Being the light or veiling in the shadows?

There is a persistent flux in life, where change is the only constant. Change does not signify something negative; it could be an evolution. Conceived by Sanjukta Sinha, Shifting Sands occurs in this space where progression is organic and inherent to nature and its elements.

PC: Samuel Rajkumar, Attakkalari India Biennial 2021-22

In this performance, the first section with movements in the contemporary style commenced with two dancers appearing to be in a state of conflict with themselves, the other and the unknown external. The performance had a serious tone, where moments suggested tension, quest, fall, being together, departing, at once in dialogue yet against each other. A highlight arose in the form of a circular illuminated backdrop- the ultimate shadow, from which another dancer appeared as an all-encompassing radiance. 

Though not explicitly demarcated as second, the next section with all the five dancers was structured in the Kathak genre. The emphasis was on pirouettes and exclusive feet patterns, accompanied by Kathak bols. The overall mood had a sense of buoyancy. The circular irradiated backdrop was a constant since its appearance. It got further highlighted in this section as the symbol of ‘life’, the source from which everything in this performance emerged and merged.

PC: Samuel Rajkumar, Attakkalari India Biennial 2021-22

I saw the circle as a primary motif in both the sections of the performance- literally and metaphorically. First, the circle got projected on the backcloth as the illumination for most of the performance. Then, most of the movements were spherical. The pirouettes were obviously circular, and so was the concept of everything arriving from and returning to a nucleus. The group movements comprised of variations such as each dancer following the other or digressing into individual patterns, duets and then there were uniform patterns for all the dancers. What I found worth noting about the ensemble sections was that despite dancing the same movements, the dancers at no point looked like clones to each other. Their precision did not read mechanical in nature. Each body succeeded in retaining its own individual language.

PC: Samuel Rajkumar, Attakkalari India Biennial 2021-22

The costumes were minimal, a kurta and a palazzo for the dancers, with the lead dancer- Sinha wearing a white inner with a black cape that also became the material of the movements at some points. This unpretentious costuming directed the viewer’s eye to the actions and technical execution, rather than the flowy costumes simply enhancing patterns like chakkars, which is what it usually does. The music for the same was primarily instrumental, interspersed with mnemonic syllables and effective pauses.

           Shifting Sands was presented by Sanjukta Sinha, Krutika Ghanekar, Vidhi Shah, Pankaj Sihag and Vihang Rukshan at the Rangashankara, Bengaluru. I watched the recorded version running for about 27minutes on my laptop screen, during which my eyes mostly stayed hooked to the shadows that were forming on the stage floor, creating fascinating patterns. The lighting certainly seemed crucial in a presentation of this kind, and the technicalities worked well, at any rate, in the recorded version. 

PC: Samuel Rajkumar, Attakkalari India Biennial 2021-22

I sought to understand the conceptualisation for this production. I got to converse over a phone call with the lead Sinha and Pankaj Sihag (collaborator for the opening piece and dancer). It was an amicable conversation where I asked them a few questions, mostly about how the entire work and its processes came together for them. I was also inquisitive to find out if what I thought while watching the piece was also what its makers had intended to say. Sinha created this work as part of Cutting edge exploration, where her approach was to trim the unnecessary fringes in presenting Kathak. Drawing from her belief in the notion of evolution, the “shifting” signifies the progression in Kathak itself, and “sand” stands for something that can be moulded. 

PC: Samuel Rajkumar, Attakkalari India Biennial 2021-22

Sinha and Sihag spoke about ideating the first section, ‘Cosmic Shadows’, as a collaboration. Both informed that they associated spirituality with the shadow as a leading element and not as a resultant to the actual object from which it emanates. It was also indicative of the circle of emotions wherein all feelings would ultimately come to a surrender. The narrative was woven around improvised movement on the dance floor by the male dancers mentored by Sinha. 

The second section was entirely choreographed by Sinha and executed by all the dancers. In Sinha’s words, “It indicates the softer side of strength”. Titling it as ‘Bells’ is noteworthy as shunning ghunghroos (or dancing bells that are supposed to be tied around ankles by a Kathak dancer and that holds a prime place in a traditional Kathak performance) in this choreography, indicated retaining what Sinha thinks as essential, literally “cutting the edges”. This finale for the evening’s performance was a revelry of Kathak, gradually culminating into the enlightening essence. 

PC: Samuel Rajkumar, Attakkalari India Biennial 2021-22

With Kathak and Contemporary as the chosen genres, Sanjukta brought an ample dose of abstractness into play. While the categorisation is unnecessary, it is always fascinating to see how various dance forms get labelled as distinct identities first and then reconcile in such choreographic works. It leaves one wondering if ‘Shifting Sands’ also indicates the weaving of only the technical aspect of Kathak to be in tune with the present times.

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