold remote interests in cultural events or Weltladen, do drop by. It is free, plus there will be awesome food afterwards besides good company.
Ana Mrovlje is a Slovenian installation artiste specializing in psychoanalysis. Here she writes about one of her latest works titled "Another", presented in Trieste, Italy and Ljubljana, Slovenia earlier this year. She shares the the process of her work, the ground it stands on, and about the dialogue between her work as a psychoanalyst and as an artiste.
The idea for the installation of unmasked faces, titled Another, came from my study and observations of people’s artificial behaviours triggered by life and social situations. For a long time I was observing my own artificiality, which was undeniably a part of me, representing a reaction to something that moulded me into a certain mental shape. I started to think about masks as sediments, which were layered throughout our personalities.
With psychoanalysis being my other passion/profession, I am persuaded that a good art work can trigger a change in a person’s perception of themselves and others. It has the potential to boldly penetrate through the shallowness and touch deeper layers of our being. In this way I see art as a potential tool for a change on the collective level compared to psychoanalysis that focuses on the changes on the inner, personal levels of functioning.
During the period of two years of making the art installation of white unmasked faces, more than fifty people came to my atelier to challenge their ideas of who they might be, maskless. In the process of unmasking their face, each of the participants spent one hour with me in an indirect interaction in a complete silence. In that hour that person could not speak nor open their eyes. However, the silence loudly revealed the emotional state that they were in, through the feeling of the atmospheric presence. The masks on the wall represent the stories of very diverse individuals, including almost a hundred year old man with many stories to tell, blind people, mothers and daughters, the lonely and the satisfied.
This art piece was entangled in uncovering, revealing what was hidden but essential. I was searching for an unconditioned human face, a mental state of raw being, focused on existing without acting on one's thoughts. For me, this process was live sculpturing, similar to the technique that Leonardo Da Vinci called per via di levare, which means to remove and take away the unnecessary in order to extract and come to the essence - which is a sculpture (an unconditioned face) that was from the beginning contained in the rough stone.
When I started making a face cast, the level of communication between us rapidly transformed. People, tired by social automatisms, were asked to stay quiet, not to smile, speak or nod. Being robbed of their routine gestures, they sat down in front of me in the complete gesticulative nakedness. Experience of not activating the usual social moves while at the same time staying in interaction with me was new to most participants. After the process had been finished, the participants got their white, unmasked faces in their hands.
Jung clarified the meaning of persona as that which in reality one is not, but which oneself as well as others think one is. The whole process of making the installation was an artistic action of uncovering a person’s persona, the thick social layer of inauthenticity. This powerful leftovers, white masks that were included in the installation, served as a platform for a new, different experience to an outer observer. Lacan similarly challenged the idea of the real with the conceptualization of the mirror phase that happens in childhood, the moment when an infant sees themselves in a mirror as a whole being and not as a fragmented body. This event marks the beginning of the identification with the reflection of oneself which, according to Lacan, represents the beginning of the development of the ego. At the same time this integrated, corporal identity, paradoxically alienates us from ourselves and defines us as an outer body.
This idea of how we identify ourselves with the mirror image of our body became the wheel of the art piece I was creating. I wondered how the past images of ourselves are conditioning our present life and our interactions with other people. In the same way the past image history of others effect our perception of ourselves through their projections.
This led me to examine the underlying meaning of a mask, the meaning that does not focus on what can be hidden by the mask but rather on the secret potential that can be activated by a certain behaviour, by a specific mask. I began to explore the idea of how one can rediscover themselves by being covered, by being masked. Through the artistic process of making the face casts I gave emphasis on the present moment, on the raw experience rather than on people’s preconceptions of their perceived selves.
While peeling off the layers of inauthentic behaviours I started to think about the true medium of this art piece. The final installation of ceramic masks was in fact only a leftover of raw experiences of the participants. I was in fact working with the direct experience of people and myself in the creation of the art work. This process with each participant led me to learn about people’s emotional biographies through mutual experience that was presence based and not speech or gesture based. It was about sharing time between two people with no action necessary. At the end of the process, the question of how we wear our masks started to turn in to the question of how our masks wear us.
Claire Lefevre, a young contemporary choreographer/dance artiste based in Vienna, shares the 6 reasons why she is convinced that dance can change the world.
As I wake up each day, scared to look at the news, wondering who got shot today, how many
lost their lives to terrorism, to war, or to the horrors of escaping war and seeking refuge, I wonder
what I can do. And annoyingly, my answer usually end up being "not much".
The joy I find working as a choreographer is sometimes equally balanced by the frustration I
feel when looking at the bigger picture of the world I live and create in.
And this forces me to re-examine my practice, and wonder what contribution it actually
makes to society, what message is underlying in the performances I craft and to whom it is
delivered. Does it really have an impact? Is my audience not already sharing a similar set of
values/background/interests anyway? And thus I question, are we just dancing around in circles?
While some days I find it hard to stay hopeful when faced with such questions about what I
embraced as a professional activity, I am also still truly convinced that there are in facts many
things we can do, or that we do already as dance/performance/art makers to contribute to this
world's growth and change. Here is a list, which I hope will keep growing as I share it around:
– The way dance and performance are currently made is mostly based on collaboration.
Dah you may think. But it is still a very special approach: we as performers and makers,
accept the fact that to work together means to share ideas, to communicate, to compromise
and to open our minds to other individuals and their ways of understanding their own
practice. As a dancer, you may encounter creative processes which demand you dedicate
yourself fully to making someone else's vision come to life, hence checking your ego at the
door. Or you may be encouraged to take responsibility for your own portrayal of an idea. As
a choreographer, you are bound to trust others to embody your ideas and to give them
freedom to shift your own perspective on what you thought you would create. These are
wonderful/challenging skills to develop yet bring out news ways to relate to the world and
others around you as well.
– The dance world is diverse, displaying a rich mix of cultures. Yes there is still so much to
be done regarding equality and racism, even in our seemingly open-minded dance world.
Yet is is also a frame in which people from all around the world mix and exchange. I have
had the chance to train in three different countries, where I met people from such incredibly
diverse backgrounds. In school some of my fellow students were from all continents, they
were gay and straight, black white and asian, men, women, rich, broke, and with different
skills and abilities. This created such a rich ground for exchange and understanding which I
am not sure I could have experienced would I have chosen a different profession. And you
get to travel so much, seeing some of these places in person, which furthers your
comprehension of the world you live in.
– Your understanding of what "dance" means is always evolving. As one trains and
develops their own practice, the definition of the very medium they work with is constantly
shifting. Such flexibility is remarkable and shouldn't be taken for granted. It is amazing to
me to think what I used to consider "dance" when I first started contemporary and what my
understanding of it is now. The way we manage to reinvent our practice over the years
shows true creativity and open-mindedness as well as a willingness to grow and adapt to our
environment. Not a bad skill for world change!
– The body, the body, the body. It is always good to remember that in a world where people
are so scared of one another, dancer's willingness to get close, touch and breathe together is
still pretty much amazing. When most of our daily physical contact is limited to close
friends and relatives, there is something unique and special about the way dancers work with
their bodies, using their skin as a point of contact as opposed to a border between I and the
Other. This act of touching propels the dancing body into a frame where immediate intimacy
can be created, thus generating more closeness with strangers, as well as perhaps
encouraging the possibility of sharing personal space.
– Dance and performance always have the potential to be political. I would even go as far
as saying they somehow always are. Even if the topic of the work isn't directly addressing a
specific issue (although many decide to embrace this approach) the very act of letting
yourself be watched for example, is a pretty strong statement. Freedom of expression and of
movement, coming together as a group or stretching the audience's perception of time are all
subtle ways in which you challenge the "usual order of things". Moreover, let's not forget
that performance is pretty much as far as one can go in anti-capitalism process: Indeed you
spend money, time and resources in creating something that can only be bought once (a
ticket for a show) yet cannot be acquired (it is an experience, not a "thing" you may bring
home with you). It doesn't gain value and cannot be exactly duplicated either. Hence my
– It is the ultimate celebration of purposelessness: Maybe what is good to remember when
one gets overwhelmed and want to fight the system/change the world/make a difference is
that maybe dance doesn't have any defined goal and that in itself is a pretty revolutionary
stance. Do dedicate your time and efforts to something that may not serve something else.
Do it just for its own sake, without the need for it to be utilized or made profitable. In my
last working process in collaboration with Matan levkowich "Function Man" this is what we
realized and what gives me hope: ultimately maybe it is useless, but the commitment to
purposelessness is what makes invaluable.
So please add to the list and keep dancing!
Of all the things I have ever written or tried to write about, writing about art that I watched has been the crappiest. Especially, writing about art that has affected me in irreversible ways has been the worst.
You want to share what you felt, and by "you" I mean "I", you want to express how successful it was, you want to tell the others what they have missed out by not having seen it, and all you end up coming up with is just some mishmash of words that try sloppily, if not quite desperately, describe a piece work that has already done its job.
It is useless.
It is frustrating, has always been so, and this time around, I just decided to put all that nonsense aside and get on with figuring out what is it that I really want out of this lame exercise of writing about other people's works.
Then it occurred to me, quite shamefully, that it was not so much about telling others about the awesomeness of someone's work, it is simply an inability to contain the emotional upturn that the work caused in me, or a weak attempt at processing my internal perspective change, or a dreary effort at masking the terror invoked by having been left alone with my self-confrontation and such things.
This realisation particularly dawned upon me when I recently watched a performance with a very diverse cast. It was such a sense of feeling naked, of being exposed of our diversity induced isolation, the unique beauty of individual, all covered by the audience's desperate attempt at masking the discomfort of watching it with their loud applause. It was difficult to simply sit there and experience this feeling of vulnerability, while trying to let the applause wash over me without stirring this quiet internal concentration. It was a little bit like you found out that you have grown wings but in this exact moment everyone around you clapped because they didn't know what else to do. As baffling as it might be to suddenly grow wings, it is equally annoying to be disturbed while at it with an inappropriate applause. It is pissing off, to say the least. But the norm of a performance is that something good is applauded and so it shall be, regardless of whether it is appropriate or not. I had to spend days after that sorting out my own emotions about the piece, and those that came in reaction to the audience's reaction.
I also watched a performance of an artiste that once told me I think too much (obviously snubbed my fragile ego with that, or why else would I be still mulling over it). The irony of it all was how conceptual the work was, insanely intricate and thought out, I was laughing inside while occasionally enjoying all the conceptual thinking.
I often find myself being torn between being an artiste, a journalist and an audience. I think I slightly abuse one to fulfill the need of the other, and it is all a mess. What is so hard about being told that I think too much is that it precisely exposes this fear of having no control over my thinking abilities, abusing it to sort out my insecurity as an artiste. It is all f***ed up, really.
So I decided to make it transparent. To include it as a part of the creation process, because it is. The beginnings and the endings of what we put on stage are elsewhere. They do not begin or end on stage, they do not always bear witness. And sometimes they don't need to bear witness. Sometimes, they do.
This is an open blog - contributed by dancers, artistes and the artiste community to share their ideas, thoughts, questions, experiences and epiphanies; to share the processes of conception to creation, to share the journey of making art, the observations on life that fuel the making.
To begin with, sharing this trailer of a documentary on Argentinian dancers fighting for labour rights. There is a long road ahead.
Working Dancers Trailer