Edges series (2015-2018)
This series comprises three solos and a duet- all of them based on the imagination of the dancing body as an entity physically tied to elements in its surrounding space. As Meghna proposes, the connections across the four works- Edges (solo), Edges (duet), Edges(beginnings), and Edges (beams)- have been processed by herself not just physically, inside a studio space, but also through textual activities such as writing, metaphorising, and sketching. The works have been developed by Meghna primarily over several dance and choreography residencies, and in collaboration with various artists, namely Delhi based sound and film artist Priya Sen, dancer and UCLA based PhD student Sanchita Sharma, Boston based sound and visual artist Marcel Zaes, and Finland based visual artist and film-maker Jan Eerala. The latest in the series, Edges (beams) was created and performed by Meghna in August 2018, in collaboration with Marcel Zaes, and was commissioned by Prohelvetia- Swiss Arts Council, New Delhi. At this stage, Meghna is interested in developing the movement vocabulary she has created with Edges into an everyday studio-practice and a movement research module that bases itself on two synchronic activities- moving and writing. Following are two text pieces Meghna devised and displayed as part of Edges trilogy at March Dance, 2018, supported by Basement 21 collective, and Goethe-Institut, Chennai.
March 1, 2017
I found the word ‘Edges’ at Gati Summer Dance Residency 2015. In order to avoid the pressure of justifying a textually loaded ‘concept’ with something as ungraspable in time as movement, I decided I would create a dance simply out of imagining a table around my body. As I started this experiment, I learnt how veteran choreographer William Forsythe had already created ‘One Flat Thing’, in that made a statement on melting ice and global warming. I decided to still own it up, and excavate what the table could bring to me in my particular capacities of movement and thinking. Slowly, what emerged was read by the viewers as a ‘grid-like space’, wherein my body would be seen obsessing itself with ‘measurements’ and ‘geometries’. As Priya Sen, the sound designer entered my rehearsals, she responded to my movements with sounds that would transport me and the on-lookers to an imagination of a ‘construction site’. What was interesting for me to observe at that moment was how the ‘dampness’ and ‘enclosed-ness’ of a construction site, that I would begin to feel while dancing to Priya’s music, had introduced into my movements the feeling of ‘emptying’. ‘Edges’ at that moment was the best-suited title I could think for this 8 minutes solo I had created.
It took about a year for me to find a chance to re-enter this work after it was premiered in 2015. In 2016, I applied to Gati again and got chosen to be an Artist-in-Residence for three months. My selection at Gati had also coincided with my selection at PECDA 2016 in Chennai. So I was fully encouraged to provoke my solo in order to come up with something new. Creating a duet looked most plausible as Sanchita Sharma, my closest dancer-friend was available to get involved with me. We began spending hours and hours in Gati, imagining/moving/writing possibilities of interpreting ‘Edges’ with two bodies. This was also the time I realised how delicate a matter of choreographing two bodies was, since the number ‘two’ has so strongly embedded in it a clear sense of binary. As we began to engage with this inherent tension of the number ‘two’, ‘Edges’ from having been the edges of walls, tables, glass, wood, and other construction-site materials now shifted to become the edges of two bodies against each other. A sense of spatial constraint that was only imagined in my solo, had now become a lot more ‘real’ for me in the way how the fiction of a table was now replaced by an actual and other moving human body.
‘Emptying’ along with/juxtaposed to ‘edgy-ness’ as an impulse had prevailed in my body throughout this process. And each time I would evoke it in my movement, breath would almost become both the catalyst and the affect. Soon after PECDA, I began learning ‘Somatics’ with Navtej Johar which completely changed the world of my movement. Navtej’s sensitivity to nature in his practice became really fascinating to me. My engagement with breath, and in that, the internal environment of my body became much dense. Around the same time, I happened to watch a film from the renowned Physicist Richard Feynman, who’s pre-occupation with simplicity and beauty with regard to science completely shifted my perspective towards what I wanted to do with dance. Now I wanted to create not visuals but feelings with dance- feelings as simple as touching.
My search further led me to Jan Eerala and his immersive films on ice and water. FACETS as a chance to intimately engage with it happened to me soon after. Interestingly, this was also the time when I had nearly stopped thinking about ‘Edges’ (solo and duet) as merely 10-12 minutes short pieces that I had happened to create, except that I was fully aware that what it meant to have a ‘process of creating’ had slowly started making sense to me only post these two explorations. With this mind-set of wanting to move on from ‘Edges’ to create something new, I found myself avoiding anything to do with ‘creaky’ sounds- something that had had a prolonged presence and influence in my rehearsals during the making of both these pieces. Little did I know, that even if I was pretty done with ‘creaks’, my body was still dwelling on it through its own memories. This is why, however much I would avoid crackling movements that my body would produce, I would not be able to. Also with Jan’s films that would usually be playing on a projector in my rehearsal during FACETS, it was always hard to avoid this crackling given its predominance in the films’ soundscape.
The confrontation that I still needed to go back to crackling coincided with Marcel Zaes’ (the sound composer for Edges (beginnings) arrival. And as soon as I told this choice of sound to Marcel, given his brilliance at abstracting sounds, he took no time in bringing to this work something that not only became the sound composition but the emotional state, the atmosphere of this work. Marcel and I together had arrived at a unison that comprised my movements, the sound, visual scape from Jan’s films breathing together with each other. The title then was not at all hard to choose anymore since it was no new journey made but only a journey made further ahead from where I had been for the last two years. I had found edges that were now even beyond body, edges that needed no particular form, edges that had breath and life of their own with me, sound, and visuals only being their bearers.
For me, it is immensely empowering to surrender to the process and let it reveal itself. ‘Edges’ this time had revealed themselves to me. The breath and life in these edges, the way they had made me wonder about embodying discontinuous rhythmic structures, have now been urging me to think about ‘continuity’. It amazes me to realise that the cracks and damages through which I have processed edges into my work actually somehow indicate how life is a matter of ‘carrying on’. Continuity then becomes the word with which I am starting to define my present quest. As if what I want to do is go back to conventional instrumental rhythms. As if I need to get rid of the glitch, the hesitation, the commas in my movements, and be ready to dance long, languid, endless strokes in space.
Edges (beginnings). Image credit: Marcel Zaes
“Writing follows life like its shadow, extends it, hears it, engraves it.”- Helene Cixous
If one were to simply replace the term ‘life’ with ‘movement’ in this sentence, with which the feminist writer Cixous is able to weave together a whole discourse on the human act of writing, one might just be able to immediately grasp an extremely perplexed relationship between movement and text that has been preoccupying most contemporary dancers and dance-makers like me. As I think about it, since both acts of ‘moving’ and ‘writing’ are fundamental conditions of human life, comprising the most preliminary human responses to the instincts of perceiving, inventing, and preserving, dance happens at a moment when the two necessarily intersect. I wonder if dance, in that sense, could be thought of as a method of translation. Perhaps, a constant shifting/sifting between word and movement.
My three acts of translating during Edges (beginnings): One was typing “water, films” on google search engine- the two words motivated by my experience of having seen Bill Viola’s Tristan Ascension on the YouTube quite recently then. The google search eventually led me to Finland based artist, Jan Eerala’s body of film and sound works, which I would perceive in the following words: “ice, crackle, creaks, touching, melting, slipping, sliding, shifting….” This could at once mean I had arrived at the subtext with which I could begin creating movements inside the studio. However, I would rather say I had arrived at words with which I could make the movements my body had already been producing graspable, repeatable, accessible, and for the lack of a better word, meaningful, to my own self through the medium of text.
Second was drawing on a piece of paper my imagination of the kind of lines I was making in space, and assigning to each a word, and in that assigning a quality, a texture, a rhythm. This was also partially an act of composing, since by drawing I was also intending to arrive at a possible sequence across: “crackle-ing, creak-ing, melt-ing, slip-ing, slid-ing, shift-ing….” This act of composing would necessarily be completed by the logics of transitioning (that is, for instance from crackling to slipping to sliding) that my body would arrive at after several improvisations. In other words, it would be completed by more sub-text (self-instructions and resolutions) that my body would produce with its modes of performing these above words, which is as follows: “being heavy or light, falling, stretching to release, initiating from the pelvis, evoking/feeling exhaustion….”.
The two sketches I came up with during this act:
And a digitalised merger of the two by Marcel Zaes:
The third act was that of metaphorising. The text that I wrote to be shared with the audience illustrates this act as follows: “Having found a subconscious connection with my previous explorations with the same title, this work-in- progress wonders at the creaks, cracks, and ruptures that the body lives every day. In Japanese culture, there is a long tradition of painting gold in the fractures of ceramic pots owing to a belief that when something suffers a damage, it becomes more beautiful. Artist Jan Eerala, one of the starting points and the strongest source of inspiration for this piece, has a magnificent perspective on cracks appearing in nature in his body of filmworks. Eerala’s films capture the power with which nature accepts and celebrates its fragility, defying wildly yet with utmost grace any sort of man-made systems of space and time. So far, my bodily interpretation of edges was guided by an imagination of constraints and limitations, Eerala’s vision inspired me to look for breath and life in the edges.”
As I retrospect at this moment, the reasons for metaphorising, apart from that it was supposed to be done to supplement the sharing of the final performance, were several. Such as to arrive at a sense of emotional inspiration. To arrive at a sense of motivation to do the performance at all and do it again. To value, alongside the sharable content of the movement, also the bruises, the pain, the intensity with which I had got myself involved into the process. To find a reasoning that could consolidate the scattered-ness of my movements into a graspable entity; and that which would inspire me to suffix the beautiful term ‘beginnings’ to the title!