Outlands showcases work by three female choreographers, Hema Bharathi Palani and Ronita Mookerji from India and Emma Jayne Park from the UK. All three choreographers were commissioned through The BENCH, 2Faced Dance’s training scheme for choreographers. Part of UK-India Year of Culture 2017, the programme is presented as an opportunity for “context to context conversations”.
There is a definite through line: each work speaks of entrapment, anxiety, self-definition, preservation and empowerment. Aesthetically, it’s all about the hands and their gaze. Fast moving, frantic hands that need to be occupied, hands that reach out; to seize something beyond reach, or to ask us for something. Each has a complexity and precision of movement, a parred down vocabulary that is carefully worked. In each there are moments of piercing stillness, when the performer looks directly at the audience, implicating us in their pain and situation. There’s an overwhelming sense of desperation that pervades the programme, but equally tremendous strength.
Ostensibly, Ronita Mookerji’s WHO revolves around the question ‘what is my true identity?’ It also appears to speak of desolation of another kind, something less existential. Shredded clothes and tousled hair intimate squalor and there’s a dirty, scatological rawness to some of Mookerji and her partner’s movements – squatted scuttling, hair pulling tantrums, tongues lolling out of mouths, gurning faces. These are human beings, trapped, not only in questions of identity, but by the lack of necessities of some kind – there’s the dark, brutal poverty of hope here.
Emma Jayne Park said she would “never make a show about having cancer”. It’s Not Over Yet is a show about having cancer, but it feels distanced from Park as a ‘sufferer’. It is about illness, grief, the loneliness of a ‘predicament’, but it’s also concerned with the power and complexity of self-representation. It’s a fierce struggle to ‘be strong’, but also to be more than a fight with an illness. It strives to communicate pain, but simultaneously reveals an anger, ache and distress that cannot, in actuality, be shared.
Trained in Bharatanatyam, Hema Bharathi Palani’s movement in Yashti is clearly indebted to, and bridled by, the particularities and pressures of the form. I became acutely aware of contradictory rhythms at play – heart beats, foot work, music, vocal rhythms – each in demanding conversation with precise and exacting movement. Agile hands that would form communicative mudras, symbolic hand gestures in Indian dance, become frantic and increasingly complex. Alien to her own body at times, Palani holds her hands at a distance. There is fatigue too – a lethargy and weight to her movement that, at times, has an astounding tranquil grace – but it is disquieting. It is a struggle to maintain solidity, and subjectivity, in the face of expectation and control. These tensions come to a head when Palani pours a cascade of Ghungroo, small round bells used for anklets, to the floor. The sound is overwhelming, disjointed, penetrating – a protest.
Outlands is touring until 10 October 2017. Click here for more details.