Grant Period: Over two months
Chennai-based contemporary dancer and choreographer Preethi Athreya trained in Bharatnatyam under the Dhananjayans. She also holds a post graduate degree in Dance Studies from the Labon Centre, London, and has been working with the eminent choreographer Padmini Chettur since 1999. Some of her earlier works are Kamakshi, Inhabit and Porcelain and she has performed in various festivals across the world. She had earlier received a grant under IFA’s New Performance programme to create Light Doesn’t Have Arms to Carry Us, in 2012.
This grant supports her to create a performance piece that seeks to explore the body as a functional entity in contrast to its performative and productive being. Tentatively titled The Jumping Project, this work seeks to present the body outside the frameworks of the performative, competitive, virtuosic or aesthetic.
‘In the way the arts are fast developing in a globalised economy, we find ourselves in a capitalist system that values the body only if it is yoked to the cause of profit-making, where the functioning real body is obliterated’, Preethi says in her proposal. In this project, therefore, she hopes to focus on the functioning body in a performative space, as a counter point that resists the consumption of the body by the external ‘gaze’.
The idea of creating the space for such a counter culture is not new to the discourse of contemporary expression in dance in India. One of the pioneers of such resistive expression was Chandralekha herself, who reacted to the way ‘indianness’ was sold in the post-national period and employed a range of techniques that made the body’s mechanics visible in other ways. As a dancer who is inspired by Chandralekha’s politics of the body and its relationship to society, Preethi has inherited this need to see the body as an expression of one’s connection with the world. In all her works created since 2003, she has attempted to reclaim the body from various kinds of desensitisation that it is constantly subjected to. Even her more recent works Light Doesn’t Have Arms to Carry Us and Across Not Over (both supported by IFA) have explored a new poetics and philosophy of the body.
The Jumping Project is a natural extension of this exploration. ‘My desire has been to create an environment that values the immediacy of action over artistic interpretation’, she says. One of the foremost reasons for her to explore the physicality of jumping was its inherent paradox – a primeval impulse to escape and reach for freedom, while at the same time an expression of an inevitable fall, being bound by the forces of gravity. Choosing to work with a simple act such as jumping is of course not devoid of complexity or poetry. It offers her a new framework of rigour and beauty, which is not aimed at being decorative or clever, but honest, immediate and without premeditation.
Jumping as a physical act is not just common in artistic forms such as dance and theatre but also in other bodily disciplines such as sports and martial arts, where the decorative element is stripped off to reveal the mechanics of the body. So Preethi has chosen to work with ten people from diverse backgrounds including boxing, parkour, theatre, fitness, classical dance, jazz and ballet. The initial work was carried out in two phases earlier this year. The workshop was divided into a three-part activity. The first part was to prepare the participants to approach the inner mechanics of the body through somatic practices, breathing, posture, alignment, focus and reflex. The second part had trainers from boxing and parkour jointly devise a training system for the kind of impact and endurance the team needed to work towards. The third part of the work focused on composition. Preethi wrote the ‘scores’ for each performer, plotting the time and space of their movement.
Following this preparatory phase, a second work session in April 2015 led to the development of a half an hour work-in-progress piece. With this grant, the work will be developed further and refined choreographically into a complete performance. Preeti has started discussions with composers to create a sound score for the work that would allow ample room for silences and the sounds produced by the bodies themselves. She is also working with scenographers to design simple structures that would make the work adaptable to diverse kinds of spaces.
While endorsing this project, an external evaluator felt that this project ‘can be a point of departure for fruitful research that might reveal alternative arrangements meanings and aspects of the living body. Discovering the ‘functional body’ through the act of jumping could map out an interesting journey for this work and could possibly arrive upon insightful outputs.’ Another evaluator opines that ‘Preethi seems to be slowly narrowing down on something very central, and getting more and more elemental in her pursuit of autonomy - trying to locate the power and resistance of the body within the vertical, or perhaps at the intersection of the vertical and the horizontal planes, and that is very exciting.’ The evaluators’ comments helped the IFA team take a final decision on awarding this grant.
Preethi has received additional support for this project from the Alliance Francaise of Madras.
The Jumping Project performance is scheduled to premiere in Chennai early December 2015. Preethi hopes to share the work in three distinctly different environments such as a stage engaging contemporary sensibilities, a school and a sports and physical education centre.