Dancer, choreographer, and Attakkalari’s Rehearsal Director, Hemabharathy Palani, speaks about Yashti, her latest work, with Dayita Nereyeth.
In June this year, I had a residency at Dance Base in Edinburgh as part of an exchange programme with Attakkalari. During the residency I created the skeleton of my new work, Yashti. There are a lot of things in the piece that have been inspired by my residency, but I wouldn’t say the piece is necessarily about the skeleton. I am still working on finding depth. Yashti, which means links or mala, is inspired by the tulsi plant and the legend surrounding the god Vishnu and the woman Tulsi. I will not look or dance like a tulsi plant. Rather, the idea of tulsi represents a larger picture. In a way it is a symbol of my love of Bangalore, which used to be called a green city. The idea of plants and growth represents my dance career too.
I started Yashti from my base in Kuchipudi. There are so many elements in Kuchipudi—bhava, tala, raga. Korwai is the movement part, which I am keen on exploring. When I was in Edinburgh, my presentation was very direct. I created four korwais. So, for example, there was an actual korwai. Then I changed it and made it bigger. Then I presented it facing towards the back. I changed the speed, made it extremely fast or slow. Working with speed and levels, I tried different things. Simultaneously, I wanted to juxtapose classical movements with my language of contemporary dance. My curiosity lies in trying to find out what my own language is. And so, improvisation is also used as one of the motifs in Yashti.
Each of my pieces is created with what happens in the studio on that day. I go in with an idea, but the piece changes everyday. All my pieces start from something I know, and then go to something I don’t know. So, contemporary dance really helps me because it’s like a bridge between the known and the unknown. I feel a lot of freedom but there are also boundaries. You know there are risks between where you start and where you end. Changes are difficult but they are good and I love changes. Because if there is no change, it means I’m getting stuck. I like evolving and transforming. It’s good for the piece, good for me, and good for the audience. My original concept for Yashti evolved because of where I was and the space I was rehearsing in. I think within the structure, I will change the piece more.
I have realised that it is information, experience, and what happens everyday that influences my work. In my initial stages of working with Jayachandran Palazhy, he told me, “Hema, you have to become a woman. Dance like a girl. You’re dancing like a man”. In the beginning I was a bit angry because I thought, “I am a woman”. His idea of women is different. Being in a woman’s body, I started to question, “How do you move like a woman?”. Most of the time, my work centres on female, Indian choreography and Yashti is no different. I’m particularly curious about the origins of Kuchipudi as being a dance form only for men and exploring it as a woman. In my personal life, I’m strong, supporting, and feminine. As a woman, I always want to speak through movement, not words. All my pieces are an unwinding of my problems and happiness. They are almost like autobiographies. The stage is like an open space where I have the freedom to say what I want.
In general, the running theme of my choreographic journey from the day I started has been this question of “Why do I dance?”. It’s a question I ask myself everyday. Sometimes this makes me sad, sometimes excited, and sometimes happy. At the same time, I don’t know why I dance, but I do it. I think everybody faces the challenge of not being happy with themselves. I face it, too. That’s why I go for residencies, where there is no backing out. It’s a helpful medium for artists to feel assured about their work.
As a performer I have different needs. It all starts from production support. Generally, I don’t wait for anybody. I do what I want. I try my best within my limitations and with zero production support. I do what I can and try to do what I can’t. Yashti will hopefully be ready by the end of this year.
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“From somewhere in the middle” is Ligament’s new section of dance makers reflecting on works in the making. In this edition, long-time Bangalore-based artists Diya Naidu and Hemabharathy Palani, along with visitors Atalya Baumer and Tamar Mayzlish, talk about their still-forming works, which are as diverse as feminist activism and an exercise in communication.
Anger, Touch, And Class In Gender
Between Experience and Choreography
Peeking Through the Barriers
Atalya Baumer & Tamar Mayzlish
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To pick up and run with a magazine that has had another life is never easy. There are those conflicting desires to find close continuity and to just scrap it all and start anew. Ligament 2016-17 reemerges from a half-way point. We want to build on the investigations and insights of the magazine’s past contributors and also find ways to say what they perhaps had wanted to say but could not, or forgot to, in that moment.
Ligament was founded to facilitate the articulation of an evolving language that encompasses the impulses of contemporary dance. The idea of “contemporary” is inherently bound to time, to a sense of history, rather multiple histories unfolding. In its 2016-17 iteration, we hope that Ligament can grapple with the idea of how dance might hold a place in-step with the patterns of active and forming histories, rather than remaining a canonised and pondered response to a bygone world. We’d like to embrace the immediacy of “contemporary”, and invite contributions from dancers, choreographers, arts practitioners, scholars, audience members, readers. In this way, we hope to reach for the intimacies, resistances, and fragilities that permeate the developing field of South Asian contemporary dance.
Articulating a medium as visceral, visual, and ephemeral as dance requires making connections to methods of thought and critique that lie outside evaluative language. So for Ligament 2016-17 we welcome, of course, the critical essay, but also audio, photographs, ekphrastic poems, interviews, and hybrid media of various kinds that might speak to us about dance, carefully and proximately. Like the anatomical connective tissue for which it is named, Ligament, we hope, can help us locate dance in tandem with the many bodies that produce and encapsulate it.
To those who find themselves here for the first time, welcome. And those whom we have met before, we are glad you are back.
—Poorna Swami, Editor
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