Why Dance When You Can Speak, Why Think When You Can Sweep

Dance researcher and PhD Student Himalay Gohel reviews a work from the FACETS Choreography Residency

Seven young choreographers presented their newest works over two days at the Attakkalari India Biennial 2017. These short performance pieces were developed at FACETS, a five-week choreography residency that provided production support and the guidance of several mentors. In this review, I focus on looking and reading through Sujay Saple’s Ghar Ki Murgi. The piece begins with the voiceover of the choreographer describing the work as beta-testing for a phone application. He seems to deploy the metaphor of the phone application to comment on the growing “startup culture” of Bangalore, the rising population of young technicians and engineers who move to the city for work.

Saple’s work was an experiment in ‘participatory dance’ that invited members of the audience to take charge of decisions like lighting, music, the grouping of dancers, and the part of the stage that would be used for to perform the movement sequence. The technical parameters would be executed and the performers—playing janitors and cleaning staff—would immediately follow these instructions and execute them.

Sujay Saple's' Ghar Ki Murgi at FACETS 2017PHOTO: Richa Bhavanam

The premise of the piece might have promised an environment of light-heartedness, entertainment, and humour but it didn’t continue in such a manner. The performers improvised the dance movements and their roles as janitors. As they did so, I observed in them a clear absence of identification with their roles. The performers neither absorbed the role of the cleaners, nor did they execute their roles as dancers. Instead, they spread out on the stage like it was a school picnic, which betrayed their lack of stake in both roles.

Putting a janitor on stage is in itself a political statement and brings with it a history of power hierarchies that must be acknowledged. Here, the dance-maker comes across as oblivious to the fact that the job of cleaning is historically ascribed to a certain kind of people, a certain caste of people in India. The performance goes on to ignore the nuances of the relationship between the working class and the lower castes by simply using it as a tool to create a comical, just-for-laughs situation. In one sense, we can read a critique of the IT sector and its fascination with creating phone applications. The audience’s intervening commands to the performers also reminds us of the difficult relationship between employee and boss. However, in the piece, conveying the burden of this idea falls on the shoulders of a certain type of people—janitors and cleaners—who are already at the bottom of power structures in the real world. Not only does the work not make a superficial comment on high capitalism, it also does not take into account the conversations in contemporary Dalit politics. Instead, it nonchalantly mirrors the insensitivity of contemporary art practice to caste politics. If the work did aim to comment on these hierarchies with dark humour and a starkness of reality, it failed at executing its intended critique. 

In the end, I was merely expecting to see some sincerity, either in the idea or in the execution of the idea. Instead, I was given a crude and unnecessary mockery of janitors, IT employees, dancers, audiences, and writers, too.

Himalay Gohel is a dance researcher and a PhD student at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, JNU. His research revolves around community dance forms and traditional movement structures.

TABLE of Contents
The Biennial Issue: Part 1

In this first part of the Biennial Issue, participants in the Writing on Dance Laboratory at the Attakkalari India Biennial 2017 respond to performances they saw and discussions they had during the first few days of the festival.

ShowReel : R U Ready?
Darshan Manakkal

South Korea’s Second Nature Dance Company presented R U Ready?, choreographed by Kim Sunghan, at the Opening Night of the Attakkalari India Biennial 2017

ShowReel : 5 Colours
Darshan Manakkal

Gamblerz & Animation, two dance companies from South Korea, presented 5 Colours at the opening night of the Attakkalari India Biennial 2017

ShowReel : Ketima
Darshan Manakkal

Vuyani Dance Theatre from South Africa presented Ketima, choreographed by Gregory Maqoma, on Day 2 of the Attakkalari India Biennial 2017

ShowReel : Tordre (Wrought)
Darshan Manakkal

Rachid Ouramdane, choreographer and co-director of CCN2 – Centre choréographique national de Grenoble – presented Tordre (Wrought) on Day 3 of the Attakkalari India Biennial 2017

FACETS Probably Needs An Additional Mentor
Swar Thounaojam

Playwright, theatre director, and performer Swar Thounaojam questions the political insularity of three works from the choreography residency.

Where Does Movement Come From?
Dayita Nereyeth

Dancer and writer Dayita Nereyeth searches for the source of contemporary dance movement through her own practice and Tahnun Ahmedy’s solo work at the Biennial

Dancing Now (after Anita Cherian)
Ian Abbott

Dance writer and producer Ian Abbott re-authors Anita Cherian’s introduction to tiltpauseshift: Dance Ecologies In India

Show Us Some Moves: Small and Silly Dances
Dayita Nereyeth

Dancer and writer Dayita Nereyeth gets the Bangalore audience to move.

Annie & Lora (after Rachid Ouramdane)
Ian Abbott

An illustrative response to Tordre (Wrought) by CCN2 Grenoble, France.

Why Dance When You Can Speak, Why Think When You Can Sweep
Himalay Gohel

Dance researcher and PhD Student Himalay Gohel reviews a work from the FACETS Choreography Residency


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

Get in touch with us at ligament@attakkalari.org