Whom did the Light Touch?

This film was commissioned by Fevered Sleep for This Grief Thing

In this film a vast landscape pulls together spaces to live within and hold before the day disappears. The film weaves dance, landscape and sounds to create atmospheres of loss, hope and companionship.

Artistic Direction, conceived and edited by Akshay Sharma

Composer, sound artist and cellist Nicole Robson

Direction and editing by Camilla Greenwell

Camera Op Andrew Ash

My Experiences with Truth

“How are you two related to each other?”, he asked me and my friend.

Puneet and I looked at each other bewildered, rather amused and gave him the facts. She is married to a man, who is not me and I am gay, and I didn’t say this to him. We wondered why an administrator of an arts building would ask us this rather ambiguous question. A few moments into this conversation we realised, Puneet before me, while I sit there with eyes longing for his generosity, that he was not willing to give the space to two dancers (how preposterous and queer!). The room was in the basement and heaven forbid we enjoyed ourselves in one of the dark corners feeling and sensing each others bodies. We left the building in haste, not wanting to spend one more moment of our precious time in a kilometre radius of his being. We were excruciatingly busy looking for space to dance and rehearse in the city to make a dance that nobody asked us to create. Who gives a shit about a little bit of creativity and art.

We had by now looked at more than ten very fine spaces in the city but to no avail. Government arts organisations were doing everything other than arts in their spaces and the biggest roughly 800 seat theatre with sprawling gardens, rehearsal rooms and a mini theatre politely refused space to us dancers. No rhyme or reason. Reason being they did not give space to dancers. How absurd and stupid I say. No rhyme or reason.

Many of these people failed to understand what we do. We are contemporary dancers we tell them. But what is that? The response was… I am sorry even I don’t know what contemporary dance is. It’s not something that can be explained but has to be felt I found myself thinking. How presumptuous of me. Dont give a flying…fox.

From private rooms in yoga teachers’ houses to classrooms in universities, to theatres and local celebrity theatre personalities, whom I am still waiting to meet to discuss the dwindling state of the arts in the city, nobody seemed to appreciate what we were about. I won’t go into discussing what the state of affairs in the country are like. Other countries boast of their state of the art facilities while I despaired at the state of the art in my hometown. 

Scene shifts to my friend’s house. She has a small , rather cosy studio where she gives regular dance and yoga lessons. We decided that we will have to make do with that space for us to workshop ideas. I couldn’t say no with regular supply of teas and homemade Indian snacks, which just seemed to keep coming and were full of nutrition and health. She is kind, loving and healthy. A few moments into the rehearsal one morning her husband, a remarkably handsome man, decided to playfully wrestle her during one of the movement sequences. 

If it wasn’t one of the dark corners in the arts organisation, it was my dancer being smothered with love during rehearsals. I controlled my feelings and asked for an emergency meeting straight after healthy snacks. 

I called my father and asked him to call his men. His group of men seem to materialise from nowhere. My father has this uncanny ability to move furniture around and restructure and reorganise spaces without lifting a finger. An architect that never was. Drawing room no longer operational as it didn’t have furniture anymore. You can’t have a lounge without something to lounge on right? The space was quickly transformed into an open space. Kill me if I say studio. December in the north of India can be cruel. While I try and feel the space and my friend investigates how to express and explore the phrase “ meteors burning on the flesh” the winter cold sent a shiver up my balls and my spine. 

Next day my friend entered my drawing room to fifteen candles burning to keep the room warm. The warmth made us ignore the carbon in the room. Oh please climate did change in there. Only thing, I left a candle under the glass. It developed a sharp crack and the fault ruptured to dismantle the glass shelf and my Buddha found himself on the floor along with my desires. On another note I was exploring faults and ruptures in my dance. I for one did not expect a demonstration.

This is not OK. This can definitely not be the way forward. The expectation from artists has to go hand in hand with the care the society is willing to give the community of artists. Is it too much to ask an arts organisation that it serves to make artists life easier? There is too much to battle and too much at stake and no amount of bravery or perseverance can win against this horror of a system. We can do better. We need to do better. 

Preoccupations

What does practice mean in the absence of work and traditional ways in which we materialise our dance, i.e, classes, workshops, residencies, work. Daily conditioning of our bodies, improvising to house music, meditation, walks, chats, observation when space has contracted to the floor of our rooms, chair in the kitchen, sofa in the lobby. Room dancing and thinking has enlarged the possibilities of this body even though space asks me to reassess my limits. 

What would decolonised dance look like? Do our ideas around reading space and time also need to change to plan a re-configuration of new dances.

Phrase-less dances and long improvisations that allow expansion and contraction of space and attention and take a leap of imagination. What modes of being surface when we watch dance and allow for that dance to be witnessed over a period of time. The solo in the solo dancing in an i-sol-ated landscape, creating and producing geographies of imagination that build new connections and ways of nurturing growth.

How do I nurture a desire to dance and is dance the heart of the matter? What is the theater of dance, the music of dance, the maths of this dance – many dances, not one, not a singular dance. It contains my history. Not the form of it. The dance of it – my education, my interests, my family history, my preoccupations.

Labour. Intellect vs manual labour. To do and to understand. To understand and to do. The physical commitment, the immersion, the suspension of belief, to value the never exhausting power that lies in the moving body. To rejoice in the sweat, the warmth, the poetry.

Some questions on Labour

Awarded as part of Kalasangam’s Artist Takeover Residency in Bradford in 2017, I decided to explore some questions related to labour, dance and manual work. Manual- ness of work rather than manual work. This was a fruitful time of dancing just outside educational structures and has made me look at the practice of labour in my dance.

Labourers in the act of daily work in New Delhi.

Solo work in progress

Filmed by Anmol Khurana

First proposed as a solidarity to the wave of protests seen across India in the winter of 2019. A cry to create space for desire, power and freedom. To the moving and the movement.

It was a mess of religion and politics and cows and country and citizenship, and corruption and pollution, deaths and division, and countries and infrastructure and no studio space, no performance space no rehearsal space and finding and searching and looking and supporting and getting hit and getting hurt and police and violence and education and students and learning and sitting and shouting and marching and going towards and running away and despair and noise and fear and hope.

Audience reaction:

 “I saw your performance … and I was left awestruck. Your movements are like water”

“Surreal”

Supported by Chandigarh Sangeet Natak Akademi. Thanking Puneet Jewandah, Mallika Chabba Harleen Duggal and Louisa Borgcostanzi-Potts for their friendship and continued support.

A Fragile Geography

A Fragile Geography is a delicate trio of connection, intimacy and offerings in a world growing old everyday. This dance came about in a three week residency at Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Leeds as part of Northern Connections.

Performers : Kathryn Hewison, Akshay Sharma and Isobel Ripley

Duration : 20 mins

Performed at The Riley Theater, Leeds

Supported by Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Leeds, Yorkshire Dance, Leeds, Spin Arts and Arts Council England.