An audio-video-choreo trio
Photos courtesy: Drishtikon Foundation
June 29, 2020
Among the plethora of online products let loose in the current depressing situation of enforced isolation and solitude, Within... from Within stands out with its excellence. Produced by Aditi Mangaldas and Drishtikon Foundation - well known for their prowess in innovative Kathak - in collaboration with Raw Mango and #ArtMatters / Teamwork Arts, versatility is writ large on every frame of the production, both in terms of choreographic imagination and the brilliance of the audio-visual technology at the dancers' disposal. Brought out in a highly laudatory effort of fund-raising for distressed artistes, the outcome is entirely satisfactory both from aesthetic as well as technical points of view.
Clarifying the technical angle first, the footage used was from the original Within recorded in 2018, intermingled with fresh inspirations in Mumbai, Germany and elsewhere from the seclusion of their homes in May 2020, using the challenge of the dancers now performing in situ. Says Aditi, "I defined the locations entirely, but doing the new recording and cleverly editing the total footage was done by my colleague Kuldeep Gaur of Mad Media House in a most ingenious manner." Adds Kuldeep in a detailed note, "For me, working with Aditi is always fun. I am already a big fan of her dance art. When I was approached for these films and heard the cause of raising funds for struggling artistes due to the pandemic, I was happy to contribute towards this good cause. We have done films earlier. This time I got a chance to present her art in a shorter and different way, especially when we were working at a distance/remotely. She is really good at briefing, though it wasn't easy to choose the required bit of music from a performance of over an hour and also setting different visual parts of the performance along with real-time home performances, according to the required sense/feel. She suggested options and we finalised the best one. It was a real challenge to cross all these obstacles in an artistic and professional way but the mood, the art, the talent and the cause just made it important to make it happen. I wish the fundraiser goes off really well."
The first offering is Entwined that creates the mood of an eternal yearning to fly out of the bondage of the body and the spirit into eternity. Its motto is, "Exploring our innermost spaces where humanity and brutality, good and bad seem to lie in half embrace". The fresh faced dancer gesticulates gently on the sea-beach at the break of dawn, to fly away into the evermore, while the pained, contorted, grimacing countenance of the second dancer captures the anguish. Aditi and Tripti create an unforgettable ambience. (video)
The second, Meltdown is in stark contrast, a build-up of frenzy and restlessness. Here the message is, "Waiting to be disentangled. Waiting to find expression in ways that shape our lives, our actions, ourselves." The translucent glass catches the tortured soul, followed by running through blind alleys, pirouetting on rooftops, inside water tanks and the forlorn sea face of Singapore. Dancers bump into mirrors, crawl on floors, disappear into huge reservoirs and even melt inside containers with acid solutions. And group gesticulations and chakradhars dissolve into the same caged soul, a very disturbing action replay! (video)
The third episode Enframed is again a study in contrast. Aditi's solo sit-down Bhao (a la Pt. Birju Maharaj!) inside a gilded frame - to the accompaniment of Kumar Gandharva's immortal lyrical thumri -- with silhouetted Kathak dancer-duo flanking both sides and performing chaste abhinaya remain etched in memory despite its brevity. The motto here has been, "Waiting to be disentangled. Waiting to find expression in ways that shape our lives, our actions, our selves." (video)
The fourth Wrapped is another outpouring of tortured spirits. Near mummified figures of multiple dancers begin almost on self-exploration - with the anguished lines by Lal Ded, the Kashmiri poetess from the Middle Ages. The veils drop and the ecstatic dance takes over. Filmed over multiple locations, it is one of the technically cleverest productions, with multiplexing frames, frequent fade-outs and fade-ins, and whirling Kathak with virtuosity performance. The guideline is a quote: "To understand yourself you must create a mirror that reflects accurately what you are..."- J. Krishnamurti.
The penultimate piece is Unravel, with a pair of peeping eyes unraveling externalities, and often with deep set emotions of wonderment, distaste, contempt, joy or sheer enjoyment. The exteriors offer apparent yogic postures, structured dance movements dissolving into solo, triple to ultimately multiple swirling bodies. The prying eye through wire maze or sheer curios eyes keep the scrutiny on. Music with Isha Sherawat and 'Diffused Beats' by Sound Reasons provide some continuity from the overture Entwined. The byline is: "Do the times compel us to look 'within'? To recognise our deepest, most complex emotions?" (video)
The final piece Empassion raises a quintessentially existential question from Jiddu Krishnamurti's repertoire: "Only in the understanding of what is, is there freedom from what is." It has sthiti to gati, frenzied circularity to absolute stillness, and an incredible mélange of venues used creatively by the dancers. By far the longest piece exceeding two minutes, the choreography too is amazingly varied, especially Kathak transcending into Turkey's Dervishes' swirls, hand-clappings and beating thighs, arms and shoulders. Undoubtedly, this is Aditi's best handiwork in this genre.
To summarize for visual effects, mix-and-match, caging in to silhouetting, camera rotating, spiraling, top-down, bottom-up and vertical top, up to wide-angle panning - among a myriad other - photographing positions are used. For audio, musical variety has been surprisingly low, mostly bordering on non-verbal minimalist music, such as, Knotted by Isha Sherawat and Diffused Beats by Sound Reasons allowing utmost liberty for the choreographer. Three musical gems, namely, a Pt. Kumar Gandharva composition Aajra din dooba... a Lal Ded verse in Kashmiri translated in English; Wrapped up in yourself... by Ranjit Hoskote as recitation; and a Hazrat Shah Niaz ghazal Yaar ko humne... are used. Music is rendered by Faraz Ahmed, Ashish Gangani, Mohit Gangani and Shahnawaz Khan.
Dancers who sent their clippings are from among the highly trained males and females - in numerous permutations and combinations - comprising, besides Aditi herself, Tripti Gupta, Gauri Diwakar (Delhi), Ishita Advani (Mumbai), Anshika Gupta, Sagar and Aamrapali Bhandari (Singapore), Harshit Tiwari (Agra), Sandeep Kumar Singh (Delhi), Minhaz Khan (Delhi), Piyush Shishodia (Delhi), Gaurav Bhatti (Canada), Anjana Kumari, Manoj Sonagra, Diksha Tripathi. They all danced from their respective households, roof-tops, alleys and bylanes in the new dispensation, creating - within a total span of less than a quarter of an hour - a collage of widest possible variety and laying down possibly the parameters of the "new normal", thanks to Aditi's highly creative genes!
Dr. Utpal K Banerjee is a scholar-commentator on performing arts over last four decades. He has authored 23 books on Indian art and culture, and 10 on Tagore studies. He served IGNCA as National Project Director, was a Tagore Research Scholar and is recipient of Padma Shri.
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