UC3: Yes I see
- Kalpana Raghuraman
e-mail: kalpanarts@gmail.com
Photos: Simon Richardson

August 9, 2010

Through all the running, falling, sweating, and jumping, I could really feel the spirit of choreography flow through me. And I could sense this with my fellow artists as well: something was moving, shifting inside of us. We were all doing things we had never done before, potent and tough and fun!

I, like many young artists, am always ready in a heartbeat, for new opportunities, to take stock and to be seriously inspired. Speaking for myself, I can say that at times, I feel lost or isolated. Jumping out into the sea to swim to another island is not that easy without good swimming techniques or strong floaters. So when Kadam's Unlocking Creativity 3(UC3) summer school came into my vizier, I jumped at the opportunity: inspiring mentors who are not interested in hierarchy or absolute truths, but are there to provoke, evoke and invigorate!

A unique residential choreography course, specifically designed for dancers of South Asian dance genres, Kadam's UC3 was, for me, a fantastic opportunity to meet inspirational choreographers as well as fellow-travellers. It was a veritable banquet of creatively rich days and I was especially grateful for the exquisite sessions and discussions continuing outside the studio space, deep into the night, accompanied by drinks and laughter; unique opportunities to soak in pools of buzzing creative energy.

Besides the full-time presence of choreographers/mentors Hari Krishnan, Eva Recacha and Rama Vaidhyanathan, the presence of musicians Prathap Ramachandra, Jesse Bannister and Arun Ghosh was specifically meaningful. It was a breath of fresh air: the traditional hierarchal relationship between dancer/choreographer and musician was totally broken. It was inspirational to experience how these musicians can be very much part of the artistic process while serving the choreographic objective without getting caught up in musical do-s and don't-s. I also found it insightful of Kadam to include these musicians from the start for with Indian dance, music is such an integral part of the choreography. The summer school was designed around transposing and translating the importance of this integration into contemporary work and this artistic insight of Kadam made for a fresh and exciting process. It was a personal joy that the musicians present, were not only adept in various instruments, but also truly competent in playing diverse musical genres. This allowed for rich and surprising soundscapes to fill the air, which in turn inspired us to move and create in novel ways.

In the introductory session, Kali Chandrasegaran asked us to come up with the most outrageous thing about ourselves. The tone was set for the coming days: this was a meeting of very sincere, hard working, crazy people who were all outrageous in one way or the other!

Hari Krishnan had us create new movement material through exciting and challenging physical exercises in which we used our Indian dance technique. He showed us in this way, that it is not necessary to study Western contemporary dance to create contemporary choreographies. He pushed beyond the limits we thought we had, both physical and mental. During his first session, Hari had us jumping for one hour non-stop whilst doing different movements on the spot and in space. For example: we had to cross the studio and make turns while using different movements from our dance background; or make high leaps while crossing the space. Doing a brahmari while doing a tat-tai-ta-ha or a high leap while doing a ta-tai-tai-ta made these known movements look and feel so different. This way, Hari gave us a different experience of known movement material and opened the doors to the endless opportunity of how to treat them to create new movement material. After this first session, each muscle-aching step I took reminded me of Hari's relentlessness and faith in the dancers present: the only way is forward! These shared challenges created a strong bond between us, leading to massage sessions during tea and lunch breaks. Hari's constant triggering to 'mess it up' and to 'run with it all the way' got us to create phrases that surprised us constantly. He, for example, took off from the outrageous statements we had made of ourselves and asked us to translate this statement into movement. Afterwards, he asked us to use this movement phrase and then move with it in space by keeping our backs to the floor. Phrases that at first hand had seemed calm and symmetric became funny with legs in the air and interesting twists, and phrases that seemed funny in frontal position now got a very different feel to them, some vulnerable others cathartic.

What touched me most in Rama Vaidhyanathan's sessions is how she approaches Bharatanatyam with the eyes of a child, forever curious and ready to be surprised. She showed us how she transformed the oh so well known Alaripu into the completely breathtaking Mayur Alaripu, reminding me of how it all starts with a simple thought, a concept. Rama's session with Prathap was challenging to many because we were supposed to only let music guide us and prompt us to move. They had set up a simple jathi and the chollu was the guiding thread for the phrases we created. Since this chollu had many gaps, it led to interesting phrases. Some chose to completely follow the chollu with their movements, having pauses during the silences. Others filled the gaps in one part, and paused during other moments of silence, and then again others chose to completely ignore the structure of the chollu and had the jathi chollu katti work as a kind of soundscape to their movements.

The Spanish Eva Recacha, a Western contemporary choreographer, reminded me of the importance of the outside eye: somebody who knows near to nothing about Indian dance or culture and hence asks questions I stopped asking myself since I was a kid, or things I have never even thought of. Her sessions were mostly physical and very fun. Through her sessions, Eva showed us the potency of movement, working with space and with people in space. She had us move in a fenced off space and slowly moved the borders (shoes in this case) closer, so that we ended up moving in a very tiny restricted area, our bodies intertwined, creating one organic body in movement. Then, as we were dancing, she again moved the shoes outwards and in the end we were using up the entire space. This exercise made me aware of which parts of a given space I tend to use and how the size of a space affects my movement material but also allows me to create specific movement material that cannot come to life in a different size of space. In another exercise, Eva made us very aware of how we can play with the tempi of movement and become more aware of other bodies in the same space. We had to dance but as soon as anybody in the room changed the pace, we had to follow - this led to us becoming more and more sensitive to each other while in movement. Then, if one person changed the tempo of movement, everybody had to follow. Here we moved between extremely slow to extremely fast movements. Then, the task again changed and we had to freeze as soon as one person froze. This led to interesting moments in which the 'frozen moments' became very potent and exciting: who would be the first one to move again? It also led to us really playing with these silences so that people would freeze very quickly one after the other, or again having long gaps of non-movement.

The sessions with Bisakha Sarkar, Vipul Bhatti and Gauri Sharma Tripathi were short but sweet: they had planted seeds in our minds about how to look or think about creating new work, the importance of conceptualisation as well as the socio-political world around us as an impulse or inspiration. These sessions were also much needed moments of rest for us, in between the challenging physical work.

The cherry on the cake was the creation of group pieces. We were asked to form groups and to create a work together, guided by a mentor. This was a good way to put into practise all the tools and insights we had gathered in the past days. Kali Chandrasegaran and I worked together and this was so inspiring and fruitful that we want to continue working on this duet. At the end of the course, we had a sharing of everybody's work and all I can say is that it was a very good harvest. Impressive how fast the fruits of labour were giving such rewarding results.

Kadam had also planned in moments of discussions between the mentors and between us all. The importance of constant re-evaluation of the scene and analysis of work in general, and critical self-analysis in specific cannot be over-emphasised. That to me is one of the only ways we can create a new generation of choreographers who are intelligent, critical, sensitive and rebellious. Only these kinds of choreographers can make a real difference and leave their mark on the international landscape of dance. And I feel that UC3 has helped me towards this objective.

So, now all I can do with the tools, the insights and inspiration gathered from this course is....Run with it all the way!!!!

Kalpana Raghuraman is based in Brussels and in the Netherlands. Holding a Masters degree in Cultural Anthropology and trained in Bharatanatyam, Kalpana is a choreographer, performer and teacher, always looking for new ways to artistically develop from and connect with the realities of today's world.