Shown at the Southbank Centre’s Alchemy Festival last week, Mandeep Raikhy Queen Size is a beautiful dance piece full of complexity and nuance, despite its relatively simple message. Created in response to Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalises homosexuality in India, the piece consists of a series of bite-size scenes, shown on a rolling basis over two and a half hours.
We are shown two men (Lalit Khatana and Parinay Mehra) in a darkened room, whose movements range from coy to sexually aggressive, from at peace and asleep to full of angst. Their movements are choreographed to stunning effect, their easy fluidity belying great technical skill. With Queen Size, the audience is presented with a reflection on privacy and freedom, and the lack of both allowed to gay people across all corners of the world – even in their own bedrooms.
The soundscape manages to be a deeply sensual reflection of the movements of the two men. The lack of music or loud external sounds forces a focus on the creaking of a charpai (a traditional Indian woven bed that the duo spend a lot of time on), a creaking that toes the line between sexy and sad. The beeping every few minutes that signifies the end of a scene gives the illusion of time limits; these men alone in a bedroom are never allowed to be together for too long.
The bed itself is also a perfect dramatic prop. The performers lie on it, jump across it, hide under it, and move it around the room. There’s something poignant about the way they lift and move the charpai together, and one scene in which they turn it upside down and lie inside it is perhaps the climax of the entire piece. With their bed now given a four-poster feel, they spoon next to one another, to the sound of an Indian politician condemning homosexuality in a speech. Their lack of movement here spoke for itself, and is one of the many times throughout the piece that feels deeply voyeuristic.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of Queen Size is the masterful way the audience is incorporated. Works in the round always have a sense of breaking down the walls between audience and performer, but they can also erode the walls between audience members themselves. Giving the spectators the freedom to enter and leave after each scene adds an awkwardness into the room that, coupled with the sexual energy, leaves one feeling unbalanced and insecure – entirely appropriately, for a piece like this.
As their movements become increasingly sexually explicit, the performers also become more and more invasive. Gripping an audience member’s leg, throwing discarded trousers on to a woman’s lap, sitting next to us, and moving the bed literally against peoples’ feet, Khatana and Mehra make the audience a part of the show, movement by gradual movement.
In 2000, the late gay, Indian activist Nishit Saran published an article in The Indian Express called ‘Why My Bedroom Habits Are Your Business’. Queen Size, by literally bringing its audience into a private bedroom, is making a similar assertion. The persecution of the LGBT+ community is everyone’s business. Want to watch? Well, you’re watching, and despite being free to leave and return at will, you’re still an intimate part of this. As Queen Size ends and its audience leaves for the last time, it feels as though they have been squarely asked the question: what are you going to do about it?
Queen Size was at the Southbank Centre’s Alchemy Festival on May 19th. For more details, click here.