A letter from dancer Poorna Swami’s correspondence
Poorna Swami and Paul Matteson have been corresponding about dance via email, handwritten letters, and text messages since 2014. Here is Poorna’s most recent email to Paul.
While I wait to hear about your NYLA showing, I thought I'd update you on my travels—it has been a while since I did that. The major travelling hasn't begun and I already feel like I don't see my own room enough. Some years ago, I remember you telling me that you didn't want to leave your porch. I might say the same...if I had a porch.
But then there's that problem of constant motion, itchy feet, wanting to move conversations and landscapes. I wonder how you reconciled.
I was in Chennai for a good chunk of December. Thought I'd visit for three days, ended up staying two weeks. Finally saw Chandralekha's Sharira live, in her beautiful studio by the sea, ten years after she died. I think I told you about her—she was at Jacob's Pillow years ago...you'll find her in their archives.
Sharira is a duet, a slow one. Incidentally, the Gundecha Brothers (whom I played obsessively and got Peter hooked on to in college) sang live for this show. Sure, I could find faults with the work, but then I'd never let myself find anything beautiful. I found this beautiful. I wrote to someone else right after seeing the work:
"I found myself encountering a thing of deep rigour, intellect, and curiosity. I've seen so many pieces that claim to open up sexuality in all its messiness and pointed desire. Last evening, I think I found a work that truly does that."
My interest in a syntax of lust remains. Perhaps it's time I found something new to think about. At least for my next work. I should make it soon.
Last week I was in Kochi for the art Biennale. It's a beautiful town, littered with remnants from a Dutch past that I always romanticise. We must go when you visit. I thought I'd enjoy the dance installation by Padmini Chettur, but I was disappointed. Video of three different dancers played on three different screens. They moved slowly, expressionless, acerbically. In the background, translations of love poetry sounded. I didn't want the dancers to enact the lust of the text but their counterpoint did nothing. Why text, why movement, why video—I questioned it all. You know how much I love Tere O'Connor's work...everything seems to emerge from structure. I sense this work was trying to do something similar but I think it wasn't quite sure of its own mathematics.
But there was a chance discovery that I loved, a piece called Sourcemouth: Liquidbody by Hanna Tuulikki. Tuulikki riffs on Kutiyattam movement in this strange, silvery, androgynous getup. She divides the video installation across two rooms and three screens—as you move around, you see different things, different arrangements of expression and body part. The text, about rivers, hangs on scroll panels, while the room fills with a hyperextended rendition of the text that Tuulikki mouths on one of the screens. The sound builds and slowly a row of dancing Tuulikkis appears on the biggest screen. They dance and dance and dance into each other until it all returns to silence.
Off to Jaipur next week. I'll report back.
Love to you and the little ones,
Poorna Swami is a writer and dancer based in Bangalore. She is Editor at Ligament and India Editor-at-Large at Asymptote.
American choreographer Remy Charlip, when he could not choreograph on a dancer in person, invented his seminal “Air Mail Dances”. He sent dancers postcards with drawings of different poses, but how those poses connected and coalesced into a dance was left to the dancers’ physical replies.
Such connections between dance and the epistolary are not hard to find. There are the back-and-forth musical sequences between Bollywood lovers, the forever complicated triangle between Radha, Krishna, and the sakhi of classical dance. And there are also real correspondences that give us insight into particular choreographies, processes, and historical developments. European travellers writing home about Nautch girls. Merce Cunnigham and John Cage on creating by chance. Or letters to the editors of newspapers arguing for and against the dances of devadasis.
Ligament’s first 2017 issue looks at the epistolary impulses— exchanges of secrets, loves, epiphanies, and feuds—in different dances. The issue also reframes letter, postcard, and email writing as a potentially more intimate and immediate way to write about and respond to dance.
In a string of correspondence between Karthika Nair and Tishani Doshi published in Granta (130: April 2015), Nair writes that dance is like “calligraphy on water, the cat’s paw ripple that vanishes even as it is created, but one that marks the landscape in that act of evanescence”. The epistolary shares this transience. Although preservable in the receiver’s archive, a letter, once it is written and sent (maybe even to get lost along the way), ceases to be for the one who wrote it.
Indian dance through postage stamps
Fabien Prioville’s recent site-specific work with Attakkalari diploma students
Choreographer Joshua Sailo sends movement from a historic site.
Dancer Ranjana Dave ponders Classical love in the Digital Age
FACETS resident Sujay Saple writes a postcard to himself as part of “From somewhere in the middle”
Theatre maker Deepika Arwind writes to her dancer collaborators as part of “From somewhere in the middle”
A letter from dancer Poorna Swami’s correspondence
Two composers and two dancers write letters in sound and movement
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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